The Rochester race weekend has been the traditional opener for the past few seasons. This year a few of us had a UCI race under our belts already, but that doesn’t change the nerves as we gear up for the first C1, getting to grit our teeth against some stiffer competition before we head into the world cups.
For the first time, I wasn’t driving in to the race after a week of work, stiff from a long car ride. I had been with Kerry at our host house all week and was able to train with him Tuesday and Wednesday. Wednesday, I skipped my traditional road workout for “bike play” with Kerry on a mini ‘cross loop. We scouted out the loop at Camp Arrowhead, a YMCA camp that hosts a weekly cyclocross clinic in the late summer/early fall thanks to some WNYBRC (Western NY Bike Racing Club) enthusiasts. It felt really good to have the energy to push the pace off-road in the middle of the week. In years past I have been so flat out that all I could handle was riding on the road, staring at numbers on my Garmin to keep me going; but having Kerry as a carrot to chase through the grass and woods made for a fun and intense workout. (For the record, he is definitively faster than me. I used to pretend I could totes keep up.)
The following day he was co-coaching at the weekly clinic and I got to join him as an assistant to his group – and he sure needed it. We worked with two groups of 20 or so juniors and keeping track of 20 excited kids on bikes in a park full of people riding is maybe the single hardest task I have had in a while. Imagine a sea of 100 cats in a laser light show and you had to keep track of 15 specific ones. Seriously, though excited, they were focused, attentive, and really seemed to want to learn and progress.
Seeing the Thursday clinic helped me gear up for my Friday clinic at the Rochester venue. It was a good group of about 20-25 riders and racers that showed up. I went over a lot of race-day prep and then we tackled the more technical elements on the course. Really all of the participants had great skill, the number one thing needed was confidence boosting and telling them to remember to pedal – which sometimes I need to remember as well! It was so neat to “coach” the riders to pedal out of the dusty off-camber turns, or to commit to the climb, and then to see them still smiling as they careened into the fencing at the bottom of some drops (yes, there was crashing. I always say, if you aren’t crashing you aren’t pushing the limits!) The best part about the clinic was being approached by the participants after the race and having them tell me how it went. If you were one of the attendees, shoot me a message and give me feedback – constructive criticism encouraged!
The clinic made my legs a little heavy and I walked over to Chris McGovern to have him talk me down (the benefit of an on-site coach)– reminding me the hard work is done and I just need to relax and let my body remember how to race. I was riding the clinic on my tubular Maxxis Speed Terranes but ended up going mullet and running an All Terrane in the front to ensure grippy traction through the dusty turns and the ripping fast grassy ones. And maybe some teeth to bite through a rough acorn patch.
I noted in Roanoke that for the first time ever I could identify my weaknesses and both recognized why they existed and or how to strengthen them – skills, fitness, and mindset alike. This weekend’s results reflect the small improvements I was able to make over the past week and into this second race weekend.
I ended up 6th on both days of Rochester. It may not seem like an improvement over Roanoke’s 4th and 5th, but with a few more heavy-hitters in the field, especially some coming in with high fitness from summers filled with racing, it really was. The funny thing is how I got to these two results.
Saturday was the C1 – it was the day to really pull it all together to succeed. Yet, somehow, at the start I simply forgot how to pedal. I have a knack for botching starts, and it is for all sorts of reasons: missed pedals, bad line choice, heavy legs, bad gear, forgetting to shift, too many nerves. I was once again deep in the teens or even out of the top 20 in the first few turns. I got my head in the game and focused on passing when I could, but the gaps were forming through the technical sections. By the end of the 1st lap I was dangling in the top 10 but outside of the top 5. I settled my pace for a while, regaining composure, before I finally closed some huge gaps to put myself into 4th. I burned a few matches getting there and it left me making some dumb mistakes – slipping in dusty turns and at times tumbling into the fences on the steep plunge. One such slide-out I landed on my rear derailleur, bending my rear hanger and sending the pulleys into the spokes. Again not having 100% of the season equipment ready, I thought I could ride it out only using the harder gears. This nervousness and change in rhythm saw me making more mistakes, and I took the time to hop off the bike and bend the hanger back into a usable condition – but the damage was done and I lost some spots.
I finished the race so disappointed. I was frustrated with my lack of start and then my sloppy mistakes that lost me 2 spots. I can’t believe that for the second race in a row, a mechanical took my momentum. Turning the thoughts around, I can take some time to remind myself that these mistakes are user-error and fixable, I’m still not set up with my season’s gear, I’m still working out my own rhythms, and that it is better that these things happen now rather than later.
I was fired up for day 2. Though just a C2, it is the same racers and an equal opportunity to test my legs, my mind, and my race. I met my #1 goal of starting well. I pedaled, I shifted my gears, and I didn’t settle. I rode most of the race in 4th – trading places with Caroline Mani. I practiced following her wheel. I practiced passing. I practiced patience. I fought to keep others away. I ran the dusty sections on day 2 that I was inconsistent in on day 1. Caroline yelled at me saying I could ride that; I told her I knew I could ride it, but I just couldn’t race it. Better to be “lame” and consistent than risk crashing and losing spots again. I really raced on Sunday. Unfortunately, my mind and body are not yet in top form and I lost connection with Caroline going into the last lap. Erica Zaveta (fellow Amy D Foundation alum) also passed me. It was all I could do to maintain forward momentum and finish in 6th.
Kind of funny how a bad start and a great start can lead me to the same place. You would think if I could start so far back and chase to 6th that I could start in 6th and chase to the win. But anyone who races bikes knows that is never the case. Maybe chasing so hard on Saturday burned me out for Sunday and is why I lost those 2 spots. Maybe that mental edge of wanting revenge allowed me to start well on Sunday. I am sure the two results are tied together – but it is always an interesting case study to think “what if…?”. Clearly, I am riding at a level that is very consistent and repeatable for me, and despite what happens I am remembering skills and strengths to fight through.
The next 2 weeks will involve Kerry building up my new Kona Super Jakes with the sweet Shimano Dura Ace group sets – with those sweet Ultegra RX Di2 clutch rear derailleurs. I will be pushing the limits of my endurance and skills and then hitting the recovery hard leading into the world cups. Remember, the Trek UCI World Cup pays women equally, and that is just huge. So for this Kona woman it would mean so much to be on top form and performing her best in order to respect everything about the cycling community and their support of me and everyone else out there chasing dreams, working hard, and pushing limits.