The Cincinnati race weekend is close to a hometown race for me, having grown up about an hour north (note that in Ohio we measure distance in time). Despite my love for the race, it never really goes super well for me. Last year my body gave up, leaving me unable to pedal through my favorite type of heavy-mud conditions on day 1 at Devou. Day 2 went okay. Years before it was never complain-worthy but not super great. This year, knowing that both days were going to be at the King’s venue, I was pretty hopeful that I could finally excel on the C1 day – that course is raw power.
Showing up for preride it was rainy, but we weren’t sure if it was going to get muddy or stay dry. Hitting the course showed that the designer really wanted to make up for the loss of the Devou venue’s radness and used every bit of the newly altered Kingswood Park; it was twisty, punchy, and full of off-camber. The fresh grass was slick with rain and it made it outright treacherous to ride, but we were convinced that more riders would burn in the lines, pull up the grass, and provide either deep mud or grippy traction for our race times.
Oh, so you think you know anything about soil, do you?
Saturday was overcast and drizzly all day. During preride it appeared just as slippery as the evening before. Weird. The next preride window? Even. More. Slick. Then, at 3pm, during the UCI Junior race, the heavens opened and it started actually raining. Their race was carnage- all of the sliding.
I was anxious for our race, knowing the start would be everything on the twisty, slippy course. I warmed up, focusing on the start effort. Front row call-up always adds some nerve, but it was long straight away and I built my confidence.
The whistle blew. I got my pedal and pedaled fast. I found myself drifting back and realized I had forgotten to shift. I shift and pedal, pedal and shift. I am top 5 exiting the pavement, a good place to be. A few turns and I feel that the pace is slow. I go to the front.
Then I realize why the pace was slow. I slide out. Whoopsie daisies. It was slicker than even the preride. The best way to describe the surface is with saying it was like snot on glass: the top layer was saturated and was sliding on the otherwise dry and hard ground underneath. It never rained hard enough to saturate down below.
I go from 1st to 3rd. Someone slides out in front of me and I go to 5th. Another slide. 7th. Chase through to 5th. It was really a game of back and forth, not by who was going fastest but who was crashing the least. I was powering passed people when I could, only to crash in the turns. I was not riding smoothly or keeping my power in check. I was frantic, worried about the race and not the ride. I hate looking back because it is all so fixable in hindsight! It was so different from in preride that things I was riding easily had turned in to runs during the race and I didn’t have long toe spikes in so I wasn’t getting good foot traction. I was able to ride some things but when I saw others running I would hop off and it was maybe a worse decision than just staying on the bike.
I was always so back and forth with people that I never pitted – it didn’t seem necessary. I must have bumped my rear derailleur hanger and that combined with the mud made my chain drop between my wheel and cassette. I had to stop to pull it out. Luckily, it didn’t get wedged because it was easy to pull out, and luckily this had before and I remembered to shift into an easier cog so that it didn’t happen again right when I got on – that’s a win. But in the time it took me to fix that, my solid lead on the chasers (who were in 7th and 8th) greatly diminished. I pitted for a new bike and in being yet more frantic to regain my old place I crashed even more. I ended up finishing 8th, quite disappointed in myself for the sloppy riding and rookie mistakes.
After the race I was able to find some positives, like my start, aggressive riding, and remembering to fix an error post-crash. I also felt a lot better after watching the men’s race, because they looked like deer on ice and it was HILARIOUS!!
Day two. Would it be more muddy, just as slick, or a power course? Lucky for me, the wind dried up all the snot and then the sun came out to seal the deal on the tacky course! It was changed to cut out some corners, add some elevation, and make it overall more Becca-friendly. [Note: I LOVE the mud and perform really well in it. But Saturday was not muddy. It was snotty and just not a good environment for where I am in my racing right now]. The wind was so gusty that everyone had to take their tents down and really batten down the hatches. Gusts up to 45mph, not surprising if that was the speed of some of the sustained wind as well.
The whole day I felt mellow and quiet. I was in my head, but my head was empty. I decided that I wasn’t going to race that day. I would show up on the start line with a number, but I was the only person out there. I was going to ride smoothly. I chose a more aggressive tread than I needed on the day only because I couldn’t get the slippiness of Saturday out of my head, and I didn’t want that fear to linger out on the course.
Another good start for me. I had to battle some overly aggressive riders, but I was able to come out in front of them and settled solidly into 4th place, in line behind Ellen, Kaitie and Katerina. Good wheels to be on, and being that it was so windy it was good to be on wheels. I was anxious and the pace was low so I kept half wheeling – like a dick. Using my own energy doing mini yo-yo movements. Even worse is my ability to follow wheels. I was letting little gaps open up that I had to shut down. My own fault. I just don’t see how the other riders do it, follow each other so closely like a choreographed dance. I was seeing other riders slip and I was reacting to them. I was seeing them falter and making sure I didn’t get tangled. I was being reactive instead of proactive.
After 2 laps I was tired of closing my own gaps and seeing that the group was still 10-deep I knew I had to do something or I was going to be at the tail end of the 10. I go to the front. I don’t attack, I just go there and ride the course how I wanted to. I really underestimated that headwind, though. On a day like that the usual 20% drafting advantage is put to 80% advantage no DOUBT. I am at the front for nearly a lap, and when the podium contenders wanted to pass, they did so easily. I know I could have kept up with their paces, but for some reason there were a few turns that I could not get out of my head from the prior day’s race and I was going slow, picking around the ground trolls that were taking my wheels out from under me the day before. At some point Clara passed me, taking 4th, and I for some reason I just couldn’t close the gap. Maybe I had mellowed out my brain too much for the day, over compensating from the day before. Maybe my legs were empty. I was not exhausted at the finish, but I was proud, and I guess that is worth it, to have finished a proud 5th than a regretful… somewhere further back.
The ability to dance at the front is a skill that I should have worked on last year, except last year I never made it to the front to try, so here I am, a year later working on skills I should already have. I put in two good days of racing, but swapping around some aggression and decision making could have made two good days one really great day, or at least two better days. Each weekend I am clawing my way further and further up the results list* (relative to race quality), being very consistent, taking something away from every race, and usually applying to the next. Who knows, maybe I will have another breakthrough at the coming race at Pan Ams? Maybe Nationals? Heck, maybe I should save the breakthrough for worlds 😉