I am not coal. I am more like water. With coal, you apply enough pressure and it becomes a diamond. With water, apply enough pressure and it becomes ice. That’s like me. I freeze up under pressure. To be more exact, I get so focused that I focus on the smallest minutia instead of the big picture and in a race, I ride stiff and make dumb mistakes (largely holding the breaks too long because I am focusing on looking, not doing. That is how funnel vision I get). I have been noticing this pattern, but I have yet to really find a way to break it. Knowing this provides some insight into why I tend to preform better in muddy races – one is the obvious reason that I can tractor pull pretty well. The other, is that mud slows everyone down a little bit, so I can note my tunnel vision and wrangle it a little better. The faster the race, the narrower time window I have to correct my mistakes before the make a crash. And crashes are more costly in a faster race than in a slow one. My riding has improved to make the fast races go a lot better for me, but my racing and race brain still aren’t quite there.
If that paragraph isn’t foreshadowing enough for my race weekend, then maybe you should go back to high school lit class.
From the time we left my parent’s house in Ohio and drove up to Midland, it was raining. Into our preride. It was raining. Kerry was pretty excited about this. I was not so sure how I felt. It was my first time at the Silver Goose race in Ontario, Canada, and though I had heard the course was fun, that is a pretty vague description. Preride proved it was suuuuper tricky – it made me think of NBX with off-cambers. Lots of line choices to avoid roots, rocks, and other oddities. Add in the slippery ground and the off-cambers were quite tricky, and finding the speed limit was a game of guess-and-check.
Because I felt so tentative on the course I was happy that Saturday was a C2 and the big game of pan-ams was on Sunday.
But then again, I knew the big game was on Sunday and that was also lingering on my mind for all of Saturday. I told myself to give it my all on Saturday because I figured I wasn’t exactly going to win on Sunday, but that is easier said than done when the environment is one of stifled brewing energy, bubbling in everyone’s legs and chests. Saturday I pushed hard in the early parts of the race, but I found myself dabbing and bobbling often and it was making me get gapped off of 4th. I started to channel the need to ride smooth instead of race fast and at first I got dropped a little but I quickly found a groove and settled in. Soon, it was a battle for 3rd between myself, Maghalie, and Clara Honsinger. I got a pedal jammed into a stake on steep climb, blocking Maghalie. We battled up the steps but I let her have the first one into the drop because I knew she was going faster than me – having just climbed back into contention after a mechanical. I thought she was going to race away with it but instead just stayed there, dangling ahead of me. We had 1.5 or 2 laps to go and I pitted for a clean drivetrain. Clara passed me. And, that was the race. I yo-yoed off of Clara’s wheel for the rest of the lap, all with Maghalie in sight. I finished 5th, within 30 seconds of the winner. It was a good race, and one I knew I could have done smarter and thus finished better. But that was fuel for Sunday.
But where Saturday was slippy, Sunday was grippy. It was actually just like Cinci (but much less slippery on Saturday) and we went from muds to files.
I had an okay start, but in the first lap I found I couldn’t quite match the efforts of the front 3 or 4 and again found myself in 5th. We raced last but had been at the venue for nearly 5 hours, riding on and off and I think my legs were just heavy from the schedule. I knew they would come around, I just had to wait for it. The energy from the spectators was so strong that it actually kind of took me aback – I channeled it but didn’t really have a way to release again. I felt squirrely.
Going in to the second lap I slid out HARD on an off-camber turn – my tires skittering across a hard rut because I was holding the brakes instead of letting it flow. The group of 4 or so behind me passed by. I picked up my bike, gave it a look, and hopped on. The speeds were so high they already had a big gap on me. I took a few minutes to find my groove again and just kept churning away. Despite riding smooth (well, everything but the sand. Sand is my nemesis.) I wasn’t gaining any ground on anyone in the group. After a lap of being alone Catherine Pendral was coming along behind me and I felt a little extra gear to fight. With that I passed one rider, and then she and I battled until we both passed another.
I loved following her lines – Catherine is a multi-time mountain bike world champ and it shows. She has great flow and her line choices are less “hereish” and more “THERE THERE THERE THERE”. I can’t describe it better than that. When I would use a broad brush to outline where I hoped to roll, with precision she pushes her tires where she needs them to be. For a lap I was actively battling holding her wheel and taking an occasion to pass when I thought she may be able to outride me, acting as a blocker. When we had less than a quarter lap to go, it was my worst part of the lap: the loose corners and the tricky (for me) sand. It was the perfect time to be in the lead to block her from drawing away. I botch a turn and tell her to just freaking pass me. I literally pause for her to. I could feel her sawing at my rear tires as I rode (not physically touching, just hovering) and I was feeling embarrassed of my inadequacies. Hell if I was going to let her see me in the sand. I took the few extra turns on her wheel as I would a science class. I took the loss in payout and UCI points as tuition.
8th. 8th place and I knew I had 4th. I know I am a podium contender. I know it is there. If you are reading this it is either because you believe that too, or you hate me, in which case, thanks for the click, betches. I know recently all of my race reports are accounts of near misses, almost, excuses, and lessons learned. I know eventually I have to shit or get off the pot. None of this is choice – I want to win, I am trying to win, and I know I can (not always, but, at least like, once, right?). I feel like I am due for a breakthrough, and I know it won’t happen by luck but it will happen with me putting these pieces together. There is no question that I am going for the wins in my next two weekends: Northampton and Supercross. If they happen, let’s all have cake. If they don’t, let’s still eat cake.
The most important thing, is this weekend is not a lost opportunity for Team Kona, but instead fuel for the bigger fire.