I have a new favorite Nationals. Previously it was Asheville, followed by Hartford, Boulder, Reno, and last, Austin. But Louisville was a good one. My ranking system includes weighted #feelz from course, results, venue, week leading up, afterparty, and overall experience. This weekend scored high in all categories.
I skipped racing the weekend before while others were racing in Hendersonville or the C1 in Oklahoma. I decided to spend the weekend with my parents and have a little pre-Christmas family time. Not to mention I went to the dentist, where based upon my last visit before PanAms I was to have 8 cavities filled (in addition to the 6 or so they filled when I was last in), but thanks to the miracles of flossing and expensive mouthwashes made of bleach, I only needed 3 filled!!!!! So already I was winning this trip. Filled with fake tooth material and a little too much prime rib and pie, I drove down to Louisville to meet up with the crew, including Nick Cz himself! Mechanical support provided by: Doug Sumi and Wilson Hale. They made a truly awesome duo and the whole gang just makes me want to have a group hug. We were in an AirBnb which I think was the first the season. Other than my hotel at Supercross I think we did the entire season on host housing.
The course was similar to what I remembered, despite claims of changes I didn’t notice too many – all of the elements were there: the sloggy climbs, the scary fast descents, the tricky off-cambers, and the lack of place to really drill it. I really felt this on Thursday when in an attempt to do and easy spin I nearly exploded from effort. Riding that course at an easy pace is like pushing a car uphill.
On Friday I was looking to do an opening effort on the course for Sunday’s race, but it was nearly impossible with a course clogged with riders. Many were walking or standing waiting for a clean take at things. Each time I came close to riding something someone dismounted in front of me. The only course time for the elite racers to ride their course, including the extra little “pro” sections was 5-5:20PM on Friday, at dusk, at the same time as or our mechanics needed to be at a meeting to select pit-boxes. Not exactly prime-viewing opportunity, which is a bit of an issue I had with the weekend. I am torn between wanting to think “well, everyone has to contend with this, why should the pros get treated differently?” and then answering that with “because we are pros?”. I could then complain about other things regarding the course and prerides but I hate always complaining. JUST GIVE ME MY OWN SPECIAL PRERIDE AND MAYBE A RED CARPET CALL UP AND I WILL BE HAAAPPPPYYYY
Friday night the rain came in and the course slopped up. We saw the slogs and slips go to runs and slides. Our tent, perched in the grass and not in the concrete lot got flooded – the grass turned to mud and there was no way to actually use the space. Luckily, Shimano not only takes care of us with great components, wheels, and shoes, but they also let Kerry and I warm up under their nice spacious tent on Saturday for our preride!
It rained through the morning so by the time we got out on course (at noon, not 5pm), it was a sloppy mess. I knew it would be much different on Sunday, with the rain stopping and the hint of sun poking out, but after talking with Coach McGovern we decided any course time was good course time and Kerry and I headed out, for a single lap. Yes, it was a lot of walking, but it was a really fun time, too. Knowing that the conditions would change let me enjoy the slop instead of being worried about finding the hidden ruts, deciding when to run vs ride and looking for the best lines. I just got to ride, and it was freeing. I also got to see Kerry eat it HARD on the fast descent and that, too, was freeing.
Twas the night before Nationals, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, because everyone went back to the venue to relocate our tent from the mudbog to the concrete spaces opened up by teams departed. We had room for our Kona tents, including the 3rd provided by Wilson Hale, Kona demo dude, and the trailer and RV. It was a dry paradise!
The morning of, Kerry and I discussed our nerves. I told him I had tried to not get worked up the whole week. I didn’t allow the race to enter my mind until I arrived at the venue on Thursday. I tried to keep calm, which worked by being around such a chill crew. But Sunday morning, my chest was tight. My stomach was full of butterflies. I was anxious.
I did my one preride lap on the day. It took 30 minutes. I knew it would be a race of riding smooth and mental fortitude. It reminded me of 2018 Worlds in Luxembourg, where our preride was fun and sloppy but the day of the race (for the women) was heavy peanut butter forcing more running than riding. Instead of the typical cyclocross effort which is 90% or 110% (You go pretty hard then REALLY hard), a course like this was 100% all the time. You can’t let up. There is no easy. And because of that, you can’t ever really go harder. I had no real plans or lines, except when I would pit and that I would take it on the shoulder to run to the pavement. I didn’t ask anyone about tire pressure, run choices, spike lengths, lines, or anything. This was maybe the 1st race ever where I put everything on me 100% (that said I went 19/20PSI and I should have gone MUCH lower, but there was hardly any riding, so what does it matter?).
I didn’t have much structure to my warmup. I didn’t feel fresh so I just tried to get my HR up to 180 to flush the system and that’s all I felt I could do. I then had to head to the start line in a trek that was just like at a euro race – a battle between mud and spectator traffic – it was enthralling!
We were held at the start for many formalities to take place, and I tried to balance soaking in the special day with remaining calm. Kaitie Keough looked absolutely crushed on the start line. I wanted to reach out and give her hug, but she was too far and I am sure it would not have been welcomed. Sunny was to my right, and Compton to my left. I still get star-struck toeing the line with Katie, but I also enjoy her calm disposition. So between her and fellow chatty Kathy, Sunny, is really a sweet spot for me.
We go on the green light.
Ellen Noble does her typical 2 bike-lengths off the start in a half a second, and not too long after I find myself in second place. I mean, it didn’t last long, but this was by far my best start ever. Both off the line and through the lap. The first turn was a gradual arc with thick mud and any one spot seemed just as bad as the next, but I was to the outside and had a longer way to pedal than others and ended up into the next element near 6th place. Compton was edging to pass and I could feel her behind me. My instincts told me to shut it down but my respect and feelings on the day said just ride your line, don’t open the door but don’t be a douche. She passed. I can’t remember too much of that first lap except knowing I was in 3rd at some point because I saw Katie and Ellen crash together as I was bombing down. I kept it upright (though likely at a slower pace than they were going before they crashed). I watched what they were doing to help me select lines, judge traction, and know when to try to run. Over halfway through my 1st lap and I knew the pace was going to take a toll later on. But I was still in 3rd so I kept trudging.
The best part about my position was the cheers. People. Were. So. Stoked.
Some of the next events I can’t quite remember the order of.
I went in to pit 2 during lap 1 and took a clean bike. Because the men’s preride was immediately before our race, Wilson had to stay at the tent to help Kerry and Nick was in the pits to catch my bike. I roll it to him and I take my clean bike from Doug, on my shoulder. My Kona was so light that I actually hit myself in the head with my saddle – it was at least 20lbs lighter than the one I had just plopped to Nick.
I was still in 3rd but so close to Ellen, in 2nd. The crowd tells me she is tired, she is cracking, she is crying. I can’t go any faster but I work hard to keep crawling on. I catch her on the limestone steps but nothing inside of me will let me go faster – she looks over her shoulder at me and puts in a dig so hard I just can’t keep up. I am on her wheel going into the downhill chicane but I can’t take my lines with her in front of me, though I’m not sure why.
I keep close at the bottom of the course and almost catch her again on the muddy downhill but again, I am not in my line and get bogged down in some thicker mud. She gets away again. And then, the nail in the coffin.
I go to get a clean bike from the pits. I see Wilson. I am running in, he waves his arms and says “NO BIKE, THERES NO BIKE DON’T COME IN”. If I go in with no bike to take I have to stop and have someone pretend to do something to my bike. I swerve out. Sunny goes in. I am bogged down and churning through the deep mud outside of the pit lane. Where is my bike? How will I do another lap on this bike? It is heavy and clogged with mud, will it even make it? I had no choice. On the section of the course with the most pavement I was damned with a bike 25 lbs too heavy and unable to roll easily due to the mud. I lose ground and soul. At the stair flyover I go to run up and physically can’t lift my bike – never had I encountered the run up with this heavy of a bike.
The effects of race brain are real, and I don’t remember when Sunny makes the pass on both Ellen and I, but after that I was battling for the last podium spot and each time I almost made it, I messed up and dropped back again. I saw the ease with which Sunny was running and I could barely fake a courtesy trot. The last time over the barriers I nearly walked but just imagined getting nipped at the line. We all had resorted to shouldering over them.
I rolled across the line in 4th. And as I have been saying, not only is this my best Nationals results, but one of my best rides ever. Sure, I came in 4th, but I battled. I was up there. I didn’t just ride the whole race off the back of the leaders, I was a leader!
Mega congrats to Katie Fn Compton and Mark Legg. 15. In a row. She was my #1 choice for the #1 spot. I can’t doubt her until I can fully believe in myself.
After the race, I asked why I couldn’t get a bike when I needed one. Pits that backed up? No, it turns out the rear derailleur on my bike had gone bad (the servo???). Lucky for me, I didn’t experience any problems before I pitted, which may mean it happened right before. It is something that could have happened just because of the grit and grime, or more likely, I shifted under load (me? Never.) and killed it. But Doug miraculously ran to the Shimano tent to get me a new unit, then back to the pits to get it on. We should have had a unit in the pit, and I should have had a 3rd bike in there (moreso the first).
A few other things that could have improved my race: I spent so much time being calm that I didn’t have the mental fire to fight. It served me well for the first lap, but when my body was failing me my mind couldn’t overcome. I am still working on striking up that balance between staying calm and feeling the fire. The benefits of being calm on this course meant that I never crashed! I got tangled in the course tape trying to ride too close to the stakes, or had some sloppy dismounts, and often rode too long before deciding to run, but I never spontaneously combusted like so many times earlier this season.
But guess what, dudes and dudettes. IT STILL AIN’T OVER! I am here in Belgium as I write. You can assume that if there is a UCI race in Belgium, that I will be doing it. For the foreseeable future. World Cups, too. And technically I have not qualified for Worlds, I am taking all of the “good lucks” as binding contracts that USAC must obey. Give the people what they want! #BeccaForWorldsTeam
I am writing and posting this pre-Namur. So there is no spoiler alert. But I think that either it will go really well because I am still fit and energetic and brave and hungry, or, it will go poorly because frankly, I am still quite cracked from Nationals.
Those loud cheers from Nationals will carry over here and keep me motivated. Thanks to everyone, as always.