Four Weekends, One Post

Charm City

I figure I better write this in a hurry, before Cinci, so I can get my feelings down before they are hindered by another performance. [edit. I am now editing this not only after Cinicy, but even a weekend later. Let us continue]. I just won four bike races in a row. Four. 4! That makes 5 this year; 7 podiums, 2 top-10 world cups, and a series overall win. The results look pretty cool, but what I am happiest about is that I was able to achieve them. OMG that sounds so obvious, right? But, for context, let’s remember last year when all of the stars aligned for me to attempt to win race after race, and yet, I kept botching it, ending up 2nd or even 3rd in all but one event, which I ended up winning by nearly 5 minutes by sheer brute force (see: Supercross Day 2). Roanoke’s opening win surprised me, but set the stage. It both took pressure off, but added some. I gave myself a pass after Day 2’s big crash causing soreness that hindered Rochester. Next, enter World Cups, where I let my mental state slip a bit. I wasn’t expecting to win those, yet I didn’t fight for better than what I was getting. After that, I took a weekend to train, and then came the Parkway CX Trophy Series of Charm City and DCCX. After seeing the starting field for Charm City, I felt I could win. I knew I could. But (in)famously, I had felt that way before.

Yelling in frustration of another loss on Day 2 of DCCX 2018. Photo by Bruce Buckley

Going into the day I knew Caroline Nolan and Carla Williams were the two racers I had to watch out for. They were strong, capable, and hungry. Sometimes the “underdog” is a place of strength, and the #1 bib is a curse. I was also nervous because the course was killer fast- just what would cause a wash out or a careless mistake of nailing a stake on the exit of a turn. Playing in to my fears, I was okay off the start but losing spots in the first few turns. Everyone was eager. I slowly picked my way to the front, only to take the wheel of Jane Rossi, who was riding like a bat out of hell on that opening lap. I was a bit nervous, knowing I couldn’t keep that pace the whole race. But, as we approached the only power section of the course, the climb up to the mansion, I passed Jane and rode the loose off-camber smoothly. She bobbled, and I had a gap. That initial gap was about 15 seconds, and I was able to grow it slowly over the race as the chase group morphed behind me. I was able to ride my own pace, pushing when I was comfortable, and keeping steady when I felt I needed to. And it was enough for me to take the win. Day 2 played out only a little differently, where I had a better start, and took the lead sooner. The biggest difference, was there was not one defining gap, so it felt like riders were hot on my heels the whole race, pushing me a little harder in each section. For the best, as I learned I was able to function under pressure. Little did I know that this skill would come in handy next weekend at DCCX.

DCCX

A lead in the series, scored by time, my goal at DCCX was to defend the lead against Carla and Caroline, and battle against the newcomers to the series (but ineligible for award), Courtenay McFadden and Sammi Runnels. I know Court is just as strong a rider as I am, and a fiercer racer, and Sammi is very good at fast and dry courses. And day 1 at DC was just that, fast and dry.

I took an early lead but found myself unable to shake anyone. If any small advantage was gained, it was lost as soon as you took a moment to coast back to a speed in which you could take a corner. Seeing I wasn’t going to just ride away, I decided to go back into the field and follow wheels. Actually, I think the first time I went back into the field was because I lost my front wheel in a turn and nearly went down. I didn’t’ do as good a job as I wanted to in sticking a wheel, but at least the issue was not punished by getting dropped. At one point, Courtenay was in the lead and I thought we had a gap. I drifted up alongside of her entering a turn to avoid jabbing my brakes. Bad idea. She drifted into me and her rear derailleur wire was tinging in my moving spokes. I yell out, hoping she stops coming over. We both recover, but, the small gap closed just in that moment. I still go to the front and drill it, but to no avail. Being behind the riders during a few sections I was able to tell who was slowing where, and I took advantage to attack just at the right moments. On the last lap, I took the front after the first pit and never looked back. (Until the pavement, then I looked back, because I wasn’t sure if I had to sprint or if I had it). By 2 seconds, I took the win.

This was my proudest win ever. I raced for it; I didn’t ride away with it. Seriously a happy one for me, but still not happy enough to get primal like Kerry with some weird chest beating.

Glad to have that out of the way and some more time advantage in the series, because it was slated to rain for Sunday and a muddy race can being mechanicals, time gaps, and anything else is possible.

Check out Bruce’s photos from the race!

The mud on day 2 did not disappoint, as many locals hinted it may. It was proper sloppy by the time we got out there. It wasn’t so heavy that it was sticking to the bikes, but it was sloppy enough to make spray and get us dirty which the photos love, and it was soupy enough to hide the roots and lines, make some sections unrideable slogs, and make the barriers proper awkward. It was fun to figure out what was a slimy root and what was a shiny rut. Tire pressure selection was crucial for traction, but also to avoid risk of flat on an inevitable impact with a root or rock. I erred on the side of higher to avoid a flat.

My start was good – I maybe had the holeshot, but Courtenay took the lead from me going into the first bit of tech. I am not sure there was any plan to anyone’s ride expect to get away free and clear. I was slipping badly on the off-cambers and couldn’t clear things I was riding in preride. I ride by pit 1 and yell for lower pressure in the front. I take the pit bike in pit 2. Courtenay and I are battling closely, exchanging the lead until I get my bike with less front pressure and am able to stop getting gapped on the off-camber bits, and I am finally able to start to pull away in the sloggy sections. But, I hear a noise, like a hiss. I ignore it thinking it is a leaf rubbing somewhere. I pass the pits. Bad idea. That hiss was a slow leak and it was completely flat far from the next pit. I have to ride the front flat, which I laughed at because I indeed got lower pressure. Haha. I lost some time to Courtenay but she didn’t close, and I had one more lap after that, and I was confident that if she didn’t catch me while I was riding a flat that she wouldn’t catch me with a proper wheel as long as I rode smoothly, which I did. I was happy to come away with the win on Day 2, undefeated in the series.

Kerry and I won the overall! Photo from 2018 because we don’t have photos from this year Photo by Bruce Buckley

Not to mention the fact that Kerry also won, but I was able to have some points against him on the innerteam competition.

Cinci

Fast forward a week, and it is time to race in Cinci! This is kind of a home race for me, being an Ohioan and all. Plus, my parents made appearances BOTH DAYS, so it was extra special.

My parents, with the hats.
Photo by Bruce Buckley

Cinci was the last C1 on the US calendar, and with the field slated to show up, I didn’t expect to bring my winning streak to 5, but I also knew I was capable of it. Winning against that field was a stretch possibility, but still one. A podium would have been nice, and very possible. Yet, somehow, just like last year, the C1 day, Saturday, was a slidey shitshow. Unlike last year, however, I was prepared for it. I chose where to run vs ride and I practiced the correct speeds to ride, and I felt confident. I knew there would be crashing, but I was secure in that and ready for it. You see, the mud at Cinci is unlike mud nearly anywhere else. That course, when wet, is like slimey clay over hardpacked ground. Tires don’t bite in, there are no ruts, and it isn’t heavy. It is just…. Slippery. Somehow, despite my best efforts, I had a bad start. I also was running too high of tire pressure (which, now, after 2 races in a row where this happened, I realized the current gauge we are using reads a little low, so what I think is 17 PSI may be 20 PSI. I have learned I need to trust the feel, not the number). The first time we came around the slick offcambers, I was the one causing the first big gap. On foot. Not only was I going the slowest, but I was falling the most. The theme kind of continued throughout the race.

Photo by Bruce Buckley

I found myself in a group battling with Jenn Jackson and Clara Honsinger. At least I was in good company! It took a lot of back and fourths, maybe a few exchanges of elbows, and the luck of a mechanical, but I was finally able to pass both of them, put in a small gap, and hold it off until the finish. I wound up 7th. No, not at all the result I was looking for, but, I walked away with the satisfaction of having won my group, and riding a lot cleaner once I was focused on me and my lines, not anyone else’s. I also learned the tip on the pressure gauge. And, the sun was going to be out to make for better conditions on day 2! If only day 2 were also a C1. Sad face.

Day 2 was what Kerry calls hero dirt, but, I was scarred, and I still ran a mud front and an All Terrane rear. I was afraid of the slipping of the day before. Who knows, maybe files were the way to go, but someone would have had to have put them on my bike without my knowing. My initial start was good but I let myself fade before we exited the pavement. The first bit of chasing burned a crucial match. Maghalie was off the front just like day 1, and I was not concerned with her. I was concerned with everyone else around me, and putting them behind me. I wanted that podium. The group was big on this fast course, and I wanted it smaller, so I took to the front and drilled it. The group went from 8, to 6, to 4 or so. There were a lot of battles in the race, and I think I took them all head on, but I was for sure feeling the efforts of the weeks before all sitting in my legs. Clara and Katie Clouse attacked me and I barely was able to dangle off the back of them. Then, going up the backside of the camel hump, Katie slowed up causing me to slide out and I lost a bike length, and that kept growing and growing. I gave up, feeling myself unable to match their pace.

Luckily, I noticed they started to slow up, and I once again pushed towards making contact, and in the last lap, I did! I reached the chase group, these two battling for the last podium spots. I was happy I won this mental, and physical battle, and then I thought “just don’t crash on this fast—-” sweeping corner. Yup. I went down HARD. Physically I was fine, just shaken up. I was unable to ride anything cleanly after that, and it turns out the crash had twisted my bars. Hence why I kept running into posts. So, I created the group, lost the group, caught the group, crashed out of the group. I got 4th. I was bummed, but saw more positives in my little victories than feeling the sadness of my loss. I think finding so much success so far this season it is easier to take these little fails as learning lessons instead of devastating events that are stealing away my accomplishments.

Day 2 I rode this hill for the first time ever! yay!
Photo by Bruce Buckley

The Parkway trophy series and Cinci were big events for me, but higher on my priority list are PanAms and the ProCX overall. This means I just had 3 big weeks, but 3 more ahead in order to aim for that ProCX overall. Included in that 3 weeks is PanAms, which at the time of writing is next weekend. But, to fill my calendar I had to put a local UCI race, the Really Rad Festival of CX the weekend between Cinci and PanAms. Is a 6 week block a lot of racing? Yes. But, luckily, the travel is not too tough down to Falmouth, MA from Concord, NH.

RRFCX

This was the second year of the RRFCX, and my first year participating. It is a good event! The course has a total USAC New England race feel, with some wide open stretches, swooping turns, and a few sections, undulations, and little bits that make you go, “really?”, in a good way.

Photo by Bruce Buckley

I went into the race for a paid workout. I had no thoughts or desires to win, and to not ride myself into a hole. If it had become heavy mud, I would have not raced just to protect myself from fatigue. But, lucky for me, the ground was actually quite hero dirt-like!! Of course, because, I only came with muds and All Terrane tires. I had Cannondale bring my wheels, because I already brought a bike home with me after DCCX, so I had my on-road training bike and my home training bike as my race stable. I had 2 sets of tubulars from the trailer, and a set of All Terranes from last year with a questionable glue job. In anticipation of the conditions, I pulled my road slicks off of my tubeless Dura Ace rims and mounted up some Maxxis Speed Terranes. This was my first time trying to race this tubeless set-up, and I ended up running the tubeless file in the back and a tubular All Terrane in the front. I did this mullet for two reasons: 1) I was expecting to go faster than traction allowed in a few corners and more grip to rip in the front is a safer bet and 2) having not totally tested the tire set-up before, I figured if I was going to burp a tubeless tires the rear was a safer risk. Spoiler alert, I in no way burped a tire. But on the line Ellen did notice my strange set-up and commented on it, only to later be bitten by the tubeless karma god and she roller her rear tubular. I passed, suggesting she run tubeless in the rear next time.

Day 1 the group rolled slowly for a few laps, and I was okay with that. It was cool to get to navigate traffic in a low-risk type of way. Then, I got a little antsy and attacked, bringing the group to me, Katie Clouse, and Crystal Anthony. I sat back in. Getting antsy again, I attacked to drop Crystal, who was fighting me for second wheel. We dropped her, and Katie took the lead again. Then Crystal caught back on. Finally, in the last lap I attacked, not really sure what my strategy was. When Katie passed me, she kept up the pace this time. I decided we should take it to a sprint, and from what I knew about sprinting, I should go into it second wheel.

Well. Based on the fact that I got 2nd, it was not a good plan. I watched the men’s race later and saw Tobin sprint with 2 other guys to get 2nd, winning the sprint. I asked him if he knew he had to be the first on the pavement, and he said yea, after he saw my sprint. I think I could have got around Katie if I had 50 more meters or so. So, I learned a quite valuable lesson on Day 1, and it didn’t come at a high cost. But of course, there’s always the chance that Katie could beat me in a sprint no matter the order we were on the pavement. Would I get my replay on Day 2?

Day 1 I found myself succumbing to the lines of others, so Day 2 I focused on being my own racer within the group. I think we were either sitting up even more than the day before, or some racers were getting excited because I was getting shuffled back to 5th and 6th wheel even in lap 2 and I was NOT okay with it. If this were 4 years ago I would have gotten a verbal beatdown for pushing around the would-be winner of a race while I came in over a minute back. These kids don’t know how lucky they have it. Uphill to school BOTH WAYS!! I was getting tired of it, so, I attacked. And on this attack, I kept it up until it was just Katie and I. Then, when she sat up again, a bit of the group came back together, so, I attacked and just kept going. And little by little, I was getting seconds on Katie, and was able to keep the lead through the end and take the Win on day 2. After the race, I did ask Clouse if she was willing to go back and rerun the last half lap with me, letting me hit the pavement first so we could test that sprint. She declined.

Overall, the weekend was a win/win.. win/win etc. I learned. I felt I wasn’t in a hole afterwards. I won. I was on two podiums. I gained some confidence. All of this I will take with me into this next weekend at the PanAmerican/Continental Championships! I am going with the plan to win. I know it is a bit of a longshot against Maghalie Rochette and even much of the rest of the field, but, in theory I have all of the skills and strength. At this point, my eye is on the weather and my mind on the positive side!

Chris McGovern taking the time to break it down with me. Or toss me some treats?
Photo by Bruce Buckley

Side bar, after Kerry’s great weekend at Cinci, I am only up 3 on the #innterteamcompetition, and I would like to finish out the US (N. American) season ahead. We only have 4 head to head races left!!! Can I keep the lead??

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