Pan-American Championships. It’s the American version of European Continental Championships, but we include North and South American continents because we are just that awesome(ly underrepresented). It is a race that has gained in popularity since its inception in 2014. I feel for many US racers it may mean less than the US Nationals, but for at least the elite women it means we get to bring a few more top-hitters to the table like Maghalie Rochette, Jenn Jackson, U23 Ruby West, and others. Not only that, but winning continental champs means you automatically qualify for worlds (and avoid the hefty assistance surcharge), and get a swanky white jersey to wear! And this jersey is required to be worn if you are starting in a world cup (I am not sure if you have to wear it for just any UCI race).
So, for me, this was a mid-tier goal for the season. Nationals is a bit higher priority, but doing well here would also tick off another goal of mine which was automatic qualification for the Worlds Team. I also needed redemption for last year, where I felt confident on the course, but managed a fairly large-scale slide out in the second lap that left me chasing the whole race. The course was only slightly slick, right where I tried to push the pace and thus went down, and the rest was tacky and fast, making it hard to make up an inch of ground. Or, a centimeter in the case of the Canadians. This was the second year of PanAms being held in Midland, Canada: a small town in Ontario, about 2 hours north of Toronto. And yes, Canada in November is cold if you were wondering. We were all watching the weather eagerly, seeing that there was large chance of significant snowfall come Sunday.
I arrived in Toronto on Thursday, wanting to ensure I was there in time for a preride on Friday even if I had issues with my flight. I wanted to leave nothing to chance. I made these plans when I thought I was racing the PanAm race… on Saturday. However, a deeper dive into the schedule proves that the C2 race was Saturday and the Championship was on Sunday. And if you were paying attention, I did not actually race on Saturday at all. Neither Kerry nor myself did. There were a few reasons for this decision. Kerry, having a very very legitimate chance of winning wanted to stay fresh, especially as his greatest competition, last year’s winner and current nemesis Curtis White was also sitting out on Saturday. My rivals, however, did race on Saturday. And though I did want to stay fresh for Sunday, there were other reasons I did not race. I am nearly maxed out on C2 UCI points, so there was little reason for me to pursue them on Saturday. Plus, the race did not pay out ProCX points, and, since I am in weekend five of six of straight racing, I thought not racing a double hitter would be better physiologically. And finally, preparations for a one-day race are a little different than for a double weekend, even if it is only mental. Dealing with those nerves, experiencing one course in so many conditions in the days leading up, balancing venue time with down time, these are all things that we usually just face for Nationals and Worlds. So, why not emulate it for another big race?
Did I think not racing Saturday would give me a slight edge? Yes. But, I also knew that with how Maghalie Rochette was racing, I would need more than a slight edge to beat her if she was on top of her game. However, the edge may be enough if she was having an off day or experienced a mechanical of sorts. I was also hoping for the edge up on Clara, who is also riding well this year. Both were on world cup podiums this year, with Maghs being a winner of one. Yea, they are no slouches.
In the days leading up to the race I envisioned the start and the finish, but of two different scenarios. I envisioned a clean start that got me far and away from the field, with an early gap to go wire to wire. I knew this scenario was not exactly realistic given my usual first lap, but it would give me the more ideal finish scenario: solo to the line. Envisioning it would make it a reality when faced with the option of clear track in front of me, so it was important to make this a race plan.
The other option I gave myself was a sprint to the line with Maghalie (or anyone else but she was the one I was thinking of, given the odds and her terrifying punchiness). This scenario is why I raced to the line with Katie Clouse on Saturday of Really Rad. Did I know how to win a sprint head-to-head? I learned last weekend I had not paid close enough attention to how sprints where playing out, so this weekend Kerry and I were observing all of the finish sprints. We found out you had to come to the pavement first to win due to the short, downhill stretch. This meant you had to lead into the last technical section, perhaps running the stairs being your last chance to pass.
So, I was envisioning the win, but I knew that if Maghs was on, that it would be a race for second place. And I thought I was prepared for that.
Another benefit of not racing on Saturday was that I could watch my competitors from the other side of the tape: an otherwise rare opportunity. Not only did I get to watch how they were going, but, I could see the conditions of the course and how they changed. I had ridden the track in the preride window when the women did, and I saw how much the course had dried up between then and the race. If I had been racing I would have committed to lines that were so much slower by the time the race actually started because the wind and other races had dried out different sections of track. So, on Sunday, when the largest preride window was at 11:10 and we didn’t race until 3:50, I didn’t bother to ride. If I had ridden in that window, I would have likely skipped anything later because of not wanting to get wet and muddy again. Plus, it was dry when we arrived, and when Kerry was going out at 11:10 it had started raining, so the conditions were changing while he was riding. Having done a few laps of the course in the preceding days, I needed a conditions and fine line preview, not an overall look, so it was pointless to go out in the wet and cold that early. And it served me well, because Kerry had given me tips that didn’t prove to be the hot routes when I finally did go out, and I was able to report back to him how the slip n slide was starting to tack up again.
Finally, it was time to race. I had my lines and my number, all that was missing was a little bit of amped. I think the isolation of the “pro” parking, or maybe being at the venue for 4 hours kind of killed my spirit. Or maybe I was just tired or maybe it was the weather. Maybe I don’t need an excuse at all, but the normal nerves on the start line for a big race just weren’t there. I wasn’t feeling bouncy or excited. But, I knew my job and had my race plan.
The whistle blows. I get my pedal and after a short bit we settle in single file going into the first turn off the pavement. I was settled in at about 4th or 5th wheel. I was getting sprayed with muddy water off the pavement, I didn’t expect it and it caught me off guard. Then I kicked myself for even noticing! Then, we hit the first sweeping, greasy turns. I take some good lines for being solo, but in the group I had to put on my brakes at the exit to avoid getting put into some stakes. I am shuffled back, which when there are only 16 or so in the race, getting shuffled past 10th or so is a bad sign. On the next straight I get out of the saddle and hammer passed until I end up sitting 4th. I pass Ellen up the first runup and am finally 3rd behind Clara, with Maghs just a little way up. Clara and I are fighting one another. She takes a wide line and I go to pass on the inside but we come out side-by-side and I give to her on the next turn.
Clara takes a spill at the bottom of the steep plunge and I get by. On the next lap I slide out my front wheel (right as I was thinking about it) and I lay it down – Clara passes me. I stick with her and pass her back as she trips on the run up. I go in to take a pit bike and she passes me taking the riding lane.
This is the pass that stuck. I am not sure why. When I got the bike it was in too small a gear and I lose a bit of ground taking the time to shift up. The brake rotors were wet and the pads were newer so when I went in for the first time hitting the brakes I felt they weren’t engaging and I got freaked out and slowed down before some of the technical elements, scared I wasn’t going to be able to slow down. Eventually, I found the confidence and got back into the rhythm. But, that lap when I pitted I lost 15 seconds to Clara, and then I went back to matching her pace. If we had had a 50 minute race and not a 40 minute race I think I could have ridden myself back into it, but in that short race the small lapes in confidence took me out of the running for 2nd. It was the weirdest thing, because I pride myself on my consistent lap times. This is the only race in the history of ever that I have a randomly slow lap – where I haven’t crashed or had something weird happen. Now, I am kicking myself.
I ended up 3rd, which is the first podium I have ever been on in a “jersey race” such as Pan-Ams, nationals or worlds. And for sure I am proud of how I rode and raced – minus that one lap or even half lap of mental flatness. So, the result wasn’t what I was racing for: 1st or 2nd, but it also didn’t go poorly. It was literally the most medium result I could have achieved. I focused so much mental energy on “success” that all I can feel is mild disappointment. But only mild! I am by no means upset, either. Just kind of … yea, I did the bike thing. Checking the boxes. Growing and moving forward and continuing upward. The hunger is there, each little fail stoking the fire. I want to finish a race completely shattered – and maybe I just didn’t have the sharpness this weekend as it was week 5/6 in the block?
Coming up I have Supercross, two WHOLE weekends off, NBX, then Nationals. The day after Nats, the crew and I take off for Europe for our invasion. Pray for my packing abilities.