US Pro XCT #4 Mellow Johnny’s Classic

The trip to Texas came up much faster than I expected, but I planned well for it and everything seemed as though it would fall into place.  Initially I wanted to focus on the Pro XCT series this season, but I am still struggling to get my feet on the ground financially (good thing I majored in art!).  I work full-time and am trying to get established with my job while paying my way to the races.  I am very lucky to have a flexible schedule that allows me to train and race, but traveling across the country every other weekend is simply out of the question.

So though I don’t have the means to race exactly the way I want to, I am grateful that I am physically able and can follow my dream of professional cycling to some extent, glamorous or not.  Last year, Mellow Johnny’s was my first UCI race ever and I was still in shock that I was lining up to the superstars of mountain biking; people I had even gotten autographs from the previous year at Nationals.  I was thrilled to finish the race without getting pulled.

This year I had better preparation and more of a clue to what I was getting myself into.  The only way I could afford to make it was to drive the 1200+ miles, but that would allow me to work along the way and take my time.  I was disappointed that Dave could not join me, but I can handle supporting myself.  It’s just more fun to have company!

I planned to stay in Birmingham Wednesday night, work there in the morning, shake out my legs at Oak Mountain (home of the ever popular Bump N Grind), stay with a friend near Dallas on Thursday night and have plenty of time to prepare and relax in Austin before racing Saturday morning.  It would be perfect.

My plans changed a little when I couldn’t get an early oil change appointment on Wednesday.  No worries, I would leave later and make it to Alabama by midnight.  I had some concern about the weather forecast, which warned of likely tornadoes headed for my entire route, but figured I could make it.  I’ve driven in bad weather before.  At the car place I saw the coverage of the mile-wide tornado through Tuscaloosa and Birmingham..hundreds of people died and towns were completely leveled.  I was very worried about the people I knew in those towns and incredibly thankful that I was delayed.  I decided to leave first thing in the morning instead.  That night the storm hit Asheville pretty hard but the mountains seem to protect against tornadoes.

I chose to take a different route to Texas, through Memphis.  I was planning to work through Tennessee on the way home, but it seemed best to avoid the destruction on the southern route.  My sister was running the Rock N Roll half marathon in Nashville and arrived there the same time I did!  We met up for lunch and it was a perfect break from driving.  I spent some time working in Memphis and made it to Little Rock on Thursday night.  There was quite a bit of flooding and damage, but the roads were fairly clear.

Austin was still 8-9 hours away, but I was on track to make the registration and pre-ride (only 2 hours long!) on time.  Carolyn, a friend from college, lives about 4 hours from Austin and decided to join me for the race.  I picked her up and everything appeared to be working out.  Then we hit I-35 traffic-I don’t think I have ever driven this road without traffic, but this was the worst I’ve ever seen.  We moved about a mile in an hour and got delayed 3 hours; dashing all hopes of making the pre-ride.  I was exhausted from the stress and travel, frustrated that it was too late to spin out my legs and worried that I wouldn’t be able to start.  Thankfully the race director met us at Mellow Johnny’s and assured me I could do everything in the morning.

I woke up bright and early and pretended that everything had been perfect.  And things finally started to go smoothly!  I got permission to check out the course as the beginners were finishing up and saw enough of what I needed; I jumped off the course when I saw racers ahead of me.  Carolyn had never seen a feed zone before but she kindly agreed to hand off bottles so I wouldn’t need a hydration pack.  My bike was dialed and my legs felt surprisingly good.

I was dismayed that the women’s field was so tiny.  We all joked around at the start and it took some pressure off, but I had really hoped for a better turnout.  I was the only one without ProXCT series points this year, so I was called up last.  They actually thought everyone would fit on the front row to start, but some of us chose the second row.  It really didn’t matter.

most of the field at the start...only 12 riders were signed up!?

Before I knew it it was time to GO!  I was in the same gear I almost always use to start but when I pushed the first pedal stroke my foot kept going and I heard a big pop.  I looked down in horror as my chain was wrapped around my pedal on the OUTSIDE of my crank.  Never before has that ever happened!   At that point all I could do was get off the bike and put the chain back on.  I was somewhat embarrassed that it happened in front of EVERYONE, but I stayed calm and just got back on my bike..

The starts in these races are insanely fast.  If you screw up the start, you’re pretty much out of the race.  Luckily I fixed the chain quickly, but when I looked up even the dust had settled.  The field was completely out of sight!  The spectators were awesome and I had a lot of support from everyone who had seen my mishap.  I had a rush of energy and pushed it as hard as I could.  I went through a lot to get to this race and I was NOT giving up!

trying to regain contact! (photo credit: Joshua Clark)

It was kind of nice to be able to pick all of my lines and within a few minutes I started to see the tail end of the race and that pushed me harder.  I wanted so badly to catch them!  I started to ride back into the race and a lot of people had mechanicals.  This course is extremely fun, but it is unforgiving for sure.  Unfortunately Judy had to drop out on the first lap but she stayed in the tech/feed zone to cheer everyone on.  It was very kind and classy of her.

The rest of the race was like a time trial; I didn’t see anyone, anywhere.  Asheville has been kind to me and my skills were much improved from last year.  I actually felt like I was racing again (hooray!), but I was further back than I should have been.  However, I was just happy that I was finally there, riding, and my bike was working perfectly.  The heat wasn’t as brutal as last year, but it was still in the nineties and humid.  I nailed my nutrition and Carolyn did an excellent job in the pits!

all by myself...

I finished eighth and earned a healthy amount of UCI points!  Sure, in a different world I might have gained some minutes and maybe a position, but I was very happy given the circumstances.  No matter how well you plan anything, especially bike racing, some things will always be out of your control and you have to take the good with the bad. most importantly, you have to have FUN!

Train with Grain is not only for cyclocross! Thanks for the power, Bob's Red Mill!

I am fortunate to have relationships with great companies whose awesome products I believe in.  Thanks to Speed Cycling, Adidas Eyewear, Troy Lee Designs, Maxxis, Rocky Mountain, Industry Nine, Bob’s Red Mill, Portland Design Works, Pro Bikes and Momentum Racing for keeping me going and looking good!

Jake RULES! haha.

Though I can’t deal with the heat, I love Austin and always look forward to visiting.  The promoters did a great job with this race and the spectators were awesome!  Texas has a great emphasis on junior mountain biking and there were so many kids on bikes!  It was really great to see their enthusiasm and I only wish I had that growing up.  Thanks to a new friend, Ben, for hosting us over the weekend!

Perhaps my biggest accomplishment of the weekend was making the photo coverage of Cyclingnews HERE, haha!  Last year at every big race, the photographers would approach me and hold up their camera to shoot, do a double take and realize they had no idea who I was and walk away.  I hope I am worthy of photos in the future!

The travel to Texas was totally worth it and I got to catch up with friends in TX and spend some time with my relatives in TN.  The trip back to Asheville was no less dramatic, with more big storms and massive flooding the entire drive home!  I had a minor mishap with the car and a huge hole, but got it fixed in Memphis and made it home in one piece.  After the longest week ever I was SO happy to see this:

welcome to NORTH CAROLINA! yes!

Now I am resting up and preparing for the next adventure!  Thanks for reading the longest blog post ever!

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