Cincinnati UCI3 Cyclocross Festival

A week after my local races I took some new found positivity to the Ohio Valley for three big days of UCI racing.  The first round took place in Covington, KY at Devou Park.  It was kind of strange to be racing in the late afternoon, but nice to have time to make the drive with little stress.  Six hours of driving and it was straight to business; Dave went to the pits to help out our teammate Ray in the 2/3’s race.

At least the drive was smooth…it was incredibly windy out and between the registration tent and my car my numbers flew away!  I had just enough time to get new numbers reissued, check out the course and warm-up.  The course was super hard; one the most difficult of the season with lots of technical elements, some big mud bogs and lots of elevation change.  There was no faking it; I knew it would take 100% focus and strength to do well and I was excited (the more challenging, the better!).

I had earned enough points to start at the top of the second row, but they kept calling names and the second row filled up, then the third…Suddenly I was waiting by myself and finally my name was called…LAST.  I started to panic but wasn’t the only one displaced.  Quite honestly, starting positions with 20-30 riders don’t really make or break the race.  It’s just that earning a good call-up is so hard to do and having it stripped away is heartbreaking.

My starts are usually strong so I took comfort in that and put the frustration out of my head.  The officials weren’t budging and I could let it get me down or move on.  We were off and I worked really hard to move up as smoothly, safely and quickly as possible.  The start looped out and back, then down into the ampitheater bowl.  By that point the only people ahead of me were last year’s Worlds team members and the French national champion.  Her bold red, white and blue stripes got closer and closer and surprisingly, I felt good!  I was exactly where I wanted to be and anything negative was a distant memory…

That is, until I passed the pit on the next lap and promptly flatted my rear tire!  I was climbing when it happened and stayed on my bike, back down into the bowl and mud pits, obviously as far away from the pit as possible.  I didn’t have any traction and was fishtailing a lot in the most technical parts, but riding a half lap saved me a lot more energy than running would have (as I learned at the Planet Bike Cup).

A lot of the riders I had worked so hard to pass went by like I was standing still.  I tried to stay patient but considered quitting so I could save energy for the next two days…and then I remembered that the payouts went 15-deep.  Outside of the top 5, the women’s pay was a fraction of the men’s, but it would buy me dinner.  Nothing like being totally broke (and hungry) for motivation!

After what seemed like forever I switched bikes in the pit–so grateful that Dave had the pit bike totally dialed and even more that he made it possible for me to have a pit bike in the first place.  I dug deep, found new energy and rallied to pick off as many people as possible.

fighting my way back.. photo: Velo Vivid

I was riding well and gave it my all…  The finishing straight was pretty long and I was catching 10th place; we actually got the same time at the line but my legs were fried and I didn’t have enough to get even a little bit ahead.  I definitely burned a lot of matches on the demanding course but I was proud to come back from a few mishaps.

It’s taken some work to realize that it’s not a matter of if  but when things will go wrong in cyclocross and when they do, it’s not the end of the world.  I was disappointed to be so close to the points and higher pay, but I took away a lot of positive lessons.

The three of us got dinner and stayed with some of Ray’s family.  Before long it was on to Sunset Park for a second try.  Last year I was amazed at what kind of course could be created on such a small footprint in the middle of a neighborhood, and this year’s edition did not disappoint.  Regrettably the sand pits were taken out and some tennis courts were added, but the course seemed to have a better flow and featured a small mud pit.

My call-up was fixed and I had a good start from the gun:

photo: Julie Lewis-Sroka

Unfortunately the good start did not last terribly long and the leaders pulled away as more riders came around me.  I fought back several positions into 11th with the chase group just ahead of me.  They were painfully close, well within sight but the course was fast and I couldn’t close the gap to them on my own.  I felt a little run-down and didn’t do myself any favors by letting the turns slow me down instead of using them to my advantage.

At 5’1″ the barriers never seem small to me but these felt extra-large!

photo: Jeffrey Jakucyk

It was a long, lonely time trial but fortunately I held off the racers charging behind me to finish once again in 11th, just missing the valuable points.  Same result as Friday but a completely different experience!

Sunday at Harbin Park was a higher category event, meaning that significantly higher points and money were on the line.  Dave pitted for the elite juniors, 2/3 men, elite women and elite men all weekend and the lack of rest was starting to catch up.  He was up coughing all night and neither of us felt good or slept well.

I really wanted to finish the weekend on a high note..even though we were at the venue nearly five hours before my race, the course was never really open for pre-ride as they were staging races while others were still on course.  I didn’t have a chance to get in a practice loop but saw what I needed to.  It hadn’t rained in a few days but the course was saturated, power-sucking and slippery.

I had my best start ever; I took the line no one wanted in the mud and it benefitted me:

between two National Champions..photo: Julie Lewis-Sroka

I was able to stick with the leaders for a while and even got a small mention HERE.  It was so awesome to ride with ladies of that caliber and feel within my limits, but the truth was that I didn’t start the race with a full tank.  There was no faking getting sick (I had been on the verge for weeks) and I dropped off pace after a lap.  From that point on I just tried (unsuccessfully) not to lose any more places and finished in a very disappointing 13th…still in the points, but not where I knew I could be.

Things come in threes and Cincy3 was still a blast and full of experience, both good and bad.  Thanks to everyone who’s offered support and especially to Dave for keeping the entire team’s bikes in top shape through all conditions!  We only had a week to recover and it was on to the third round of the USGP in Louisville…

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