Going to Madison for Nationals was like returning home in a way and I did my best to let go of my disappointments and embrace my last two races of the season. I was very familiar with Badger Prairie as I used to race and train there often, but the new course was quite different and I wanted to capitalize on some valuable time to dial in my lines. Since I had the entire week I decided to try the singlespeed race in preparation for the Elite race.
The winter had been surprisingly mild by Wisconsin standards. Instead of the snow I had hoped for, rain and rider traffic turned the course into a thick sheet of ice!
On Monday this is what the entire track looked like:
I managed to get a lap in without crashing but much of the course was very difficult to walk on. With my complete lack of singlespeed experience and inability to ride at race pace I made a guess at what gear to use and rode without shifting to simulate it. Hardly anyone was at the venue (most were smarter) but I did run into a couple of friends! Leave it to the Wisconsities to harden up and embrace the elements! I knew the course would be perfect by the weekend for the Elite races, but I was very worried for my first race on Wednesday, the opening day. Especially when I saw volunteers use blowtorchs to soften the ground so signs and stakes could be inserted…
Dave arrived in town very late that evening and we had one day to covert my Stevens and learn to ride singlespeed (something I had only tried once on a short mountain bike ride). For the second time this season he pillaged the parts from his bike so I could race. Best Boyfriend Ever.
The course was still pretty treacherous on Tuesday, but it was slowly melting, as in the worst interest of wildlife ecology, the promoter had salted the entire thing. I got in a couple of laps with a huge smile on my face. Singlepeed was FUN! It was so different than anything I had tried before and suddenly I was really, really looking forward to the race. As luck would have it the gear I picked (39×18) was very appropriate and I didn’t even try another option.
Race time came very quickly and to my delight my coach stopped by during my warm-up. It put me at ease to know he was there and finally I was back to my usual self and excited to race. Racing is supposed to be fun, after all! I was seeded first but called up dead last. The start list had 15 riders so I stayed calm and knew I had time to make the selection. I didn’t expect to miss my pedal at the start and wasted some time fumbling around. Then I forgot that you can only sprint so fast with one gear so I spun like crazy to get up near the front.
I was second into the first turn but soon after in a bizarre way my hat slipped over my eyes and I couldn’t see very well. I sat up to take off my glasses and adjust it through the first chicanes, passed Jennifer while Kari came around me onto the first climb. I had a hard time making up those seconds but at least I could see!
From then on I remained in second, holding steady to first and gaining on third. It was a bit lonely but I was able to ride everything, never crashed and only tried to shift once in the slippery mud. I had a blast and the result was secondary. Finally I kicked myself out of my funk and felt like a bike racer again!
It would have been awesome to earn a National title, but considering where I was days before, I was happy to finish and thrilled for Kari (a former teammate), who dislocated her shoulder while in the lead at the same race last year.
My teammate Nicole got fourth, so it was a great day for Bob’s Red Mill in the first National Championship race of 2012!
I had a few more days of catching up with friends, working the pits for other racers and attending various National Championship events around Madison, including a Women of Cyclocross discussion and a party at my former employer, Machinery Row Bicycles:
Then it was on to the biggest race of the season. The field was huge with 80-90 women and I earned a great call-up on the second row: #15 (call-ups are based on world ranking; I was 66th at the time). Now that I had my edge and renewed drive, my goal was pretty simple: to finish in the top 15.
The course had changed pretty drastically from Wednesday; it became deeply rutted and frozen with a slippery layer of mud on the top. Dave told me that if I made it to the first pit in one piece I’d be ok…
The start had an enormous amount of energy and excitement:
I made it around the first three turns and suddenly a girl cartwheeled in front of me. I thought for sure I was going down, but when I opened my eyes I was still upright and narrowly missed her. I passed the pit in relief, only to get slammed from behind and jammed into a stake on the beginning of the first climb. It was pretty hectic:
That cost me a lot of spots but I kept at it and slowly picked people off. I felt awesome on the run-up–like I could fly. Then, right before a big descent, two riders crashed around me and I had nowhere to go. It was a fairly minor tangle and they got up and took off right away. I tried to follow suit but my front wheel was completely locked up! I looked down to see a jumble of cables and brake parts.
My brake’s barrel adjuster had broken and one side shifted up and onto the tire! It was really stuck and took some fighting to knock the wheel out of the bike. Luckily a friend was near and offered encouragement to stop fixing it and just get to the pit, which was past the barriers at the bottom of the hill. I left the brake open and descended the sketchy ruts with no brake. At least that was fast! I was near the very back of the race at this point and had lost a couple of minutes.
From then on, I just went into damage control mode, avoiding more mishaps and furiously passing as many people as possible.
I felt really awesome and didn’t give myself a chance to think or feel sad. The singlespeed had re-energized me and I approached the course with a different mindset. I passed nearly forty people but the officials started pulling riders extremely early–earlier than I’ve ever seen–and I was done.
I was a little heartbroken afterwards, as it’s tough to be taken out by other people (versus screwing yourself up). However, it could have been a lot worse and I was happy to have my legs again. I really felt good enough that day to meet my goal but it was just not meant to be. The singlespeed experience was good enough to make up for it and I took away lessons from both races. Finishing my first full UCI season was full of surprises and mixed emotions…mostly good ones. I learned a lot about myself!
I am incredibly grateful for the experience and to those who offered support and made it possible: our many homestays, friends, family, jobs, my coach Gordy Paulson and Speed Cycling, Bob’s Red Mill, Tavis at Omnium Bodyworks, Joan Hanscom and all of the race promoters, Stevens bikes, Carroll Composites, Panache clothing, Uvex helmets, Adidas Eyewear, Challenge Tires, Mad Alchemy Embrocation, Squirt lube/Feedback Sports, Princeton Tech lights, Shimano shoes, photographers, journalists, fellow racers and those I have met along the way. THANK YOU! It truly means the world to me.