March 2 came (and went) very quickly; before I knew it I was headed to Texas to see if I could remember how to race my mountain bike. I wasn’t quite ready mentally or physically to jump into racing at that level so soon after cyclocross (most racers had been preparing since November and only one other lady had completed a full cross season), but Mellow Johnny’s puts on a great event and I had been to the previous two editions. I knew I couldn’t miss it! Plus it was only halfway across the country and not all the way like most of the ProXCT races…
This was my first time at a season-opener (during an Olympic year, nonetheless) and I anticipated a very fast race with guns blazing. I had reasonable expectations and looked forward to gaining some good experience. Thanks to my team’s support I was able to fly into Austin and avoid what had started to become an annual 20-hour drive each way. It made a world of difference; I arrived early on Thursday and had some time to relax,visit with some friends in town and build my bike. Later I met up with my new teammate, Mariske, the South African U23 champion and we traveled west to Johnson City…
It was really nice to travel with a teammate–I tried to learn Afrikaans and Mariske (who moved to the US in January) noted that Texas looked a lot like home. There were even zebras at the exotic animal farm in town!
We pre-rode the course on Friday and it was great to see everyone on the circuit…I am finally starting to feel “at home” with my mountain bike family and less of an outsider at the ProXCTs. Here is a video from Team Jamis/the promoter’s website that provides a good idea of what the 5k course looked like:
I was more excited than nervous though at the start I admit that I felt a bit like I forgot my books on the first day of school. My call-up was decent and I lined up first on the second row, right behind the World Champion. I’m not sure when that will happen again but it was pretty cool to look up and see rainbow stripes straight ahead!
The course was very technical and tight with little opportunity to eat or pass. A good start was critical and I had a decent one-sitting in the top ten with Mariske:
I held my position for a while but didn’t quite have the kick for the steep climbs and lost a few positions. I kept the riders ahead of me in sight and tried to stay patient and smooth. The new course was really fun and my skills were pretty solid at the high pace; I started to feel more confident as I made a pass.
This was one of my first real efforts on the new BMC and it was just awesome! Really stiff, responsive and nearly 5 pounds lighter than my full suspension bike. I just made the switch to a 2×10 gear set-up as well and it was a very easy transition. My stock bars look wide on the small frame, but they’ve offered so much more control and help with positioning on climbs.
The weather was perfect; a little on the cool side, actually…SO much better than the triple digits of previous years! I never doubted that I would continue to move up until I lost both of my contacts midway through the race. It was very dusty and windy and when I blinked, they just popped out. My vision isn’t too terrible but enough that on such a technical trail my depth perception was thrown off quite a bit.
From then on, it was just damage control to get through the race and not crash. Fortunately I knew my lines; I just had to be more cautious and that cost me a lot of time. To do well at a race this level chances have to be taken and there is no room for caution. Mariske had a very respectable race and I was really proud of her. I still finished on the lead lap but not exactly where I hoped or knew I could be.
It’s really tough to race year-round and impossible to be on top form the entire time as well. Aside from the inability to see clearly I felt more positive than negative about the experience and considered it really good and valuable training. We had some more time to catch up with friends in Austin and then it was back to North Carolina in a heartbeat!
As chasing the ProXCT series is unrealistic from a logistical standpoint this year I am sort of feeling things out and building fitness, form, skills, experience…It is only my second season training with structure and though I have already seen tremendous progress from working with my coach, Gordy Paulson, I feel that I have no limits and am only getting started! I am excited to see where racing can take me and have a lot more opportunity to excel with my team this year.
Thank you to Pepper Palace, Spin-Tech Training/Beer City Bicycles, Speed Cycling and Omnium Bodyworks for supporting me and making racing possible!