Greenville Spring Training Series

Almost exactly a month after CX Nationals I found myself in on the starting line again–a familiar place, but this time I would stay on pavement with skinny tires…unknown territory for me.  The first Greenville spring training race at the Donaldson Center Airport was my third road race ever and first with a team.  I was pretty excited to have a role/work for a common goal and hoped I wouldn’t make any rookie mistakes!

A lot of colds were going around and I was feeling under the weather.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from myself or others as forty of us casually rolled off the line.  It took some restraint not to blast out of the gate with a cyclocross start!  The course was pretty straightforward; relatively flat with some rolling hills and a lot of wind.  My job was to cover breaks, attack and lead out our sprinter with the goal of getting one of our girls upgrade points.  Our team had never ridden together before but we communicated well enough to maintain control of the race.

I was aggressive but smart and was able to cover any move with confidence.  Halfway through our captain on the day asked me how I felt.  I had been working hard with little rest and was tired, but I knew other riders could hear me, so I said I felt good.  She told me to go ahead and not look back so I did..somehow saying I felt good out loud made me believe it was true and I attacked hard up a hill on the backside of the 7 mile loop.  A minute or two later I started to feel the effort and thought for sure that I’d be caught right away.  I looked behind and couldn’t see anyone so I kept going and pretended it was a time trial.

I figured I had at least forty minutes/cyclocross’ worth of very hard effort in me and passed a rider from the men’s race ahead of us who only had one leg.  Suddenly nothing hurt anymore and my strength was renewed.  My gap extended to over a minute and lasted just over a full lap…much longer than I anticipated given that the course did not suit breakaways.  Besides my intention was always to help out my teammates in the field.

To my dismay it was one of my girls who had brought the field back to me and she had another rider on her wheel.  The three of us had a bit of a gap but it was not sustainable with one lap to go.  I directed our efforts towards our key rider and eventually my teammate stopped working for the wrong girl; the field came back together.  A few riders tried to get away but I did my best to bring them back.

Our lead-out did not exactly work as planned and I was not fresh enough to sprint for the win.  Luckily our key rider was rested and got a high enough placing in the bunch sprint that she earned her points.  The goal was met even if it didn’t happen as we expected!  There was more positive than negative to take away in our first try.

The Spring Training Series is sponsored by Hincapie Sportswear and though Big George doesn’t always show up, he was there with his BMC development team:

We couldn't deny his request for a photo op...!

A week later we had another chance at Fork Shoals.  This race had constant rolling hills and was very windy.  The wind seemed to pick up more as the race continued.  Before the race Dave had warned me to stay out of the wind but of course I found myself in it nearly the entire time.  I ended up chasing down attacks throughout the race and controlled the pace for much of it since no one wanted to work.  Besides I felt safer in front and the pace was so slow it was getting boring.  I still rode within myself and no one tried to attack me…

I was able to protect my teammates and we finished first, third and I was eighth in the sprint so I was really happy with that.  We worked well together and again, met our goal.  It was refreshing to try something totally different in a race scenario and satisfying to play a role in something larger.  I was surprised at how much I liked racing on the road and started to reconsider a few weekends on my race schedule…my Cat 2 upgrade and the team’s Domestic Elite status were approved, so it looks like I’ll be diving into a few pro road events this season!

I wouldn’t have ever considered much of a future on the road if it weren’t for Pepper Palace, Spin-Tech Training/Beer City Bicycles, Studio 7 Multisport and my teammates.  Up until now I’ve been riding an aluminum 9-speed road bike (my first “real” bike ever), and while it is a solid bike and has never disappointed, riding my BMC Road Racer is inspiring to say the least!

However my dreams of road racing remained just that as a few days later I found myself on a plane to Texas with my hardtail for the first national mountain bike race of the season…

my “off season” recap

Every year it seems that the off season flies by and is as busy as ever!  This winter was no exception as the cyclocross season ended a month later while mountain bike began a month…earlier.  Hmm.  I am always sort of planning ahead while sorting out logistics for the current season but I still had a LOT of work and catching up to do…

On top of that, “winter” never really happened this year in Western North Carolina.  I took a few weeks off from structured training but couldn’t completely avoid the trails.  There were more than a few occasions where I was comfortable in short sleeves!  In fact I was able to mountain bike on my birthday in February-a first!

my backyard...

As much as I love winter (and I really do!) I love trail riding year-round even more…

I’m happy to announce that in 2012 I am riding for a new team, Pepper Palace/Spin-Tech Training p/b Asheville Bicycle Racing Club.  It is primarily a road team; in fact, we just earned a designation as one of eleven women’s “Domestic Elite” teams!  HERE is the press release from USA Cycling.

But wait, since when have I raced on the road?  The answer is basically “never” and my focus this summer continues to be the North American Mountain Bike World Cups.  The ProXCT (domestic professional race series) has five stops this summer, similar to last: Texas, California, Colorado, Montana and Wisconsin.  Then Nationals are again in Idaho.  And I live in North Carolina..on the eastern half of the country dismissed by USA Cycling.  It is not exactly practical for me to chase the entire series from a financial/logistical perspective.  Moreover, due to the Olympics this year the timing of the schedule is difficult to follow: two races in early March; one each in mid-June, July and August….

However, the Southeast has outstanding opportunities on the road circuit.  I mean, there is a reason that United Healthcare and Colavito have bases in Asheville and pros from BMC, Kenda/5-hour Energy, Exergy Twenty 12, Specialized Lululemon…to name a few…live or train nearby?

For the first time I have a local team to work with and I feel strongly that some more time on the skinny tires will aid my weaknesses off-road…  I am very fortunate in that my team supports my goals in multiple disciplines and I have the flexibility to choose my schedule.  I’ll be racing the BMC Team Elite TE01 hardtail and Road Racer SL01 bikes:

ready to ride!

Every year Asheville plays host to a number of cycling team camps.  We were fortunate to have camp in town, as living in these amazing mountains is like being on vacation every day!  Unlucky for us our camp took place on the only weekend it snowed ALL WINTER!  Spin-Tech Training has a nice studio with computrainers and we were able to utilize the equipment and snack on delicious Pepper Palace products!

We spent three hours in the freezing cold for our photo shoot with Paul Christopher (Christopher Graphics) and Kristi Eidson Hedburg.  Beauty is pain, right?

here are some behind-the-scenes shots:

Cara-giving Paul some tips!

Kate and I forgot our spray paint!

coffee break in the car to warm up!

we were joined by a random zombie:

you know, just the usual zombie..

model zombie joins the fun! (photo: Paul Christopher)

Asheville was a finalist to host the 2014-15 Cyclocross National Championships and like tons of others we showed USA Cycling our support:

photo: Paul Christopher

As it turns out, all three potential hosts earned bids and after Boulder and Austin, Asheville will host Nationals at the Biltmore Estate in 2016.  It’s a long way, but I am already excited!

the Biltmore Estate. photo: romanticasheville.com

The team photos turned out wonderfully–HERE is a link to Paul’s gallery.

presenting 2012 Pepper Palace/Spin-Tech Training! (photo: Paul Christopher)

Left to right: me, Cinthia Lehner (USA), Janet Trubey (USA), Klara Rossouw (RSA), Bergen Watterson (USA), Erica Chard (USA), Cara Applegate (USA), Kate Ross (USA), Stephanie Bunnett (ZW), Amy Alexander (USA), Mariske Strauss (RSA) and Allison Arensman (USA).

Our talented roster includes riders from three countries, covers junior, U23, collegiate, elite and masters levels.  I am looking forward to a great season with these ladies!

Thanks to all at Spin-Tech Training, our team director, Sonni Dyer, Paul and Kristi for a great weekend at camp.  I am pleased to continue working with my coach, Gordy Paulson (Speed Cycling) and massage therapist Tavis Cummings  (Omnium Bodyworks).

And just like that, break was over, training resumed in full swing and the first races began in mid-February…

USA Cyclocross National Championships

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:

photo: Heidi Beck

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…

photo: Brian Nelson/CX Magazine

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!

photo: Lyne Lamoureux

photo: Lyne Lamoureux

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

photo: Tim Westmore/CX Magazine

finished! the houses in the back look like NC mountains...

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.

Here are articles on CX Magazine, Podium Insight, Cyclingnews and here’s my frozen, muddy post-race interview:

My teammate Nicole got fourth, so it was a great day for Bob’s Red Mill in the first National Championship race of 2012!

photo: Greg Ferguson

oooh, very exciting!

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:

straight from the pits to the party!

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:

photo: Sara Kroenke

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:

photo: CX Magazine

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.

Dave and Derek, my super mechanics! photo: Sara Kroenke

From then on, I just went into damage control mode, avoiding more mishaps and furiously passing as many people as possible.

photo: Sara Kroenke

photo: Roxanne King

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.

December racing

Throughout my years in school I typically excelled at written standardized tests and performed well under pressure.  Save for one instance in third grade when I froze and didn’t write anything on an essay portion.  not. a. single. word.  I didn’t like the topic and at a young age I figured that writing nothing was better than writing something I wasn’t happy with…

As evidenced by my lack of blogging, December was a tough month for me, surrounded by a cloud of anxiety and negativity.  I didn’t want to write negative posts-especially leading into the most important part of the season.  However, racing is not positive 100% of the time for anyone and I can’t pretend it’s always perfect!  Now that it is March I’d better catch up on December…yikes.

This was the first year in which Nationals moved to January instead of December (to be consistent with the rest of the world), and it was also my first complete cyclocross season.  Over the past two years I could not afford to get to Bend and always hung up the cross bike early.  Though I knew that Madison in January was on the horizon before I toed the line at Apple Cross, actually retaining that focus through the holidays was way more difficult than I expected.

I hoped to keep the good feelings from Hendersonville through the end of the year but did not have the funding for Jingle Cross or the USGP finale in Bend and that was tough to swallow.  I needed to save/make some money so the ambitions switched to local racing.  Luckily Mars Hill, Kingsport and the NC State Championships provided excellent race options!

Mars Hill is just north of Asheville and it was really nice to roll out of bed and be at the venue twenty minutes later!  They offered equal pay to women and had some really amazing trophies up for grabs:

The course wound around the college campus and was really tough!  It featured a lots of greasy, twisty off-camber sections, a sand pit, several steep hills and a lot of singletrack climbing, followed by a sweeping descent that was a blast to catch a little air on!  At the last minute, the officials decided to start the women with the cat 3 men, which was a bit of a surprise.  I got a bit of separation with two guys within the first few turns and kept my focus on beating as many men as possible.

photo: Stephen Janes

The course was surprisingly, incredibly hard but equally fun and my mountain bike skills were definitely put to the test.  I wasn’t riding flawlessly by any means but it was enough to win the women’s race and come in second for the men!  It was nice to hang out with friends and get a small taste of collegiate racing–something I totally, regrettably, missed out on.  Thank you Mars Hill College!

photo: Rachel Wingo-Hager

Kingsport was UCI-sanctioned and the following week.  It was nice to come into this race with fitness (unlike last year when I jumped in after a month off riding/racing!) and my expectations were pretty high.  As in, I expected nothing but the win.  To my dismay the women’s field was tiny-to earn points all one had to do was finish.

This may sound like a good thing but I find it difficult to get excited about small races.  It only encourages gender disparity in the sport and in this case (likely?) dissolved one of the only UCI races in the southeast (to my knowledge Kingsport is not on the schedule for 2012).  Perhaps more people would have attended if it was a double race weekend, but I think that master’s worlds and the fact that it was mid-December hurt the numbers.

In any case I needed points and they were certainly up for grabs!  Unfortunately everything seemed off from the morning of the race.  I was extremely nervous and that is unusual for me.  It seemed as if Dave and I were just going through the motions, routine and the usual pre-race excitement was missing.  We met up with our teammates and I hoped that seeing them would snap me out of it.

From the start I took the lead…then promptly took out the field on an off camber twisty section.  Luckily it didn’t seem to screw anyone up too badly.  I managed to retain my position but felt like a fool.

photo: David Lehn

From then on I rode cleanly but didn’t have the confidence to ride the log obstacle.  It wasn’t even anything crazy–simply a mental block for me.  Marne crushed the log every time and caught up to me mid-race.  She had had a rough season and was riding better than I had seen her yet.  I was freezing cold even though the temperatures were mild and did not have much power from the beginning.  I told her to go on ahead and focused on holding second instead of chasing her down…

1-2 for Bob's Red Mill! photo: David Lehn

She needed the points for a decent call-up at Nationals so I was really happy to see her take the win!  At the same time I was terribly disappointed in my riding.  Earlier in the season I would have been pleased but at this point in the season I expected a lot more from myself…still, a podium on a bad day isn’t so bad at all!

photo: Emily Shields

The North Carolina State Championships were the following week in Winston-Salem.  Again, I wanted redemption and the big W.  My head was not in the right space and without a call-up I was stuck in the pack for much of the first lap.  I fumbled around to the lead but couldn’t hold it or respond and got stuck in second place for the remainder of the race.

photo: Weldon Weaver

The course was very technical and suited to my strengths but nothing felt right.  Dave and I even botched a bike exchange for the first time ever.  My workouts had been consistently strong so I’m sure the issue was more mental than physical.  I needed to stop thinking and doubting myself.

It was then on to Chicago to visit our families for the holidays and make the final push to Madison.  Dave returned to Asheville for work while I stayed to race the Chicago Cross Cup New Year’s Resolution race on the last day of the year.  The race was held on a golf course 15 min. from my hometown and was unlike any cross race I’ve entered!  It was completely flat, the only “hill” was a mound of dirt randomly piled on the middle of the course and there were at least 10 sand pits!

Instead of typical December snow it poured rain on Friday night and Saturday’s race was a mudfest!

photo: Liz Farina-Markel

Add the picture above to the one below and…you get the idea.

photo: Roxanne King

Luckily I had some help in the pits but I was ruining my bikes and going backwards.  I love racing in the mud but the kitty litter-like sand was another story.

what I was working with...(my pit bike)

What I had hoped to be a final tune-up into Nationals backfired and I decided to pull the plug.  Several of Dave’s and my family members came for support and I felt pretty bad about myself…however my first National Championship race (singlespeed) was a few days away and I didn’t want to take chances.

2011 held a lot of mixed emotions for me-I accomplished a lot of goals in my cycling despite a ton of stress in life.  Switching between three jobs in a year, moving unexpectedly, adjusting to a new home away from friends and family…I decided to put all of my eggs in the professional cycling basket without being established in a career or in cycling…no safety net, financial or otherwise.

I had to sell bikes to pay rent and I still buy discounted dented cans of food at the grocery store.  For some reason all of this came onto my shoulders in December and it struck me just how difficult the year had been.  As soon as I started to question what I was doing my performances suffered and fears became reality.

New Year’s resolutions may be cliché but to me, 2012 was a welcome chance to make peace with my mental demons and clean the slate.  After all I am still getting started in this sport!

Two days later I made the familiar drive from my parents’ home to Madison for the cyclocross season finale…

 

North Carolina Grand Prix #1 &#2

Louisville ended a block of traveling for me and Dave.  We were tired, out of money, and looking forward to staying local for the North Carolina Grand Prix the following weekend.  Both of our work schedules had dwindled down to around ten hours a week, beyond our control…  Looking back I’m amazed that we still made it to the races but the pressure was definitely on for me to win some money so we could get through the week, one week at a time.

It took me several days but my health started to improve and I felt great by the weekend, both mentally and physically.  We hosted some friends from Team CF and it was good to hang out and catch up!

Last year, I earned my first UCI points ever at Hendersonville and this year I had my eye set on the podium.  Unfortunately this year the field was much smaller, since a lot of usual attendees were vying for the Master’s World Championships in Louisville (in which no UCI points are allowed).  It’s a shame that Master’s UCI points don’t exist because in my opinion, avoiding UCI races hurts the racers and promoters…

Anyway, our race lacked the big numbers of Louisville, but a high quality and depth of competitors did not disappoint.  I was motivated and took the lead from the start.  Soon after I was joined by two other riders and got pinched in a corner on a steep hill known as the “wall.”  I stalled out and had to put a point down, which cost me a few spots.

photo: Trish Albert/Cyclingnews.com

I chased back into 4th place, but was no match for my Team CF friends when they worked together.  The course incorporated a lot of flat sections, pavement, and it favored teamwork more than usual cx courses do.  For a while another girl sucked my wheel and I could tell we were losing time so I attacked and was by myself for the remainder of the race.  I was happy to hold my position but disappointed to be oh-so close to the podium!  I joined Dave and Chloe in the pit to hone my pit skills and support Ben Berden, the eventual winner of the men’s race.

HERE you can watch the race highlights (including my mistakes!)  and HERE is my post-race interview, courtesy of Cyclingdirt.

On Sunday I was much more focused and knew right away during my warm-up that I had the legs.  I lined up with confidence:

photo: Erica Chard

That didn’t matter as I promptly slipped on the ground and onto my top tube!  I scrambled to get into my pedals, already in last place but accelerated to fourth into the barriers.  This course was much more technical and more my style with a lot of slippery, technical turns.  The lead group whittled to three and I made the cut.  I cleared my head and for the rest of the race all that mattered was not making mistakes or getting passed!

photo: Trish Albert/Cyclingnews.com

We stuck together for much of the race and eventually split for a rather boring, evenly-spaced finish…however any major mistakes would have definitely changed the outcome.

This was a race in which every second mattered and I was proud of everything but the start!  It felt really good to put it all out there.  Likewise, I learned some of what I still need to work on..it is a never-ending process!

Blue and black..so hot this year!

photo: Weldon Weaver/Carolina Cycling News

Making the podium was awesome but even sweeter was the fact that after this weekend I qualified to enter the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cups (top-100 ranked riders in the world)!  Making this actually happen would be another story, as we couldn’t even afford to go to Iowa City the following week for Jingle Cross, let alone Europe, but I could still dream…

HERE are the race highlights from Day 2 and HERE is my second post-race interview.

Thanks to my sponsors and NCCX for making the weekend possible and fun!

USGP #5 & #6 Derby City Cup

Cincy3 left me with some good experiences, more lessons learned, and an inevitable cold that I had held off for weeks.  I did my best to rest up during the few days I had before the USGP in Louisville and felt much better by the time we hit the road again.

I had high expectations for this race: our team is based in Louisville so I really wanted to represent our sponsors well on the “home” course.  Last year was extremely disappointing as I developed a fever on Friday night, raced sick on Saturday and was unable to race again on Sunday.  Also, this venue will host the World Championships in 2013 (first time ever outside of Europe!) and the registered fields were huge–stacked with World Cup-level talent–and I wanted to see where I stood.

Dave and I left as early as we could after work on Friday and arrived at our host family’s house around midnight.  Not exactly an ideal schedule but it had to work.  We fell asleep instantly and I had pleasant dreams.  Several hours later those dreams turned into horrible nightmares as I experienced some of the worst stomach pains I’ve ever had!  I had several emergency runs to the bathroom and felt marginally better by the morning.  My health seemed a little off both weekends leading up to Louisville, so perhaps it was a lingering bug.  I suspect the salad bar dinner I had during the drive had more to do with it…

Either way I was pretty miserable as I drove Dave to the course so he could work the early races.  My only hope was the fact that my race was in the afternoon and maybe I could recover in time.  We didn’t anticipate that an inaugural half-marathon would shut down all of the streets surrounding Eva Bandman Park and getting through the mess added a ton of stress.  Eventually I was able to force down some food and get to the venue in time to pre-ride…

The course was similar to last year’s edition, albeit more difficult.  More challenge = more fun in my opinion!  There was a little bit of everything and at around 60 riders the women’s field was nearly the same size as the men’s!  It was really awesome to see and I certainly hope large women’s fields become the norm.

As expected, the race started insanely fast and never let up.  Up until that point it was the most challenging cross field I had encountered.  I had a decent start and tried my best to maintain my position:

photo: Dave McElwaine/trailwatch.net (Cyclingnews.com)

I made it a couple of laps and then fell waaay back.  During my warm-up, my heart rate was much higher then usual and I knew I was nowhere near 100% before I toed the line. Even though I was feeling better my body was totally depleted and I decided to pull the plug so I’d at least have a chance to try again on Sunday.

Saturday was a huge disappointment but Sunday was a new day and another chance.  My team started off with a quick photo shoot between early races:

photo: Christine Vaughan with Velo Vivid

I came into the race as positive as I could and tried to hang with a group within the top 20. It was much better than Saturday, though I still didn’t have all of my strength and was still recovering from stomach issues.

There was a point where I lost a bit of focus in a technical section and completely went through the tape.  It was minor mistake and I recovered quickly but lost a spot and a lot of momentum for sure…after that, I went into damage control to avoid losing more places to the riders quickly approaching behind me.  I was cramping badly and wanted to stop, but I managed to come ahead in a sprint finish.

Though for the second year in a row, my results were far less than what I had hoped for, I am proud of what I could do while feeling so awful.  The women’s fields have grown substantially in a short time frame, both in terms of depth and field size.  Louisville had the world ranked #1 and #2 riders in addition to a strong European contingent.  I feel incredibly lucky to  have the experience to enter cyclo-cross when it is exploding; likewise I deeply regret missing mountain biking in it’s peak during the NORBA days….so it goes.

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…