unpinning the cyclocross season…finally!

I’m in the midst of road and mountain bike racing, but also in the process of planning the next cyclocross season.  It’s been hectic but good to reflect on this past season:

About a year ago, I had the fortune of joining Don Walker Cycles Racing for the 2014-15 cyclocross season.  Based near Louisville, Kentucky, Don has been a custom bicycle frame builder for the past 24 years and also owns the North American Handmade Bike Show.

I have been thrilled for the opportunity to race on custom steel bikes; in college I majored in metalsmithing and have always appreciated the soul in anything handmade.  From traveling to training, racing and maintenance through all conditions, cyclocross is incredibly demanding on frames; steel is an extremely dependable choice.  Columbus provided us the very best tubing for the frames:

Being vertically challenged (5’1″) it has not always been easy to find a bicycle frame that fits and performs well; it was absolutely amazing for me to have the option to customize a frame with Don and draw upon his wealth of knowledge and experience.

Thanks to the support of Shimano, Thomson, and Continental, my beautiful frames were set up with the best components on the market (most of which are handmade or domestically manufactured): Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 groupsets and C35 carbon tubular wheels with Continental Cyclo X-King tires; Thomson Bike Products handlebars, seatposts and stems; Cane Creek headsets; Paul Components brake hangers.

I chose to outfit my singlespeed bike with a chainring and cog from Endless Bike Company, which manufactures products at home in Asheville, NC.

The bikes handle exceptionally well and the ride quality that high-end steel frames provide is unparalleled.  Di2’s shifting is flawless-even under load.  I was immediately impressed with the grip of the Cyclo X-King tires on loose, off-camber surfaces-they felt quite stable and never slipped.  Meanwhile, on grass and pavement they are fast and smooth.  The sidewall are quite resilient and there is no need for aquaseal!  I feel incredibly lucky and spoiled to have such nice equipment; it certainly provides confidence at the races!

CROSS VEGAS

A mere two weeks after our wedding, Dave and I headed to Las Vegas for Interbike and the infamous Cross Vegas race.  No, it doesn’t count as a honeymoon!  We were there solely for work at both the show and the race.  I met up with Don and had the opportunity to meet with some of our sponsors and friends in the industry.  The whole experience is always hectic and crazy, but it’s nice to see so many faces from the industry and racing communities in the same place.

Despite my best efforts, I was quite stressed and exhausted leading up to the race, which happens in the middle of the week, at night (around 11pm eastern time).  I felt some relief when I got to see Kim, one of my best friends from high school!

Swiftwick hooked me up with some awesome socks for good luck, I had a decent call-up but a tough race; while bridging up to a group I took a tight turn pretty hot and slammed my shoulder into a metal barricade.  Luckily no one else was involved and I managed to stay upright, but it hurt quite a bit and killed a bit of my momentum.  I recovered and reeled in the group again, only to slide out hard on the same side on the only paved section on the course: a downhill turn on a sidewalk that had been recently glazed.  I don’t think I’ve ever gotten road rash at a cyclocross race before, but it could have been worse.  Lots of riders went down there.

Everything in my body throbbed with pain on every slight bump, but I fought through it all and tried to stay positive.  I liked the course better than in previous years and the promoter did a fantastic job!  The race was very professionally run.  Usually the best part about Cross Vegas is the thousands of fans that line the course; the atmosphere and energy is really cool (when they are not spraying riders with beer).  Fortunately I did not get sprayed by beer and only got offered beer hand-ups.

photo: Lyne Lamoureux/Podium Insight

photo: Lyne Lamoureux/Podium Insight

On the last lap I realized my position was not going to change so I obliged in high-fives, stair hops and better hand-ups ($$$).  That lap was so much fun and while I was hoping for much better, having fun is ultimately what racing’s all about.

MONSTER CROSS

I returned to Asheville first thing in the morning, worked a couple of days and raced Monster Cross.  At 70 miles and around 11,000 feet of climbing, it is not exactly a cyclocross race, but is fastest on a cross bike.  However, I opted to race on my mountain bike, as I was still pretty sore from Cross Vegas.  It was not the fastest way, but probably the more fun way to do it.  Pisgah Productions events are always a challenge but a lot of fun!

mountain bikers stick together!  photo: Icon Media Asheville

mountain bikers stick together! photo: Icon Media Asheville

TREK CXC CUP

I had a week to recover and prepare for my next round of UCI races at the Trek CXC Cup in Wisconsin.  This event got me started with cyclocross and holds a special place in my heart.  I was able to visit friends, family, my coach, and that meant a lot.

above Asheville once again

above Asheville once again

The course was demanding, twisty, bumpy, yet fast.  It was really demanding but a lot of fun.  Despite not feeling well, I had an ok race on Saturday.  After a great start, I got through some pile ups and almost lost my front wheel.

My efforts put me in a hole for Sunday and I gave racing a shot but couldn’t fake it through sickness or finish the race.  While disappointed, it was good experience, I had a lot of positives to draw upon, and a bit of time at home to recover and prepare for the next racing block.

MUD, SWEAT AND GEARS #3 & #4

I followed up the Trek CXC Cup with back-to-back-to-back-to-back races in Unicoi, TN, one of my favorite venues just over the mountain.  In preparation for the Single Speed National and World Championships I entered the single speed races immediately after the women’s 1/2/3 events both days.

I had a lot of fun, pulled out four podiums over the weekend and appreciated getting in the efforts so close to home.  I stayed home longer than I anticipated when I slid out on a wet bridge and tore up my arm pretty badly.  It was really challenging to do any cross-specific bike lifts so I switched my “B” bike to road mode and stuck to the roads, trainer and trails.  I also volunteered at a local Asheville Cyclocross race and planned for SSCXWC in Louisville:

SSCXWC14KY/OVCX #6

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect at the Single Speed CX World Championships, except that it would include a lot of debauchery, to say the least.  It was really awesome to have the event in Louisville, Kentucky, the home base for my team and all-around great city.  I love racing single speed and knew this was an event that I couldn’t miss!  We were greeted by the Colonels and started off the weekend with qualifying Feats of Strength, which involved a single speed tour around the city and various challenges throughout to determine seeding for the main event.

photo: SSCXWC14KY

photo: SSCXWC14KY

Traditionally SSCXWC requires costumes, the prizes are golden bikinis/speedos/tattoos and is pretty much the opposite of UCI-sanctioned racing.  I chose to go as the legendary Samford, the Pisgah Gnome, who has sadly been missing for a couple of years.

the Singlespeed CX Worlds start line is no laughing matter!  photo: Scooter's Shots Cycling Photos

the Singlespeed CX Worlds start line is no laughing matter!
photo: Scooter’s Shots Cycling Photos

The race began with a wedding on the flyover and a LeMans start on a giant slip and slide, featured a wall climb and drinking short cuts, a ball pit, a fire barrier, and a dance party bus among the usual sand pits and flyovers.  I got the hole shot to the bikes, but poor positioning of my bike held me back.  It was a little out of control with everyone cutting the course that it didn’t exactly feel like a race..rather a parade or a party on wheels.  Whatever it was proved to be a good time and an experience I won’t forget!

I entered the OVCX Storm Eva Bandman race on course the following day and held my own against a lot of girls who did not “compete” in SSCXWC.  The permanent course at Eva Bandman is one of my favorite venues and it would be helpful to race on it prior to the Derby City Cup.  I had a great time hanging out with my teammates!

CINCY3 CROSS FESTIVAL

After returning to Asheville from Louisville I barely had to unpack,  work, pack up and hit the road for Cincinnati.  The Cincy3 Cross Festival is always a highlight on the calendar with three days of tough UCI racing and 2014 marked the first Pan-American Cyclocross Championship, held on Day 3.  I was excited and nervous to see where I was at; as soon as it started raining on Friday I felt more at ease as I love racing in the mud!

I took an early practice lap and felt dialed…until I put my foot down at the barrier and felt a huge shot of pain go up my quad; it just locked up.  It hurt a lot to walk and I was pretty upset and worried that I wouldn’t be able to race.  Dave took care of my bikes and I had enough time to keep warm, dry and massage my leg with some embro.  The pain started to subside a bit and I spun lightly on the trainer to warm up.  It seemed to help and I lined up at the start.

Once I was riding, I felt ok; it was only dismounting at the barriers or bike exchanges that I had issue and had to walk gingerly.  I rode the railroad ties a bit slower than others ran them, but it felt a lot better for me.  Otherwise I put it all out there, stayed focused, and actually had a pretty good race, all things considered!  My equipment was flawless; the only way I could which bike I was on was by the color of the handlebar tape.  It was really reassuring; I only had to worry about myself!

Day 2 featured a night race and a tough, fast course.  It was cold and damp, but not muddy, and the ground was power-sucking.  I did alright, but not as well as I would have liked.  My leg didn’t bother me too much, but I was guarding it and that doesn’t make for the best effort possible.

Yet Another Bike Photo Page

Yet Another Bike Photo Page

Day 3 was the highest caliber and most difficult course yet.  It was very technical and truly worthy of a Continental Championship…I loved it!  My body didn’t agree so much but it was a great experience and inspiring to see such a high level of deep competition in the women’s field.

DERBY CITY CUP

Dave and I stayed on the road between Cincy3 and the Derby City Cup back in Louisville; since these races were at such a high level and in my team’s home turf, I really wanted to do well.  We were working on the road, but it was nice to have some downtime for once.  It was a luxury to be able to visit Don’s workshop and preview the course the day before:

The course was the best rendition that I had seen yet and I was pretty eager to race!  Day 1 was at night and I had a great start; I was feeling better than I had most of the season and the course suited me very well…

Derby City Cup #1; photo: Joseph Grimes

Derby City Cup #1; photo: Joseph Grimes

That is, until I pulled onto the onto the paved start/finish straight, shifted into the big ring and…nothing happened!  Somehow I managed to unplug my Di2 wire (it’s actually not easy to do), and lost my ability to shift.  It defaulted into the easiest gear, which is good if you’re on a group ride, but I was in a race, totally spun out and far away from the pit.  I turned the pedals over like a crazy person, trying to figure out what had happened and not to panic as I got passed by one rider after another.

photo: Yet Another Bike Photo Page

photo: Yet Another Bike Photo Page

I swapped bikes, explained the issue, thinking my battery had failed, and with bizarre luck, promptly did the same thing to my pit bike.  Knowing that my “A” bike was out of commission I stayed on the “B” bike, practicing my cadence, until I finally got pulled.  It had been hard to diagnose in the dark, but we solved the issue fairly easily and I had another chance the next afternoon.

My second race went much better as I moved on from the previous night’s disappointments.  My coach had me on the right track; I just had to stay smooth!  There was an exciting stair step/jump feature that was unlike anything I had raced on in cross before and I had a lot of fun getting a bit of air over it!

TURKEY CROSS

After the block of UCI racing in the Ohio Valley, I stayed home to catch up, work, and train for the remainder of the season.  My good friend Jane and I hit up Turkey Cross, the Tennessee State Championship race, which was good fun.

I was pretty fatigued at this point in the season and succumbed to a pretty bad sinus infection that would not go away.  It seemed about right after an unusual string of difficulties and tough season.  I was pretty sick during the NCGP and had to sit that out and lose a bunch of training time.  I didn’t think the wedding was too stressful but I realized after the fact that it and other life events really take an enormous amount of energy.  So does bicycle racing and something had to give.  It definitely caught up and caught me off guard.  However I had a chance to visit family in Chicago over the holidays for the first time in a couple of years and that was really nice!

KINGSPORT CYCLOCROSS CUP

Not much of the season remained and I really wanted to represent my team well in one last push.  I had recovered well enough, but wasn’t where I hoped to be.  With the Kingsport Cyclocross Cup so close to home I had to try to gain some precious UCI points for staging at Nationals.  I felt flat and had a pretty mediocre race, but gained some points and reminded my legs what racing required.

photo: Ali Whittier

photo: Ali Whittier

USA CX NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

I left shortly after Kingsport to Austin, TX for Single Speed and the Masters 30-34 National Championships.  I qualified for the Elite race, but didn’t want to take so many days off work and felt I had a better chance of gaining exposure in the master’s category, where I would have a better call-up (this year you could only choose one or the other).

The single speed race was incredibly hard-the course was awesome, but brutal for one gear, and the headwind was very strong along the start/finish straight.  I grabbed the hole shot and maintained a decent position that I later lost.  I chose a proper gear but my legs had trouble turning it over.  Everything in my body felt like lead!

We started the master’s race in the rain early on Friday; the ground was rock hard underneath and the layer of mud across the top was like ice.  I took the holeshot again, only to wipe out in front of everyone halfway through the lap.  A few riders got away but I recovered fairly quickly.  I battled hard and had a good race, but it wasn’t enough to see the front again.  I finished in fourth, pleased with the podium but hungry for more.

I’m so incredibly grateful and honored to have had the support of my team, sponsors, friends and family!  Without them, the season wouldn’t have been possible.  It was certainly trying at times but the experiences were unforgettable and I learned so much.  I encountered a lot of speed bumps and wish things had gone more smoothly, but that is cyclocross…and life.  There are so many factors and only so much is controllable…a lot depends on how you react to the situation.  Sometimes much more can be gained when things are not perfect.

I was content to end my season there, but I did preview the 2016 course the following weekend at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville!  I have a long way to go but I’ve improved so much over the past couple of years.  I can’t wait for what’s ahead!