Conclusion – Owning It | 2018 – 2019 CX #11

Rain on the start line in Lille


Having missed an awful lot of quality training over the course of a season that spanned an antibiotic allergy, food poisoning stemming from subsiding on less than ideal nutrition while trapped on busses for 48 hours in one weeks time, five weeks of a displaced rib, and two months of intense knee pain stemming from a poorly thought out switch to my cross training, I finished up with the later developing into no less than a few weeks of severe back spasms which left me struggling to even walk.  

pre laps on a complex course

Being told “oops that training WAS a bad idea” by a new coach who muttered “trust me” more times than I was comfrotable with was likely as much of a confidence killer as my lack of fitness following all that had transcribed.  It’s not that I couldn’t have regrouped and done what I could to salvage some semblance of my previous years performances but generally that begins with recovery and with my calendar already set I had already been attempting in vain to get low quality rest in the place of good training.


fast is fun


Still I had come up with the idea to travel to Belgium to experience the real deal and I was determined to see it through, even if mere days before my flight out for three months of athletic endeavors I was crying in the emergency room seeking relief to my seized back.  After all how was I going to manage to haul two bike cases and luggage around an airport if I could barely walk?

setting up for corners in Lille

By the time I got to Europe I knew my fitness was waning but with the countdown to the end of the season and the accumulated fatigue I amass from constant racing I couldn’t really motivate and conger up the determination to throw down and really train.  Each race day was a fresh mystery of next level racing, picking the weekends to be tired from training didn’t seem so tangible as I knew nothing about any of the courses; what would suit me and where I would want to be fresh, much less if I was going to be comfortable enough with the new level of technical insanity served up in 50 minute sessions to compete rather than merely participate.

Racing through the edge of the lake with so many spectators

The semi constant state of shock I was in at the severity of what I was about to race my bike on each new venue was impressive.  I had been warned and I consider myself a reasonable bike handler but still it was nothing like I was familiar with on a race course.  In a rare and valuable weekend stateside there might be one obstacle on the full circuit that required added scrutiny and regard.  My usual pre-ride patterns involve memorizing anything that fits into that context peppered with little reminders throughout the rest of the loop to “shift after the rock” or “lean harder through that corner.”

making the watts

The European race courses render this technique near impossible.  In many circumstances every blind corner (which was generally every corner) harbored a technical feature.  Diegem and Loenout I could barely pick my jaw off the handlebar at the spectacle the fans presented.  In Middlekerke, Hulst, and Bredene the severity of the descents and transitions left me hyperventilating after each successful section instead of charging forward.  In Brussels, Baal, and Hoogstraaten I flat out ran things I was scared of…. And rode things that should have been run. Lille, Maldegem, and Oostmalle required hefty sand skills and flexibility with the lines changing as often as you rode them.  And this was just half the season and race courses. 

surprises around every corner

Belgians have a gift for determining the most severe angles that are indeed rideable, likely a product of a true spectator sport.  The berms and banks are built into the cow pastures and edges of the football (soccer) pitch. Stretches of tarmac start line can be spotted under grazing sheep the other 364 days of the year.  When the mud is present it forms nothing like any US mud I’ve been in except perhaps one event in Northampton Massachusetts, a climate featuring similarities to the damp, moss covered, never dry soil found in Belgium and the surrounding countries.

sand makes things interesting

The courses can get saturated on a wet day but the dirt remains malleable, the bikes tires carving an easy path through the natural soils as the lack of rapid transition from rain to intense sunshine we so often experience in the US an uncommon occurrence. The results of consistent high humidity and sporadic sunshine rarely results in the claylike peanut butter our rapidly polarized weather systems like to produce.

if they can build it we can race on it

Ruts are pervasive and terrifying when you are not familiar and deliciously fun when you are.   Just because you CAN ride something doesn’t mean that you should.  The brakes can be your worst enemy and your eye position and head angle can be your best friend. Traction is necessary but cloth covered metal grate flyover stairs render toe spikes probable tripping hindrances.  

punchy climbs in Hoogstraten

Other than my typical first race of the season I had never been so oblivious spotting the location and necessity of dismounting for barriers.  I swear a few of them just jump out of the ground at you leaving me to wonder why they were so monotone in color… only to see the other side later on in the race video and realize the cameras head on view was much more important to highlight that the racers approach. 

mud means running

Off cambers are something I truly enjoy but the speed needed to hold traction on the slick ones makes stepping off a less desirable choice unless you plan to drag yourself and bike through that section purely by using the course tape.  The poles are often a solid wood, 3 inches around, 6 feet tall and hammered into the ground with industrial grade equipment.  The metal gated fences all have feet that stick into the course. Curbs aren’t padded by rule, rather by exception and they can be at the most awkward angles and locations while often featuring a smoothed and polished stone finish (read: ice like when wet).  The scariest or most challenging sections of the track will likely have the most spectators. 

heavy corners can take their toll

Creativity is valued in course design, aside from the World Cup in Pontchâteau France, not a single race featured a course that was comfortable after a single lap. In fact, often my first lap was more successful than my second, with the adrenalin rush that comes from a new location cajoling you through the unknown, a consequent look had me expecting the worst, second guessing how I managed to survive it the first pass, and allowing the anticipation build for what I now knew was coming. Despite this often the courses were so busy or intensive that there wasn’t long to anticipate a feature.  Many times I would be facing an area on the course I knew something technical was in, only to get busy with five other challenges before hitting that spot. 

anything can be an off camber

These things make for fun exciting racing and my secondary goal to take it all in became primary.  I decided without a hard reset my fitness was a lost cause and I began to just enjoy myself, albeit with a tinge of disappointment as my finishing spots dropped further and further back in the field with each progressing weekend of racing.     

slop on slop

Through this lens of disappointment came a few strong realizations.  Chiefly that I had forgotten how to push myself and find enjoyment in that challenge.  I stopped checking my results, I stopped analyzing my lap times.  I became less concerned with how much air was or wasn’t in my tires and if the bike was still shifting reliably.  On days when the course features would intimidate me, I realized I was letting them.  When the mud was pervasive I left the course to chance rather than dial in another brake pad/bearings/cable crushing lap. Because I wasn’t there for the fight I became only there to survive and come out the other side in one piece.  I wasn’t racing the girls I was fighting the course, breathing relief on the far side of a particular drop I had just stayed rubber side down on instead of charging with every centimeter of available space.

good thing these poles hold a riders weight and the course tape is not stretchy

Racing obstacle to obstacle is considerable slower than looking for spots to make up time and consequently a small bobble somewhere over the course of the race inspires fear rather than drive to make up lost seconds.  The resulting impact of that bobble can lead to holding back more speed in consequent laps and the slowness snowballs until you are pulled from the race, withholding the reward of crossing under the finish line by a remaining lap or two.

happy to be through that section

Knowing my fitness was poor I was self-selecting.  Even though my handling was better than a significant percentage of the riders I was racing around I could never make gains stick and allowed myself the worst possible thought process in a contest of time; feeling as though I was in the way.  I wouldn’t be aggressive to make up the seconds cornering or by using my skill set because it was my own fault I was so obviously not fit.  This in itself was a contradiction.  I was here to learn to handle better and be more aggressive and I was blowing all the opportunities letting them slide by in a wave of guilt that I hadn’t prepared properly.  I was truly and properly ready for a reset. 

dramatic backgrounds in an epic Netherlands town turned island


So what were the takeaways? As always I should train more and race less.  As I believe I’ve reached the point where enough repeat participation in each US based weekend has proved to me which events I have the motivation to return to and which ones I may be less inclined to get excited about, I may actually be ready to embrace missing race weekends and training instead. 

around the far side before going through the windmill

Around seven years ago my focused switched from summer mountain bike racing to fall with cross.  As I like to race each weekend, I initially idealized cross as a way to extend the fun of the summer.  The main difference being that the summer racing keeps you at a higher degree of fitness with the need to race longer than 50 minutes.   With my main focus now being on cross I still finish off each winter season with my eye on how much I love the west and what fun trips to temperate climates the mountain bike will take me. 

Oostmalle and short sleeves for the final race of the season

For a few years now it had been suggested and I had been accepting that racing the full year was detrimental to my fitness and ability to race fast in the fall. Indeed mid-season when the novelty of spring and fatter tires wears off, I tend to fall into a lull of fatigue and low drive to improve.  Somehow though this had mutated into a concept that I wasn’t fully aware of ….until I was…. that I had stopped trying to go hard ever.  Subconsciously I was equating pushing hard in the summer to a reduction of ability for the fall and I spend an entire summer in avoidance of suffering. 

tired panda

So the conclusion of 47 cyclocross races in six months, ten states, five countries, and three continents was that the 2019-2020 season starts now with time off and a warrior mentality.  I have it, there’s no doubt but I know what puts me in that mental space better than anyone else.  While that doesn’t mean I need to race to find it I will not enter races without the intent to really throw down and leave it all out there, I will seek out and embrace more challenge regardless of the stigma of being dropped off the back time and time again, and I will not shy away from my own self-inflicted fears. After all what self-improvement are we making if we don’t insist that failure is the turning point.  

Still always happy to be here





Mid season Europe | 2018-2019 CX #10

Up the long hill in Pontchateau


While this season has been uncharacteristically dry for Europe there is an adjustment to picking up and carrying on a very equipment and outdoor intensive activity in a very different location and climate.  Showing up a few day after the winter solstice made sleeping in and recovering from jet lag a much less complex process as the night seemed to be more pervasive than even my sleep requirements.

World Cup racing in France


My plan had been to dive right in to racing but the transition to a new country left me a bit more wide eyed and confused than I had anticipated and rather than risk pairing a weakened mental state with an intense physical race effort to chance an untimely bout of illness, I took a few days to spin out and absorb my surroundings.

Rucphen death spiral


Once I felt as though I had a grasp on it all I jumped in swinging.  Well; mostly. There is a lot of routine to be had on race day within a very limited time frame. While always doable, sometimes the process of just getting to the start line familiar with a course, semi clean and mostly dry can detract heavily from the actual task at hand – being focused and ready to race.  Throw in a large number of unknowns and you have yourself a recipe for either an epic bout of stress, or in my usual style, a nearly comical dose of “whatever happens, happens.”

Otegem: thanks for coming heres an appliance


It’s nice to take care of the small details such as airing tires or ensuring wheels are on snuggly on one’s own.  However, when it comes to spending time seeking parking, discovering the mystery location of the infoscription, preriding in gobs of mud and slop and then making sure that numbers are pinned, two bikes and one pair of shoes are clean, all while the legs are warmed up and ready to go on the start line can require assistance.  This can lead to a fair amount of relying on of anyone willing to step in and can be a high stress but entertaining way to make new friends.   

Around the sea of course tape at Rucphen


Sometimes this venture into the unknown with all the surrounding pressures works into my favor.  It is after all what a good bit of cross is all about.  I did find the fire to really race a few times early into my trip to the motherland but ultimately I was left hanging, feeling exposed to my less than optimal preparation over the course of the year.  For me bringing the fight is more than an extension of the previous races in the season, it’s a confidence that I have a leg to stand on and something to truly contribute.  

Beautiful park backdrop in Maldegem


I can pretend for a bit but ultimately in a vacuum such as European cross there is no room for doubt.  Being competitive includes knowing that you brought at least your best effort at a similar baseline to the racers around you and that particular component had escaped me somewhere between getting multiple injuries, a few shuffles of who was directing my training, feeling over my head in the degree of technicality, and being in an environment where I didn’t feel I quite had the basics regularly covered, such as making sure my bikes were fully functioning and in place for the race.

There have been many races I’ve wheeled my own second bike to the pit but the nature of the European course complexities, the throngs of people, the parking situations, and general lack of reliability over a non-manned article of equipment not walking off make for this to be less of a feasible option.

Alternatives can include bringing a responsible individual from home under the guise of enjoying a probably gloomy European winter vacation alongside you, one that just happens to include standing ankle deep in mud twice a week for 50 minutes in the damp chill holding a bike while you ride circles around them.  All while the promises of waffles, frites, and beer drinking tempt them into thinking that this is a truly enjoyable experience.  The other option is just showing up with the no plan game plan and allowing fate to takeover.  

My host and speedy friend Gosse on a snowy day

The someone knows someone technique usually resolves all in a last-ditch effort and this subtlety can range the full spectrum of competency. In general those who are there and willing to help really know what they are doing and take a special pride in doing it.  Bikes are returned from the pit spotless and air dried, fresh lube applied.  Shoes are taken and washed clean, jackets are gathered at the start with a smile and then returned to you on the finish line held open for your arms.  

Lining up at Pontchateau

Many of the folks that help out with these details are family and friends who love to be a part of the crazy that is Belgium cyclocross but the true beauty is in the warm reception and respect a foreign rider – even a currently super slow one gets from going out on a limb to play their hand at this sport with no support.  Much in a manner that means the world to me, each race I would meet a new person who would remember my name, help me to park, take my bottle at the start or cheer for me during the race. 

The A Team - Cyclocross customs with my bike in the pit


The giving nature of the people truly caught me by pleasant surprise.  This sport IS hard and when the stakes and competition are the highest the appreciation for your willingness to put it all out there is not undervalued.  The idea for coming to Europe stemmed from my Dutch roommate in China and her warm welcome, if I knew folk that were that friendly, even in a place so mysterious to me for sure working out the complexities of it all would be possible. 



I slowly took in the area, coming from the US with no European experience I figured it would all just be one people, a language I didn’t understand, and one general area. But even Belgium speaks half Dutch and half French.  In the Netherlands they speak Dutch and Danish and even more dialects further north.  I ended up staying in the far east side of Netherlands on the border of Germany for the majority of my visit where English is even less common.  It’s amazing that a space so small it would fit well inside the area of my home country has so many borders featuring such strong culturally rooted differences.  

spin down after racing with the girls


As I spent more time among the local people I started to pick up on the pride and values each separate culture had.  Besides the one on one interactions I experienced, there were flavors to just being present in each area. Drivers are far more aggressive in Belgium, the houses are more compact, waffles are a staple.  In the Netherlands vast amounts of open space and grazing sheep give way to compact cities and some of the most complex traffic patterns I have ever experienced.  Red painted bike lanes literally take over half the roads leaving only a single lane down the center for cars. Chocolate sprinkles are a food group.  In Germany the houses are more sprawling, the roads wider and more open.  Gas and toiletries are cheaper, grocery stores are closed on Sundays. Farms are in abundance and neatly tucked into unsuspecting urban corners.  French public bathrooms are super clean and free, rest stops feature gourmet meals, croissants and bread are a main food group, the kids at races non-stop ask for your sunglasses or your water bottles or the race numbers off your arms.  The rural communities are protectively built around plots of farm land, the speeding ticket cameras and tolls are vicious. 

exploring the local area castles


As I settled into the second half of my time racing the big leagues and everyday life with my impromptu host in the far west corner of Germany, I was taken by the generosity of the offer of a place to stay, the help I had at the races, the friendly faces of people happy to share their small part of the big world with me. Certainly, I had come over here in a performance context but what is living if you don’t absorb the larger picture, your surroundings, and how it impacts your reality? Exploring by bike became more appealing than training, and my fitness continued to wane. 


flyover fun in Rucphen

When you settle down for the final stretch of a long season of travel, a magnitude of start lines and never ending max efforts it’s not difficult to lose the full impact of your determination somewhere along the way.  Much of the US based excitement tapered down after our Nationals, a little bit was left to those who went the extra 5000 miles to travel over the pond, a few more rallied for World Championships, and then a few special soles hunkered down to see the season through to its finale. 

Scoping out the course early in Pontcheau

For a few weeks, the gloom of the weather and then the intense cold caught up to me and I wistfully scanned the usual media channels for those playing amongst the saguaros and palm trees, already finishing up their rest periods and beginning training for the upcoming summer season of road or mountain bikes in earnest.  At no point did I want to trade places, after all I was living a different kind of dream. I had hightailed it south, west, or both for the short sleeves and mild winter breezes on many occasions but this was a whole new world of dedication and reason to stay submerged.



I was ripe for a reset however; as the weeks progressed I could see the girls I was consistently in front of catching up and then surpassing me with each consecutive race.  Without the proper rest and solid training there was little I could do to fight back.  It’s humbling to not be in the actual fight but of all the choices I had, sitting out wasn’t really on my radar.  I harbored a fair amount of guilt standing in line for the call ups or sitting on the trainers surrounded by my American compadres, I wasn’t playing the same game as them and I didn’t want to detract or distract them from their focus.  I didn’t feel satisfied or really happy with where I was but I was at peace with it, theres less to be gained from fighting what is than just accepting.  


Still there were lessons to be learned and skills to be honed, race after race, weekend after weekend I thought for sure I’d seen it all and yet it continued to surprise me. The courses are obviously built to entertain the spectators, the racers that aren’t winning are surviving. Regardless of the weeks passing the marvel never lessened, the spectators continued to wow with their masses, the dedication to the riders only building as the season progressed.  

Start line vibes in Rucphen


The photographers stalking out the riders on social media or getting in your face in weird moments like when you are changing normalized, the harmless superfans who were always around became friendly, I began to have actual conversations with people who seemed genuinely nice and even developed solid friendships with other women on my start lines.

around the lake Rucphen

One of my all time favorites about racing is the people I meet and it’s amazing to have the whole world light up with possibilities as you become friends with individuals that span not just a country but the world.  Even if my performance isn’t proving to be impressive this year the excitement to prepare properly and return is more of an incentive to race and be competitive than ever.  

warm and dry after Sittard


The Euro Experience | 2018-2019 CX #9

Best view in the house at Diegem

The US can claim ownership over a lot of things but cyclocross is not one of them.  Over the course of the past twenty odd years I’ve narrowed my interest in racing bicycles down to this one aspect and turned a lot of my time and energy towards becoming stronger and more proficient. I’ve had mixed results, some years are better than others but I continue to learn a lot and most of all enjoy the pursuit.  The bike has taken me to a lot of places, but many of those are easy to get to and low threat in regards to being self sufficient.  I’ve watched a few of my peers travel abroad to foreign start lines with a degree of envy, not just at the next level of the competition they are engaging but also at possessing a degree of proficiency required to solve the mystery of managing so much equipment, specific needs, and maneuverability in area unfamiliar in the most basic degree. 

Climbing the mounds at Bredene

The idea to travel was impulsive by my standards; shortly into the season I realized that we were only going to get four months of racing in the US now that nationals was moved back to December.  Being that I, as much of the community, spends the other eight months of the year getting hyped up for cyclocross season, loosing an entire month was a bit of a letdown.  The thought began to materialize that there was indeed another option, that I could lengthen my season by seeking out racing elsewhere.  

Brussels University and its crazy features, even to Euro standards


Securing the ticket was the first hurdle, I didn’t plan much beyond that, I had some Euro from my winnings in China and I figured my credit card should work.  I rented a car from a bike related company at the recommendation of another racer who had been previously so the hope was that all the gear would fit in.  I would be staying with friends from the US for the first few weeks, through the block known as Kerstperiode when the holidays allow for a huge chunk of racing in a very short period of time. We stayed in the town of Geraardsbergen west of Brussels, founded in 1068 (wrap your head around that one) and often featured in the Tour of Flanders for the cobblestone “muur” or wall that climbs to the church at the top of the town from the canal at the bottom.  

Top of the muur in Geraardsbergen


Much of my travel abroad has been to Asian countries where it was very obvious I was a foreigner.  It was a pleasant surprise that I could blend in until a conversation chanced to start. My go to response had become “English?” in hopefully a shorter response time than it takes anyone to get frustrated at my blank stares, and many times it yields productive results. In turn I am often asked if I’m British, which was initially a surprise.  I often feel as though “AMERICAN” is tattooed across my forehead accompanied by the stigma my home country seems to exude.

tow path serenity


Indeed there are notable differences in Europe that are a fair shock to my standards of living; Clothing driers are not common, sinks and showers, ovens and water heaters are small.  Heat is used sparingly, often in room to room situations, consequently there are a lot more doors to open and close.  Interiors are not uncommonly creative renovations to impressively ancient buildings.  Cars and roads are smaller and more conservative and space is regularly dedicated to bike commuting. The farmland landscape is spectacularly flat and dotted with sheep and goats.  

fluffy friends


Cars are in turn more respectful to bikes, the assumption is less that that individual is a cyclist and therefor in a different category of recreation, rather cyclists are people too and sharing the space means there are less cars in an area that is already swamped with narrow roads.  

happy for the sunshine!


Food servings are smaller, and the ingredients are more simple. The vegetables are not the giant varieties I’m used to finding in the grocery, instead they are more flavorful and often have slightly different characteristics such as ridges on the sweet potatoes or carrots with rounded bottoms. most of the trips to the store involved walking and purchasing only what you could carry.

The nights are long during the depths of winter and what daylight there is passes by quickly. The sun comes up late and sets early with barely eight hours of usable outdoors time. The days are mostly cloudy with low, rapid moving clouds traveling west to east, likely to do with the close proximity to the ocean. When the sun does come out the damp is still permeable but without the severity of the cold, the undertones remain warm and the colors green. 

Diegem off cambers under the lights


We were easily in the vicinity of about an hour long drive to each venue and with a maxed out roster of American women at the first few world cups I was present for I opted to head to a local race to see how I felt on the bike rather than sit the weekends out.  Most of the racing in Belgium is listed on a website, with the browser to translate it to English you only have to pick out your race and select register.  There are no fees or timelines, for some of the more popular races the registration is blocked out and you merely have to show up and ask for a bib number. 

first big go at Loenhout


Race parking and navigation is always a solid question mark but once you have a general idea of the flow it’s fairly straightforward.  Many of the races are staged out of neighborhoods and certain blocks are set for parking.  Entire roads of driveways are blocked off but the locals seem to be more interested in joining the festivities than bothered by the inconvenience of a hundred RV’s taking over the area. There are an abundance of parking monitors with florescent vests guarding any blocked off area and a few offers from me of “renner?” “elite renner?” and “dames?” usually is enough to have us directed to wherever there is room to set up camp. With the exception of the first, non-UCI, local race I went to this has been the rule rather than the exception and it’s been quite easy to navigate from there.  

Sand pits of Gullegem


Finding registration can be a little more tricky, generally a look at the race website and course map, known as “trail” will have the “inschrijvingen” or “inscriptions” location marked on it.  This has been in everything from a campus recreation center, a mobile construction type office, a car dealership, a community center, a castle, to a tavern or coffee shop.  They do have signage set up as well but it helps to know what word you are looking for! There is also success to be had at stalking out athletic looking individuals carrying the white envelopes containing bib numbers and concluding what general direction they are coming from.

follow that arrow to registration!


Probably the most notable difference of all is that the bike racers maintain a degree of rock star status. At every race there are requests for rider cards or autographs, selfies or to have your bottle or sunglasses, I was even asked if I would give over my socks.  Warming up on the trainer attracts a crowd, some more aggressive than others, and when you have a chance interaction with a fan they then cheer for you by name as you pass by them.  The race programs list the names and numbers of the racers so while momentarily confusing through the blur of race brain, it’s not uncommon to hear your name shouted out in an accented voice.  

Program listing at Loenhout


The cheering itself is different in style to that of Americans, when I’ve had the chance to spectate I became more in tune with the startled looks and then laughter from the folks lining the course at my yells for the riders passing by.  It is easy to pick out the cheers from your fellow Americans, the locals have more of a lean in and grunt style as compared to our shouting and whooping.  When it is realized that you too are a racer there are plenty of stares and finally a request of a photo, not uncommonly with a child being shoved at you to take the picture with.  

Racing locally in Beernam


The courses are fantastic, wet even when dry and filled with peril that in no way would be suited for the standard American line up of early day amateur racing.  Off cambers, severe drops and step ups, ditches you literally couldn’t’ climb out of if you fell in, flyovers, stairs, insanely short remounts, curbs and more curbs, mud bogs and ruts as deep as your hubs are in abundance. With cross having been present for near the entirety of the 20th century, many of the features were man made at one point and now have been in existence and utilized in races for over 50 years.  What seems like an unsuspecting cow pasture or riverside park is quickly transformed into a massive venue of course tape and barriers, sponsor banners, party tents, VIP areas, and frites venders.  

Diegem: the ultimate party

The courses are double fenced in many areas to keep the riders clear of the eager spectators but still the ground can fill up with beer cups.  Often the spectators target a certain spot on the course with a feature that allows for the racers to show off a bit and I’ve seen everything in the crowd from the wave to enthusiastic singing.  The spectators love it when you almost crash into them, it’s not rare to have a line take your wheel under the course tape and I’ve had the tape pulled back for me or passed by in a flourish of giggles or “oh hello!” when I’ve come too close.  

Heavy ground at Bredene


The biggest challenge of racing is comfort with the near constant bike handling requirements and aggression of other riders. Every little hesitation will cost you a spot and as is common in my spot in the pack, many of the riders have either strength or skills but not both. I’ve spend a number of races trading spots with girls I can out-maneuver but not overpower while also seeing first hand the benefits of knowing when to call it and run, a change from the usual thought process that riding even the most heavy or technical features adds credibility.  While indeed it may, it also can be significantly slower. 

Pit exchanges in Brussels


The opportunity to hone my skills in such a thrilling setting is unparalleled, learning the intricacies of European life under the basis of bike racing is a best case scenario for me.  Each weekend there are new places to go, reasons to visit the far corners of the various countries and opportunities to interact with the locals in a manner completely out of the realm of tourist. Being set loose on a bike to explore and gain familiarity with the every day doings of a culture of people so different yet so similar to home is a thrill, while there were opportunities to play tourist it’s more meaningful to me to gain the understanding of values and thought processes through navigation and a chance interactions on two wheels. 


Nationals | 2018-2019 CX # 8

I finished off the brisk weekend in Tulsa with an air of hopelessness, I’m usually pretty lackadaisical when it comes to the elevated importance of a one day stand-alone race such as nationals; if merely in the interest of non-conformity with the high levels of stress that everyone else is huffing around with.  I was however hoping to bring it for the masters event, the first I could participate in since I crossed the finish line with the top honors in Boulder. The following years featured a rule change that prohibited starting in both masters and elite events in the same season and I was left to choose between start lines, opting for the later. 


As it has been for the past few years for me, I arrived at the nationals venue early in the week. It’s pleasant to scope out the venue and gather familiarity with the nuances of the course before the large crowds ascend, but it’s also terrifying to share the course with riders who approach features with a much different rhythm.  I opted to catch a lap or two in between races but the course conditions were nearly guaranteed to vary considerably with thousands of tires, changing weather, and the progression of the week.  

Indeed the first few days featured a frost layer working its way out of the soil.  The top level was slick, worthy of a surprise wheel slip on regular intervals in the many otherwise subtle off-cambers the course was comprised of. After two days of such conditions the morning of my masters race dawned with inexplicably bone dry grass.  As the first race to start the day not even a drop of dew was present.  With just a few minutes of daylight present before the call to staging, I opted to skip out on one last preview lap.  

My start was flawless, I predicted I would get off the line well but not be the strongest and I was prepared to settle in behind whoever had the lead.  This played out as I had foreseen and I was happy to sit in until I could make a move.  The move came sooner than I had figured, my preferred line was not the one the lead racer took and I rode through clean while the alternative proved less so and a pileup ensued.  


The next obstacle was the sandpit which was a bit of a sore spot for me.  I imagine that there is some good in raking the sand each morning but in all fairness the only race that experiences the freshly fluffed and untracked stretch is that very first one.  If providing the race with a fresh sand pit is a priority it should happen before each start.  Regardless it was the same for all of us competing against each other and my largest problem in actuality was the few extra deep pedal strokes needed to clear through; exactly what my back prohibited.  


I fumbled but maintained my early lead and as we approached the stairs I could tell I wasn’t going to hang on to it.  I just couldn’t get my leg to swing smoothly over the bike on the dismount and lifting my legs to make the steps happen was a struggle.  I dragged the bike up the stairs tucked daftly under my armpit.  



I surrendered the lead shortly after, there just wasn’t any way.  I held on to a hope that the two lead girls would tire before I did but I wasn’t riding with any sort of strength, I was just surviving.  I finished third on the day with an air of dejection but it was important to look at it from the larger picture: if my worst day still landed me a spot on the podium I needed to appreciate what I was capable of rather than hyperfocus on my shortcomings. 


I hung around for the remainder of the day and awards later that evening.  With the podium presentation wrapping up I finally broke down and shed some tears as I concluded I was in a less than optional place and needed to come to terms with it.  I drove to the nearby VA emergency room at the recommendation of my home doctors to see what relief I could get.  It took a bit of explaining that I was only looking for the variety of pain relief that wouldn’t require a TUE and while I was still a few days from competing in the elite race I was more concerned with the longer term and my upcoming trip to Europe. 


I walked out of there with a more than a few prescriptions but not much hope. The rains began and the course conditions went from muddy to muddier.  Each race experienced deepening ruts and larger scale crashes.  By the final races on Saturday afternoon, just a few starts away from the elites, the course was a quagmire with some of the lap times nearing the twenty minute mark.  I was banking on a few course changes being made and indeed they dropped some of the tape lower on the hillsides to give us a fresh bite on the ground.  This plays out to not just be a blessing though, fresh grass gets ground off and stuck on the bike, meaning more surface to hold onto the mud and consequently even heavier bikes and more clogging in the drivetrain. 


We gathered at staging when the time arrived and it was one of those races you had to pick clean shoes or clean bike to even get to the start line.  I didn’t have much expectations, besides the obvious issues I was already facing, much of the course was running and the running involved pulling each foot out of the suction of the mud.  Rolling the bike while on foot wasn’t an option as slow (running paced) speeds in continuously drying and now very sticky mud was a recipe for adding on weight you at some point would be forced to hoist up.  


When the lines are constantly changing and difficult to dial there are a lot of unknowns that can take you in a direction you aren’t intending.  There is less overall control and more steering by looking in a direction to let your weight carry you along and much need to relax and let fly.  A lot of the micro adjustments for this type of riding are in the hips and that was where I wasn’t so flexible.   



The flat stretch off the start line was mostly ridable.  It was intimidating to be near the back of the pack, many of the starts had crashes as the riders transitioned from fast dry pavement to deep muck.  It was chaotic as we sprinted in, but less than I had expected. We transitioned to the grind through the first section and then as the curves and off cambers came on it was just a time trial of who was willing to send it on the two downhill sections and who was able to keep the run going for longer.  The running wasn’t about being out of breath, it also revolved around who’s shoes stayed on and who could ignore the cramping calf muscles for longer.   


After switching bikes each time I came to the pit and turning laps akin to 17 minutes, I made it two ridiculous times around the course before I was pulled.  It’s never fun to get pulled but it was damn cool to have front row seats watching Katie Compton secure her 15th national title.  With just 48 hours before I boarded a plane to the other side of the world with more equipment than any sane person should head to an airport with, it was time to put the week behind me and make things happen. Namely involving scrubbing and much soap and water.   



Dallas and Tulsa | 2018-2019 CX #7


I feel a sense of community with each location that I go but nowhere does it feel it quite like Texas. The local cycling folks from all disciplines come out of the woodwork to get involved in the course set up and marshaling, registration, and tear down.  People come straight off the course sometimes still in their kits from riding to help out. Kids run amok and many of the team tents are welcoming rather than exclusive hangouts for those wearing colors matching the canopy.  It’s a family environment that shows it’s pride of being part of the bigger picture of the national cyclocross series and excitement to bring the race bigger and better each year. 


I had a new host situated in a much friendlier location for escaping to ranch land from the endless sprawl of McMansions.  Texans love their space and it was a really pleasant transition to go from hiding in the van for over a week to having the room to sprawl out.  The family was kind enough to leave some leftover pie from their holiday gathering so my Turkey Day wasn’t a complete bust. I did spend a considerable amount of time each day playing evade the Roomba but it also made for a good schedule enforcer to time getting tasks accomplished each day.  


The weather stayed warm and the forecast had a strong probability of storms for the weekends lineup of races.  My hopes were high, much love goes into the production of the Resolution Cross course but the fun bits are of the outskirts or the course centered around a stark grassy field that despite being a means to get from one playful woody section to the other, still requires awful long stretches of straightforward watts.  Mud would make the boring grass a whole lot of fun while rendering the woods slick and challenging. 



A rare and pleasant addition to the lap this year was the “choose your own adventure” style of racing, where course spreads out to include whatever lies in it’s path rather than to narrow down and avoid obstacles at the course builders discretion.   I personally feel that this style allows for more interesting spectatorship as each person watching forms their own opinion of the best line and then gets to watch the fastest riders utilize their interpretation. Coupled with the heightened challenge of analyzing line choice during the preride, the increased need to session the section, and then the real time decision making while having more congestion during the race necessitates adds unlimited quality to a course.  Resolution featured much of this this year and it was defining characteristics to the feel of the weekend.  


While the promised weather front, lengthy downpours, and accompanying tornado warnings did make their way through the metro area that evening I was left as the lone occupant of the house sleepless and contemplating the likelihood that if there really was a tornado about to hit that surely the parents would come upstairs to wake up the kids and consequently alert me to the need to seek a more secure location. 


Fortunately the warnings and imagery on the radar materialize about a quarter mile east of us and continued east leaving us in the wake of the sirens. The skies opened for over an hour and I figured the amount of rain we received would be plenty to make the course conditions “favorable” for the following day. 


While the woods sections indeed became slick and greasy, the already high level of challenge in those sections didn’t change all that much.  The open areas absorbed all of the moisture and stayed bone dry with the grass progressively wearing off as the race day progressed to feature flat slick corners with high levels of slip out risk.  

Short sleeves were on order for the first day with the relative warmth feeling almost uncomfortably hot.  I never quite felt as though I found a groove or had my grip or lines dialed in the woods so raced to what felt like a lackluster effort on my part. But I was training through the week with the goals set on nats.  I felt like I was giving near 100%, just that my legs didn’t have any watts to give.  Cross is more than 100% though. To be competitive you have to be accelerating on every available inch of the course.  If you aren’t moving forward you are moving backwards and that mind set requires a lot of mental tenacity.  


Sunday was much of the same although the length of the woods was increased.  I felt good again, strong but just not fast.  I fell into a head to head battle with a few girls later in the race after managing to squeeze all the air out of both my tires somewhere on the course and swapping out bikes. It was nice to be along other riders fighting for a wheel and that made for a larger effort than just burning circles into the dry grass. 


I hung out a few days longer to continue to stalk out a photo of the zonkey that lived a block away from my hosts and to join the Wednesday night “creek cross” race that is held at our same race venue in Garland. The race is shorter but so was the course, thirty minutes on a 2 minutes lap had me asking after a few laps in how many laps we had remaining and the reply was 14. Ha.  More time to session the woods from the weekends race I guess! It was fun riding with the juniors in the super short lap because there was lots of opportunity to encourage them along but I definitely took home the first place prize of a few armfuls of poison ivy.  



I delayed heading to Tulsa purely because of the temperatures. I love my Tulsa family just as much as Texas but it was forecasted to be 10-30 degrees colder and I wasn’t too excited about anything in the general direction of north.  There definitely comes a time when sucking it up and embracing winter is on the top of the agenda and while I can make that happen with the best of them, after a few minutes I’m full on ready to head back to tank top weather.  

A winter storm was in the forecast with ice and snow predicted for late in the week until the weekend.  Ruts N’ Guts was the last scheduled weekend of UCI racing before nationals and this year the C1 status grew the field a bit. The course featured a few changes as the adjacent lake had filled in some of the previous years features but the designers threw in a few additions to spice up the remaining sections. 

The race weekend was a cold one although the promised weather did it’s best effort to bypass the Sooner state and visit our cohorts in North Carolina where the other UCI race of the weekend was taking place. They experienced heavy wet snow during the race on Saturday and enough feet on Sunday to shut down the course… as well as the entire town. We on the other hand had not one drop of precipitation but the cold was bone chilling. 


Some combination of activities seemed to have come together to produce the perfect storm of severe back pain for this week and after Tuesday I could barely walk around much less sit or race well.  Ever the optimist I loaded up on some vitamin I and hoped for the best. Fridays pre ride earned me a few comments on not looking very enthusiastic about being on the course but not many people knew I wasn’t able to actually lift the bike once I was off it.  Momentum could keep the bike with me over some faster moving dismounts such as the stairs but otherwise I was only able to drag the bike over the barriers or compress the front wheel on the ground to bounce it up to the top of the planks.  


Often while competing the adrenalin and endorphins make it so that anything that hurts is long forgotten about in the heat of the race but not this time.   The pain manifested from my lower back and locked up muscles into my quads which burned in a way that made me think I had done more than just 30 seconds of a start sprint.  I was going nowhere fast which was mentally debilitating but quitting is always more so after the fact.  The least you can do is put forth whatever effort that you can and walk away with the satisfaction that even though it wasn’t pretty you didn’t back down.   



Race effort aside the course was fun.  I opted to sit out on Sunday as I was planning to race a few days later in Louisville for the masters nationals and for once I was not sad to miss out on the seconds day action.  It was worthwhile to observe my own field racing, something I don’t get many opportunities at.  With nationals on the immediate horizon, if there was a bad time for my back to have seized up I’d pretty much nailed it.  

I’d had a few opportunities in the past to thoroughly ponder the popular job interview question of “what is your biggest fear?” and concluded that my most honest answer was “mediocrity.” It seems as though I’d been bringing a larger amount than my fair share this year but you have to take the good with the bad.  With the overwhelming sense of impossibility that comes from being faced with not just daily training but basic tasks such as bending over, getting out of bed, or putting your socks on, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel can be just as challenging as admitting that you are hurt.