I was able to break up my east coast campaign this year with a visit home and the opportunity to race at the U.S. Open of Cyclocross. While I’d been gone less than a month it was a well earned change of pace to travel west for a week, spend eight hours cleaning the house, ride my familiar jaunts, dodge late season rattlesnakes, race at familiar elevation, and visit with my favorite cyclocross family. Coaching juniors has an amazing side benefit of being loved and welcomed by all the local cycling families and I can’t say how much it means to me to be recognized and cheered on by so many kids and their folks.
The drive east from Wisconsin included carting one wayward racer friend along for the trip. I don’t have company too often and having someone else to look up the next NPR station as we passed through each new town was definitely helpful. Having two extra bikes and four extra sets of wheels was a bit trying on my compulsive organization habits but I survived and many giggles were had to make the drive go by quickly.
While the KMC fest made much promises of less pavement and more dirt the new ratio wasn’t much more impressive than the inaugural year. With little rain falling anywhere near the east coast of the US this fall what little dirt was provided featured two run-ups, their consequent descents, and turned quickly into sand under the many practice laps.
I have to say for someone who does not much care for road racing and has strengths based in bike handling and elevation changes, there isn’t much more dejection than showing up to a 60% pancake flat course with the most technical aspect involving climbing over an actual guardrail and a greater than 90° turn through gravel to avoid an ill placed jersey barrier. Both days and for most of the categories the race involved the lead group staying cohesive until the final lap.
The race start involved a start circuit around the bermed pavement oval track to then dive through two tight turns under the flyover, stretch out on the grassy infield straightway, jump back on the pavement in the opposite direction and follow the track to the back side.
Day one in Connecticut had me solidly in the pack on the start but blocked in and shoved back when the group went for the first corners effectively putting me in dead last place on a course I had little motivation to attack.
I was determined to have a better start on day two but on a sadly similar second day’s course with few changes to the route the start once again presented group tactics and this round I went off the front. I nailed the first corners in the top three and sat in for the straightways.
Feeling oddly not over-cooked I entered the first run up and had a (literal) front row view of my need to get stronger running up things. I was swallowed by the pack but still in the mix as we rolled over the top to the sandy option filled plunge. In a split second lack of thought, I went the way other than I had planned in the pre-ride and found myself on the ground and rolling through the dirt only to pick up and attempt the next immediate climb in what was without a doubt….the wrong gear.
I once again returned to the rear of the field in a dismaying attempt to fight as much with my motivation to ride hard as actually using that mental energy to go faster. Definitely not the way to perform well at a race but it was something to tuck away and learn from as there are no shortage of races to come.
Further proof it’s a road race… hey look, they’re clearing out the one rock on course!
Pretty sure that brake bump just swallowed me whole
I’d love to ride my bike up something else but if you took the whole day to build it….
These must be the bargain port-o-potties
Is that a guardrail step up? Is that a carpet on a guardrail step up?
If everyone is just going to sit there and stare at each other go for it!
Start the turn at the piece of carpet, wait, where’d the carpet go?!
On the plus side I was able to spend time with my favorite Massachusetts host family while managing zero tangles with cars (not so lucky last year), finding that low tide was the perfect time to train on the beach, and exploring a few areas I hadn’t stumbled on previously. The east coast is such an elaborate collection of history and nothing is more cool than picturing the land as it was while standing in the exact place generations before had been.
With a few days to regroup before heading down to Baltimore for the next UCI race weekend there was time to stop through Shrewsbury for the can’t- be-missed Holy Week remnant and Wednesday night fun of the Night Weasel Cometh.
This race features local flavor, beer on tap, a night lit ski hill in all it’s rough and tumble glory, and a late arrival by yours truly who then started the race without a full pre-ride lap. Rather than get warmed up I opted to tape glow sticks on my spokes but was seriously outdone by a few racers (namely our winner Mags) weaving actual strings of lights through their wheels.
The race went well with the pack spreading out considerably early on but I can’t say how much I love this event for the rule of “no one gets pulled.” As the women field is composed of racers from every category, a rare opportunity is presented to mingle and encourage the pack half of the pack the leaders race through them.
That’s right, we will pay you to make bad choices. The start stretch is fraught with peril and followed by a huge hill… ….Make good choices: pass after the start stretch. The Light game is almost as much of a competition as the race! I know it’s my job to lead through the corners but I don’t know where the course goes!
After an exhilarating evening, the drive south continues on to Baltimore and I arrived just in time to join the Baltimore Youth Cycling kids for their weekly practice!
The Baltimore community throws their heart in for this race with passionate involvement by the community and features some of the nations best hecklers. The new addition to the family this year was a behemoth flyover that easily made every other stateside run up look like a toddlers step stool. In an otherwise majority grass course this feature was a wonderful if not frightful addition.
Last year we were blessed with hurricane Michael who happily brought us rainy legit cyclocross conditions. When I mentioned to my host fam about the odds of another hurricane making a visit I was met with chuckles and skepticism. As active as the hurricane season has been this year, it wasn’t much of a surprise Nate made an appearance but as dry as the ground was it still wasn’t enough to switch out the file treads.
The van (and my helmet!) still has dents in it from last years acorns. The ample tree cover provided a nice canopy of shade but fortunately the acorns weren’t as out of control.
While my confidence was boosted by the fun night in Shrewsbury, I wasn’t quite as on my “A” game as I could have liked, and was off to a rough start while feeling like I was going backwards throughout the race.
The temps were considerably higher than I had thought when I was getting ready and it felt suffocating as I went through the race motions. I was pretty dismayed at three bad races in a row but hopeful for a change in weather would bring about conditions that suited me better.
Day two was drizzly but as dry as the ground was it wasn’t enough to make much of a difference. the course was smoother though and the reversal of most of the track made for more punchy climbing and less straight power sections. The clouds and cooler temperatures gave me a renewed sense of hope and I strove to make improvements on the mistakes I had made day one. It worked and while my performance was still nothing to write home about, I was once again in the money.
Monstrosity… how do you spell behemoth anyhow? And you thought another hurricane wouldn’t come through. Jump starts for all my friends! That’s right, you’re being chased by a doughnut! Um, thanks for parking in my bubble?
I was excited by the prospect of heading back to Colorado, but took a few days in the rain and humidity to explore the Maryland countryside near my host family a bit more. The roads are narrow, endless, winding and are great for exploring. I was thrilled to stumble upon some scenic features and having the family cat glued to my room window.
I drove the van to D.C. where it would safely sit tucked away on Andrews Air Force base until I retuned. I left the east coast in 90 degree weather feeling somewhat foolish toting my down jacket along with my helmet through the airport as neither would fit into my backpack. I landed to a balmy 27 degree low Colorado day that had the six inches of snow from the night before melting off and promptly put the jacket on.
It was better to visit home than I would have thought. Besides the temps (I hate snow and cold btw) the sunshine was in abundance and the mountain air is exhilarating. Not My Cat was pretty grumpy about me having been gone and decided to take up residency in the guest room to protest.
He came around quickly though and was right back to his follow-me-around antics which I find to be as irresistible as it gets: greeting me at the door after a ride and demanding to be let in.
While a cold front was threatening to roll through on Saturday bringing rain and cooler temps after the week of warming up, the course was otherwise dry. Unlike the previous few weekends though there was much more twisting and turning to keep it interesting.
I was feeling super pumped to race on my home course, sleep in my own bed, drive my trusty VeeDub to the race, and be amongst those I consider family. The promised cold front came in during the race before us with a vengeance throwing 50 mile per hour wind gusts down the start stretch and causing the racers to ride in groups. We warmed up on the trainers literally holding the tents down and dodging flying bits of anything not tied down in the tent row.
I had a reasonably positive race despite the oddity of having a start sprint devoid of any familiar sounds as all the usual cues of tires and gears were well masked by the deafening roar of the wind. The group tactics were frustrating me as everyone would slow leading into the start stretch allowing other racers to advance on us while I would take the lead into the wind. This seemed counterintuitive to me but with the climb after the first turn it was tough to commit and attack into the wind. With three table tops thrown into the course for giggles there was much concentration on keeping the wheels down as any space between the ground and rubber saw them blown right out from under you. Fun.
I was battling back and forth with a few other racers and as we approached the final corner to sprint my group of two somehow became four and although I was unaware of who I was dogging it out with I went for it. I thought I may have held my spot but the closest rider threw her bike over the line while I continued to pedal so I thought that might have been a deciding factor. I didn’t even see results until the payout and while 11th is one sad spot out of the points at a C2, I did indeed hold my spot on the line of four sprinters.
Day two showcased a perfect Colorado fall day and renewed my determination to have a good race. I focused on emptying the tank from the start and pushing harder than I wanted to. It seemed to work and I found myself comfortably in the top ten relishing the thin air that I’m used to to gain ground on the climbs and allow myself some play time rallying the many corners.
It was much more fun keeping the leaders well in sight and feeling as though I was playing a part in the race. The day culminated in yet another sprint finish which seems to be more common for me than a straight ride in. I held on to seventh for the day excited to have lived up to everyone who told me I had looked strong on Saturday when I wasn’t feeling it.
If you aren’t winning you’d better be jumping things. That wind tho Running the offcamer? I taught you better than that! At least if ALL the course tape is missing you can ride off and then right back on again. Sloppy start line puppy kisses. That baby just stuck it’s hand in my mouth! Don’t you guys warm up?
Not everyone in Colorado is friendly. But not-my-cat came around just in time for me to head out again.
I made it back to D.C. early in the week to pick up the van and get ready to coach the U.S. Military Endurance Sports cyclocross camp at a nearby park. The park was awesome, a historical hunting grounds and lodge from the early days of colonial settlement with rolling terrain, woods, and a sweet single track perimeter trail. While it was peaceful and quite 90% of the time, the other 10% featured routine flyovers of Air Force One departing the nearby Air Force Base.
For a first year camp we had a solid crew of USMES athletes show to hone their cyclocross skills.
The two day camp culminated with the weekend DCCX race close by and unlike last year I was prepared for the density of the city and the difficulty of driving the van through one lane streets featuring two way traffic while playing chicken with city buses and dodging rats. I found a happy home to park the van at night in the VA parking lot and even a grocery store that featured a parking lot like mainstream America. This coupled with the fun week of coaching and meeting good people set me up for a much more positive outlook on the weekend.
The course was dry and dusty just like I had remembered but by race time much of the grass had burned off from the riders and had become fast. Some of the corners were tricky and I was excited to work hard and showcase my own abilities to the folks from the clinic. The heckling game was strong and beer and doughnuts were in abundance.
Day one was awesome. I finally felt like I was pushing full gas and consistently. I stopped being the nice guy (gal) on the start and held my ground unsympathetically. I was riding everything smoothly while holding off the riders behind me and closing on those in front of me. It felt great to be in control with the front just in sight and having cheers coming from new friends and old helped to push me on.
Day two was interesting. I didn’t feel like I was going that much harder and alas we only raced 6 minutes longer than day one but I didn’t quite have the same edge as Saturday and wore a pretty scary grimace on my face the whole day. A second lap crash from the leaders rolled me into the top three for a lap and that likely got into my head more than it should have. Good news is that if I spend a few more races under this pressure hopefully it will wear off and I’ll make the most of it next time. I made a few errors, running into a tree root and playing keep away with the course tape for a few poles more than I should have but at the end of the day I was still in the points and gained many lessons learned.
Pretty sure I just ate more fried food today than I’ve had in a year. Hotels generally frown upon you stealing their toilet paper. “Hey doughnut, come here and get a picture with a pro!” Where it takes you an hour to go 20 miles. Where did you park the van? I don’t know, I took a picture. Pretty sure the guy in the Carebear onsie just smirked at me. You won’t fit past that bus, just back up onto the sidewalk. “Like the one with all the people?!”
Like all things, cross is better with friends and it’s such an incredible feeling to get to know new folks, revisit with old acquaintances (especially when they race in a care bear onsie after forgetting their kit) and spend quality time the ones that push you to race harder (to try and beat them of course).
And it’s onward to New Jersey to wash every single piece of kit I have with me (back up jorts are a thing) and gear up for another four weeks of start lines and max heart rates!
WHATS NEXT: HPCX – Highland Park, NJ Derby City Cup – Louisville, KY NoHo International – Northampton, MA Supercross Cup – Suffern, NY
Be sure to stay tuned for more to come!
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