I told Sully before the my first cross race a few weeks ago that I wished all my fitness for 10 hours at Leadville would compound down into 30 minutes. He reminded me that it didn’t really work like that.
I haven’t had to deal with USACycling in any real capacity until this last race. I bought my collegiate cycling license and because I had never had one before was placed in the bottom category, okay no big deal. I immediately applied for an upgrade after copying and pasting my racing resume, while non of my past races have been ‘sanctioned’ under USACycling I figured they would at least be able to see that I knew what I was doing. Denied. I tried again, going a little more in depth with what I had accomplished. Denied again. They don’t take non-USACycling races into account at all–uhh…okay. I wasn’t that upset except for the fact that I would be racing at 8am and not 11. Sully joked that it was almost like doing Leadville to have to wake up that early. Even though I had applied for an upgrade to Cat A, I still had no idea what to expect in Cat B. Cat B’s were grouped in with all women Cat 4 and junior girls, with all the women starting a minute after the cat 5 guys. My experience with cyclocross is limited, last year I only did two races and raced against the same fast lady both times.
The morning of the race I got to the venue with Sully and had just enough time to sit on the trainer for 7 minutes–I quickly worked to get my heart rate up. It was still chilly and the fog had yet to lift and as I sat on the trainer and my angst with USACycling grew more, it was early, cold, and not enough time to drink all the coffee, and they couldn’t give me an upgrade-gahhh.
At the start line, I was in the back because I haven’t done any races so my call up was last–the gun went off and we all jockeyed for position on the straight pavement before it funnelled into the grass. I was about mid-pack and followed a girl an S-turn when she went down. I bobble and had to put a foot down and re-negoiate around the line I had been on. The next feature was four spaced out steps which required hoping off the bike, running up, and hopping back on. I’m not the smoothest at these transitions but as we approached I realized that my technique (albeit ugly) might give me a slight advantage to make up time.
We kept riding in a pack, and was unsure at what point we would spread out. The course winds around into the forest and feeds into a 50 foot or so sand pit with a 180 at the end. I had practiced riding in the day before but realized during the race that those in front of me were getting off and thought I should follow their lead. I hoped off, threw my bike on my shoulder, like Sully had shown me the day before, and started running and after a few paces I realized I could run faster and work to get in front of people that way.
This was a nice realization, even if I can’t ride that fast at least I can out run them on one short section, perfect. I jumped back on my bike and rode the next, much shorter sand section, which I almost got through without face-planting but cut the corner a little too close and dug my front wheel in a little too hard and went over a little too fast. Slightly embarrassing, but the plus to racing at 8am is that there aren’t that many spectators. I got up and hopped back on to catch back up to the girl in front of me.
The course was really fun. The mid-section in the woods had some technical features that I knew my mountain bike skills would help on and hopefully help me to catch up to the other girl, or give me the over confidence to embarrass myself again. I did catch her in the back section but was nervous with the next feature being a stair run. After sprinting up the stairs there isn’t much of a platform to get back on my bike before plunging back down to the course. It caused for some slightly sketchy descents with not a firm grasp with either hand.
There is one last sandpit that is just long that it was worth running, followed by a straight away, one sketchy, steep descent that always made my stomach drop, another up, down, hop off and run up the hill and then the first lap was done. 2 to go. On the pavement to gather speed and go into the S curves. Up the stairs and and into the woods, run the sandpit, back into the woods…this is where I noticed that something had made my bike slightly angry how far would I have to run at this point, the chain was making a lot of noise and it was skipping around on the rear cassette when I wasn’t shifting.
I kept trying to find a good gearing that it would want to stay on but to no avail so I did the next logical thing, start praying — I got through the entire rosary while trying to calculate how much further I would have to run if my bike broke. I tried not to mash the pedals going on the climbs and gingerly shift. One more lap, I kept checking my chain to see if maybe something had just gotten stuck in it. Sully had told me I had about 20 seconds up on second place towards the start of the third lap. Again, run the sand, into the woods, “our father…please don’t let my bike break.” I kept riding, gingerly shifting and getting off at any uphill that I thought would make it more cantankerous. I was finally on the last push uphill when I decided it would be okay if my bike broke because I could make it to the finish and still maybe win. It didn’t break and I was able to finish 1st overall for the wave and finished 5 minutes ahead of the 2nd place Collegiate B ride. I told Sully later that my bike had been making a weird noise. He went through it and found that my chain had broken and was shocked that it hadn’t come off while I was racing.
Not to put the horse before the carriage but I started talking about what to do for an upgrade. Mainly because there was a race the next day and was debating doing it. There wasn’t a collegiate category and my collegiate license wouldn’t cover it so I would have to get a non-collegiate license in order to race and upgrade in that category which would upgrade me in collegiate (is that not clear to anyone else?). The reason I wanted to figure out the upgrade was because it was one of the last races I could get to before Nationals and you have to be an “A” to race Nationals. I figured it would be fun to road-trip out with Sully and fun to race even if I get clobbered on. I talked to an official who wasn’t terribly helpful and slightly discouraging. I went through all the scenarios with Sully and finally figured if I wanted an upgrade I probably needed at least another good race result so I didn’t come off as a one-hit-wonder. I found an official who was helpful and told me to track him down the next day for an email about an upgrade.
That night I did what I could to recover, which wasn’t much, except wash my kit in the hotel sink because I had only planned on racing one race that weekend- Ha!
The next morning was more angst, but at least with daylight savings time it wasn’t as dark or as cold. The field looked similar to the day before but with some new faces. I had no idea how my legs were going to respond to a second day in a row of racing. Sully had told me, don’t go out too hard, just sit and see what happens. I tried that but by the time we were off the pavement I was behind only 2 girls. I hand’t intended to go out that hard but also didn’t want to get stuck behind anyone on the technical sections. By the time we were up the 4 stairs I was in the front and with my shifting much better and I utilized it. Into the woods, and into the sandpit–I’m not sure what that says about me as a bike race if I think the running sections are my strong suit. The race course was mostly the same as the day before with one of the back sections cut shorter which nearly caused me to go through the course tape as I hadn’t anticipated it. I was able to maintain my lead throughout the race and hold on through the finish.
After talking to the conference director he suggested waiting till December so I only have to buy a 2017 license (the year runs January to January) and then apply for my upgrade and then get my collegiate license and will be upgrade automatically after the non-collegiate upgrade. Knock-on-wood but if everything works out I’m be able to race collegiate nationals–and spend more time with this guy.