BAM! We sprung off the line and OMG I was a tire, then a wheel, then a bike in front. Spin-shift-spin-shift-spin-shift as fast as my little legs could go. I knew I couldn’t hold this the entire length of the straightaway, but that’s ok because I wanted to see what speed and line someone else could hold. So two came by me in the last one-third and railed us around the first rapid-fire three turns. Scared myself proper but stayed up. Into the barriers: I executed a little caution here as the last thing I wanted to do was bash a tire into the first barrier. All seven compressed together, and for the first time I was running and jumping barriers barely inches apart from these other very talented gals. Three-wide, four-wide, changing places within a few strides. Everyone was so smooth and clean with their lines and remounts that it all flashed by without any mishap. Wow, that was fun!
I was so excited to finally be back here racing. Last year I made a stupid mistake in the first race, injured myself, and that was the end of my beloved ‘cross season. This year I came in fitter and smarter. The Joules Course is really long in thick grass and favors the power rider, whereas I’m a technical rider. You have to race to your own strengths and realize you can’t win all battles, so this time I planned accordingly.
Saturday started out warm and humid and would get stormy throughout the afternoon. Great turnout at the course. Women’s Free State Racing members and supporters had worked most of the day Friday and early Saturday morning to build the course and final touch-ups were made to get us started on time. It stormed overnight but the course was just wet, not muddy, holding up well. The ground softened enough that you did have to pedal downhill to gain speed.
Race #1, 11am
My first race was women 50+, grouped with the rest of the ladies’ Masters field, followed closely by women Cat4/5 including a couple of very talented junior/U20 gals. We were also delighted to have as our guests some ladies from the Goldenrod Pastries team in NE (men also). These are strong gals and I got hungry every time one would ride by and I’d see “PASTRIES” screaming at me from the back of their jerseys. Nice ploy!
All who pre-reg’d got a first-row call-up, which I love. Teammate Lynn Malir and I have quick sprint starts so this is a happy place for us. At the whistle Lynn and I were off 1-2 down the straight 300 meter track to two right-handers followed by a quick left, then right into double barriers. Not long after was the fun “Spiral of Death”, an amazing fenced structure seen only on this course locally, and only occasionally worldwide.
Now there were enough of the long straight and slightly uphill power sections for lots of position shuffling to happen. Lynn is an amazingly natural ‘crosser with no apparent weaknesses, and was gone from everyone’s view within a lap. I started getting passed by power riders but did not panic. On the other hand, it was possible we would only get 2 laps, so I accelerated between features and in the second lap tried not to lose any more places. The slightly muddy double-downhill-switchback was my fun zone and I made sure to execute my lines smoothly. No problem!
Then, surprise! Coming to the finish after 2 laps, the officials posted “1 to go”. Uh-oh, I was a bit gassed. My beloved teammate Lynn had set a high pace that forced a 3rd lap for most of us (some were pulled). Well, that’s one way to get your money’s worth!
It would result in about a 37-minute race instead of 30, which on this course is a lot of high-watt expenditure.
Unfortunately I faded on the uphill slogs and was passed again, putting me in 4th place for the category. It was a stellar day for the strong roadie-types but I met my goal #1 which was to ride a clean race with no wipe-outs and practice some specific things I’m trying to improve. Congratulations to Lynn Malir, Amy Van Nieuwenhuyse, and Donna Stevens on their terrific performances for the podium. Donna especially just doggedly tracked me down and out-did me; I would like to have stayed with her for a finishing sprint, but it was not to be today.
Race #2, 2pm. Women Cat 1/2/3.
Yeah, a glutton for punishment. This time a guaranteed 40-minute race, against all women stronger than I, and younger, but that’s not an excuse at this level. Well, maybe some of my parts would disagree but whatever. I recently moved up to Cat3 and am thrilled to see in live action just what they might do differently. I learn from them every race even if I don’t see them for very long.
We had a relatively good sized group at seven total, with a Cat1 (exciting!), three Cat2’s including teammate Julie Higgins, and three Cat 3’s. Again, I got a first row call up and my heart rate must have been in zone 4 before the whistle. I was anticipating the fastest start I’d ever seen, and coiled like a spring on the line, visualizing U.S. National Champ Katie Compton and current World Champ Sanne Cant. During races, I sometimes ask myself, “WWKFCD?” (What would Katie F Compton do?). I knew I was about to get killed, but not without a fight.
Now we were single file, and I’d gone first-to-last, trying to cling to Julie’s wheel. I was also trying to breathe! The front runners hammered away, “PASTRIES” mocking me, and Julie pulled away. I kept them in sight for a little while and then had a very quiet lap to focus on myself and contemplate life, appreciating cheers from friends and strangers alike, occasionally spotting the battle out ahead. Enjoyed the good rock music and cheers/heckles offered up by photographer Roger Harrison at the Spiral. Still practiced some accelerations between features and good clean lines through turns, but my legs, arms, back were tiring. I watched to see when I’d get lapped by the Men’s Cat 3/4 and singlespeed leaders who had started before us. Suddenly I had a carrot: I was gaining on a singlespeed guy. Man, it helps so much to have a target, and man, I love my gears! I reeled in singlespeed guy, caught my breath on his wheel for a moment, then passed with a word of encouragement.
I made sure not to impede the leaders as they came by one by one. At least I wouldn’t get lapped by even the Cat1/2 winners. I made a little sprint-ish effort down the straight to the finish. It trains the mind and body to always anticipate a hard finish. Another clean race; high-fives and hugs all around. Pass me some of Amy Evangelista’s pumpkin bread.
The singlespeed guy I had passed later had a mechanical issue and shouldered his bike a long way to cross the finish line. In fact, he summoned the last of his strength to foot-sprint 50 meters to stay in front of another rider. Now that’s the spirit!
A few more fun pics, complements of Renae: