I chose this race for several reasons. It didn’t conflict with work or Kansas races important to our team points competition, it would offer bigger fields and a UCI-level course to gain experience from, and it was a point on the map my dear friend Jodie from Wisconsin could meet me so we could once again race together-ish (she’s now a Cat2).

I got it all in spades, and my hubby Chuck even pitted and crewed for us.

If this climb stays muddy, traction may be hard to find. 2017 Derby City Cup. © D. Perker / Cyclocross Magazine

Our recon rides Friday revealed the character of the earth and effect of local rains here: thick dark clay soil under the grass that holds water for days. Gonna get messy.

Day 1. We raced at 11:55am. Our wave was 48 strong, as in 48 REALLY strong under-19 ladies, Cat 1/2/3 and 35+ Masters women. The biggest and youngest field I’ve ever been in.

Call-ups were a confusing mix of all racers according to CrossResults.com ranking. Lol, I was on the last row behind 42 others! Well, I wanted new experiences. Ahead lay a stair flyover with the steepest-ever ramp down, a set of wide stone steps, and double barriers at max height. Those were just the man-made dismount features.

Many riders were making multiple attempts at the last technical section, trying to find the right line through the muddy mess. 2017 Derby City Cup. © D. Perker / Cyclocross Magazine

Nature-made impossible-to-ride snot-mud sections included a narrow off-camber and three more steep run-ups, if you (or the rider in front of you) didn’t lose control elsewhere. Yup, a guaranteed minium 7 dismount/remounts per lap. At least I could ride the downhills, scary-slick as some of them were. It had been over a year since I’d ridden a real mud course I felt like I was starting all over again skill-wise.

Being a good sprinter doesn’t help much from 6 rows/8 wide back. I was a fish swimming in the school, when a girl crashed in the mud just as we sailed off the pavement… three riders in front of me and collecting Jodie in the mess! I was pinched between the fallen and the right barrier and made a split-second decision to dismount, run, & remount. The crash created a gap and I was 3 gears too hard to be punchy in the mucky grass I found myself in.

At least I was upright, and stayed that way. Racers were thinly strung out “back here”. I burned too many matches too early in this 40-minute race (I raced 45) and my quads nearly seized up on a long uphill slog in the last lap. I’ve never dismounted and run, run!, so much in my life. I felt way over-geared. The spritely teenaged leader lapped me with 1/3rd lap to go. Done! 

Day 2. Race time, 7:32am. Not a typ-o. I pre-rode the course with a headlamp and not many brave friends. It was torn to shreds by the speed of Saturday’s elite men & women, but our race today was only 30 minutes of… fun. We were “down” to 46 riders today.

The exit from the flyover is steep and goes right to a sharp right-hand turn before the pit. 2017 Derby City Cup, © D. Perker / Cyclocross Magazine

My goal was simply to improve every facet within my control, including course- and pace-management.

I did find some daylight between the kids down the hole shot. There was a lot of shuffling there  but everyone stayed upright today, and I was in the thick of the back half. So I got to experience the bottleneck at the flyover, with 20 gals trying to find space to remount and plunge like lemmings from 15 feet up on top. It requires absolute committment and not looking at the bottom – just ahead – and to the immediate right turn. Amazing!

Caroline Mani styles her way around the right-hand turn at the bottom of the steep descent. 2017 Derby City Cup. © D. Perker / Cyclocross Magazine

More bottlenecks and some bumping until we got strung out and I had to measure my effort grinding up some climbs. Then 3 of us had that glorious race-within-the-race that distracts you from the pain (a little) and reinforces why you toed the line to begin with. It becomes your whole world and it didn’t matter that there was nothing tangible for us to win “back here”. Friends and announcers alike get into it and cheer louder.

I now had a bit of rhythm with this course and pushed harder across the two flat chicane’s, the barriers, and certain downhill sections. The teen amongst us squirted away through some mud, and though my other rival was quicker on run-ups, she was also completely gassed trying to remount. So I sprinted onto my pedals and charged through the barriers with abandon, securing my little personal victory.

I wasn’t very fast but it was one heck of an experience, and Jodie and I came home with bikes and bodies intact. Chuck saved us a lot of effort by washing the bikes and schlepping gear. That was a very ‘crossy weekend!

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