Cross is finally here!
After building fitness and skills over the last few weeks at the Crosstown Velo Wednesday night races, Barn Burner gatherings, and Asheville Cyclocross events, the opening weekend for North Carolina Cyclo-Cross had finally arrived!
Due to scheduling and logistics I was the only Pure Velo to travel to Clemmons and Winston Salem for the series opener races. This year marks 19 years of North Carolina Cyclo-Cross and I’m pulling double duty, wearing the blue and yellow of NCCX and bright green of Pure Velo throughout the season.
This marks the start of my 5th year of racing–two years at Mars Hill, two years for Beer City Bicycles while I was completing my master’s degree, and now year five for Pure Velo and NCCX. This also means it’s the first time while racing that I’ve not been juggling work and school. It’s also the first year I’ve ridden consistently over the summer, even completing my first century on Labor Day. Honestly, I’ve been feeling good and have been really excited about this season. Just how good I felt and how that related to racing was yet to be seen. After a great 5th place finish in the A/B Women’s race at the Asheville Cyclocross at Pisgah Brewing on October 18 I was excited to see how I would perform in the competitive Elite Women’s fields.
Saturday was a beautiful warm day in Clemmons, with a bumpy course on the grounds of Novant Health featuring a short run up, a long soul-sucking run-up, log dismounts, and fast paved sections. Call-ups were based on USA Cycling ranking which placed me on the second row. Being the first race there were some extra nerves waiting on the start but mostly I was excited. My plan was to go out strong and see what I could do. When the starting whistle went off I clipped in and started working my way as fast as I could to get to the front of the field before the first turn. I was able to get in the top five after the first corner and settled in to keep working for the next 45 minutes! At one point I think I was sitting 4th with Deb Sweeney Whitmore on my wheel, that was a little unnerving finding myself that far up in the field surrounded by such fast experienced racers, but I shook it off and kept going. After Deb made her move I worked to stay on her wheel, pretty successfully for a while until a hasty dismount dropped my chain going over the second set of log barriers. I worked to get it back on, dropping a couple spots, and then hammered hard to make it back up to 5th. After that I ended up going back and forth with Philicia for a while, encountered a couple more chain drops (noted, work on dismounts), and worked to try and create as much space between myself and 6th place. While the course was extremely bumpy I was able to use what I’ve learned mountain biking and float as much as possible.
Going into the last lap I made sure I kept the pace up–you never know what may happen to you, the person in front of you, or what’s going on behind you, and I didn’t want to miss an opportunity just because I got comfortable. I do remember feeling really happy and excited as I soloed that last half lap.
Coming into the paved finish I put it all out there, and crossed the finish line to secure 5th place. It was amazing to find myself at that point in the race, going back and forth with fierce competitors and finding out that I do have what it takes to race like I want to race.
I’m not going to lie and say that it didn’t feel great to know that I surprised a lot of people with my racing on Saturday. I’m excited to be able to be in a strong field and push myself to improve over the next three months of the cyclocross season!
Sunday the racing moved to Winston Salem for the race hosted by Mock Orange Bikes. I raced the course at the Children’s Home two years ago and really enjoyed it so I was looking forward to it again, especially after my result on Saturday. It was cooler but still perfect racing weather. I was able to get a couple of laps in during open course, and noted that an increase in air pressure was needed. Before starting my warm-up I increased my tire pressure and took my spare wheels to the pit. A good long warm-up worked out any slowness in my legs from Saturday, and I was calmer on the start as well. Sunday I got 5th call-up based on the finish from the day before. I rolled up beside Jane from Asheville who had gotten 2nd on Saturday. The Winston Salem start is a paved, downhill start so I knew it would be fast.
The official gave the 15 second warning and then tweet! The whistle blew and we were off! I had a great start and found myself in the lead! Jane was right behind me after recovering from a rough start and passed just as we went into the first corner. I settled in to hang on to her wheel for as long as I could, but started to get a little loose on the corners. The women behind me took advantage and moved up and I realized that I was loosing air from my back wheel! It took a bit to figure out if I just lost some pressure or if it was resulting in a slow flat. Hitting the pavement of the start/finish confirmed that I was flatting, fast. I knew I was half a lap away from the pits so I road as light as possible to get there. As I rode the course I mentally prepared for everything I would have to do getting into the pits, shifting into the proper gear, grabbing my spare wheel, disengaging the brake cable, quick release, smooth change, check shifting, engage brakes again, away we go! Visualizing as I got closer helped calm me down and I had a smooth wheel swap for a first timer! Unfortunately I did loose several spots which basically placed me at the back of the 18 deep field and in the mix of the category 4 women’s field.
I was pretty annoyed with what had happened so I focused on working up as many positions as I could. First getting in with the leaders of the category 4, then pushing on to the next group, dropping who I could just to get up to the next group! It hurt. I questioned myself a few times but some not so subtle commands to keep moving up from Matt Sand kept my head in the chase.
Finally I caught back up to Cinthia and Kelly Winebrenner from Oak City Cycling Project. These ladies were fast and we all went back and forth before Cinthia and I managed to break away. Then in the last third of the course Cinthia just pedaled away and left me solo to finish. I knew there were a lot of hungry ladies behind me so I finished as strong as I could. The end result was 12th overall, which given where I was on lap two I’m pretty pleased with.
The last couple days of recovery and then of course back to training have left me realizing how much of a mental game racing is. Before this year my races were mostly physical, there were head games here and there but the biggest aspect was having the physical ability to race. This Sunday though showed again how much your mindset makes or breaks a race. I was so wiped out mentally on Monday, more than I was physically just due to everything I put into getting myself from last to 12th. I’m optimistic for the rest of the season and learning how to race an entirely different race than ever before!
Next up for Pure Velo is the Gran Fondo Hincapie and NCCX #3 in Southern Pines!