Race Recap: OVCX Finale at Major Taylor Velodrome

Time to wrap up the cyclocross season with one last race recap. The final race of the season was at Major Taylor Velodrome at Marian University outside of Indianapolis. I had never seen the venue before and therefore had no idea what to expect.

Going into the race, I was fraught with anxiety. If I won, I could bump myself up from 4th to 3rd in the series standings and accomplish one of my season goals. However, I knew that wouldn’t be easy because the small field was filled with fierce riders. If the course suited my strengths and I didn’t have any mechanical problems (I’m looking at you, chain), I had a chance. If anything went wrong, it was Game Over.

I took my bike to the bike shop a few days before with the intent of getting my chain shortened. Instead, the mechanic told me that a derailleur adjustment would probably help. Not sure why I was just now hearing that, after taking my bike in to four different mechanics multiple times, but I decided to risk it and go with what he said.

I was up and out the door early on Sunday morning. I wanted to be sure I had plenty of time to pre-ride the course and formulate a game plan or re-ride tricky sections. As I pulled up to the venue, I saw an entire field of beautiful, smooth, power sections taped off. My hopes soared.

Photos don't do this feature justice.
Photos don’t do this feature justice.

Then I pulled into the parking lot and my heart sunk. While half the course was perfect – perfect! – for me, the other half was a nightmare. The trickiest feature, in my opinion, was a series of long, winding curves down a hill. Photos don’t do it justice, really. It was steep and the soil was loose. Of course, my brakes aren’t worth a damn so even if I would have felt confident going down it at a reasonable speed, there was no way to slow my bike down to my version of a “reasonable speed,” so it was one of those sections where I had to hold on and pray for the best. Other features included some steep uphill curves and a soggy run up.

But the other half of the course, as I said, was ideal for me: flat and with only a moderate amount of cornering and sharp turns. Maybe the race wasn’t a total loss.

I tried to pre-ride the downhill curves several times, with each time being a little worse than the previous attempt. I just couldn’t get my bike to slow down enough to feel confident taking on the 180 degree turns and loose ground. In retrospect, I think my brakes might be too big for my hands and if I had been able to figure out a way to be back off my saddle and corner while in the drops (giving me better leverage on the brake levers), I might have had more success. Hindsight is always 20/20.

After the starting whistle, the field charged into our first go at the power section. I was able to work my way up relatively quickly and I think I was sitting second or third wheel and gaining a little bit of ground on the leader.

Then came the technical section. The steep uphills, which I had been able to ride once before the race, were clogged with dismounted riders, forcing me off the bike. Okay, no problem.

Then the downhill. I stood on my bike and squeezed my brakes to no avail, so instead I put both of my

I was actually super stoked to see a pump-track section!
I was actually super stoked to see a pump-track section!

feet down in an attempt to slow my speed. I just managed to avoid washing out and made it down the hill, though I then had to clip in and attempt to re-gain what momentum I could before the run up. The run up was long and slippery but I made it up, fighting to not lose too much ground to the two women who had managed to pass me with their superior bike handling skills. There were two stone steps and then another steep downhill that led into four pump track humps. These hadn’t been any problem in pre-ride but the bike traffic and quickly melting frost made them a little precarious and I almost crashed after the third one.

OVCX Finale cyclocross
Photo courtesy of “Yet Another Bike Photo Page”

On the power section, I put my head down and fought to catch up with the two women ahead of me. I gained a little ground but had lost a solid twenty or thirty seconds on the technical part of the course. I had my eye on one girl in particular and managed to start the second lap within sight of her. However, after reaching the technical section for the second time, I had a feeling it was a lost cause. I had to dismount on the uphill turns again, and one really awesome friendly dude kept ramming his bike into my Achilles, which I guess is the Grown Adult Human Male way of saying “Excuse me, I think I can ride this section. If you and the person ahead of you move slightly to your left, I’d be able to get around you”.

My second (and final, thank God) time on the downhill curves was significantly worse than the first. I tried with all my might to ride it but ended up going through the course tape at the bottom and into the SRAM tent. All the men were helpfully encouraging me to “brake!!” as though I was unaware that is what I should have been doing. I almost crashed head first into one of them and then quickly hopped back on the course.

Thanks, dude. PS - I still beat you.
Thanks, dude. PS – I still beat you.

I guess I wasn’t going into the run up with enough speed for one of the men, who almost crashed into me trying to get around me on an off-camber turn and then promptly fell into me trying to dismount. His saddle was caught in my front wheel and he helpfully yanked as hard as he could to disengage our bikes. I could tell something was wrong with my front brakes but couldn’t figure out what the problem was or how to fix it while running frantically up a slippery slope. I got back on my bike and knew my front brake was definitely rubbing and functioning even less than it had been, but obviously I wasn’t giving up on the last half lap over something as silly as a rubbing brake, so I charged on. The steep downhill and corner leading into the pump track humps was a little scary with essentially 0 braking power, and I definitely could tell my speed on the flats was affected, but I soldiered on anyways and managed to pass a strong Cat4 woman after she crashed on a slippery turn. The course had gone from moderately dry and hard packed at the beginning of the race to slippery and slightly muddy so I didn’t tear around corners as quickly as I would have liked.

I did manage a podium.
I did manage a podium.

I crossed the finish line well out of sight of the two Cat4 leaders and, as a result, well off the overall series standing podium. I was crushed and walked to my car to pull myself together and put some warmer clothes on.

Overall, I was/am just a little disappointed in my season. I’ve been trying to remind myself that I dropped my chain six times in five races, had decent braking ability only sometimes, and am no longer (usually) coming in in the bottom 25% of finishers but it’s still frustrating to not achieve all the goals I had hoped to. I plan to take a few weeks off the bike to focus on running, yoga, strength training, and some core work and come up with a training plan for 2016. Tentatively, I know I want to make skills work and off-road riding a bigger part of what I do and I think I’d like to aim for 400 hours on the bike next year. But that’s another blog post all on it’s own.

Here’s to the end of the 2015 season and to the beginning of the 2016 training cycle! #cx365

 

 

Race Recap: Tofurky CX

When I found out we had another race at Kingswood Park, aka my home venue, I was thrilled. There’s nothing like not driving two hours to get to a race and being able to race on your ‘home turf’. Originally, this race was supposed to be at St. Mary’s in Indianapolis but apparently there was still damage from  the last race at that venue so they were unable to host another race. Fine by me!

One of the few parts I was uncertain about at Tofurky: downhill 180.
One of the few parts I was uncertain about at Tofurky: downhill 180.

I was able to go and get a quick pre-ride in on Saturday before the race. As my friend Amie had texted me, it was my kind of course. Nothing too tricky and plenty of power sections for me to gain an advantage. I was able to ride the whole course besides the barriers, steps, and sand, so I was feeling confident going into the day, despite the fact it was only supposed to be 28 degrees at the start of my race.

I arrived around 8:30 and got some more pre-race laps in to warm up and see if the course had changed overnight (it had been muddy the day before so I wanted to see if it had been majorly torn up by early pre-rides or if it had dried out. Luckily, it was the latter). It was terribly, bitterly cold and I couldn’t feel my hands and feet after two laps around the course, which concerned me. Mentally, I was a little shaken just because I knew I didn’t have proper cold weather gear and, frankly, I was a little miserable with the below-freezing temperatures.

I had second call-up, which was perfect for me. All three of the women that I’ve been trading off wins and losses with all season were in the race but I felt confident that if I could keep up for the first lap or so, I’d be able to give them a run for their money.

My start, as usual, was lacking. My slow reaction times usually take me from an advantageous starting position to mid-pack as best. Luckily, unlike other courses this season, the start led around a turn and into a straightaway so I was able to quickly regain a position near the front. In past races, ending up behind people at the start has proven to be a sometimes fatal blow to my race, especially when I have to patiently sit and wait on their wheel as we go through technical sections while the front runners increase their lead.

After only a minute or two of racing, I felt good. I was actually surprised at how well my body seemed to be handling the cold and I could feel myself getting stronger and gaining ground.

I was able to get around some people at the barriers and pass some phenomenally good chick on a mountain bike after a few minutes. I could see the leaders only five seconds or so in front of me – a totally manageable gap in cyclocross. I sat on the wheel of one of my frivals (friendly rivals, aka girls who beat me sometimes). As we went around an off-camber, I heard her yell “My fucking hands!”. Seeing as how I could only feel my first two fingers on each of my hands, I laughed out loud and tried to call out “Girl, me too!”. Shortly after, I was able to pull in front of her and try to get as much ground between us as possible.

Moments later, as I rounded a sharp 180 degree hairpin turn, I heard my chain making noise.

An example of a chain watcher.
An example of a chain watcher.

“Good thing I installed that chain watcher!” I thought nervously. I continued to pedal, assuming that since I had installed a part on my bike to prevent my chain from dropping I’d be able to shift down in a second to prepare for the upcoming hill and eliminate the noise.

Once again, I looked up at the leaders, whom I hadn’t been this close to this quickly the entire season. “I can span that gap!” I thought excitedly.

Suddenly, I looked down and saw that my worst fear had been realized. My chain was off my front chain rings. Completely off. There was, obviously, no point in pedaling, so I quickly dismounted. Swearing, panicked, and watching all of the girls I had fought to get past speed past me, I tried to put my chain back on.

“Okay,” I thought. “Thirty seconds. This is only thirty seconds.” I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to win at this point (the other girls are definitely strong cyclists and would give me a run for my money even without a mechanical) but this was salvageable!

However, the funny thing about giant pieces of plastic that are supposed to prevent your chain from falling off is that they can also make it almost impossible to put your chain back on.

I yanked on my chain, I tried to finesse my chain, and I began to panic, wondering if I’d even be able to finish at all. My friend Ellen’s boyfriend Gary ran over and tried to check out the problem. He was stumped. “Is there a way to loosen it?”

“If you have a screwdriver,” I replied. He didn’t.

I almost started to cry.

Finally, after a solid four (4!) minutes of struggling, Gary pulled some voodoo with pushing the crank backwards and then forwards and somehow managed to pop my chain back above the giant chunk of plastic. I remounted and took off, and did not find humor in the person that hollered “Now it’ll be even harder!” at me.

I was dead last at this point, having watched everyone else speed by me some time ago. My mind was preoccupied with trying to gain as many places as possible to get as many points as possible to try and salvage my series standing, as well as trying not to visibly sob on my bike.

People I knew shouted encouragement at me on the course, even some of the girls I passed encouraged me as I barreled forward. I couldn’t even see the leaders, although even if I had been able to spot them, catching up was just straight up not an option.

Halfway through my second lap, I could see and hear the lead men catching up to me. I was upset and knew I would more than likely be pulled and have to finish a lap early (which still technically counts as finishing, but, still). I managed to fend them off well, but as I passed through the finish line the course official yelled “You’re done!” and motioned to the course exit.

Holding back tears, I managed to get most of the way to my car before starting to cry. I sat in my car gasping for breath and sobbing for a solid five or ten minutes, questioning all of my life choices and cursing my bike. I kept thinking of the hundreds of hours of training and thousands of dollars I had spent and the goals that will remain decidedly unchecked at the conclusion of this season. I honestly felt like I could have won (though of course, this will never actually be known and may just be my ego talking).

I managed to dry my eyes and make it out of my car in time to talk to a few of my competitors (the girl who had screamed about her hands had dropped out shortly after I had my mechanical and another rider gave us both advice about proper gloves and offered to loan us some at the next race). Julie, a woman who I’ve come to look at as a sort of mentor, offered a few words of encouragement which just caused me to choke up. A man named Chris, who taught the workshop I attended back in August, commiserated with my problem and offered a few cheap and easy fixes to prevent it (one is a different chain watcher made out of aluminum so when it fails it can be bent out of the way easily to get the chain back on and he also recommended taking a link or two out of my chain to tighten it up).

All in all, it was definitely a disappointing and frustrating experience. I’ve resolved to buy another bike – new, this time – by the beginning of next season because like, why am I riding my life away only to be thwarted by jumpy chain rings?

A few days removed from the experience and I’ve calmed down and am trying to focus on the series finale on the 6th as well as think about all of the things I can do over the next year to improve myself and my whip. That’s all you really can do, right?

Final results:

Cat4 women – 5/7, Wave results – 9/15

Race Recap: Cap City State Championships

The weekend after Derby City Cup was the Ohio Cyclocross State Championships, hosted by the amazing Cap City Cross. I had attended a few Cap City races in previous years as a spectator and not a racer, but I remembered them being a pretty laid back and welcoming atmosphere so I was excited to see what the  was in store.

I could have opted to make it another two day weekend but since my ‘actual’ championship race was on Sunday, I decided to skip out on Saturday to make sure I wasn’t too gassed for the actual race and to avoid the extra costs associated with double race weekends.

My race, of course, was the first race at 10am. It was billed as the women’s Category 3/4 race and I had been told it would be scored as such as well. I was disappointed to be racing for the state title against Cat3 women but wanted to race my best anyways. None of my OVCX frivals (friendly rivals) were signed up, much to my surprise.

One of my friends who had raced on Saturday told me that the course was one that would suit my strengths – nothing terribly technical or unridable, and plenty of long stretches for me to put some watts into. My pre-ride confirmed this.

I arrived early and felt surprisingly good. After a few laps around the course, I had identified the challenges (some sharp up-and-down, hilly “s” curves that required precise gearing and steering to successfully ride) and opportunities (a few long stretches near the front of the course and the long, uphill stretch on the back of the course) and felt pretty confident, even if I wasn’t counting on beating the several Cat3 women signed up to race the 3/4 race.

Upon arriving at the starting line, the official announced that there seemed to have been a slight miscommunication. The Women’s 3/4 race was only a championship race for the Cat4 women. The Category 3 riders who had signed up could wait until the 2:00PM race that day to ride their championship race or race non-championship. Understandably, the Category 3’s were a little miffed but all of them were good sports about it. Most of them chose to wait until 2:00 to ride in the official championship race but a few were unable to stay around that late and so they chose to stay in the 3/4 race.

The field was probably the smallest I’d seen all season and with the last-minute clarification that I was in fact riding for the state champ jersey, I felt a new surge of excitement. I took my spot in the front row and waited for the starting whistle.

Per usual, my start was total crap. The starting group was small but I still ended up near the back. One of the other Cat4’s had a great start but took a hard fall on the first right-hand turn. I managed to avoid collision and tried to work my way past the ladies ahead of me. I passed one on the barriers and managed to pass several more on the first straightaway. I made it through the S curves without issue (always a gamble for me, since sometimes my chain ring will decide it is in the big ring and it will stay in the big ring thank you very much) and came into the paved uphill section strong. I flew past two of four women remaining ahead of me and managed to stretch that distance.

I was able to see the second place woman ahead of me and one of the people cheering me on (no idea who the guy was, which just proves how awesome and friendly the Cap City community is!) was giving me updates of how far ahead of me she was. It went from twelve seconds to ten seconds throughout the next lap until finally on the second lap’s uphill straightaway I was able to pull past her and put some distance between us, although she was never far off me for the remainder of the race. (Note: I am writing this entry over a month after this race took place and honestly can’t quite recall if I made this pass on the second or third lap. Forgive my editorializing.)

Cat 3/4 Overall Podium
Cat 3/4 Overall Podium

The woman in first was a strong Cat3 rider and I knew unless she was having a terrible day, I just wouldn’t be able to catch her, especially because while I felt decent, I didn’t feel great. My focus shifted to staying ahead of everyone else. I let myself think about winning the state champ jersey for a moment and then turned my attention back to the course. My third time through the S curves I didn’t shift properly and lost a few precious seconds when I had to dismount, run a few steps up, and run around my bike to re-mount.

The final half-lap was me looking over my shoulder to judge the amount of time Ohio Cyclocross cat 4 podiummy opponent had gained and trying to not make any foolhardy fumbles that would cost me second place in the wave or potentially the state champ title.

I successfully crossed the line as the first Category 4 woman, earning me the title of Cyclocross State Champion. While the title may not mean much in terms of actual real-life rankings, it was still really cool to be able to stand on the top step for once and hey, free jersey!

cap city cxMostly, I would like to emphasize how cool Cap City races are. Everyone is friendly and it seems like a really awesome community. Their motto is “PMA, no jerks” (PMA = positive mental attitude). My kind of ‘cross. I’ll definitely be adding a few more of their races to my 2016 race schedule.