So, the weekend of Halloween was The Weekend. The weekend I’ve been looking forward to for oh, a full year, year and a half. It was the Cincy2 (formerly Cincy3 because there was a Friday race in previous years), probably the biggest weekend for the Cincinnati cyclocross scene. In addition to the usual races, Saturday would host a C1 race (the highest UCI level race besides world cup races, I believe) and Sunday was the second annual Pan American Championships. The best racers from across the continent would be in attendance and I was super excited to race this year at Kingswood Park, my ‘home turf’ park where I do the majority of my off-road practice.
I spent the weeks leading up to the race anxiously anticipating and preparing. I was nervous about not doing another race before Kingswood, since my last race at John Bryan had been such a disaster. However, I stayed true to my workouts, tapered off the week before, and tried to get adequate sleep and manage my nutrition.
Friday before work, I went to Kingswood to pre-ride the course. It was an open pre-ride and it was almost surreal watching people like Katie Antonneau and Stephen Hyde whiz around the course at the same time as me. I had also been a few days prior to try and pre-ride, but the only part of the course that was marked were two tricky mini-camel humps that I just could not figure out how to ride (click the link for a video of what I’m talking about). I kept hitting a root trying to go up the first one (causing my bike to fly out from under me), and on the second the turn going into it was so tight that I had to kill all my speed going down (or as much as my shoddy brakes would allow) and wasn’t able to muscle my way up the short, steep hill afterwards. After discussing it with my friend, he advised me to just commit to running the parts of the course I felt I couldn’t ride, as trying and failing to ride a feature is often more of a detriment during the race.
Overall, the course was definitely a “power course” as opposed to a “technical course” which was very good news for me. Give me a few long straightaways where I can shift into my big ring and I’m good.
As opposed to last year, which was bitterly cold, race morning was rather pleasant, with just a slight chill in the air. I decided to ride without arm warmers since I tend to get really hot really quickly when I race.
This race was different than the others because literally all the women not racing the elite races started together. I wasn’t thrilled because I tend to get anxious and have bad starts when surrounded by a bunch of people, plus my starting position was a few rows back from the girl I was most worried about beating me. However, this also meant the race was 40 minutes instead of 30, which usually works to my advantage.
As expected, my start was not strong. I was jostled out of position and ended up going through the course tape thirty seconds after the start. I had to dismount, re-enter the courses, and try to power past as many people as possible without getting overeager and making another costly mistake.
The course was about 2.2 miles long, the longest allowed by UCI standards, so we only did three laps around the course. As I predicted, the power stretches were hugely beneficial for me, allowing me to fly by people I would be stuck behind on the more technical part of the course.
Shortly after, as I went up and over an off-camber hill climb, my chain dropped. At this point I’d had some experience with such an event, so I was able to get it back on in about thirty seconds, run to the top of the hill, re-mount, and continue on. Definitely not ideal though, especially given the especially competitive field.
I think the rest of the lap was uneventful, with me trying to avoid being stuck behind anyone or making any more technical errors. There were definitely a few spots I had to run but I think everyone else did too, so I didn’t lose much time.
The second lap was a practice in the art of ‘playing catch-up’. I tried to use the long straightaways to my advantage to pass as many people as possible and to try and close the gap between myself the the leaders of my category.
The third and final lap started off strong. I had been eyeing the people in front of me and was able to spot the girl I had had my eye on at the beginning of the race. I knew if I was able to catch her, I was most likely assured a spot on the podium, if not the win. It was hard to judge for sure given the mixed field of sixty or so women of all ages and categories.
Of course, as I climbed the same damn hill, my chain dropped again. Cursing, I dismounted and frantically tried to get it back on as quickly as possible. One rider passing me told me to “get my chain back on and get back on the bike!” as a means of encouragement. “I know!” I responded. It felt like an eternity, but was most likely just another thirty second ordeal. I remounted and busted my ass trying to regain the places and time I had lost. Halfway through the final lap, I spotted the girl I presumed to be the (almost?) leader. Unfortunately, we came up on a series of tight turns and the woman in front of me kept blocking the line I wanted to take to try and get around her. I was frustrated but not defeated.
The finish line was a long straightaway with a slight uphill incline and deceivingly spongy terrain that made it an incredibly painful hundred yard sprint. I powered up into my big ring, put my head down, and pedaled as hard as I could. I was closing the gap but running out of real estate.
Despite my best efforts, the lead girl finished two seconds ahead of me. Two seconds. Two chain drops and I came in second by two seconds. I was crushed. I walked off behind the park building and tried to hide my tears of frustration from anyone who could see me. I knew my mother and grandma were looking for me but I was so angry at the results that I had to take time to calm down before I could face anyone.
I knew the next day’s race would favor the technical riders and reports from my friends Amie and Dustin confirmed my fears of a tricky course designed for much more advanced riders. I had tried to pre-ride the course last year and as a result had decided to not even bother entering. I hoped this year would be better.
As luck would have it, it rained all night Saturday. Rain makes tricky courses even more difficult and without mud tires or effective brakes on my bike, I knew a muddy, technical course would be a challenge. Nevertheless, I was up at at Devou before sunup to prepare and pre-ride.
Pre-ride was a disaster. The course was such a mess they even re-routed a part of it for our race because not only was it impossible to ride, but it was impossible to walk. Check out this video of the elites trying to ride it. No, really, watch it. It’s hilarious.
The rest of the course wasn’t much better for me. With abysmal bike handling skills and the aforementioned equipment handicaps, I cried before the race even began. I even decided to not even bother pre-riding some of the sections since I knew I was going to have to do them eventually and with sunrise not occurring until nearly 7:30 and a call up time of 8:15, I didn’t have much time to prepare anyways. A very nice Cat3 gave me advice about a steep, slippery hill that I was terrified of (the slickness of the grass combined with my shitty braking capabilities made it a feature I would have to tackle with the “hold on and pray” approach). Without mud tires and toe spikes on my shoes, even running some of the dicey sections was looking pretty difficult.
My friend Amie asked me before our race if she should just get her mountain bike to ride. I told her honestly that if I had my mountain bike with me, I would choose to ride that over my cyclocross bike. She made the last minute swap and as we lined up together I told her my goal was just to finish.
Again, with all the non-elite women starting at once, I started off near the back of the pack and kept moving steadily backwards throughout the race. I think I was mentally exhausted from the day before and just didn’t have the “go get it!” attitude I need to do well in a cyclocross race. Plus, did I mention the mud?
Without mud tires (and maybe even with, who knows) my bike was not feeling too steady underneath me. I probably crashed a few times and I definitely had a few close calls. Of course, the super muddy sections were totally unrideable for me, though I know a few of the better women were able to ride at least one section that I “walked”. “Walked” is, in this instance, a relative term. Compared to biking, yes, I was walking, but compared to what I would normally consider walking, I was more “falling”, “crawling”, and “clawing” my way around the course. Spectators tried to be encouraging but I was so unhappy I couldn’t even fake a smile.
“You can do it!” one lady yelled.
“I’m not enjoying this!” I yelled emphatically back.
On the downhill that made me nervous, my friend’s/the woman who beat me the day before’s husband hollered encouragement. I had dismounted my bike to walk a slick section right before the hill and as I remounted my bike I looked at him, yelled “I’m scared!” and tried to clip in and get my weight back and out of the saddle as quickly as possible, all while trying to “feather” squeeze brakes that hardly worked in sloppy, wet conditions.
It was not fun. I was literally crawling up hills of mud, trying not to drop the bike I was pulling up after me because if I dropped it, it meant I’d have to make a trip down said hill to retrieve it and waste even more time.
When all is said and done, I’m mostly mad that there’s no good pictures of me looking desperately unhappy while hauling a bike on my hands and knees up some stupid muddy hill.
On the second lap, I was relieved to see I was about to get lapped, and get lapped hard. “I hope they pull me!” I yelled to someone. “Please, God, let them pull me! Don’t make me do another lap!”
I ended up coming in dead last. Yep. Worst finish ever, including all of last season when I was riding the 31 pound mountain bike I got for my 12th birthday and I had only been riding for two or three months. 58/58. I was a little miffed, but it was such a shit show I wasn’t even able to be genuinely angry about my finish. Genuinely angry at the course, sure, but with a performance like that, I deserved last. Definitely.
Oh, I also dropped my chain somewhere along the way but like, fair enough, ya know?
Amie, who finished before me (obviously), had similar feelings about the course. Mid-way through the third lap, she crashed and thought she had messed up her handlebars. Since she was riding a flat-bar mountain bike, it wasn’t immediately obvious what was wrong, so she soldiered on to finish her race, somewhat concerned that her steering seemed to be a bit off. After she was done, a Trek mechanic (we like to think it was 11-time National Champ Katie Compton’s mechanic/husband) rushed up to her to assist with her bike. In one swift motion, he simply flipped her front wheel 180 degrees and handed the bike back to her. She had ridden the entire last half lap with her handlebars and front wheel completely backwards.
I had a good laugh and I think she realized the humor in it when I pointed out she still beat me handily.
Overall, the race was terrible, but spending the day in the sunshine with friends watching some of the best bike racing in the world was one of the better cycling-centric days I’ve ever had.
Chain Drop Count for the 2015 Season – 4