After the chaos that was CincyCX weekend, you’d THINK I’d be looking forward to a weekend off. However, the next weekend was the Derby City Cup, another “big deal” cyclocross race at Eva Bandman Park in Louisville, KY.
Like CincyCX, Derby City Cup is a two day affair that hosts professional cyclocross races on both Saturday and Sunday. Eva Bandman was host to the world championships in 2013 (the first ever in North America!) and having seen the venue a few times, I was excited and apprehensive to race on the site. I was also eager to test out the effectiveness of my new “chain watcher” I had installed on my bike. It’s a piece of plastic that is supposed to prevent your chain from dropping off the small chain ring. God knows I was willing to try anything after the catastrophe at the previous weekend’s race.
I drove up early on Saturday morning, leaving my house around 6 and arriving around 8:15 to pre-ride. It had rained the day before, meaning some of the course was a little muddy but luckily it was nowhere near Devou-like conditions. The only worrisome part in terms of mud was a huge mud pit on a straightaway near the start of the race. Watch the video I took of the Elite Women’s Saturday race to see what I’m talking about.
I ran into my friend Amie while pre-riding and we took a trip around the course together. When we got to the mud pit, we both opted off our bikes to try and walk through or around it.
“Are you just gonna wait for the race to see if you’ll make it through?” I asked.
“Yeah, that’s pretty much the plan,” she said.
Immediately after the mud pit were a few small camel humps and the rest of the course consisted of a nice mix of technical sections and power-filled straightaways. There was a flyover, which I had never seen before, some tricky sand with a deep enough rut that I could ride it halfway through, a few sets of large steps, some hills that most everyone ended up running up, sketchy off-cambers, and one or two scary, steep descents.
Before the race, I ran to my car really quick and used an old toothbrush to clean the mud from my cleats that was preventing me from clipping in smoothly and easily. As a result, I missed my call up (embarrassing) so I ended up starting near the back. Given my terrible starting skills, this was a handicap right off the bat.
The starting whistle blew and the field and I sprinted down a long, paved straightaway, a gentle left turn, and into the anxiously-anticipated mud section. Amie and I charged through it neck and neck, and there was mud everywhere, caking our drive trains, flying up in our faces, etc. As soon as we cleared it I looked at Amie and said “Well, that sucked”. She laughed and agreed and I tried to shift into the proper gearing for the short humps coming up.
I was trying to pass people whenever I got the chance, which was usually on the straightaways and while running through the last half of the sand. My cleats filled with mud pretty early on, making clipping in difficult. This wasn’t a huge deal on most of the course but it was unnerving not being clipped in going down a few of the steep descents.
There was one in particular I had been terrified riding down in pre-ride. The proper position to descend in is clipped in and standing up with your butt back off the seat. I descended fully seated with my feet not even on the pedals, hoping for the best at the bottom of the drop (I was pretty lucky). Click through for a video of Katie Compton riding the hill I was oh-so-scared of.
Towards the end of the final lap, I had my eye on one girl ahead of me. There was no one else in sight and I had no idea how I stood in the field. I tried to get around her on a few turns to no avail. The finish consisted of a steep run-up leading to the paved finish sprint and when I tried to pass her, she shifted her bike on her shoulder so I couldn’t get around her. I fumbled my re-mount at the top, putting me a few body lengths behind her on the sprint. I shifted up into my big ring, put my head down, and barreled forward. I passed her on the sprint and beat her by one second, according to official results. As she saw me pass her in the final yards I heard her yell out “Shit!” as the announcer called out our second and third place standings.
As I waited for the podium, I compared mishaps and mud with my friends Amie and Dustin. Dustin had had a mechanical on the last lap that took him from one of the lead positions to the back of the pack. I had actually passed him at one point which even in my state of exhaustion seemed strange. Amie had made the podium for Category 4 35+ and I was second step on Category 4.
I didn’t know the girl who had beat me but assumed she must have been way out there, since I hadn’t seen her the whole race. Of course, this might have been due to her tiny stature since she was, oh, eleven years old. Yup. Beat by a pre-teen. I swear, those cyclocross kids are badass. They have no body weight and no fear, making them formidable opponents. Anyways, that’s a podium picture I won’t be showing off.
I grabbed lunch with Amie and Dustin, showered in my hotel room, and came back to watch all the later races, including the typical domination of the women’s field by Katie Compton and a surprise victory by Stephen Hyde over national champ Jeremy Powers. Then, a relaxing night alone in a hotel with my one and only (my bike, obviously).
The race the next morning had a start time of 8:30, meaning an early wake up call and trying to eek out as much pre-riding as possible between sunrise and call ups. The course was unchanged from the day before except some of the parts that had been unrideable due to mud were a little more dried out and packed down. This should have been an advantage but for some reason really messed with my head. Maybe it was the fact that the day before I was able to think “Oh, I can run this because no one will be riding it!” but now I had to think “Oh, I should be able to ride this!”. Unfortunately, due to my general and mental fatigue, this was not good. Coupled with an even shorter time to pre-ride and I was not looking forward to certain sections of the course.
I made my call up this time and the start was similar to the day before, although I could feel early on I didn’t have the “pop!” left in my legs that I had the day before. I traded off leads with people I would usually be able to fly around but I just wasn’t able to push it as hard as the day before, plus I was still running sections other people were riding, including the hill that had scared me so much the day before. For some reason, the packed-down dirt and deep ruts at the bottom really threw me off in a way I just wasn’t able to overcome mentally. I need to work on my bike handling skills so that minor tricky features don’t throw me off in the future because I know I lost a lot of time walking when I should have been pedaling.
One woman, a charismatic, quirky, and friendly Masters rider named Gail was with me for the most of the last lap of the race. I would pass her, and she’d pass me right back on the technical sections. We almost had an unfortunate collision at the bottom of the hill because I was trying to veer to the left to give her the good line for passing and she figured I’d do the typical cyclocross tactic of taking the good line for myself. Honestly, I figured if I was too much of a wimp to ride down the hill she deserved the good line. We narrowly avoided collision and stayed together for the rest of the lap. As we ran up the final incline to the pavement she looked at me and said “I need a drink.” Amen, sister.
I finished fifth of eight in my category and 10th of 16 in my wave and was disappointed but not surprised. I spent the rest of the day watching people ride the sections I had botched to try and figure out what I could do better. The answer is “be better at riding my bike”, basically. And commit to my line.
I think two day events aren’t really my jam. My heart rate data for the two day weekends was incomplete due to Garmin malfunctions but I could generally guess that while my heart rate was about my typical race heart rate for the first day, on the second day I just couldn’t put out the same effort. Not sure if I need to work on cardio or recovery to remedy that or just focus on being able to maintain a racing mindset for two days in a row, but it’s something I’ll need to sort out for next season and it’s good to know for the future (for example, if the race I really care about is on Sunday, maybe hold back a little on Saturday).