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!
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.
“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?
Cat4 women – 5/7, Wave results – 9/15