Finally, my first 'cross race and it was a UCI-ranked event: what was I thinking!? In hindsight, I wouldn't have had it any other way, a chance to race with the best in the world and some of the most experienced girls in the sport today.
It's been a rapid progression since being offered the opportunity to become a development rider by Hudz-Subaru. Learning what goes into a race, the 'cross lingo and, now, a full on race at the Haunted Cross. I would call myself a decent mountain biker with some skills, but nothing could have prepared me for the mud and sand of cyclo-cross. I've been practising and learning technique for less than a month with Chad Wells at the Fort Lewis College training races and decided to throw caution to the wind and try my hand at an elite race. Little did I know that my decision to head to Boulder for the weekend's racing would result in the hardest 45 minutes I've ever done on a bike, and I loved every minute of it.
For anyone getting started in cycling, I would highly recommend cyclo-cross. It's perfect for beginners because they can learn how to handle their bikes, work on clipping in-and-out of the pedals, get a heck of a workout in a short amount of time, as well as play in the dirt, grass and sand. The race venues are full of energy and it seems everyone is prepared to lend a hand, racers and spectators alike. It is family friendly, pet friendly and a blast to watch.
On the drive to Boulder I quizzed Chad on what I should expect. His response: "It will be muddy, technical with variable conditions." As a mountain biker Chad was looking forward to a weekend of tricky, technical courses. He was a bit bummed when the Sunday race was moved to the reservoir, because he knew the altered course would turn the advantage to the road racers, rather than the mountain bikers.
For me, Sunday was just as hard as Saturday. I struggled to find a smooth or fast line through the sand pits and it seemed to just sap any energy and momentum I may have had. Thank goodness I had awesome teammates and fans cheering me on from the sidelines, which just put a huge smile on my face. All that support sure does help!
Chad had also said that start position was key. One aspect of big 'cross races is the grid-style start. So, for example, the top girls like Katie Compton, Allison Dunlap and Georgia Gould are given a start position at the front, based on their UCI points. The rows that follow are then based on registration order. I ended up pretty much at the back, which was fine with me because I wasn't confident in my skills and I wouldn't want to slow up a contender. Plus, that way I could see the line that most of the women were taking, again, another opportunity to learn.
Cross starts are also made interesting by the bottlenecks that form almost immediately. As soon as you roll off the pavement and hit dirt the speed slows, as everyone fights for the same single track. On Saturday, the slow speed and bottlenecks saw me carry my bike over an entire section that the leaders had ridden over. Saturday's race was so muddy that at points it felt like you were pedaling in place and I was covered from head-to-toe in mud flicked up by the riders in front of me. On a couple of the sections I never found the right line. It was so slippery that I would fall over, or simply clip out, pick up the bike and run, while the more experienced racers rode through. Skills will come in time as I race more in different conditions and learn to be smoother and more efficient over the barriers.
My progression from this weekend will be to work on becoming more smoother with my mounts and dismounts. I'll also work at my general confidence on the 'cross bike. I know it will take more than just one race to get it down pat. Heck, for that matter it will take this whole season and then some to become a contender. I plan to make it happen, so we'll see if it works. I will continue to race throughout the fall and winter, and I'm signed up for 'cross nationals in Bend, Oregon in December. So keep checking the results at www.cyclingnews.com and see how I progress this season.