OMG, OMG, OMG!!!
Yes, that is how excited I am to talk about this past weekend. My lack of posting about it is only because I was completely destroyed by all the racing. Happily destroyed. Let’s talk about the first day.
I have been attending the Cycle-Smart International Cyclocross race annually for more than a decade–as a spectator only. I was pretty excited to finally be participating on what I consider “home turf.” I’ve lived in the valley for almost 20 years now (on and off–mostly on)–it is where I’ve chosen as my home and it’s a pretty great place. So full of pride, I drove over to Look Park in Northampton early Saturday morning.
I had already been to the park the day before. The course was open for inspection Friday afternoon and I made it there by 4:30 just as the sun was receding behind the treeline, casting long bike shadows across the barrier laced fields. I took 3 even, steady laps, not fast, walking parts, fully taking in the course. Then I met up with my co-blogger Heather (who couldn’t make the pre-ride) at Local Burger for a pre-race carb festival. I described the course to her–it was what I called a “power course” (this is my own description and follows no cyclocross vernacular that I am aware of), meaning–it had a lot of sections that favored a powerful acceleration. Half the course was on flat grass with turns, barriers, and a sandpit. The other half was up on a plateau of trees, roots, and pine needles. This was the more technical part of the course. The flat grassy sections would kill me, because this is where I suck. So I knew I’d need to push these sections just to keep a good average speed up. This was not a place to rest.
I arrived Saturday and it was cold. Really cold. But clear and sunny. It was about 35 when I arrived and it warmed to about 40 for the start of the race. I got 2 1-day licences and picked up my number for Saturday, and then slowly warmed up and checked my tire pressure about a million times. Call up to staging started and I got into position with the 69 other women in my field (unlike other races, this was nothing to sneeze at. Nearly 1500 racers had registered for two days of racing). The whistle blew.
My start was good. The pack raced for the hole shot and slowed, congested into the first corner. Then we hit the pavement and dispensed. The pavement ended with S-corners of dirt and grass and up the monster run up. From the distance, this looked like a wall of shouldered bikes moving straight up and over the hill. I was forced up the steeper part of the hill on the first pass since there were so many of us, and I actually grabbed onto a stripped stick of what was probably the beginnings of a tree at one time– just to pull me up the hill. I got knocked in the head with a few wheels. It was complete chaos, and acted as a wonderful place to separate the wheat from the chaff.
On the upper deck, it was twists, turns and roots, and then a fast and fun decent to the lower fields at into a sand pit. I ran this every time, and was really glad I did. No regrets on running the sand. I lost no time this way. It was the right choice for me.
On the grass, I battled with about 5 women throughout the course. The same bunch made and dropped contact most of the race. I really tried to push it on the grass, and it was hard. Then the second run up, with steps brought us back to the upper deck. More trees, roots, winding turns. Getting stuck behind a rider who wasn’t fast in these areas became a tactical problem. This happened a couple of times, and then I decided to just hit the gas. I passed a few riders on the upper deck. Then, we’d descend to the grass and I’d struggle to keep the advantage. I often lost it. More chaff separated.
I keep spinning hard, kept pushing and tried to race smart. But unlike my last race in Connecticut (when I was sick), I was racing this time, and not just riding. I felt good about the lines I chose, and most (but not all) of the decisions I made.
During the last lap, I was overtaken again by a racer who I would pass on the upper deck, and then submit to on the lower deck. She passed me on the grass again, and I hung to her wheel. We reached a straight path, and my head said “gun it.” I passed her, and stayed away. I then just tried to stay in front and keep pushing through the last series of turns. Then the pavement to the end, I just kept pushing, in one last, long effort.
I finished 52 of 70 and it was my best race of the year (so far). I felt really good about this effort, the course, and the competition. 52nd might not seem like anything to get excited about, but in Providence, I finished 63, so this was a 11 place gain in one season, my first season, with my 42-year-old equipment. I’m not unhappy with this at all. And more importantly, it just so much fun. Enormously strenuous and difficult, but fun! I am fully in love with cyclocross. My last experience at Sloper a very distant memory, I couldn’t wait to race again, and luckily I didn’t have to wait long, because I had signed up for Day 2 of Cycle-Smart International……
(to be continued)
PS–For a full presentation of the course for Day 1–watch this very awesome video by CyclingDirt. This is the Elite Women (AKA–“The Wheat”) racing. Don’t worry, next post I give the fellas a turn to represent the course of Day 2.