Monday, November 13, 2017

Race Report: South Germantown CX

In which I get my confidence back

I raced all of the Super 8 (now the Super Series) races last year. But I only raced the Super 8 series races. I didn't do any of the Sportif Cup races. Most of the races in MABRA Land are associated with one of those two series. Since I only did Super 8 last year, there's a whole half of the races in the area that I'd never done! South Germantown CX was one of those.

The course was mostly open with a surprising amount of long, gradual uphill drags. The grass wasn't too thick and the ground wasn't too rough. There was one short, steep off-camber section, but most of the turns were really wide and designed for carrying speed. It was kind of a grass crit . . . which is absolutely perfect for me! It was also about 18° when I started pre-riding. The last race I did was a balmy 65°. This is the first race of the season where I've had to wear gloves. Those kinds of temperatures are bad but bearable, but they came on so suddenly that my body was not prepared.

This was my first time wearing the Sportif Cup leader's jersey, too. It's bright orange and hard to miss, but it entitles me to a front row starting position. I got the hole shot from the start and went off the front right away. For the first quarter of a lap or so, the field was strung out on my wheel. I tried to measure my effort and not go too deep too soon, but the first section of that course is all uphill! I always tell myself I'm going to sit in and let someone else set the pace, but then I end up on the front like a dummy anyway.

I'm not sure how or why I, but I managed to open a gap to the rest of the field. I went hard on the rest of that lap and increased my lead. By the end of the lap, I had a good gap to second place. The course was so open, though, that I could see the race developing behind me. I worked my way through the master's field, and caught one of the 1/2/3 women. My back and hips were cramping by the end of lap two (I've had cramping trouble in training all this week, I assume because it got so cold so suddenly). As a result, I was off and on the gas for the second half of the race. I could see second place behind me, and she steadily gained on me through the first half of the course. Then I would either pick it up on the second half, or the course just suited me better. Either way, starting each lap I could see that I'd grown my lead again. But every time I would think, "Okay, I can probably ease up a little," second place was right there to push me forward again. So I would ease up enough to relieve the cramping, then gun it again to maintain my lead.

Fortunately, my body didn't shut down so much that I had to stop entirely. I rode a clean race, too--not at all like Biketoberfest CX! I felt my rear wheel slipping slightly in a tacky turn on the last lap, but otherwise rode perfect. My two-week break from racing served me well. I feel refreshed. Excited to race. My confidence is restored.

And on that note . . . mid-way through this race, I started thinking that it's time to dip my toes into the 1/2/3 waters. I am still shy of the upgrade points needed to move from cat. 3 to cat. 2, although I'm getting close. And I'd still like to win the Sportif Cup Series in the cat. 3/4, if I can! But I think I will race up in the 1/2/3 for the next race (S'ville CX, if the promoter will let me) and see how it goes. I imagine that I will have my butt kicked, but that's probably a good thing.

Anyway, cross is fun and I like it. The people I get to race with are really cool. Even with no teammates around at this race, I still was among friends. That's a great feeling. We have a good thing going in the women's scene here in MABRA Land.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Race Report: Biketoberfest CX

Wasn't it a beautiful day for racing?
In which I learn why one shouldn't "send it" on a cross bike.

Saturday morning was beautiful for cross. A gentle chill was in the air, but the sky was bright blue and the sun was bright in the sky. I pre-rode the course (one which I'd never done before) and really enjoyed it! One of my teammates had mentioned that there was a lot of elevation change in it. That always worries me, but this was the kind of elevation change that suits me, with mostly short, punchy climbs that reward raw power over power-to-weight ratio. Also, there was only one place where I'd have to get off my bike, and I always love that. If I wanted to run I'd go back to triathlon, amirite?

I got a great start from the front row, but settled in at second wheel behind a woman I know is strong (she beat me at Schooley Mill). She was cornering better than me. I had to expend a little extra power after each turn to keep the gaps down. The whole 3/4 field was strung out behind us, too. I took a downhill left-hander a little too wide and went right into a stake. While I was disentangling my handelbars from course tape, the whole field passed me. I went from second to last, just like that. I was able to work my way back up to third using the power climbs in the first half of the course. Then we went downhill into a little pump section, a double hump where you could catch some serious air. I thought, "I got this. I'm gonna send." So I sent it. I probably caught about a foot off of that jump. And I did manage to land it, although my expensive carbon bike made a horrible sound, my handlebars slipped down, and I crashed (softly). I got up as quickly as I could and tried to adjust my handlebars, but nothing doing.

The position was awkward, with my drop about 3 inches lower than normal, but it was rideable. So I rode it around to the pit and grabbed my pit bike. Friend, teammate, and all-star mechanic Clay was in the pit for me (and teammate Beth, who was racing the 1/2/3s) and he had my A bike back together by the time I came around the other side of the pit. I pitted again and set off to try to re-capture some places.

That went pretty well for a while, and I think I worked myself back up into 4th (although I had no idea where I was sitting in the standings at that point). Another woman and I were trading 4th place--I would pull ahead on the short power stuff, she would pull ahead on the long drags--until the last time going over a log onto a long run-up. I was just about to pass her, but when I tried to re-mount after the log, I couldn't pedal. My rear quick release had come loose and the wheel had unseated. I fiddle around with it while 5th place passed me. I thought I had it fixed and started running with 5th, but when I tried to re-mount, I still couldn't pedal. I fiddled with my quick release a little more. Then 6th place passed me. I finally got my rear wheel sorted. At that point, I wasn't angry or frustrated. Really, what can you do? I rode as hard as I could to see if I could gain any more places, and was able to pass one woman to take 6th in the field.

In retrospect, the racing itself didn't feel that hard. At one point, I even asked myself, "Why am I not going harder?" Like last weekend at DCCX, my brain held me back more than my body. Two stupid mistakes cost me big-time in the first half of the race. And I'm lucky I didn't hurt myself going over that jump; a guy later in the day crashed there and broke six ribs. It would be easy to say, "If only x and y hadn't happened, I would have been on the podium." But x and y didn't happen to me; I happened to me! I made those mistakes, and the people on the podium were able to race clean (or mostly clean).

Even with all that happened, I had a fantastic time. I wasn't mad or frustrated (or crying, like last weekend) at myself; I was laughing! The errors I made were silly, and this is just a game. A fun game with bruises and heckling and beer. Plus, the day was beautiful, the course fun (for me), and the weather gorgeous.

Going into Biketoberfest, I was sitting second in the overall for the Sportif Cup, and the leader wasn't racing. I did enough (just barely) to hold off third place for the lead, so at South Germantown CX I get to wear this cool jersey!
It'll go well with my hair.
I skipped racing Sunday, and I'm not racing this weekend. I look forward to some long, slow zone 2 rides with my team in the beautiful fall weather!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Race Report: DCCX

This is what success looks like!
DCCX is one of the highlights of the CX calendar in MABRA land. It's a UCI race and it's in the District of Columbia, so everyone comes out for it. The atmosphere is terrific, the racing is hard, and the race directors do an unusually good job with port-a-johns; they even have them cleaned out between Saturday's racing and Sunday's racing!

I expected the racing to be tough, since the promise of racing on the same course as the pros always draws a larger and deeper field (if not quite so large and deep as Charm City, which had a C1 race and was part of the US Pro Cup). Additionally, the strongest 3s, who normally race the 1/2/3 field locally, join the straight 3 race since the elite race is a P/1/2. I had a few friends who raced the pros on Saturday and Sunday. I didn't envy them, but that will probably be my fate next year. If I work hard in the off-season, maybe I'll be able to finish on the lead lap.

Anyway. My race Saturday was awesome. I got a good start. I rode almost all the features smoothly. I knew that first and second were probably out of my reach, based on previous experience with those two women (girls really; they're 13 and 12 years old). I spent most of the race in fifth place, battling hard for fourth. I caught fourth place (another teenager!) with about 400 m to go in the race and held it to the end. So I got to stand on the podium at DCCX! Fourth place! Whoo!
And this is what mental fatigue looks like.
Sunday, I woke up feeling unmotivated. I didn't feel tired or sore or weak; I felt mentally tired and I didn't want to be there. I crashed hard during my pre-ride in a fast downhill section that I took too fast. There was some gravel in the corner, and I got into it right as I was turning. Fell over on my right side, banged my foot on my pedal (I was worried I'd broken it!), scraped up my elbow, and banged my head on the ground. One of the Bikenetic men saw me go down and helped me off the course. He sat with me until I felt I could go on, but I escaped largely unscathed!

I'm still sitting second place in the series, so I still get a front-row starting spot. I got a terrible start, though, and entered the first turn close to the very back of the field. There was a big crash in one of the first turns, though, and I was able to scoot past it on the left side. That got me a huge number of places back. I was able to work my way back up to about 10th place over the course of the first lap. I managed to catch and pass 8th and 9th in the second or third lap, and felt I could hold them off if I could just ride clean.

I did not ride clean, though. I slipped and fell in a loose right-hand turn that I thought I had dialed. Scraped my elbow on the EXACT SAME SPOT as I hit in my pre-ride crash, which burned like fire. Also took a bunch of skin off of my right calf, and my right hip, and my right shoulder. I somersaulted over my bike and took a second to determine whether I still wanted to go on while 9th and 10th re-passed me. I got up and re-mounted and set to work catching them again. I caught them with no trouble, but was waiting for the right moment to pass. In the final lap, I went down AGAIN in a loose chicane that was a tough turn (lots of crashes there all weekend, great viewing as a spectator) but that hadn't troubled me all weekend. I took all the skin off of my other side, 8th and 9th got a big gap on me, and I mentally said, "Just get me outta here."

I gave up at that point and forced myself to keep pedaling to the end. I managed to make one more big mistake on one of the final turns, where the course crested a hill, went over a tiny little curb onto the road, and then dropped down the other side of the hill before making one more turn onto the finishing straight. So I went into the uphill too fast, cleared the curb, but then totally screwed up my landing and came down so hard on my front wheel that I was convinced I'd broken the carbon or popped a spoke. So at that point I had crashed three times and was pretty sure that I'd broken my bike. I crossed the finish line and rolled off the course, frustrated more than tired, and skinned up all over. The woman I'd been battling for 9th place is a friend of mine, and she was ready with a hug and a "Nice racing!" That helped. Then I rolled back to the team tent, grabbed a water bottled, and rolled off on my own to cool down . . . and have a good cry. I sat on the steps by an abandoned building (the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home, the military retirement grounds where DCCX is held, has a lot of abandoned buildings), burning tear tracks through the dust on my face, and felt sorry for myself. And after about 5 minutes of that, I felt better. And I drank a bunch of beer and talked with my friends and shared stories about all our races and one of my teammates gave me baby wipes to clean off my (many) scrapes . . . and everything was good and fine and I still had an amazing time.

I'm proud of my performance on Saturday, but I've overcooked my brain with all the racing I've been doing. I could have raced much harder and probably been in the contention for 6th place on Sunday, but I didn't have the mental strength. Teaching my spin class on Monday mornings after a double race weekend is normally torture, but this morning my legs felt fresh. That tells me that I'm not overtrained physically; I'm overtrained mentally. So I'm going to shift my focus for the rest of the season and try to hone in on the Sportif Cup races, where I'm sitting second in the overall series. I won AACX, the Sportif Cup race last weekend. A few more wins and I think I'll have the overall lead. I may sit out the rest of the Super Series, or at least take a few weekends off. I'm missing the long, enjoyable, zone 2 rides with my teammates, and I miss the camaraderie of spending hours on the bike with them.

So that was DCCX--the good, bad, and ugly. I plan to take a weekend of long, easy rides and enjoy the feeling of being on a bike. And then I'll race Biketoberfest CX on Saturday and I'll hang out at Tacchino CX on Sunday (but I won't race). (Probably). (Emily, stop reading this).

Friday, October 13, 2017

Race Reports: Sykelocross, Hyattsville, and Charm City

I've been delinquent in my race reports. We have some catching up to do!

Sykesville didn't go well for me. It was meltingly hot. The course was really hard--technical and with a lot of elevation gain. I had high expectations after my performance at Hub Labels, but did not live up to them. My body absolutely exploded in the heat. I can't handle heat well, I assume because I'm small and muscular, and it places a ceiling on what I can do in the heat. I hit that ceiling hard at Sykelocross. Emily came to watch this one, but I didn't do a great job for her to watch (and she doesn't handle heat well either). Ended up 5th out of 19, so a decent showing! The results were all kinds of screwed up because the timing chip computers went down. So we stayed long enough for me to protest the results, then headed out before we melted! Considering how terrible I felt throughout the race, I'm happy with 5th.
Too tired and scared to post up properly. I would totally be the person who crashes in the finishing straight.
Hyattsville couldn't have gone much better because I frickin' won! Hyattsville is basically a grass crit with only one little climb. I got the hole shot and held the lead for most of the race, except for one little stretch where one of the local butt-kicking teens passed me. I passed her back and held a gap to the end by playing up my punchiness. I assume it's harder to be punchy when you're a 90-pound 14-year-old. First win as a cat. 3 in cyclocross, and it gave me the lead in the BikeReg Super Series!

Charm City CX was presented to me as the hardest race on the circuit. It did not disappoint. Since it's a UCI C1/C2 race, AND it's a part of the new US CX Cup, AND it's a little farther north than most of the MABRA races, so it draws the top cyclists in every category from MABRA, Virginia, Pennsylvania, maybe even New Jersey. I met people from as far north as Philly and as far south as Charlottesville. The women's fields were big! And they were full of talented women (and by that I mean waaaay more talented than me)! I won't go through the blow-by-blow, but basically the teenagers blew my doors off and won everything. There were other women my age who also blew my doors off, but the teenagers were the stars of the weekend in the cat. 3 races! Both days, I hit a brick wall in lap 2 and my back and hips went into spasm. Then it went away in the 4th and 5th laps (5 laps both days) and I was able to claw some positions back. Ended up 7th on day 1 and 10th on day 2. I think I still have 2nd place in the series, so I still have a shot at the overall!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Race Report: Hub Labels CX

I am two weeks late with this one, so I'll keep it short.
That's how I felt after this race.
The course was good for me and I had good legs on the day. Unfortunately, my mechanic's skills weren't up to the level of my racing skills. The course had some off-camber turns, one off-camber descent into a steep hill (which I was able to ride if I could get the right line), some woodsy sections, one hill in the woods that would have been ride-able if the race director hadn't put big logs across it (just kidding, Joe!), and a little pile of rocks that you could totally ride if you got the exact right line.

I took the hole shot and led into the first part of the course. First time up the off-camber descent to run-up, I banged my rear wheel and heard it rattle. Ethel's rear quick release had come loose slightly. I stopped to open it, tighten it, close it. Lost about 3 places, but still had everyone in sight. Second lap, I went down in a corner that hadn't given me trouble before. Lost another place or two. Got back up and kept going. Went down in another easy corner, and heard my rear wheel rattling. Rear quick release was loose again. I'd just passed the first pit entrance, and had to go through a bunch of the course before I would pass the other side. A guy in the pit saw me looking for the pit entrance and volunteered to get my bike ready for me. I had to take all of the corners super easy because my back wheel was sliding out from under me. Entered the pit and got to switch bikes almost like a pro! Superstar teammate and former full-time bike mechanic Clay was in the pit to receive my bike. He saved my bacon on this race!

On my pit bike, I tried to start making up some ground. Brakes felt a little . . . not brakey. I managed to finish out that lap, but on a tight 180 around a tree at the start of lap three, my brakes gave up, I couldn't slow down, and I went right through the course tape and into the parking lot. Naturally, this happened right in front of the race announcer with tons of people standing around. I rode a slow circle in the parking lot. I'm pretty sure there are rules against going off course like that. Was I disqualified? Could I get back into the race? Did I even want to? Then one of my friends from the local scene said, "Jamie! Don't give up! Do you want to be in 15th place?" So I hopped back on the course and resolved myself to finishing super slowly . . . Until I saw Clay waving at me from the pit! He'd fixed my A bike, and I was able to change in the pit and get back to some hard racing.

My last lap was the best. I rode everything except for the uphill logs in the woods. I passed two of the women in the 1/2/3 race, which had started a minute before my race. I caught and passed a few more in my race. I was within sight of two more women in the finishing straight, but the end wasn't long enough to outsprint them. I finished 5th of 15, even with two bike changes! I was very satisfied with my racing, if not with my wrenching.

It's fun to think about how I would have done if all had gone well with my bikes. I've replaced Ethel's quick releases. Once I got Fred in the bikestand back home, I discovered that one of the pads on the front brake had come loose from its backing. No wonder it wasn't slowing me down--it was steel-on-steel! I think I could have finished second, maybe even first if I hadn't had the mechanical difficulties. Ultimately, though, it doesn't matter; taking care of your equipment and arriving to the race with your bikes squared away is part of racing!

Big, big, big thanks to Clay for being my pit crew, and congratulations to him for getting third place in the 35+ 3/4/5 race! Congrats also to Beth for getting 2nd in the women's 1/2/3, Chris for getting 4th in the men's 4/5, Eric for getting third in the 45+ 1/2/3!

Friday, September 8, 2017

New Bike Day

I wasn't planning to buy a new bike. But sometimes the bike chooses you.

One of the women in the local 'cross scene posted her 2014 Crux Pro on the DC Used Bicycle Marketplace. It had a SRAM Red groupset, hydraulic brakes, and came with two wheelsets: an alloy clincher pair for training and a Roval carbon tubular pair for racing. She was selling it for a song, with extra chainrings, chain, and rear cassette that she had laying around for it. And it was 46 cm--my size. I couldn't not check it out!

So Emily was a little surprised when she came home from traveling to Chicago for business, because there was a new bike in the stable (there are now 5). I've spent the last few weeks setting it up for me: lowering the saddle and the stem, adding new pedals and bar tape, learning how to glue (and now re-glue) tubulars onto carbon rims . . . I've never worked with tubulars, SRAM, or hydro brakes, and I still have much to learn.

But after 2 weeks of tinkering, she's finally ready to race. Her name is Ethel (Fred is my pit bike). The carbon tubulars will need to wait until the next race to make their debut, because the front one flatted on Tuesday and I need to go through the process of pulling the old one off and then regluing a new tubular. I present to you Fred & Ethel, making their debut at Hub Labels CX this Sunday!
Heeeeere's Ethel!
Fred and Ethel, ready to race!