Sunday, September 25, 2011

Marymoor Mayhem SCX #1

The opening race of the Seattle Cyclocross Series and we almost got a real cyclocross race! Overnight rain hadn't made much of an impact on a bone-dry course, and distinctly blue skies greeted early racers, but black foreboding clouds soon rolled in before our race went off. Waiting at the start line the skies opened and down came the rain. The delay to start of the race ensured our bodies had got nicely chilled before we actually started. It was beginning to feel like cyclocross!

I had a good start, but couldn't hold 2nd for long and somewhere in the choas of catching up with men that had gone off before us I was relegated to 4th place. The wind that had brought the rain in meant that finding shelter behind other racers was essential if one wanted to rest at all. I was thankful that I didn't get blown into the railings along the velodrome like the guy in front of me did and I didn't get tangled in the ever deteriorating course tape that was flapping around us like streamers at Xmas.

I don't remember the rain stopping, but I do remember it getting hotter and hotter with each lap as the sun came back out to ensure that the course remained dry. Conditions were not going to be in my favor and as hard as I tried, 4th was it for me for the rest of the race......

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rinse and Repeat.....

2nd day of the weekend was the Rapha-Focus GP. Same venue (Lake Sammamish State Park), same faces, same course, just a little precipitation to spice things up a bit. Alas, not quite enough though. The bone dry course of the day before was really only nicely dampened down. Corners were a little slicker over the roots, but nothing to really get in the way. The sandy section which should have improved with the rain by being more compacted, was in worse shape, probably from the sheer volume of traffic that had been churning it up.

Luck was on my side for this race as I managed to get a 2nd line starting position. I was determined to make the most of it and decided just to go all out and hang on until I got spat off the back of the leading ladies. It was a good plan because my position going into the first few corners meant I didn't run into the same log jams early on. As the leading ladies quickly sped off I was then left to get into my own rhythm and tried to hold my position as long as I could. Worked well for a few laps, but soon 15th slipped to 16th to 17th. I was ok with that, but then fatigue set in and silly mistakes crept in. My 2nd to last lap through the sand pit was the final straw. A huge endo into the crater that had formed at the end of the ramp sent me over the bars and in a tangled mess with my bike. I lost a couple more spots there.

I figured these gals had been behind me so I'd be able to catch back up. No such luck. It took me almost half a lap to figure I'd mashed my shift/brake levers so badly that I couldn't really brake or shift properly. I didn't know whether to be excited or terrified at the prospect of having to pit for my first time ever. Coming around the corner into the pits I gave a wave, to warn Justin (our mechanic) that I was a damsel in distress and coming in. Fresh bike hand-off was a success, although my re-mount wasn't so pretty. I was going again though and on my final lap. Never did catch the gals that had passed me, and ended up staying on my own right up to the finish line for 19th place. Three places up on yesterday.

So what did I learn?

1) A good start can make a huge difference.
2) You have to battle for the entire race.

3) Slightly damp, fast, flat courses don't suit my skill set.
4) Running in sand sucks, but endoing is even worse.

5) You can't practice barriers at speed in your sleep the night before the race.

6) Cheering crowds are awesome, but intimidating at the same time (especially when you endo in a sandpit!)

Star-Studded Starcrossed

Worst result racing EVER! 22nd place, but completely happy! As a UCI event, Starcrossed brings a much bigger field than I'm used to and even a few international stars like the French and Czech National champions came out to play. So what's a newbie to elite cyclocross to do? Well, be happy to not be lapped, and learn for the next race.

So what did I learn?

1) You get gapped pretty quickly if you are not aggressive from the start.
2) You have to battle the entire race for position.
3) Dry, fast, flat course definitely doesn't suit my skill set.
4) Running through sand sucks.

5) Need to actually practice jumping barriers at speed.

6) Cheering crowds of spectators are awesome, but intimidating at the same time (especially past the beer garden over the barriers!)

Praying for rain for tomorrow's race - that'll change things up a bit......

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

MFG #1 Kick-Off Cross

Gulp, 1st race of the season. I really didn't know how my body was going to respond to Sunday's CX race at Big Finn Hill (MFG #1). No race efforts for me since July and it was a scorching hot day. Go figure, Seattle had a pathetic summer, but the day CX season starts we get temperatures in the 80's and 90's. I melt in the heat, so this was going to be quite the challenge for me.

My goal for the day? Be conservative and not to die from heat exhaustion! My new team's tent provided much needed shade to warm up in though, so things were looking ok whilst warming up on the trainer. I stayed as hydrated as I could and stayed cool with a wash cloth soaked in ice cold water around my neck. Delicious! So delicious in fact that I took it to the start line with me. I intended to discard it at the start line, but just could bring myself to remove it from my neck. Was this going to become my new security blanket? I tucked it into my sports bra and hoped it would hang in there for the race. I was breaking the first rule of racing - never do anything new or unplanned during a race. I had visions of the wash cloth falling out and getting lodged in my rear wheel, causing a spectacular crash. This wouldn't be a good start on the new team. I couldn't work out whether the gals around me were watching me with envy or pity as I poured the last of my water on the cloth, giving it one last soaking. Were they rolling their eyes or were they pleading with someone to give them one too?

And we were off. My plan to stay conservative went out the window and I tried to stay with the lead women as they shot off the front. It didn't take long for the lead 3 gals to gap me, but I was leading the chase group and not feeling too out of my depth. My team mate Kristi was right behind me, so we were in a perfect position to be able to work together to attempt to reel them in later. That's what I thought right before she took a tumble in a loose section through the woods. Damn! Already injured from last week, I hoped she was going to be ok. I put my head down and kept going knowing she was the only one who could take care of her situation.

My new friend (my wash cloth) was good company through the race and we didn't have any abandonment issues (ie. no nasty accidents). As cool (or should that be uncool?) as I was with my new friend I hadn't thought about putting a water bottle cage on my bike so I could take a water bottle. Usually, CX is so short that drinking isn't necessary and carrying a bike with a cage and bottle is awkward, so it's just not done right? Big mistake! It seemed like not only my mouth dried out completely, but my lungs too! So dry in fact, that when I tried to make a friendly passing shout out to racers I was passing through, nothing but hot air came out. Literally, not figuratively that is. My voice had gone and nothing but hot dry air came out! Team mechanic Justin could see things were getting dry offered a bottle through the pit. Arrgh, didn't see it until too late. I said 'next time around' although I don't know whether any sound came out and just hoped Justin would offer it again. He did. Hero! The best tasting water ever! Although only a sip before I had to discard it before heading into the woods. Don't ask why I didn't think about putting it in my pocket - duh!

I hung on to my position through the race, but I never did catch the lead 3 women, although I did make up one place when one gal flatted and had to make a pit stop. I'll take a 3rd place however I can get it! Goal achieved - I didn't die of heat exhaustion and had a bonus of a surprisingly good start to the season. Kristi had got back on her bike and worked her way back through the field to a 4th place after her crash. She's a trooper and an inspiration.

Cycle U-PopCap Cyclocross Team

In case I was still in any doubt that I hadn't actually retired from racing then this was the final clue. A call from the Cycle U-PopCap team director inviting me to join their new team was unexpected, but gave me the prod I needed to solidify my racing intentions for the season. I loved the offer of joining a small team of dedicated elite racers and having a little more support at the races, but it would come at a price - getting serious about CX and committing to a crazy race schedule that would have me racing every weekend from September through mid-December. I didn't commit until I'd passed it by Chris (knowing my racing impacts him too) , but needless to say, Chris was all for it.

So, a new adventure begins. Check out the Cycle U-PopCap Team Blog

Cycle U is a well respected coaching and training school and cycling store in Seattle.

PopCap is a hugely successful gaming company. A huge thank you to both companies for their support this season.

It's Been a While Since My Last Confession.......

Even I was shocked when I realized it's been over 2 years since my last blog. What happened? Well, like all good addicts I tried to kick the habit. Racing had got a little stale for me and I started telling friends and family I'd retired from racing and was enjoying all the extra time I had on my hands again. I lied. What more can I say?

2010 proved to be a turning point for me in racing. As I wasn't exactly training, multi-day stage racing was out for me, so I dabbled in a few local mountain bike races, enjoyed the summer riding as much singletrack as possible, then got this crazy idea that racing a cyclocross (CX) season in the fall would be fun. It would be low-key because I'd have to start as a category 3 racer and there would be no expectations (from myself) of a particular placement. It went well. What more can I say?

By the middle of the season I'd upgraded to category 1 and managed to squeak a 2nd place overall in the local CX series (SCX - Seattle Cyclocross). At the masters nationals in Bend, OR I was thoroughly delighted with an 8th place finish.

And what was the best part of all of this? Racing was FUN again! Even though I kept up the pretense that I'd retired from racing (CX didn't really count right?) I headed into 2011 knowing that I hadn't kicked the habit one little bit. I stayed fit by racing the local WA mountain bike series during the spring and summer, enjoyed some epic mountain bike rides with friends and now CX season is upon us again. I'm excited.