Monday, January 23, 2012

USA Nats Championships Take 1: SingleSpeed

("Locked and loaded" as they say! Waiting for the gun to go off at USA Cycling National SingleSpeed Women's Championships!)

Moving on and back in time to a happier place... time to do a blog update on USAC Cyclocross Nationals from earlier in the month that is. This seems like so long ago, but I still have the good vibes and a couple sweet medals from both races I did up in Madison, WI so I should be able to put something together.

I headed up early in the week on Tuesday to check out the course since I had decided to have a little go at the single speed race later on Wed afternoon. It was a bit of a last minute decision to go ahead with this race, but since I didn't feel up to getting bunched in with a very large group in the elite field on Sunday in which I knew wasn't my focus this year, I wanted to make the trip up north worth my while and get a couple races in while there. Plus, having the SS event be a national champ race was a little extra motivation too.

That being said. As soon as Aaron and I arrived back from Chicago, we had a rush to get things turned around for Nats. Aaron was a huge help in getting the bikes ready so I could get everything else around, he built up my spare winter training/ loaner bike to a single and I was excited to give it a try. Of course I had never raced an SS cx bike before, I had no idea what sort of gear ratio to plan on and since the course preview was "flat" I took few gear options if needed. That being said, I'm actually no stranger to the SS world as some don't remember, about 4 years ago or so, my only mtb was a Indy Fab SS Deluxe and I was a hardcore SS chick... so this wasn't too far off my roots, but I wasn't sure at all how I would do.

So on arrival to the venue, there were 3 things to note, 2 of which I didn't expect. It was hilly, there were sheets of ice, and it was very cold. I only expected the last point. It was not at all like the rumors had stated. It had a very large hill as the main feature that would be traversed a few times each lap. Not being too fond of elevation... this strangely didn't bother me. I was ready. The ice- maybe I expected some ice... this was a sheet. Quite frankly I expected tons of snow. Anyway, the promoter did a great job of working this out and making it safe by race time. And the cold was all of which I had planned for an entire year. I didn't train out in subfreezing temps the last month for nothing. No big thing to me. Bring it on. I did however, skip the preride because of the ice, which would later be a costly mistake. I headed to my hotel and counted down till race time.

Race day! I felt good. The cold lifted and I was excited to line up with a impressive bunch of SS ladies. I went through my warm-up routine as always and felt pretty good about my legs and had a shadow of confidence that I could actually maybe get top 6. I was finally able to get the bike out on course for a muddy pre-ride and I was stoked that it was conditions I thrive in. Mud!

But on my first ride for this bike in the real world (as I skipped a pre-ride) I discovered I had a BIG problem. My chain was skipping every other link. I had 5 minutes to staging and since Aaron wasn't able to make the trip with me... I rushed over to the Shimano neutral support to have them take a look. With such short time, despite their best efforts, the problem remained unsolved (and unfixed) and I was left to line up with a worried feeling of a nonworking bike.Oh no!

As the gun when off I knew I would have to manage the best I could. The start at Madison had a very long pavement section and I knew whoever would be to the grass first would have to be able to spin the gears out at the highest rpms for the longest. My legs were spinning faster then a gerbil on a wheel! It was apparent from the start when I stood that my gear issue was worse when I stood and applied tension to the chain... I would need to sit most of this race. Not a good thing on a ss with a hill. Standing and grinding it out on a ss is pretty much essential. Regardless, I had to focus on time to make up when I could. Stay smooth in the mud. Keep my head straight.

(Thanks to some pics from competitor Julie Sroka (on the right), here's a pic showing one of the last times I applied much tension to my chain... right after the gun went off!)

I hit the grass in the top 5, after a couple turns, up to the top 3, and a little past that up to 2nd. And then we hit the hill. I stood out of instinct. Mistake! I was sure I snapped the weary chain with the tension. It didn't sound good. I had no pit bike. Oh no!
I got off, shouldered the bike and ran the hill as one place passed me. My Bob's Red Mill teammate, Meghan K, power through and I was at least happy it was her. I didn't break the chain, but I knew I would have to run every hill from there on out. Something was majorly wrong and as the mud collected on the drive train it only got worse. I just had to make the best of it. It was so frustrating!!!! My legs and 1.5 lungs felt amazing. Coach Mark had me right where I needed to be in such a short time to train!

(Heading into the barriers after a great, fun, slippery downhill corner. I LOVE a high speed barrier... but this was fun too.)

I held on to third place for a long time until finally my chain was slipping so bad I felt like I maybe connected power to wheel every 3-4 pedal strokes. I was passed again and faded to 4th as my competitors and spectators said "that doesn't sound good." We had a big gap on the rest of the field and I just prayed I would finish the last lap without a broken chain and hold on to 4th. Way better than I expected and a huge surprise to make the podium at Nationals! I babied it along trying so hard to not apply the power my legs had in them to get back up to 3rd again... I knew doing that would risk me falling off the podium completely and even worse than that- a DNF. I held out and the bike made it across the finish line for a solo 4th!

(A bit blurry... but a snap shot of the podium! Bob's Red Mill had a nice presence for sure with 2nd and 4th! Congrats to all the "podium" girls!)

I knew I had so much more, and I dare say I have no doubt I could have battled for the win that day... but no place for what ifs. It is what it is. Some days the body fails, some days the bike does. That's racing as they say, it's the whole package and I should have made sure my equipment worked a bit more in advance. I was honestly still very shocked and honored, not to mention blessed to be on the podium at our National event after everything that has happened last year. How could I complain? I wasn't even to be alive.
So I didn't complain. Just smiled from ear to ear.

Take 1 in Madison made me get the taste of the podium again. I would have never expected it, but now I had to look to Friday and my Master's Championship event. In all the USAC National Championship events I've done I've never placed higher then 4th. Was it time to best that? The same season after nearly dying?

I now I knew I was ready for it!
What would Take 2 bring?

I couldn't wait to find out. Now I had 48 hrs for my mind to digest it all and amp up for things to come!

(Great shot from one of the best photogs ever! Verona provided a great backdrop for racing!)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Saved the Worst for Last. Worlds.

(Can't get any better backdrop than this! L'ville in the distance and a UCI World Champ banner above you!)

Well, the season is officially a "wrap" with this weekends passing of the 2012 Master's World Championships event in L'ville. I've been on the road, sick (more on that later), and busy playing bike racer for the last few weeks so I have a little updating to do to the blog here as a result. I guess logically most people would think I should start with my reports on where I last left off... which would mean I would get to my USAC National Championship event in Madison, WI, but I've decided to do otherwise and start with this last race first.

Reason being? Well, it was my worse "race" I have ever done in my career and once I write this blog, I really just want to put it behind me and focus on all the other positive things that came out of the season. Not that my trip down didn't have good things, or that I didn't have some fun; but my race was something that wasn't one of them.

(I think the look on my face says it all... post body slam and just trying to hold on till the end!)

Backing up to the week before heading to Worlds: Most of you know I was struggling with bronchitis/ sinusitis/ pharyngitis that got going the day before my Master's race in WI. It blew up once I got home and I was forced to lay in bed for 5 days praying it would pass for my trip down to World's in time. I was taking so many herbs, antibiotics, and anything else (humidifier) I could do to move it along. But when your sick, your sick and things like that just have to run their course. I rallied enough Friday before my race to make it to pre-ride the venue. I was pretty tired after the short ride but after seeing what we were faced with, fitness really wasn't what determine the winner.

(Frozen deep ruts, everywhere, Oh MY!)

After a rainy, muddy race the day previous, and sub freezing temps the next day, almost every inch of the course was filled with frozen, unmovable ruts with areas of ice in between. I was devastated to be honest. I've never rode anything like that (not that many people in their right minds have) and after a lap around, I realized I was very terrified of these conditions. Okay. So now what? I tried to collect my thoughts and reasoned that the staff would have taken note that many, many people were crashing (badly) and switch over the tape a bit to make this a true test of cyclocross. After all, us old people don't bounce off the ground as well as non-master's! Surely that would happen. I can't believe how many times I heard racers saying "all they have to do is shift the tape over," or "I came all this way to ride my bike."

I went to bed that night not being anxious about how my fitness prep had been, but a nervous wreck about how I would be able to go to work on Monday from wrecking... how much was this going to be worth to me?

As race day arrived the course remained the same. I pre-rode with a different tire selection and felt a little better about my race. I knew I had the chops and the fitness. I had all the belief that I could live up to the race predictions from the media that I was a favored top 3. But-
Turns out I'm not the best frozen rut racer in the world.

I started off strong on the pavement. My legs felt so great as I kept right there easily with L. Bassette, the heavy favorite, but as soon as we hit the ruts, I started moving backward in the pack. I got behind a crash in the frozen sand and was instantly in the back of the pack. I started back up and was slowly picking my way back up to about 10th and then it was all over. I hit a cross rut that was filled with ice, slammed to the ground, and had to think twice about getting back up. Yet I did. I had badly hit my right elbow, couldn't feel my hand, and as I got back on my bike I realized I dropped my chain. Being that I couldn't feel my hand and was in a lot of pain, it took a very long time to get it back going again. DFL.

(Ready to look on to the next adventure: Master's World's 2012 and the season came to a end after 1 lap of racing. Photo: Chris Jones)

(Things started out pretty cool with a #3 call-up, but went down hill from there.)

After that, I worked back up a few places. I made the decision that doing more damage wasn't worth the risks for me and I pretty much shut it down and crawled around until I got the red light to finish. I might as well walked the course except with a unstable ankle that has had 5 operations, I didn't think that would be a safe option either. I finished 15th. So I'm considered 15th in the World (or master's usa version 2.0 with a couple Canadian mixed in). I finished the race and I kept the faith. Meaning I did all I could to represent myself in a Christan manner. I smiled. Made the best of it. It's a bike race.
I had came to win, but it wasn't meant to be.

(One of the frozen technical descents that had it's share of victims.)

I had told myself months ago that my goal was to just be able to line up at Worlds. I never imagined I would have thought I could win it. Back then I told myself I would be a winner for just lining up, so in that regard and given everything that I've went through this year: I'm a winner in my mind. That's what is important at the end of the day. I finished even though I was in a great deal of pain with my elbow (which is now all bundled up in a sling). In a course that was full of constant bumps, having a elbow the size of a softball didn't feel to smurfy.

(Those World numbers look pretty rad on the Panache/ Bob's Red Mill Kit!

I won't lie and say I'm not bummed out about it. I was very disappointed the course really only showed who was willing to take risks and maybe not set up cx racing for the all around picture of fitness and skill. That's just my opinion (and several other I spoke to) though.

Major kudos to those who won and placed highly. They are true world champions who risked it all to be on the top steps. I just wasn't willing to do that. It was my worse race ever, but worse things have happened to me. Things that are still very fresh in my mind and I'm women enough to say I didn't want to do anything that would bring me close to nearly dying again, plus I just couldn't bear to have a major injury again to make my family and loved ones worry about. I can suffer, but it tears me up to think about having them have to go through anything else so soon again. That's just being honest and that's okay in my book.

I lined up.
I fought my own personal fight.
I kept the faith and
I finished the race.

Big thanks to all who cheered and helped me out there this weekend! It was very cool of you all. I look forward to next year to give it a better go... as long as there are no frozen ruts!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

I Won A Series!

This past weekend was filled with travel and racing for me, just as the next couple weeks will be too. I'm currently hanging out in Madison, WI with my feet up awaiting my first CX Nationals race of the week tomorrow, so what better time to write a blog before the week turns into full gear race mode. I've been lucky enough to take some vacation away from work to play bike racer a bit, so I'm enjoying my "other" life here for a while and it's nice to be able to focus on what I need to do to race for a couple big events you may all of heard of: USAC National Cyclocross Championships and UCI Master's World Championships.

Saturday was the final ICX series race of the year in Zionsville near Indy. I knew going into the race that I had to finish pretty high on the steps to take the series title and I knew exactly who I had to beat to do it. My goal for the race was to do this, to take the series overall. I would have never imagined being in contention to win a series title a few short months ago, but I put in just enough ICX races to qualify and I was pretty happy to be able to have a chance to win! Sure, I wanted to be able to have a shot at the higher profile OVCX series title... but life just didn't work out that way this year and I was actually honored to take one of the first elite series titles in a series that is in it's beginnings. At the rate it is going and the success of how well it has been run by Planet Adventure, it will only get bigger!

So race day was looking pretty sloppy with power sucking mud and a bit of a killer run-up mixed in there. The course had a lot of elevation changes and it was pretty tough for me. I started fair enough, felt pretty decent, but Gerry Schulze obviously felt better. Way better. I knew I was in trouble as she grinded her way up a steep incline I had to run up. Kudos to her as she passed me and that was the last I saw of 1st place....

(Started off strong and stayed out front until the steep run-up. After that Gerry (Biowheels rider on right) pretty much killed everyone! Great job to her! All photos this posting courtesy of Planet Adventure

That was actually fine with me. I gave chase to her for a bit, but she was on fire and I knew I would have to put in a near throw-up effort to catch her. I quickly assessed my position to the other gals and got comfortable in 2nd place and knew I would take home the series the way things stood. I was lucky enough to have my buddy Aaron pitting of me and I took a clean bike every lap which is great practice and just makes life so much easier in those conditions!

(This was pretty much my problem: I should have put some spikes in my shoes for some traction. I was lucky to get up the hill as well as I did but I was sliding all over the place.)

After the race I was instantly frozen. It was quite the chilly day and I quickly changed and set up shop in front of a propane heater while we waited for the series awards to take place. It ended up taking some time (as is expected) which was all fine and normal, but knowing Aaron and I had a long night of driving to Chicago and bike cleaning didn't make the time go any faster. We finally hit the road, had dinner, and arrived in Chicago around 9pm or so. Tired! But it was the perfect way to bring in the New Year!

(Coming across the finish. I was feeling blessed to have taken the ICX Series Win!)

Ahh yes... so Chicago New Year's Resolution UCI Race. The city I learned how to do anesthesia, ride in the wind, and how to keep my shoulders broad! Turns out, 6 years after moving away from there, it didn't disappoint for a UCI cyclocross race either. Chicago is cut throat, you have to stand up and be tough or get torn apart, and that's pretty much how the cx race went. Except I think I made it out of my anesthesia training way better then I did the cx race.

With my last row start I pretty much wasn't looking to do great, and pretty much knew I was there to get in a good, hard effort with some full time pros before nats and worlds. I started good enough, kept up, and felt fine. That is until my bike didn't work anymore. It was the most horrible composition of mud I have ever encountered. Mix that with some sand trap gravel, 40+ mph freezing cold sideways wind, course tape in cassettes, and things just didn't go well from the get go. It made for a long race. I ended up pushing and running around with my bike more than I rode it. I def got running and shouldering practice in. I think I did a better job at finding the humor of the entire race than letting my poor standings get to me. I ended up a few spots off last, 16h, not too bad considering I really didn't bury myself to make a frozen up bike go when it didn't want to. Brutal. Just brutal.

After that we heading to home sweet home for a short bit. Aaron pretty much had to rebuild the bikes from the all the mud. Thank goodness he didn't need anything major that I didn't already have since I was only home about 24 hrs before making the trip up here.

It's been fun so far. Single speed race is tomorrow. Should be interesting. I've never rode a ss cx bike before, but I thought it would be fun to do to get a couple races out of the trip.
I did just take it for a spin in the hotel hallway though. I maneuvered the businessman obstacle pretty good. He had the "deer in the headlight" look and stated that he wasn't expecting to see a bike rider in the hallway...

Well Sir, get used to it,
Cyclocross Circus is coming to town!