("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!
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(Great shot from one of the best photogs ever! www.podiuminsight.com. Verona provided a great backdrop for racing!)