Even though the temps hovered in the 40s and clouds enveloped the upper elevations of the climbs on course, it was much, much nicer than it could have been if the race hadn’t been rescheduled from a couple of weeks ago when several inches of snow fell and temps hung in the low 20’s.
It’s not often that I get butterflies, but after losing last year to Carey Lowery in the last 100 meters of race course, I had more reason than payout to do well this year (unfortunately, Carey wasn’t able to make it this year because of a recentÃ‚ surgery). Before the race start, I rode around the CX loop that we’d circle before and after the 50something mile gravel route through the national forest. This loop was a lot easier than the Mulberry Gap loop from last year, so I wasn’t too worried.
When the race started, I tried to make the best use of the cross course to get ahead of the other women. My strategy worked well, and I ended up entering the gravel just a little behind the group of men’s race leaders. Once I got away from Camp Wahsega, I forced myself to settle into a sustainable tempo (I have a bad habit of starting out too fast). The first climb (Winding Stair) went by quickly, and soon enough, I passed the aid station, headed up a few more miles, then started the descent down to several miles of pavement.
I like descents… other than having to stop for a lost water bottle (damn crappy cage!), I hauled all sorts of ass. The way I see it, descents are free time if you can go faster than your competition without wrecking or having a mechanical. I set my brakes up especially for this- I can grab my drops and wrap a finger or two around the brake lever without rubbing the pad on the rim unless I squeeze it a little more.
The road section was where I knew I could make up time on the other women. With ladies like Emily Brock and Brenda Simril chasing you, playing up your strengths can be pivotal… I got in my drops and put my head down, maintaining the same strong tempo effort I’d hit on the way up the first climb. At one point, the Applegates passed me on their tandem. Sweet! They ended up going slightly slower than what I was originally aiming for, but the energy-saving benefit of sitting behind a 29er tandem when there’s a headwind is pretty awesome.
Once we were back on the gravel, the second climb started soonafter. The Applegates & I were back & fourth- they were generally faster on the flat/downhill streches and I was a little faster uphill. This was also where my legs started to ache. For a minute, I slowed down, but then I recalled the hours of trail and road riding in Mountain View that I’d put in during Winter Break. So, I gritted my teeth, cleared the whiney thoughts from my head, and pushed harder.
Miles later, I stopped at the last aid station to quickly get a little water and toss my vest, which had been bothering me since the zipper stuck halfway down a few miles back. At that point, the Applegates passed me again (I wasn’t really racing them, but they acted a little bit as a rabbit to chase to keep me going). A few miles later, the final descent began. At first, it was foggy and rocky. I was a little cautious for the first section since a wreck, flat, or broken equipment would be pretty disasterous. However, once it smoothed out, I went back to going all-out. A couple of times, I felt my rear wheel skidding precariously around the damp, sandy turns… it was both incredibly fun and incredibly terrifying all at once. (The Applegates left me in the dust- they not only had a heavy & very stable machine with fatter tires & front suspension, they also have the skill and cajones to take full advantage of it!)
Soon enough, I was back at Camp Wahsega. Eddie set up a killer run-up (everyone said it was worse than last year, but I didn’t think so) and a little singletrack to navigate before re-entering the CX loop. When I got to the base, I noticed that Ryan was about halfway up. Happy to be off my bike,Ã‚ I shouldered it and started to climb. Once I got to the top, I hopped back on and headed down some rooty trail, over a few trees, and around the last couple of bridges before re-entering the course (I also managed to pass Ryan somewhere along the way). As I entered the section of barriers, I caught back up to the Applegates. I thought about attacking & diving around them, but then figured it wasn’t really all that important, so I told them that I’d back off so we could all have good finishing photos (hopefully those will surface soon!)
So my hard work paid off… I finished ~20 minutes ahead of the 2nd place woman. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come. I’ve got a lot more work to do before I’m 100% ready to conquer my first 100 miler in a few months.
HUGE thanks to Eddie and Namrita O’Dea for putting this race on. It’s always going to be one of my favorites, and I LOVE that they pay the women out the same as the men ($500 for 1st place!!!) You guys rock!
Photo from the first climb (courtesy of Chris Hines)