Remaining committed to my cyclo-cross goals and training has been a test of perseverance for me this year. A sprained ankle in August was just the start. This fall, I raced through sickness, sleep deprivation, mechanical issues and a hornet sting (on the sprained ankle of course!). I stopped using the start line mantra, “it can’t get worse,” because, actually, it can get worse. But, somehow you always find a way to race through it. I tried to use every “opportunity” to practice a worst-case Nationals and Masters Worlds race scenario. Or at least, that’s what kept me motivated to start and finish each race when faced with an adversity challenge. Thankfully, both of my National races went according to plan and best-case scenario. I can only hope there are no hornets in Kentucky at Master Worlds.
The game plan was the same for both the National Championship Single Speed and Masters 30-34 age group races: Seamless start, get the hole shot, make top 3 selection by the first hill, ride the first hill, and race the second half of the race faster than the first half. Ultimately, I was out to race myself against the course.
Ironically, the course conditions were strangely Seattle. “Warm” 38 – 40+ degrees with mud on Wisconsin permafrost/ice for both races. “Bike-skating” conditions, my favorite! Even more ironically, Seattle experienced a cold front with snow and 20degree temperatures at the same time. Go figure!
It was awesome that almost a 1/4th of the women in the single speed field were from the Northwest! Relaxed, and feeling at home, I executed the start exactly as I had visualized and lead the field into the hole shot. A rider came around to take the lead shortly after the first turn, but I could tell from her bike handling she was at her limit and when she started running the pivotal first hill, I made my move back to the lead, riding up the hill. I pressed the false-flat after the hill to open a gap on the field and spent the rest of the race trying to keep the balance of controlled bike handling and pedaling speed limits. To keep me honest in my goal of racing the second half faster, I monitored lap times to challenge myself to find more ways to gain speed on the course.
The Masters 30-34 age group race game plan included the additional strategy of utilizing Team Redline pit support every half lap due to the muddier course conditions (and derailleurs!). The largest field of the women masters races, I knew my start would have to be perfect. Almost in sync with the start gun, my Giro Code mountain bike shoes connected instantly with my pedals and I was off the start line, leading the 24-rider field down the pavement straightaway. I tied for the hole shot, and was patiently second again into the pivotal first hill. As she ran, I rode by and worked to open up a gap on the false flat hill. We traded lead positions for the next half lap, until we were passed by the current Masters 30-34 World Champion going into the second hill on the course. As I caught her on the crest of the hill, she was off her bike dealing with a mechanical issue. Glad that I had already exchanged bikes with the fantastic Team Redline pit crew, I took reassurance in our strategy of a clean bike being a key factor for success in this race. I worked to increase my lead to over 15 seconds and make each lap faster, while respecting the icy and changing course conditions. It was almost frustrating in that the course demanded more finesse than fitness, but required a lot of deceptive physical strength to “bike-skate.” On the last lap, I let myself take more risks in trying to go faster, but after taking out a course stake with ¼ lap to go with second place in sight, decided safe was the best plan to get to the finish line first. After losing this race twice previously in the last half of the race, finally winning (and keeping the lead the whole race) was very sentimental.
It is surreal and a dream come true to have earned two National Championship titles this past week. I cannot begin to express my gratitude for everyone who has helped support and challenge me this season. Team Redline for fast bikes and the opportunity and honor to represent their brand. Team Redline cross sponsors Giro, FSA, Challenge Tires and Honey Stinger Nutrition which only added to my ability to fly on the bike in both races and all season. Corpore Sano PT for keeping me in motion and racing while recovering from ankle and shoulder strains! And the amazing support from my husband, cross community, friends and family. While only one person gets to stand on the podium, it is the support and efforts of many that get you there. Thank you everyone.