Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Cyclocross Nationals 18.2

Elite women's start in Louisville. I'm blurred out in the back. Photo credit: Velonews

Three years ago, in Asheville, I almost gave up on cyclocross. I was 29, in my 2nd year of residency in Chapel Hill, I had raced a few cross races that fall in the NCCX series, and Cx Nats was coming to Asheville. Everyone was talking about it, and I really didn't want to miss out. I had no UCI points, I had never been to a national race before, but I petitioned to race with the elites since I didn't qualify for masters yet. The pre-ride went horribly, I was struggling with the off cambers, I was sliding around in the mud, I crashed on one of the technical descents. I had no confidence on the course or on my bike. I felt so out of place. On race morning, I had the last call up. I got crashed out against the metal barriers soon after the start, broke my derailleur, and my race was over. It was the only race I have DNFd as far as I can remember. I was upset, but it was almost a blessing in disguise because I couldn't ride the course anyway, much less race it with the top riders in the country. I felt that I didn't belong, and that feeling has stuck with me a lot in elite races.

The next year, Nats was in Hartford. I grew up in Litchfield, CT about 1 hr from Hartford, and it seemed silly to miss out on a national championship race in my home state. My experience in Hartford was so much better. I was 30 and could race with the "baby masters" in the 30-34 age group. I finished 2nd in my age group, which I totally didn't think I was capable of in snowy, icy, frozen conditions. I also finished 5th in the SS race and got on the podium for my parents to see. I left Hartford with a little more confidence and feeling that I might belong in the cx community even if I wasn't an elite rider. 

My Mom in yellow and Dad in red cheering during a blizzard in Hartford

Last year, cx nats was is Reno. After you finish 2nd at a national championship race, it makes you want a stars and stripes jersey so much. I actually had a couple of good results during the 2017 season, winning both days of Go Cx (before it was a UCI race), and winning day 2 of DCCX. Having some good results gave me a bit of confidence and made me feel that I was a somewhat competent cx racer. I had a strong race in Reno, and even though it was the masters race, it still felt awesome to stand on the top of the podium given how discouraged and disastrous I felt 2 years prior in Asheville.

Celebrating masters racing with Libbey, Stacey and Alex in Reno

So that brings us to Louisville for Cx Nats 18.2. My goal this year has been to challenge myself, and that meant forcing myself to line up with the elite women and trying again to prove myself in a super competitive field. This season, I made it to 3 UCI C2 races: Go Cx, DCCX, and Hendersonville, and finished top 10 in all of them. I earned some UCI points so instead of having the last call up, I was #27. 

Racing in NCCX the week before Nats gave me a little practice in mud. Photo credit: Icon Media Asheville

My race day prep was less than ideal. The mud was insane. I found myself again failing the pre ride, crashing and sliding out around all the corners. My legs and back were pretty sore from all the running and bike carrying from the SS race the day before. My shoe buckle broke, and Jeff had to duct tape my shoe onto my foot. I somehow lost my number and had to ask registration for a new one so instead of #27, I wore #44. I was nervous and feeling again like I didn't belong in the field. Pulling up to staging, I heard someone giving another rider advice: "just ride all out, trust your bike and trust yourself." I decided to take that advice too. After the national anthem, music started playing, all the spectors started banging against the race barriers in time to the beat, and it was impossible not to feel excited. I put all my doubts behind me, I put a smile on my face, and decided in that moment, that I could do this.

Photo credit: @ktg_traill

The start was crazy. As soon as we hit the mud at the end of the starting pavement, people started crashing and there were literally bikes riding perpendicular to the race course taking out other riders behind them. Somehow I managed to navigate around the carnage and make it through the sand, up the fly over, and onto the backside of the course. There was so much running, but I just set my pace and kept plugging. I didn't care about my placement. I just kept telling myself to stay focused, keep moving forward, ride strong when possible, and be efficient getting on and off the bike.

Photo credit: @gratstagram

My bike and shoes weighed 40 extra lbs from all the mud. I slid out around corners and just picked myself up and kept moving. I was in the pits every 1/2 lap for a cleaner and lighter bike. I still don't have a pit bike, so every lap, I rode my SS bike for 1/2 lap so the pit crew could clean my geared bike for the 2nd half of the course. I don't know how the pit crew kept up with all the bike washing, but I can't thank them enough. I lost spots while riding the SS but I just kept my head down and focused. There were people cheering for me around the whole course and it was awesome hearing my name. Seeing Jeff in the pits handing me a clean bike and cheering me on was what I looked forward to the most during each lap! I crossed the line in 16th place, which felt so great, even better than winning a masters race. I conquered my fears, I raced with the elites, I raced in horrible conditions, and I came away with a result that I am really happy with and can keep building on. It's taken 3 years of working towards better fitness, better technical skills, more racing experience, but I feel that I can finally put all my self doubts, disappointments and the DNF of Asheville behind me.  

Photo credit: @jbowes72

Lessons learned: don't give up, hard work does pay off, it take a village to make a race possible, and it might be time to invest in a pit bike!

So fun having these ladies to hang out with before and after the race. Photo credit: @mrkrys66

Couldn't have done it without this fellow (and his pit monkey companions)

1 comment:

  1. So awesome Carla! Passion and perseverance are the tenements of 'cross, and it's great to hear you embraced the experience. And your results both days were amazing! Atta way to make Team Deschutes proud!!