The Greenbrier Challenge was approaching, and I was stalking the pre-registered list as I often do. The women’s races are often very small, so I am usually hoping for more people to sign up. I was registered for the Cat 1 Women 30-39 which had a disappointing head count of 4. The Cat 1 Women’s Open, however, had 9. After a bit of debate, I made the switch to the higher class. By race day, there were about 15 of us. This is large for a women’s elite field in a mountain bike race. Out of the names I recognized from the start list, there were some very fast and talented women, and I was sure the names that I did not recognize were equally as fast.
While standing next to some of the best mountain biking women in the area at the start, I did my best not to be intimidated, and tried to look as fast as possible while standing still. Finally, we were off and a majority of the group quickly started to gap me. I knew there were still a few people behind me, so I tried not to get too discouraged. Normally, I rely on my climbing to catch people, but I wasn’t sure that was really going to work today, as I was sure every one of these women were just as fast on the climbs, and definitely better technically. So my focus was really on not losing time on the technical sections and downhills, and staying as aggressive as possible.
By the time we got to the first long climb (a.k.a Bitch Kitten), I could still see people ahead, and I was gaining on them. I passed a few people in the first lap, mostly thanks to the climbs. The bottom of the last descent was really wet, and it kind of surprised me on the first lap. It was NOT like that on Saturday when I pre-rode the course. It was like riding right down the middle of a creek. Having water shooting into my eyes and trying to stay fast was a lot going on at one time, but it was also really fun splashing along through the water.
The descents were where I was losing time, but each lap I was able to go a bit faster. I kept Cherl Sornson and Sue Haywood’s words from Michaux MTB School in my head the entire time. By lap 3 on the descent from Bitch Kitten, I stayed right behind the Cat 1 age group dudes that had just passed me, so that felt pretty good. By lap 4, I was able to totally nail that descent.
Each time I came through the start area, I would try to look ahead to see the woman ahead of me. I knew her from Hoo-Ha last year and she beat me by about 15 minutes. I remembered her because we chatted quite a bit and she was super nice. At the start of lap 4, she was a lot closer and I knew I could catch her. On Bitch Kitten, I started plotting my plan. But then she bobbled over a log and was forced to walk. Not exactly the dramatic passing experience I was preparing for, but I would take it. After that, I gaped her pretty good and held my spot to the finish.
I ended up 9th out of 15. Considering the field, I am very happy with that. First place in the Open Women actually had a faster time than the first place Pro woman, and second place would had finished on the Pro podium as well. I think that Greenbrier’s inclusion in the MASS series, proximity to Nationals, and being the first qualifying race in the area, drew out a more competitive Elite women’s field. I raced Cat 2 at this race last year, but I remember how small the Cat 1 fields were. It was pretty awesome to have the opportunity to race with such a strong field this year.