“Why is life so hard?!” I dramatically complained as I looked at the start list of the Women’s 1/2/3 race for Schooley Mill. Fierce competition is a good problem to have in the world of women’s local bike racing, but I still often wonder how I ended up in the Elite race in the first place. To be taking the start line next to these women is an honor in itself, but it doesn’t make the weekly beatings I receive any easier.
If at DCCX I found my fire–as a friend said after the race–I could barely light a match at Ed Sander last weekend. My race was over before it hardly started. I had a good start off the line, but then the very small field quickly splintered apart and I was dropped almost instantly to ride alone in the brutal wind. That is just demoralizing. If I had not spent the night before making a bumble bee costume, I probably would have skipped the race entirely. I do not like to miss an opportunity to race in costume. However, even with what felt like a dismal race, I walked away with a $50 payout for 7th place so I can hardly complain.
I debated skipping Schooley Mill this past weekend, but I had a good race there last year thanks to some nice long (for a cross race) climbs, so I finally ended up signing up Thursday night as the online clocked ticked down to the close of pre-registration. Soon after arrival, I learned about the log, which was a new addition from last year that I quickly became obsessed with. It was a log followed by a climb, followed by two off-camber s-turns as you went back down the hill. The log was rideable but it created a really interesting ride or run decision. Just because it was rideable, was it faster, and was it worth the risk of a botched attempt? For me, any time I can stay on my bike is usually faster, so I pre-rode the log until I was comfortable with it. I really enjoyed the debate over the log, because that decision process is part of cross, and many courses do not have that.
I had a pretty good start and was able to stay with the pack longer than last week. I stayed right behind one of the women I was targeting, and knew I would have a good strategic race. As the field started to spread, one of my nemesis had a mechanical, and I passed as she fixed it. Soon after, the women I was following put in a big effort on the climb and made a sizable gap. I worked my way back up, but then she had a mechanical and I passed while she stopped. That is never the way you want to pass someone, but that was me a few weeks ago at DCCX.
Pretty soon, the woman with the first mechanical had caught me. I went to war with this woman earlier this year at Greenbrier giving me some insight on her racing. So rather than fight for position, I let her pass and sat on her wheel. I sat on her wheel for most of the race. This was quite handy as the wind was picking up. I knew that she was a an excellent climber, so I made sure to stay with her on the climbs. At one point I passed her, but she quickly passed back right ahead of one of the windiest sections of the course, shielding me again from the headwind. Thanks!
I rode the log every lap while the woman I was following ran. I had to slow down quite a bit to ride it within my ability, but it was still better than dismounting. And regardless of speed, it made me feel much cooler in front of the spectators.
On the second to last lap I realized that I needed a plan. I couldn’t just sit glued to this woman’s wheel. I needed to finish on the other side of that wheel. A sprint finish up the final climb seemed most likely since I knew she would fight for the lead no matter what. I doubted my ability to out sprint her up the hill. I also couldn’t think of anything better.
However, at some point on the last lap, I let a gap form and never got it back. I wonder if I subconsciously gave up that time because I couldn’t stomach the thought of a sprint finish up that final climb and I was content with finishing where I was. There was no reason I could not have held on to her just a bit longer. I didn’t expect to stay with her for as long as I did, and I let it become true that I would lose her. I fully believe in the self-fulfilling prophecy, so I really think I just let it go. However, even with that, I was really pleased with my race. I even finished about 2:45 off the leaders which is better than my usual 3-5 minutes.
Next weekend I will be in PA, which produces an interesting decision. Take a much deserved weekend off from racing or head to Kutztown and race on a CX pump track? Oh, life is so hard!