Third Time’s the Charm

NikkiCXNatsI’ve had a goal for winning the Masters Race at Cyclocross nationals ever since I finished on the podium in 2010. After finishing third last year, I came into this season focused on winning this year. While the juggling act of 1.5 jobs, two kids, and training has proved difficult this season, thanks to coach Ben Ollett, I was able to get in some top quality training in preparation for the North Carolina Grand Prix and then again in preparation for Nationals. I knew after two solid results at the NCGP that I was in good form, and that if I could keep it together and stay healthy, I could make a run at the top step in Austin.

When I awoke on race morning, it was misting and a balmy 38 degrees. We headed to the course and I picked my lines on a course that was slightly damp but not super muddy. Full of nerves, I headed to the line focused on one thing – getting myself across the finish line before everyone else. NikkiCXNatsCloseup1024x1024My plan was to ride a conservative first lap and gauge what was happening and then attack at the barriers. To my surprise, we were informed they’d shortened the course and removed the barriers, just before we were staged. The whistle blew and I clearly had a lot of adrenaline, as I got the hole-shot and established a small gap. We hit the off camber section, and none of the lines I’d ridden during my pre ride worked, since the course was muddier. I found myself dismounting and running sections I’d had no trouble riding earlier. I panicked momentarily as we headed for the first set of steps. I still had a gap. I pounded up each set of steps as fast as I could. I love to run so I decided to use the steps as a place to attack. NikkiCXNatsFinish I came through the start finish with a gap of about 8 seconds and feeling strong. I rode the second lap with more composure than the first, attacking the straights, finding better lines on the off-camber areas, and sprinting up each set of steps. I came through the finish and saw three to go, still feeling good. I started to wonder if this dream I’ve had was going to become a reality. I headed into the third lap still feeling good, again riding the off camber sections even better than the last lap. As I went past the pit, they yelled that I had a 15 second gap – “No mistakes , keep it together, “ I thought. As I headed into the off-camber hill just before the last descent before the finish, my bike slid out, and I crashed. As fast as I could get up, my gap decreased, and as we headed into 2 to go, the gap was down to 8 seconds. I panicked, got angry, and dropped the hammer. I focused on riding smoothly, on crushing the steps, and staying focused. As we headed into the final lap, I could see I’d increased the gap to around 15 seconds again. I thought, “9 more minutes of suffering and this is yours.” As I headed past the pits for the second time, I could see my gap was bigger, and knew I just had to ride smooth and I’d have the win. I came through the last off-camber section elated, and smiling. All I had to do was make it down the hill, and onto the pavement. Evidentally when I crossed the finish line, I gave the best post-up of the day… I was elated to capture the win, and incredibly excited to have my wife and sons there to be a part of it. The smile on my face sums up the sheer joy I felt as I finished.

Nikki Thiemann exults after crossing the line for the win in the Women's 35-39 category at USAC CX Nationals - Photo © Cyclocross Magazine
Nikki Thiemann exults after crossing the line for the win in the Women’s 35-39 category at USAC CX Nationals – Photo © Cyclocross Magazine

As I look back on the race now… I still can’t stop smiling. I feel incredibly honored to be a part of the Philly cycling community, and am so thankful for all of the texts, posts, and calls I’ve gotten… it’s left me blushing! While I’m looking forward to a little time off the bike and some quality time with my family, I’m already looking forward to next season and to setting some big goals for mountain bike season!
NikkiCXNatsPodium
Thanks go out to Cyclocross Magazine, a publication worth subscribing to, for the finish line photo – Nikki will be in the next issue.

Tip of the Week – Cyclocross

As the fall approaches and you pass by large parks, you might be lucky enough to witness groups of cyclists engaging in what looks like steeple chase on bikes. What you’re witnessing is cyclocross. Read on to learn more about what exactly it entails!

Cyclocross is a type of bike racing that takes place in the fall and winter months on a course that’s typically between 2.5 -3.5 kilometers. Courses feature pavement, grass, sand, gravel, trees, and obstacles, including a set of barriers, that require racers to dismount and carry their bike over or up the obstacle and remount once they’re past the obstacle.

Cyclocross bikes are similar to road bikes, with drop handlebars, wider, knobbier tires, more brake clearance, and lower gearing. Additional­ly, cyclocross bikes are often very light, as they have to be carried up and over obstacles like sandpits, stairs, barriers, and in rainy condi­tions, pushed or carried through the mud.

Additionally, racers often have two bikes, one that they start the race on and one called a “pit bike” that goes in the pit. Usually, a course passes by the pit two times, and racers can visit the pit to swap bikes and receive mechanical assistance. In a dry race, racers hope to stay out of the pit, but in a muddy race, racers may swap bikes as often as every 1/2 lap. When racers enter the pit, their mechanic (or lucky friend) will head to the bike wash the muddy bike while the racer heads back out on a clean bike.

If you’ve never seen a cyclocross race, you should make it a point to get to one. There’s a race for every ability level and there’s usually a kid’s race on a much smaller course!

Nikki Thiemann

Welcome to Coaches Corner!

Hello Club Team!  My name is Nikki Welcome!  I’ll be serving as one of the Club Team Managers and Coaches for training and fitness questions posted to this forum.  My specialty is cyclocross, although  I race mountain bike as well, and train mostly on the road.  I have a full-time job as a high school Geometry Teacher and so, like you, I have to somehow squeeze training and  racing, into an already packed schedule.  Let me help you achieve your goals… send email to coachescorner@rarediseasecycling.org.

James Wilson Interviews Elite Team Member Nikki Thiemann

Team CF president and founder Dr. James Wilson recently had a chance to catch up with returning Team CF Elite Team member Nikki Thiemann…

JW: First of all Nikki congratulations on a great season of cyclocross racing in 2012/2013. You had some impressive cyclocross results with third place finishes at Rohrbach’s Ellison Park, Charm City, and The Long Island Supercup along with a European racing debut over the Christmas holiday. What are your goals in 2013 ? Will you mix in any Cross Country or Ultra Endurance racing ?

NT: I sure will! I plan on racing most of the local MASS series XC races, 2 of the Ultracross series races (Crusher in the Tushar and Hillybilly Roubaix) and hope to squeeze in one NUE race; most likely the Wildcat Epic since it’s close to home. For the 2013 cyclocross season, I’ll focus on the UCI races on the east coast with a goal of making it into the top 5 consistently and ending with a strong finish at Nationals in the Elite and Masters races. I’d also really like to make another trip to Belgium – I’m hooked after traveling there this year!

JW: What is your typical training week like towards the end of cross season?

NT: My training hours during the week throughout cross season are generally pretty low, but become even lower as we get closer to Nationals. The focus of workouts shifts a bit to include more intensity as well.

JW: For 2013, Team CF is proud to be sponsored by clothing supplier DNA Cycling. DNA Cycling is a leader in custom cycling apparel and design for cycling team gear and accessories in all cycling disciplines. Since you mix it up both in cyclocross and on the mountain bike, how will this new sponsorship make a difference for you in 2013?

NT: A clothing sponsorship from DNA Cycling means that I can focus on racing even more because I don’t have to worry about my gear failing or not having everything that I need. Also, I can’t lie, it doesn’t hurt to feel like you are looking your best when you are at the races!

JW: As a member of TeamCF, you are a competitive cyclist committed to the development of a cure for CF. How do you contribute toward this goal?

NT: Before I travel to a cross race I will identify club members in the area where I am racing and then do my best to connect with them while at races. This past year in particular I was able to meet club members as far away as Rochester, New York and this past winter was able to bring the Team CF brand to European cross!

JW: TeamCF now has eight women on the elite team roster, placing it among one of the largest pro-am elite level woman’s teams. How do you fit in? Does this change your approach to racing in 2013?

NT: I’m one of the only ladies on the roster that really focuses on cross, which means I don’t get to spend as much quality time with the rest of the ladies on the team and have to rely a bit more on friends from other teams for cross. It doesn’t change my approach for the 2013 season but certainly inspires me to be at my best during both cross and mountain bike seasons so I can pull my weight on such a talented team!

JW: Any parting words?

NT: Bring on the 2013 season!

JW: Thank you Nikki and best of luck to you racing in 2013!

Belgium!!!

Race #1 – BP Post Bank – Essen

I knew that racing in a foreign country would   involve a few extra stressors and worked hard to minimize them… packed the night before, bikes in perfect working order, directions in hand, etc.  All this turned out to be incredibly helpful when I overslept. We woke up 20 minutes after our planned departure!  We hustled to get some breakfast made and get the car loaded and headed out.  I thought we were free and clear of extra stresses until we arrived to the course and found out that registration was 5 km from the course!  I headed off on my bike for an extended warm up to track down my race numbers. I returned to prep for a preride and quickly opted out of it when I realized just how muddy the course was knew I didn’t have the time to spare hosing down and cleaning my bike before the race.  I did an inspection of the course from the perimeter and figured out where the key running sections would be – some of the sections were sheer mud bogs and didn’t seem like it’d be sustainable to ride them each lap.  The course had some great features – one flyover that was rideable, one flyover with steps, a few steep uphills that would require us to run since it was muddy, and some long straightaways, plus a tricky sand pile right after the start and a set of barriers.

Continue reading “Belgium!!!”

Operation FUN

After a disappointing weekend of racing at Sterling over Thanksgiving weekend, I returned home not sure how to proceed with the rest of my season.   I spent a lot of the day on Monday trying to figure out what the issue was… was it fitness… motivation… a mental block…and whatever it was, how could I fix it?  As I sat in my classroom on prep trying to figure out a solution, I got a text from friend and fellow racer, Andrea Smith, that said I should come to LA for the weekend and enjoy some sunshine and warm weather UCI races; we could watch Single Speed worlds too!

Within seconds, I was on www.southwest.com looking at flights and smiling at such an idea.  The cheap fare gods were on my side –flights were dirt cheap!  I consulted Mara on the idea and had her vote of support.  Now I just needed to talk to coach Ben and see if he thought I was crazy.  He too felt it’d be a good change of pace!   So… I booked some flights for Friday and Monday and took two days off of work to head West with the promise of sunshine, warm weather, and maybe even the beach!

I landed Friday afternoon at LAX to light drizzle and temperatures in the 60’s!  We headed to our place for the weekend, built up one of my bikes and headed out for a spin – in SHORTS and SHORT SLEEVES!!!!!!  The weather for the weekend wasn’t promising much sunshine but it didn’t really matter – the weather was warm and the only objective I had for the weekend was to have FUN and let go of outcome and expectations.

I woke Saturday morning to steady  rain and mist and it was clear that our race would be muddy, or at least greasy.  The race was at night, so I got a good ride in on the trainer with some openers and laid low must of the day before heading to the course.    W e headed over to the course midafternoon and much to my surprise, it was right next to Chinatown in a small park that seemed more like a vacant lot than a  park.  The course was pretty challenging, considering the size of the park.  There were two runups, a flyover, and  set of barriers.  The rain held out for most of our warmup but the course and the parking lot where we’d parked were super muddy.  I had an awful start; not able to get clipped in right away because of all the mud in my pedals even after cleaning them out.  The rain started coming down one lap in and the course became super greasy super fast.  My goal for the night was simply to have  FUN and bury myself as deep in the hurt locker as I could.  I rode a great race; I hopped on wheels on the long straightaways, attacked where I knew I was stronger than  the riders around me, and stayed positive.  I rode well in the greasy conditions and finished  10th  after battling it out most of the race with two other racers.

Sunday’s race was much earlier than usual – noon, which seems even earlier when you’re up late cleaning muddy bikes and washing muddy clothes after a night race.  Nonetheless, we arrived at the course 3 hours ahead of time as usual.  The rain had stopped, leaving the course coated in peanut butter mud.  The course was exactly the same so I opted out preriding the course since we were without mechanical support or a pit crew. I had a better start and tried to be patient moving up.  I was riding most of the course well but there were a few turns I felt like I couldn’t ride as smoothly as I’d hoped and I kept losing time there.  I’d close a gap and then hit that corner and the gap would open back up.  I worked on moving up, burying myself, and pushing my limits.  I didn’t have anyone in the pit and was able to move up in position when other riders pitted for  a clean bike and I kept going.  I  found myself in another back and forth battle with Serena Gordon and Beth Ann Orton.  I moved ahead of Beth but couldn’t catch Serena and crossed the finish line in 11th place.

Headed up one of the sets of stairs on Day 2

As I sit on my plane homeward bound now, I feel refocused and reenergized for the last 6 weeks of the season.  I had great finishes in two super stacked fields, but most importantly, I had a ton of fun.  I felt the most excited and most relaxed I’ve felt about racing since Cincinnati and am really glad I made the trip out.  It’s a long season, with weekends full or racing, and sometimes you have to try something different to find that extra little motivation. I’ll head home for one more weekend of racing followed by a weekend off to prep for our trip to Belgium.

Bring on the Second Half of the Season!

The second half of cross season  is well underway.  After a tough weekend of racing in Fort Collins at the end of October, where tired legs and altitude made for a disappointing set of results, I took a weekend off and enjoyed some time at home.  I enjoyed a rest week, some time with friends, and a weekend of fun riding with friends.    Here’s a recap of the start of the second half of the season.

HPCX

I started the second half of the season with 1 day of racing at HPCX, which is part of the MAC series.  I won at HPCX in a slop-fest last year and was hoping to defend my title but knew I’d have tough competition that’d also be gunning for the win.  Weather reports for the week promised an incoming hurricane Sandy and I hoped that we’d be racing in similar conditions to last year.  However, the weather held out and we had the driest conditions at HPCX we’d had in years.  Arley attacked from the whistle, taking  lead immediately.  I must have been asleep when the whistle blew because I got off to a slower start than normal and found myself weaving in and out of other racer , chasing right from the start.  The course was super-fast and twisty-turny and I worked most of the race to close a 5-10 second gap.  As we passed the pit with a little less than 2 laps to go, I could tell Arley was fading.  I’d kept my head up and tried to move forward and knew I could close the gap.  Just as we headed towards the finish for 1 to go, I closed the gap.  I’d thought this part of the race through all week long and knew I needed to exercise patience and just sit on Arley’s wheel.  I did so for a bit but decided to try and launch an attacked.  I got a little gap but Arley closed it back down.  I knew it’d come down to an uphill sprint now.  We headed into the last turn and Arley attacked again just as we neared the pavement.  I wasn’t totally expecting the attack to happen there and she opened up a gap.  I shifted down and took off after her as we headed up the uphill finish.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t get ahead and finished 2nd.  I was bummed not to get the win but really excited to feel like I’d actually raced.  This was the best my legs had felt in some time and I was stoked to start the second half of the season this way.

Cincinnati  Day 1

I’ve heard great things about the 3 days of racing in Cincinatti and was stoked to make the trip this year.  The first day of racing was like riding up and down a cereal bowl.  I had an awesome start and was sitting in the top 4 for the first lap and feeling great.  I knew I had a group of ladies chasing hard behind me and hoped I could hold my lead over them and maybe even move up and get on the podium.  As we came through the start-finish, I thought I’d see 3 to go, but my heart sank when I saw 5 to go!  I knew I was in trouble.  Before I knew it, the ladies behind me were in front of me and  went right on past.  I rode the rest of the race by myself and crossed the finish in 6th – still a solid result but not nearly as finishing 4th would have been!

 

 

Cincinnati Day 2

The second day of racing was at night under the lights.  We decided to head out for a spin early in the morning to loosen our legs up and noticed it was raining.  Would tonight’s race be a slop-fest?  It sure would! As we drove to the course, we passed other racers driving home with muddy bikes.  I was stoked for such conditions but nervous not to have anyone in the pit.  We searched the parking lot for some pit people, but it was so miserable that folks were hitting the road as soon as they could get their cars packed up.  During course inspection, the course didn’t seem too muddy and we determined that we wouldn’t need a bike swap. Boy were we wrong!  I got off to a great start and was riding well; making good choices when to run and when to ride and even rode the crazy set of hills the first two times.  Unfortunately, as the race continued, my bike started to accumulate lots of mud on the tires and I began to lose traction and places in the race.  Andrea Smith caught me and I told myself just to sit on her wheel.  We both took a tumble headed towards the ride up/run up hills but I was able to stick with her.  We were inside the final lap and I really wanted to stick her wheel.  As we neared to top of the run up, I went to remount, my bike slipped right, and I slipped left ,and Andrea went ripping by me !  Darn it!  I chased her for the rest of the lap but couldn’t catch back up.  I finished 8th… not what I’d hoped to do in the mud.

The night race was super fun... and MUDDY!

Cincinnati Day 3

I had no idea what to expect from my body for a third day of racing.  My legs were heavy and tired and I thought for sure I was doomed to have some heavy slow legs for the day.  Much to my surprise, my legs felt great once the race started.  I had a good start, playing it safe and settling in during the first lap before moving up into  6th place.  I spent a lot of the racing fighting for 6th with Mo and Nicole.  It seemed like every time I attacked and got in front of them, they’d come right back around.  I’d attack on the climbs and Nicole would shred the descents and get right back in front. I’d attack on the barriers and miss a pedal when I remounted and they’d open the gap back up.  I crossed the line in 8th with nothing left in the tank and totally pleased with myself for putting out 3 solid days of successful racing.  I headed home feeling good about the start to the second half of the season.  I have lots of racing left and am looking forward to seeing how things shape up!

Chasing early in the race on Day 3.

 

Providence Cyclocross Festival

This past weekend, I headed to the Providence Cyclocross Festival in Providence, Rhode Island to duke it out with some of the best racers in the country I drove up on Friday night and knew I’d be facing a similar field to Gloucester, which meant making the top ten was going to be quite a feat.  The courses in Providence don’t generally favor my strengths as a cyclocross racer but are two of the most fun and challenging courses we face all season.  There’s always something for everyone… a challenging run-up, barriers on one of the fastest parts of the course, challenging corners, and some fast power sections.

I got to the course super early on Saturday and did some course recon…probably too early in hindsight but I was so amped up sitting in the hotel room I didn’t know what else to do.  The more I prerode, the more I realized how important a good start would be if I wanted to finish in the top 10.  I also knew it’d be important to find a group to sit in with.  I had a second row call up and chose to line up behind Andrea Smith as I knew she’d have a killer start.  Unfortunately, when the whistle blew, I had a less than stellar start and found myself much further back at the first turn than I’d hoped.  I worked to maneuver my way around some of the other racers but found myself chasing from way back well before we hit the third turn!  I knew quickly that my legs felt empty – no snap no mojo.  I would spend the rest of the race working as hard as I could to stay in the top 15.  I crossed the finish line in 13th and feeling pretty frustrated; I’d had great legs all week and a fire in my belly and as much as I wanted to race well, my legs just didn’t have it.  I got in a good cool down and hoped for a better day on Sunday.

The weather for Sunday called for rain to begin just was our race was to begin and it was a pretty accurate forecast.  Even though we’d gotten to preride a dry course, the rain that started 30 minutes before our race made it seem like we were racing on oil!  I didn’t have a great start but was able to make my way towards the front of the race just as we hit the first off camber straightaway.  As soon as we got there, a huge group of riders went down, followed by 2-3 more.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I made my way around them only to go down moments later.  I got up and took off as quickly as I could, still sitting in the top 10.  The course was so slippery – it seemed like no matter what line I took through the corners, I had to go so slow.  As I passed the pit, Dan yelled that I needed less pressure and to come in for a bike.  The next time we passed by, I pitted and grabbed a bike with less pressure in the tires.  I chased hard, trying to make up for lots of bad bike handling and early in the race but it took a long time to pick the riders in front of me off.  Just as I felt like my legs had come alive and my handling skills had kicked in, I realized we only had 1 to go!  I knew I was sitting 11th and didn’t want to finish any further back but still felt 10th was attainable.  I put every ounce of mojo into the pedals that I could muster but to no avail… finished in 11th for the day.

I left Providence feeling disappointed in my results for the weekend.  I know I’m not racing to my full potential and making silly mistakes.  I haven’t put together as many weekends of great racing as I’d like at this point.  I’m headed to Ft. Collins for the USGP this weekend and will spend this week revisiting some of the basic things I used to do to prep for a race.  I know it will all come together soon and the good news is there are over 20 races left in the season!

Cyclocross Season Begins!

Cross Season Begins… in Rochester!

Cross season is underway big time…. I can’t believe 8 races have come and gone!  I started the season off in Rochester, NY.  The courses in Rochester are always some of the toughest of the season.  There’s an incredible amount of climbing and the terrain never feels fast moving.  This year, the courses were super challenging and really fun.  On day one, we descended down a 40-something percent hill and on day two, we ran up it!  As excited as I was for the season to start, I felt a bit unprepared as we headed to the line on Saturday –it seemed so strange that the season was starting already. My surprise of the season starting showed… I crashed in the first turn and dropped my chain several times throughout the race but was able to chase back to sixth pace.   I came back on Sunday with fire burning inside and pulled off a 3rd place finish.

Nittany and Charm City

After Rochester, we headed to Nittany Lion Cross in Trexlertown and then onward to Charm City.  Nittany was a tough weekend – my legs felt empty and dead.  I was able to hold onto 7th place on Saturday and better myself a bit with 6th place on Sunday.  Charm City went better – I felt more recovered and prepared and got a great start.  On Saturday, the race blew apart really quickly.  Arley and I went back and forth a bit before she was able to get a gap on me.  I was in third and as much as I tried to chase her down for second, I couldn’t close the gap but was able to get myself on the podium for 3rd place.

The stairs at Charm City were VERY TALL!

I lined up on Sunday fired up to get on the podium.  Again –I had a great start and found myself solidly in third place as we entered the second lap.  Unfortunately, as I came over the barriers on lap 2, I bobbled and knocked my chain off.  I quickly worked to try and get my chain back on but it was stuck and I struggled to get it dislodged as my lead over 4th place disappeared.  Just as I got my chain back on, LVG caught me.  I spent the rest of the race with her on my wheel, working hard to attack and drop her anywhere I could but nothing I tried opened up a gap.  As we approached the final section of pavement, I thought “prepare for the sprint.”  As prepared as I was, I just didn’t have it and finished 4th for the day.

Gloucester Great Brewer’s Grand Prix of Gloucester

Anyone who loves to race should head to Gloucester for the Great Brewer’s Grand Prix… the course is technical and challenging and offers something for everyone.  This year’s field at Gloucester was absolutely stacked.  I knew I needed to have a good start and ride my tail off if I was going to get any points for the weekend.  As much I knew that, I did the exact opposite when the whistle blew on Saturday.  The rider to my right veered inward when the whistle blew and left me with the option of running her over or tapping the brakes. I chose to tap the brakes, but that meant that as we entered the first set of stairs, I was sitting far, far back and surrounded by craziness.  I spent the rest of the race chasing after the top 10 and was able to finish up in 13th place.

 

Focused and Chasing on Day 1.

Sunday’s race was everything I hope for in a cross race… it poured all morning and the course was a slop-fest.  The whistle blew and I got out of dodge as quick as I could.  I had a killer start as we hit the first section of muddy turns and found myself in the top 6 as we worked our way through lap one.    I was feeling great as we headed into the second lap.  Just as I thought about how great I was feeling I heard my rear wheel come loose… I couldn’t believe it.  I hurriedly dismounted to fix it.  While fixing it, I narrowly avoided being T-boned by Andrea Smith and got passed by two more riders.  I remounted and took off, trying hard to chase down the ladies who’d just passed me.  I was able to pick off one rider, only to have to wheel come loose again.  I dismounted, fixed it, and took off again.  We headed towards the pit and I grabbed a new bike.  I knew the top ten was within my reach and had little course left to get there.  I rode the last tap as error free as I could and got myself across the line in 11th.  I couldn’t believe I’d lost so much time because of my wheel but mechanicals are part of racing.  I still rode incredibly well and it’s clear that my fitness is coming around.  Upon my arrival home, I swapped out the defective skewer and am ready to tear some legs off in Providence this coming weekend!

Hilly Billy Roubaix

The Hilly Billy Roubaix in Morgantown, West Virginia has been on my schedule for the last two years and I always end up missing it because something pops up.  Since the theme of my spring and summer race schedule is “bucket list” races and fun… I made this race a non-negotiable this year.    I was stoked to be able to make it down to The Hilly Billy this year, and even more stoked to be racing  and staying with cyclocross buddy Crystal Anthony during  a season other than cross.

I’d heard this race was challenging, but had no idea it would turn out to be the most challenging race I’ve done so far. We got to the course early enough to get registered, distribute our drop bags, and get in a little warm up.  The temperature was supposed to be in the 80’s for the day, which didn’t seem so bad after a week of record breaking heat back home, but as we prepped for the start, it was clear it was going to be a warm day on the bike.

The race began with a neutral start before we rolled out of the parking lot into a much less neutral start.  As soon as the announcer yelled “go,” it seemed like all 250 racers spilled out into the road and began jockeying for position.  The yellow line rule was in effect but most seemed to forget about it as we bombed down the first descent.

I settled into the lead group as quickly as I could and worked hard to position myself in good spot for when we hit the first dirt section.  I knew Crystal and I were both hoping to take home the coveted piece of coal for first place, and I searched in front of me to see where she was.  When I didn’t see her ahead of me, I felt a small sense of relief, but since the race was only 15 minutes in, I tried not to feel too relieved.    We hit the first dirt section and it seemed like there were riders everywhere.  The first steep climb hit and many folks struggled to get to the top (myself included).  I decided I’d put in a hard effort for the first 30-40 minutes and then settle down a bit.

Before I know it, Crystal came flying past me up one of the climbs and I was reminded of how deep I was going to have to dig to take home the coal.  We sped through double track and puddles and up and down steep, pitchy climbs.  When we hit the road, the group settled into a pace line and took off.    I looked at my Garmin and realized it was time to settle in but the group was moving too fast for me to settle in, so I decided it was time to race my own race, not worry about the coal, and simmer down for a bit.  Before I knew it, Crystal and the group I’d been with were out of sight.

Once the person you’re chasing is out of sight, it’s hard to stay focused on catching them.  That said,  you can imagine my surprise as I rounded a turn shortly after the mile 19 aide station and was told that Crystal was just up the road.  I think I said something to the rider next to me, because he began looking ahead to see if he could see her.  As we crested the climb,  I saw Crystal heading up the next climb and said “there she is…I can do this.”  The rider next to me must have been inspired by my comment, because he commented and then took off.  I found out after the race that he took off in hopes that I’d hop on his wheel and he could help me close the gap; too bad I didn’t know that at the time!  When he caught up to Crystal, I noticed they were talking, and she looked back at me… so it seemed only fitting that I’d wave to her while my internal dialogue thought. “awe man… he foiled my sneak attack!”  I continued to try and close the gap, but lost sight again once Crystal hit the descent.  I hit the descent still chasing but my plans of catching her came to an end for the moment when I flatted.  I changed the flat as quickly as I could and tried not to worry about getting caught by the next woman.

I hopped back on my bike and told myself that just because I couldn’t see who I was chasing didn’t mean I wasn’t chasing.  I tried to be mindful of continuing to work hard and staying focused as the miles ticked by.  At this point, we were 2/3 of the way through the race and I still had a big piece of coal on my mind but was also still in second place, with first place nowhere in sight.   I was also down to 1 tube and 1 CO2 cartridge which meant I needed to ride with poise and not flat anymore.

By the time we hit mile 62, as much as I wanted to win, I knew I was running out of time, and legs.  Each climb felt like it crushed me just a little bit more and the last few climbs seems so big I feared I’d have to walk them.  Finally, we turned a corner and I could see the finish at the top of the hill in sight.  I dug deep to leave my last little bit of mojo behind as I climbed up the last two climbs.  I crossed the line almost ten minutes faster than the course record and in second place for the women and 19th overall – no coal for me this year, but second place felt like a darn good accomplishment for the day.

This year,  I’ve done a 100 mile and a 50 mile mountain bike race, and I’m certain that  this race was  more challenging than both of them.    The climbs were one after the other and incredibly relentless.  The descents were physically taxing and a few were quite scary.  I’m glad I made the trip and you can bet I’ll be back to get myself a piece of coal next year!

 

 

A bit of a Sabbatical and… the Stoopid 50…

I took a bit of a sebbatical from mountain bike racing after the Cohutta 100 to pursue some “bucket list” racing (as I like to call it) on the road.  I’ve always wanted to compete in the Liberty Class that occurs every June and recieved an invitation to guest ride for Tradewinds Racing  just a week or two after I raced at Cohutta.  Many cycling enthusiasts refer to the Philly Pro Race and the Liberty Classic as, ” the best day of the year” in Philadelphia.  There are hundred of thousands of spectators that line the course and the race brings a world-class field of racers to Philadelphia for the weekend. 

It took me a few days of hemming and hawing to decide to accept the invitation because I don’t have much experience racing on the road and didn’t want to let anyone down or get hurt, but it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. 

In the weeks leading up to the race,  I did a men’s road race in Maryland and went to the local Thursday night crit to try and figure out all of the tactics that contribute to a successful race and also to gain experience riding in a large pack.  I do our local weekend world championship ride, but the group is nowhere near as large as the group I’d be racing with in the Liberty Classic.

The day of the race arrived and I made it unscathed and accomplished my goal of finishing without being pulled.  Each time we climbed up Lemon Hill and I could hear my friends screaming for me,  I smiled and on the last lap, I even welled up with tears as we passed by everyone with cheering.  I”ve wanted to compete in the Liberty Classic since I started ridin bikes 9 years ago and it felt very special to have so many friends out cheering me on.  I have a bit of a road racing bug now…and hope to do a few more this summer and you can bet I’ll be back to the LIbery Classic to better my result next year!

After the Liberty Classic, I squeezed in  some solid training in preparation for the Stoopid 50 Mountainb bike race.  This was the fourth year that I ventured up to State College for this race and was hoping to better my time from last year.  We awoke to perfect weather on Sunday morning and I knew it’d be a great day to spend on a mountain bike.  The neutral start was fairly controlled and I worked hard to get to the front to avoid the bottleneck into the first section of single track but arrived to a group of racers standing in line, waiting to get onto the single track and folks dismounted and walked.  I unhappily dismounted and began the dreaded walk while I waited for folks to remount in front of me.  I watched as the Kristin and Karen disappeared down the trail.  VIcky was in front of me but was able to work through some of the traffic and disapppeared quickly in front of me.  So… I settled in and tried to ride smooth and pick riders off.  Before I knew it, I was approaching the first aide station.  The folks at the aide station said Vicki wasn’t far ahead, which lifted my spirits.  I picked up the pace and tried to track down Vicki, but never was able to do so.

I came through the second aide station feeling better than I had the whole race.  I knew that the last 16 miles or so was comprised mostly of double track climbing and set out on a mission to make up some time.  I’ve always botched the last technical descent of the course and ended up dismounting and walking… I assured myself today would be different.  As I approached it, all I could picture was these giant unrideable boulders.  When  I arrived and looked down, all I could think was,”  really… you botched THAT last year?  Those are giant boulders.”  I rode the last section with poise and crossed the finish line in 4th place.. one place further back than in years past but 20 minutes faster than last year.  I was stoked…. and exhausted!

 

 

Hooked….

When I began to plan my spring season back in February, I’d decided the only real objectives for the season were to have 1) have fun 2) stay fit and 3) take care of some “bucket list” races.  So…  it seemed fitting to make my first race of the  season the Cohutta 100.

 I’d heard that I’d either love or hate racing a 100-miler, and I’d have to say… I enjoyed all 100 miles of it!  Heading down to the race, I had absolutely no idea what to expect and I must admit, I was pretty dumbfounded at the pace of the start and the number of racers who lined up at the start ready to put their mental and physical limits to the test.  I tried hard to hold on to the back of the lead group at the start but quickly got shelled and decided it was for the best.  I settled into my own pace for what would be one of my most memorable days on the bike.  The time ticked by quickly, with aide stations every 12-15 and lots of racers to talk to as I pedaled my way up the climbs and sped down the descents.   I realized somewhere around mile 39 that I had a chance of finishing in the top 5 and my mentality quickly shifted from just wanting to finish in a respectable amount of time to wanting to earn a spot on the podium.    As I neared the aide station at mile 87, I was elated at what I’d accomplished so far and surprised at how much fun I’d had already.  I worked on riding consistently and with poise as I covered the final miles of single track and was able to earn the final spot on the podium for the day, finishing fifth in the Open Women’s field.  Not too shabby for a cyclocross racer, if  I do say so myself!

When  I registered for Cohutta way back in February, I thought for sure this would be a one-time thing… just to see if I could do it, but for much of the race, I spent time thinking about when I could squeeze in another one.  When  I awoke on Sunday… I wasn’t sure if I still felt this way, but as I sit here now, I think I’ve been bitten by the 100-miler bug and am hoping to squeeze in at least one more of these this season!

Chicago UCI race and Cross Nationals…

Chicago Cross – New Year’s Eve Weekend

Halfway through Holiday Break, I packed up and headed to Chicago for the last two races of the season before Cross Nationals.  I knew it would be good to get some races under by belt before driving to Madison the following Wednesday and a golf course in Chicago seemed like a great place to do so.  Both days of racing turned out to be incredibly hard days with epic conditions.  Who knew a golf course could provide such challenging conditions for racing?  The course was basically the same both days; lots of twists and turns, some sandpits, two solid run up/ride-ups and a TON of super deep mud.  I finished fourth both days, losing third place with a lap to go on day 1.  By Sunday night,  I was totally spent; the super deep mud had sucked all life from my legs.  We headed into the city of Chicago for a few days of fun and relaxation before heading to Madison.

Nationals –Masters Race

I headed to Madison on Wednesday to get ready for the Master’s race on Friday.  My goal was to make the top 3 and I knew I’d have my work cut out for me, with several of the ladies I’ve raced with all season contenting for the tops spots.  I had no idea what to expect but was really excited about the course conditions when I pre rode on Thursday.  The course was super muddy with lots of super wet sections and tons of greasy corners.  By the time our race rolled around on Friday, the course had tried out to a torturous state of peanut butter mud on many of the long straightaways.  I knew I was in for a challenge.  The gun went off and I got a great start.  We hit the first section of super thick mud and my legs felt like they were going to explode.  I was sitting in the top 3 but knew I had some racers coming for me hard.  I worked hard to ride smooth and composed.  With two laps to go, I moved into second place.  Andrea Smith was in first and pretty much out of sight.  I knew I needed to keep pushing hard, as Crystal was chasing me down hard and fast.  With a lap or so to go, Crystal came ripping by me like I was standing still.  As we headed into the last lap, I worked hard to close the gap between she and I but ran out of room to do so.  I finished third and was pumped to have met my goal.  Carolyn finished fourth and I was really excited that we were both on the podium!

On the Start Grid before the Masters' Race. Everyone's ready to tear limbs off.

Nationals – the Elite Race

The Elite race at Nationals would mark the last race of my season.  I’d worked hard all season and had shown improvement throughout and was hoping to finish the season with a top 15 result.  I felt okay warming up, but not totally fresh.  I hoped I’d loosen up once the race began and some of my prerace jitters subsided.  Not so much the case…. After one lap, my legs felt heavy and dead.  As  I passed through the finish area, I was praying I’d see 3 laps to, since we’d already been racing for almost 11 minutes.  I knew I was in trouble but tried to stay positive and hoped I’d only feel better as the race went on.  Sadly, the longer the race went on, the worse I felt and the further back I moved.  I had one big crash that sent my flying out of the top 15 and into the top 25.  I fought hard on the last lap to at least make the top 20 but crossed the line in 21st place.  Not the finish I was hoping for by any means. 

After a bit of sulking and some time to reflect, I turned my frown upside down.  Even though the season wrapped up with a disappointing result, all of my other results were on par, or better than expected.  I have a lot to be proud of and have improved a ton this season.  I wanted to improve all of my finishes this year and I did that.  I’d hoped to finish in the top 3 at a UCI race and I did that… in fact I scored my first two UCI wins at back to back races in some epic conditions of mud and pouring rain at Beacon and Highland Park.   It seems fitting that my first UCI win be at Beacon – it’s by far my favorite course of the season and I count down the days until we race there each and every year!  I had no mechanicals all season (thanks Dan and the boys at Bicycle Therapy).

I had a TON of fun this season.  I loved every minute of travel and every ounce of racing and training this season.   I got to know some of the ladies I race with better and have some really fun people to travel with in the future seasons.  I am lucky to be a part of a sport that is so supportive and such a strong sense of family; the Midatlantic folks are always there to help each other out it makes racing so much less stressful and more enjoyable.  To everyone who worked the pit for me, cheered for me, heckled me, and encouraged me – thanks! 

Now, I get to take a few weeks off the bike and hope to track down a few piles of stuffed French toast, some Cinnabons, an ice cream cone or two, and accomplish all of the household projects that have been mounting since September.  Heck, I might even offer to make dinner once a week for a little bit.  (Let’s be honest… by this I mean I’ll order take out for Mara and I.)  Thanks for reading… see you in February!

Beacon and Highland Park… First TWO UCI WINS!

Let me start by saying that Becaon is my favorite course of the year every single year and generally, HPCX is my least favorite.  Headed into the weekend, I knew we were in for some very muddy racing if the forecasters were correct, and the weather DID NOT disappoint.  I knew I had the potential to have some great finishes if I had the legs since I’m considered a mudder, but scoring TWO wins wasn’t on my mind as I drove to the course in sleeting rain on Saturday morning.  Here’s  recap of the two days:

Beacon

Beacon’s course was MUCH muddier than one would think it would be, since it’s generally very sandy.  The conditions for warming up were very challenging – freezing cold rain fell as I got my bikes together and suited up.  The course was going to be very wet and pretty muddy, particularly if the rain continued falling at the pace it was.  I got in the best warmup I could and headed to the line.  It was very cold, but lucky for us, the rain stopped for our race.  The gun went off and I was third wheel as we headed up the pavement.  When we hit the first section of mud, I took a line right through the middle that put me first wheel as we headed into the sandy beach for some running.  The race quickly seperated as we headed into lap two.  Before I knew it,  I was fighting for first place with the great LVG and Kristin was right behind us in third.  It turned into a pretty tacticle race, with either LVG or I wanting to do a ton of work on the front and I worked hard to be patient and smart.  As we headed into the last lap – I wondered when she would attack and what my plan should be.  I knew that I’d have to open up a huge gap to fend off her sprint and decided to save what I had left for the finish.  As we climbed up the amphitheathre steps, we were dead even.  LVG fell when we hit the top and I remounted and took off as fast as I could.  As we hit the pavement, she was back on my wheel and attacked.  I hopped up and went chasing after her, and as we closed in the finish,  I realized I was slowly catching her… I shifted into the hardest gear I had and started looking for the finish line buth there wasn’t one to be found! So… I kept printing until I knew we had to be past the finish.  When we passed where I thought the finish was, I looked at our wheels and I thought perhaps I’d won but wasn’t sure…. LVG rolled over to inquire with the judges and  I was right – I”d won….  holy cow – I’d won my first UCI race!  I was pumped!

HPCX

The course at HPCX was also super muddy since they’d gotten a bunch of snow the day before.  This mud was more like peanutbutter in some spots and I knew it was going to be another fun day of racing.  I didn’t preride as I didn’t want to clean my bikes and didn’t want to burn any matches I didn’t have.  As we hit the first section of mud, (only about 100 meters from the start) there was a bit of mayhem, as we’d hit the mud at full speed but it wasn’t all the rideable.  i dismounted and started running and found myself in the lead right away.  I took off through the mud, riding as smooth as I could and trying to open up a gap.  LVG got right on my wheel, and I knew it was going to be an epic battle after Beacon the day prior!  I worked hard to open up a gap each lap, and was able to open up a gap a few times but somehow, LVG was always able to get right back to me and close the gap.  Headed into the last lap, I knew that it might come down to another sprint, which would prove to be quite a battle.  We came past the pits for the last 1/2 lap one behind the other, with me sitting first.  As we crossed the pavement into the last few sections of mud, LVG went left and I went right.  I worked hard to get myself ahead of her and try and open up a gap and I”m not sure what happened, but as I headed down the last muddy downhill, I’d opened up a pretty large gap.  I sprinted for the pavement and wondered if I’d pulled off a win.  I’d counted my chickens too soon – as I started to sprint up the pavement, LVG appeared and was sprinting towards me like nothing I”ve ever seen.  I sprinted for the line and was able to get there a bike length or so before she was.  It was close but I pulled off a second win in the mud! 

I headed home from HPCX with a smile from ear to ear – I felt and still feel really stoked to have won both days… hard work is paying off for sure!  It was also really great to win at home – thanks to all my friends and fellow philly cross racers who screamed for me both days.  I’m so lucky to be a part of such a great community!

Granogue Day 1

I raced both days at Granogue but day 1 is the most memorable, as I finally figured out how to be a tactical sprinter and win a sprint!  I decided to ride for the win and see what happened… did I think I’d win – no, but I thought I might have a better result if I went out racing for it and I was right.  I had a great start and got right on the back of a train of 3-4 riders.  The course contained a big rid-up/ run-up and I knew I’d probably need to run it.  I also knew there was a big climb that I could use to attack as well as a second run-up that I could use to my advantage.  Shortly into the race, I found myself riding with Andrea Smith and Crystal Anthony from Ladies First racing up in New England, and I knew I was in for a battle.  With two to go, Andrea opened a gap on Crystal and  I, which meant she and I would be battling for third if we stayed together.  I tried to open a gap on the run-ups and some of the flat sections but Crystal has a running background and I wasn’t getting away that easy!  As we started the last lap, I started to wonder if we’d be sprinting for third and told myself today was the day I was going to do the RIGHT thing in a sprint instead of the WRONG thing.  As we hit the pavement, I was first wheel, which from losing other sprints, I knew was not good.  With about 150 meters to go, Crystal attacked and I hopped on her wheel.  I waited until the finish was close and gave the sprint everything I had…. and I was able to win the sprint for third!  WOOO HOO!

Season Recap…. Providence and Gloucester Grand Prix

Wow… I can’t believe it’s November and the season is flying by!  Providence and Gloucester seem like they were years ago.  I’ll recap each race briefly since they were a bit ago and I’m just writing about them now.  I only raced Saturday at Providence since I had a wedding in Long Island on Sunday.  The course was not super technical – three sets of stairs, a few punchy climbs, and a set of barriers at the top of a climb.  I had a great start and was with the first group that eventually seperated into two groups.  With one to go, I popped – my heart rate sky rocketed and I had to pump the brakes.  I finished in sixth.  I would’ve loved to have made the top five but in such a strong field, I was happy with sixth. 

Gloucester’s courses did not dissapoint, particularly day 2, which contained something like a 21-step run up.  I finished 11th on day 1, which was dissapointing as I was in tenth until the last 300 meters, where I lost in a sprint for tenth.  Day two was a better race – I raced to try and catch places in front of me instead of racing not to be caught.  I ended up riding much of the race with Mo Bruno Roy, which was really fun as a lot of her strengths are also mine, so I couldn’t find a place to attack.  Normally I’d attack on the stairs or the barriers, but so would she.  In the end, she was able to open up a gap on me on the last lap.  I finished 9th on the day, and as I look back at who finished in front of me, I”m very happy with ninth.  Here’s a picture of one of my favorite spots on the course, the shorter set of steps:

Finally, check out our newest addition to the family, Lola, who I fell in love with on day one and decided to take home with me on day 2.  She’s a great addition to the family!