Not to Worry, I’ve Got MTB National Championship Smarts

Me, wiggling down the XC course
Me, wiggling down the XC course.

It’s so nice to not be a rookie at Mountain Bike National Championships this year.  Knowing WD-40 will wash my bike, Fox and SRAM will help me with mechanical issues, the bike paths are great to warm-up on, and that I’ve raced this course before gives my confidence a huge boost.  Mammoth is a beautiful town to visit, making it hard to stay on my racer regime: strict food means no dining out at the cute restaurants, saving my legs means not exploring all the bike trails, and resting up means going to bed early instead of whooping it up at the bars.   Not that the racers life in Mammoth is a drag by any means: boosting my energy at Stellar Brewing with a banana chai, icing my legs in a high mountain lake, and catching up with friends while watching dual slalom is pretty cool. 

A cheer, a demand.
A cheer, a demand.

I took the XC start line feeling great!  I’m finally recovered from giardia and have had a week of good training and eating well before arriving the night before the race.  I really like the course: a climb with lots of good passing options and friendly less steep sections to catch your breath after particularly vertical zones, and the descent features tight burms around trees at the top then a series of drops and rock gardens as the bottom.  Though loose and powdery mid-summer, I feel confident in my traction (with WTB Trail Boss tires that are a bit over-kill but confidence is magic) so the drift is not a concern of mine.  Call ups (with the US Olympic Team Members called first – so cool to race with them) then the gun!

U23 Men suffering mid-race
U23 Men suffering mid-race

I had a terrible start.  I missed my clip in so I had to do another pedal stroke at half speed to get into my pedals; an error that put me toward the back of the pack.  Not to worry, there was a clear line along the fencing to get me back in position.  As I moved into the hole, a nervous rider next to me hit me.  Not to worry, I’m comfortable with some race rubbing and had just enough room to correct myself next to the fencing.  But then a spectator leaned over the fencing with his camera and I hit him.  Crash!  I’m not sure if the spectator was okay, he just apologized to me as I got up and made sure my bike and body were no worse for the impact.  Not to worry, Dirt Ninja (my bike) and I were fine; back to work.  So fifty feet from the start line I was already a minute back from the pro women field.  Not to worry (my mantra), the race is long and I can get back in the game if I am smart.  Smart means not panicking, not sprinting up the mountain at top speed, not blowing myself up in the first twenty minutes of a two hour race.  Trusting my fitness and skills I caught up to the back of the women.  Patience.  I waited for good passing opportunities; it is easy to exert a lot of energy getting around a racer at an inopportune location (as I did last year on this course only to be repassed and dropped like a hot potato a few minutes later).  At the top of the climb I had worked my way to the front of the chase pack.  I wanted to be with the lead pack but they were nowhere in sight. 

Flying over is always faster than bouncing over.
Flying over is always faster than bouncing over.

Over the five laps of the race I kept my riding steady and smooth.  My climbs were consistent, though two girls did get around me later in the race, and my descents were fast and had me gaining on the other riders (or stuck behind them without an opportunity to pass) each round.  I am disappointed that I finished twelfth when I had expectations of a better showing, but am very happy at how I handled my disastrous start.  Maybe one of my favorite things about mountain bike racing is that on any day, it is any girls race.  A mechanical, bad hand-up or even a bad hair day can tip the scales in favor of a rider not expected to take the day.  It is how a racer responds to mishaps that makes them great; so today my greatness may not come with accolades, but pride that I raced a smart race.  Now to recover for tomorrows televised short track race (Pro Women STXC starts at the hour mark)!

Junior Men on STXC
Junior Men on STXC
Unexpected Victory Celebration
Unexpected Victory Celebration
Spectator view
Spectator view
I "rested up" watching Dual Slalom.
I “rested up” watching Dual Slalom.
Top of the Elevator Shaft on the downhill course
Top of the Elevator Shaft on the downhill course
Coach Chris B keeping me up to date on the gravity results. (His kids are both National Champs now!)
Coach Chris B keeping me up to date on the gravity results. (His kids are both National Champs now!)
My friend Hailey bringing it home.
My friend Hailey bringing it home.
Course preparations keeping the courses perfect.
Keeping the courses perfect.

Hopi Gods at the Chile Challenge Pro XC

Start line nerves
Start line nerves

In the depths of winter when my trails were buried under feet of snow I began putting my 2016 race season together.  It was with utter delight that I saw a new UCI race venue; Angel Fire New Mexico!  I grew up in northern NM and my parents still live in Santa Fe.  I could not pass up the opportunity to race in the southern Rockies, have my parents cheer me on, and eat some red chile.  I think I was the first woman to register for the race.

Camping at the yurt

Recovering from the Missoula XC and giardia, I took the scenic road to New Mexico staying in a yurt outside of Pocatello, ID, catching up with my sister in UT, and finally returning to the high desert of my youth.  Of course I stopped for blue corn enchiladas shortly after I crossed the state line.  (Giardia is not a fan of spicy food…)

My folks met me in Angel Fire with their sweet camper van, which was a welcome refuse from the thunderstorms.  My mom made sure I was regaining my strength

The fray to start the single track from the start
The fray to start the single track from the start

by preparing feasts and my Dad (a former cyclist) actually enjoyed talking to me about all things bike race that can put the

So HOT in Utah!

most obsessed bike enthusiast asleep. Friday morning I pedaled to the ski hill to pre-ride the XC course and check out the Pro GRT (downhill) seating runs.  Angel Fire has hosted DH events for a few years and has a reputation for being a burley course so I was excited to gawk at the feats of gravity defying bike handling by over 70 pro downhillers.  Wow.

Rallying. Grinning.
Rallying. Grinning.

The new UCI XC course at Angel Fire was a dream for me.  A burley climb gaining 600 ft. in the first mile, a burmed descent through the ponderosas with two jumps near the bottom, and two very short sections of double track.  The course would require patience and strategy to pass, the climb would spread the racers out, and the descent will make you grin.  A perfect

Get your chili fix in Taos

course for me!  My health was finally coming around and I had a solid training plan to account for the torturous altitude of the venue: 8500 ft. at the base of the ski hill. 

Umpoinaqa, the Hopi Thunder God, must have been happy to have me back on New Mexico soil because the rain stopped

Done!
Done!

for the Pro Women XC race.  Chloe set a blazing pace off the start line, showing us what it takes to be an Olympic Team Member, and I chased.  I was in great position on the first climb in eyesight of Chloe, but somehow the pace picked up for the second lap and I was at my max.  I fell back a few positions but felt strong in my third lap.  But as I headed out for my

Umpoinaqa, the Hopi Thunder God

fourth lap, Koshari, the Hopi Clown God, tacked a parachute to my shoulders making the climb brutal.  My breath was rapid and deep, but my low elevation heart could not get enough oxygen to my burning legs.  My pace slowed, but the other women were suffering too and I gained on Hannah W. ahead of me.  As we approached the top of the climb I could

Short track zoom
Short track zoom

accelerate and pass her, but decided the effort might tap my reserve and she could pick me off in the final climb, so I stuck to her wheel on the descent to pass on the next climb.  But pass I could not!  The fifth and final lap was an effort in consistency and looking forward to my family waiting for me at the finish line. 

Koshare, the Hopi Clown God

The Chile Challenge course made for easy spectating, my parents were able to see a grueling part of the climb and an open section of the descent where riders caught a little air over a jump into a burm.  I prepped them with info on the other women; like who they ride for, who I admired and who I had my eye on to be shoulder to shoulder with.  My Mom cheered

My pit crew: Mom and Dad
My pit crew: Mom and Dad

for my friends with such enthusiasm her cowbell blistered her palm.  My Dad offered a critique of my start and had some tactical suggestions for future races.  And on Sunday they got whiplash watching the Short Track race zooming around the ski base.  Having a team to support you is pretty fantastic!

Tsil, Hopi Runner God

It was not until I reflected on my race did I realize this was the first Pro UCI race where I was not worried about making the lap cut-offs, instead I was focused on strategy and managing my effort.  This is a huge milestone.  Now to get completely healthy and crush at National Championships in three weeks (after I devour huevos rancheros (Christmas) like I was caught by Tsil, the Hopi Runner God who will chase you and pour chili powder in your mouth if he catches you.

Missoula XC With Unwanted Teammates: How Amoebas On Board Don’t Make You Faster

Start of the U23 Men
Start of the U23 Men

I am drenched, huddled under a pine tree hoping not to get struck by lightning and watching my bike get pelted by hail.  My warm-up now abandoned, I can only plead for the thunderstorm to pass by and am thinking of a new selling point for super-light carbon bikes: less metal to attract lightning! Frightened? Yes, but it is hard not to laugh that THIS STORM, not the saga of the past week, may cause me to miss the start of my race: the Missoula Pro XC.

 

I want to win one of these so badly! (Don't worry, Ben said they are from roadkill.)
I want to win one of these so badly! (Don’t worry, Ben said they are from roadkill.)

I LOVE the Missoula XC.  This course is the real deal – a monster climb with switchbacks so tight and steep that I have put a foot down in fatigue, a descent dappled with off camber water bars in the middle of steep corners and opportunities to get some air with an audience.  While racing, there is an announcer broadcasting the play by play to a large crowd that is cheering you on.  And this year the race is the last chance for racers to vie for a spot on the USA Olympic team.  The racers are hungry, it is going to be game on and I can’t wait to play!

The "Bull" Ramp
The “Bull” Ramp

The last two weeks in preparation for this race has been a disaster.  I’ve been pretty miserable with abdominal pain that I could not sort out causing me to forgo my training and most food.  My “stomach bug” symptoms waxed and waned, but three days before the race my health was pretty bleak and I found myself at Instacare. Unsure of what was going on, but confident I was not terminal, my Doc sent me on the road to Montana with pending lab results and a recommendation to purge my digestive tract.  On my arrival to the race venue I had a message saying I was not dying, but have giardia.

Brandon of Summit Bike Club made sure I would have my smallest gear to climb. THANKS!!!

What is giardia?  It’s a water born amoeba contracted by drinking contaminated water.  I have absolutely no idea how I got it.  I have only been drinking city water in the past few months, have not been doing open water swims due to the very cold spring in Oregon, but maybe I got a splash in my mouth while grinning as I biked across a creek? The critters invade your intestines and ferment your food making you burp, fart, cramp and have frothy poo.  Did I mention I’m camping at the race venue?  Port-o-pottys? A gnarly antibiotic course will make me healthy but I have a big race in less than forty eight hours.

No, not to disinfect me! This is a brilliant way to wash your bike at a race.
No, not to disinfect me! This is a brilliant way to wash your bike at a race.

My dilemma: do I postpone treatment so I can try to race with symptoms I am familiar with or do I start antibiotics and hope they get me feeling well enough that the medication-induced nausea can be overlooked?  I feel so lousy I can’t imagine a big physical effort unless my symptoms lessen and in the last week I’ve eaten less than a roadie; my energy reserves won’t last more than twenty minutes at race pace unless I can keep some food down.

Racers zooming by my campsite

I chose to start treatment believing my symptoms were so terrible (and worsening by the hour) that I was not going to be able to race without intervention.  Being out of state it took some crafty work and kind medical professionals to get meds in my hands by mid-day Friday (28 hours to start time).  I then raided the local grocery for calorie dense but bland foods: chicken broth, rice crackers, ginger ale and plant based protein drinks foods.  Yum!  Just what every elite athlete wants to eat in preparation for a big race.

Bye-Bye Giardia
Bye-Bye Giardia

Antibiotic are MAGIC! In eighteen hours my symptoms are manageable, I’m getting some nutrition in, and a good night of sleep camping at Marshal Mountain has made me hopeful enough to warm-up for my race.  If it goes well I’ll take the start line and see if I can tick off a few laps of the race before I blow through all my glycogen reserves and my muscles simply stop.  And this is why it is so ironic that I may miss my race due to a storm.  I’m a twenty minute pedal away from the start line on single track overlooking the Clark River and if the storm does not pass in a few more minutes I won’t make it.

I'm suffering but totally stoked to be RACING
I’m suffering but totally stoked to be RACING

The Gods smile on me; the storm clears as abruptly as it swept in.  I warm up by sprinting to the start line.  I made it with enough time to towel the mud off my face and look composed for call ups.  The race starts in true Montana style with a rifle discharging into the hillside.  My start is slow, but by the time we hit the single track I’m in a good position on the wheels of the girls I expect to be on the podium.  But that glory was not to be mine today and half way up the first climb I fell off the pace.  I was passed by Hannah but felt good at the bottom of the first lap.  How could this be? I’m heading out for my second lap.  Better slurp down a gel.  Two laps become three and in disbelief I pass Hannah (despite my unwanted amoeba teammates hitching a ride) and am on track to beat the time cut-offs.  Lap four is not so peppy but I am ahead of the cut and with a huge smile, not stomach cramps, I race the final lap!  Just getting to race was a huge win for me, finishing the race was beyond my dreams.  I was so spent afterwards I almost fell off my bike when I tried to spin out my legs.  I try a real meal; chicken noodle soup!  And then a whole bag of rice cakes.  And then a box of graham crackers.  And then another can of soup. And then… I passed out before 8:30pm with the loud speakers announcing the single-speed race and keg toss like a lullaby.  Never fear, more food was in store.  I was wide awake at midnight and starving.  I actually got up and made another dinner: pasta with salt and butter.  I was starving for breakfast too.

Local love, I made the papers! Whoo hoo.
Local love, I made the papers! Whoo hoo.

This race was not the “shot at the podium” that I had hoped it would be, but I left satisfied and stoked at how well I did.  Managing my health, being optimistic but realistic about my situation, and focusing on the possibilities ensured I had a fantastic experience.  Now onto Angel Fire XC next week to see how much strength I can recoup with my amoebic hitchhikers discarded!  Ladies, look out.

 

Sea Otter, oh Sea Otter!

Sea Otter Pro XC RocksI’ve been on the road for the past few weeks to explore some new bike terrain (Reno, NV and Santa Cruz, CA), kick off my 2016 cross country race season and the grand finale of my travels was to Sea Otter Classic; and it was icing on the cake!

Minibike Pump Track Shenanigans
Minibike Pump Track Shenanigans

Sea Otter Classic is bike racing, bike showcase, bike silliness, bike inspiration, bike awe, bike bliss.  There are races for all categories and ages in road, cyclocross, and mountain biking (cross country, enduro, DH and Dual Slalom). Thursday through Sunday from 7am to 6pm races are starting and finishing on the Laguna Seca race track that surrounds the festival venue and extends through the hillside and surrounding Monterey oceanfront.  Constantly there is a racer zooming by in kit spandex or bright baggies to cheer on. The infield venue is a state fair for bikes: bike industry booths showing off their new goodies, clinics to dial in your Fox suspension, head out on the trails with your bike idols for some tips, samples of Clif Bars new nut butter filled riding snacks, eat the lunch Skratch Labs makes for their Grand Tour riders , yoga classes taught by trials rider pro Ryan Leach, meet and greet (and pound a beer) with Missy Giove, “bike side-shows” where you can race the pump track on a minibike, a business suit up commuter crit, and that is just the stuff on the program! There is something for all bike passions and you will have a hard time leaving not having found a new one.

Bike Goodies Galore
Bike Goodies Galore

But, I was there to race in the largest pro women’s field in the USA.  This year Sea Otter Classic hosted the second stage of the Pro XC US Cup, a HC rated UCI cross country race (highest level of international racing except the World Cup) so the best of the best from all over the world (even Ren Changyuan, the Chinese National Champion, made the trip over the Pacific) were in town to crush.  Pre-riding the course on Thursday was like a reunion; getting to catch up ladies far and wide I see only at races and big bike events.  We discussed road tactics for the big speedway climb out of the stadium, merits of the high line exiting the rock garden, how to lose the least speed through the barrier s-turn as well as sharing news of pregnancies (yeah Joy!) and whose home town is building new trails. It was obvious the course would be very fast giving the advantage to a rider in peak fitness over a technically strong gal. 

Dual Slalom - WOW!
Dual Slalom – WOW!

Friday morning was the short track race; an urban bike style mile long loop through the venue over bridges, gravel pits, and around cement barriers where we race for 20 minutes plus three laps.  More than sixty women lined up to roller derby style race.  This being my second ever short track race I wanted to get in the mix but stay safe and learn more about tactics for future races.  My bars were smacked, my wheels rammed and my ribs shoved; only my hair was not pulled nor was I bit! I was caught up in a big crash over the bridge where ten more seasoned racers jumped over the pile of riders cyclocross style (clearly I have some new skills to hone).  The race was exciting and just as quick as it started it was over.  I was pretty pleased with my finishing position and now feel I understand short track racing well enough to really put the hurt on next time. 

The course was beautiful, too bad I was not looking around while racing.
The course was beautiful, too bad I was not looking around while racing.

Saturday was my big event, the Pro XC!  All nerves I went into the flower studded hillside and loosened up by doing a few loose gravel bike handling drills and slowly raising my heart rate.  Once warmed up, I pedaled a chill lap on the course to see how the terrain had changed with a day of riders previewing it and the eBike race using part of it on Friday.  Call ups felt like being at the Oscars with the top thirty girls getting their race pedigrees announced as they took the line.  I took my position near the back of the pack knowing my job was to get to the front early on the race track climb to be clear of crashes that are inevitable in such a big field.  I was too successful and halfway up the climb I found myself in the front row.  In a rookie moment I panicked and let off the gas a quarter turn.  That was all it took to be swarmed by twenty riders.  Dough!!! That mistake marooned me between the two big groups of riders climbing into a headwind.  I just regained the lead pack at the rock garden and was behind two girls who crashed.  I was forced to stop and another ten girls went right by me.  As the laps progressed I moved forward in position cheered on by spectators at every course twist and turn.  On my fifth lap some guy tried to give me an ice cream cone; it was so hot out and looked so delicious I would have taken it if I wasn’t breathing so hard.  Six laps in blazing speed.  I was happy with my early season result and it will be a spring board for the rest of my season.  I made a few tactical, mechanical and mental mistakes and my fitness is in it’s infancy as the snow is just starting to melt in Bend, OR.  So there is much room for improvement.  I can’t wait for the next US Cup race in June to see what I can do!

Bike Show Awe
Bike Show Awe

With my Sea Otter Classic race over I got to savor the show.  I had a brawny WD-40 guy wash my bike, lounged at Fluid with ice cool recovery beverage, heard the race antics of some junior racers I work with (seriously check your hydration pack for rocks if you are racing DH) and spectated the Dual Slalom with my mouth agape.  Fun.  Sea Otter is a marriage of everything awesome bike and you want to be a part of all of it.  I’ll be there again next year camping up on the hill with some amazing industry folks, so put it on your 2017 calendar and join me.

Hip Hip Horray for Nationals

On my last descent to the finish
On my last descent to the finish

“Go Evelyn, Go!”

“Drop her Evelyn, you can do it!”

That was the cheering I heard for my first three laps racing Mountain Bike National Championship XC in Mammoth, CA. And no, I was not sad the crowd was supporting Evelyn Dong (2014 USA World Cup Team member) instead of me (new and unknown lady in the pro line-up); I was elated to be on the wheel of such a talented athlete. Plus, hypoxia makes your hearing fuzzy so it was easy to hear “Emma win” instead of Evelyn!

The National Championship Pro XC course was run in the UCI format: 5 laps (90 min of racing plus one lap) on a 4 mile loop with 800 ft climbing, technical descending, and lap time cut-offs. For my second race of this format, my goal was to make the final lap cut off, have zero left in the tank when I crossed the finish line, and to have fun soaking up the experience of racing at the top level with the best women racers in the nation. I was victorious on all fronts and surprised myself with how well I did (especially at altitude which I no longer live/train at).

Pro ladies racing short track
Pro ladies racing short track

The start was a spectacle! The girls contending to be the National Champion had entourages, including an umbrella boy to shade them. The start was a blur of nervous pedal pounding and I elected to hang in the back to let the dust and jitters clear knowing there was a dirt road climb after the feed zone where I could jockey for a better spot before hitting the single track. That was the right call as there was a big crash in a loose corner entering the feed zone that I was happy to ride around. Half way up the climb I found my rhythm and Evelyn’s wheel. This turned into a good learning experience for me. On the second lap I was antsy to go a bit faster and tried to make a pass on a wide uphill switchback. My path was derailed and I went into deep gravel; causing me to lose momentum and tap my energy reserves. Later, we hit a gravel road to cross a ski slope and Evelyn slowed as we popped onto it. I was surprised and took the pass. I should have known better; as we entered the clearing there was a wind gust pushing a dirt cloud strait into us. Evelyn had looked ahead and saw this. She ducked right behind me and I ground us through the gritty headwind. As soon as we were protected in the trees and my energy was tapped, she jumped around me; what an expert tactician! Learning, learning, learning.

On the fourth lap Evelyn dropped me, though my pace remained steady. I kept my eye on my Garmin and made my calculated last lap cut off with a little time to spare. I watched the start/ finish as I worked through the venue to head out on my last lap and saw no other girls make the cut off time. I knew I could not catch the rider ahead of me unless she significantly slowed and believed there was no one behind me (it turns out they did not cut riders for the last lap, but I had enough of a time gap so I was not caught – whew!). I was cooked and my climbing legs were a bit shaky. I topped the climb, opened up my suspension and played with the final descent catching air and high marking the burms. This was total bike bliss as I grinned ear to ear over the finish line to a twelfth place finish!

My in-laws, Jill and Terry, surprised me by coming to the race to cheer me on
My in-laws, Jill and Terry, surprised me by coming to the race to cheer me on.

Post-race I inhaled what must have been 5000 calories while I soaked my legs in Twin Lakes. I pulled out my phone to share my good news to my family and saw a text message from my in-laws; last minute they drove to Mammoth from Reno to watch me race. They were hiking down the mountain to congratulate me. Tears filled my eyes. I know I have so many friends and family members who cheer me on this adventure, but the depth of love from all of you is incredible. I am humbled.

Hip Hip Hooray for Nationals!

UCI Education, Take One!

My nerves are so active I can hardly get my GU into my jersey pocket; I’m suiting up for my first International Cycling Union (UCI) XC mountain bike race at the Missoula Pro XC. I’ve been racing mountain bikes for a few years now and can only laugh at feeling like more of a rookie than I did at my very first race. This is my first year racing USA Cycling sanctioned mountain bike races. I’ve worked my way through the categories this spring to obtain my pro license.  I want to race with the best women mountain bikers and see how I stack up. UCI races draw the biggest names in racing and the largest fields.  I’m realizing my dream; I’m here where the “big girls” converge to test themselves.  I understood the UCI XC race format is different, and planned on my first UCI race to be a dress rehearsal for future races, but I had no idea how much I would learn. Now that I have my first race at this level under my belt, I will be ready to “act like a pro” in the future.

I hit the road on Wednesday morning for the ten hour drive to Missoula. Over a tasty lunch in Spokane, WA I looked at my e-mail and had a personal message from Don Russel, the USAC official for the race.

Don: “Emma; You need to purchase your international license to unpend your Pro license.”

Emma: “I’m so new to this, I had no idea!  How do I get one?”

Don: “Emma, are you a Pro MTB racer or is that an error?”

That unseated my confidence! And yes, I am a card carrying pro rider. Don was fantastic when I met him Wednesday night. He walked me through the process of getting my International License and ensured that I would be able to race on Saturday.

Megan Chinburg manualing off an obstacle in the Eliminator for the win.
Megan Chinburg manualing off an obstacle in the Eliminator for the win.

Thursday and Friday went smoothly. I pre-rode the 5km course. It was a tough loop up a ski hill with tight, steep and loose switchbacks up and a fast descent full of off-camber turns, water bars, a gap jump on the “A” line with a landing between pad-wrapped trees (there is a “B” line to avoid the big air, but the UCI official called it the “chicken line” at the Elite/Manager meeting so I was a little embarrassed that I had planned on riding the “B” line), a crowd pleasing ramp jump near the finish, and plenty of powdery dirt to degrade as the race day wears on. The course is the real deal, you have to be fit and strong to make the technical climb and have guts backed by strong bike handling skills to descend without losing too much time. After four practice laps I felt ready to attack the course on Saturday. I spectated some of the pro’s race in the downtown eliminator, refreshed in the Clark Fork River, and camped at the venue with junior  the coaches and junior racers of Summit MTB team.

Races started at 9am on Saturday, but the UCI Pro Womens race start was 4:30pm. I had all day to try and manage my nerves. I watched some of the Cat 3 and junior races but seeing bloody riders and a junior toss her breakfast after just one lap did not help keep me calm. Walking through the team tents, I overheard conversations about the course degrading and gearing choices. This only had me second guessing my preparations. I hydrated, I tried to eat, meditated, visualized perfect flow down the course, reviewed my goals for my race. Joe gave me a great pep talk on the phone that calmed me down enough to eat some cookies for lunch, but when it was finally time to kit up I was relieved to have a job at hand.

Spectator Love
Spectator Love

Finally my warm-up: 20 minutes to slowly raise my heart rate, run through some cornering drills, and a few quick accelerations. I did my best not to fall off my bike as I star-gazed at the women I would be racing with, women I recognized from bike magazines and videos! Then a final stop by the port-a-potty in route to the start corral. Yes, start corral! This level of race has a designated start order where they introduce you to the crowd as you roll up to your spot on the start-line. In the corral I was warmly greeted by Evelyn Dong and Sarah Kauffman who I know from UT which made me feel less out of place and met two other racers making their UCI race debut too. As I was called to the line, the Missoula crowd cheered for me and my nerves finally steadied. I am ready, let’s go!

I don’t even remember if the start was a gun or a whistle, but in a storm of dust I found my spot in the pack for the first climb. UCI XC races are on short loop courses where the field does enough laps to last 90 minutes plus one lap. We were assigned  five laps to race. The first lap was blistering fast (18 minutes). I hovered in the middle for the first climb to get a feel for the pace, FAST. On the descent I was on a strait away setting up for a particularly loose and technical corner and dropped my front wheel into a blown out edge of the trail and cartwheeled down the hillside. Scraped up, but not hurt I retrieved my bike and hiked back up to the course. I regained my confidence after another lap and rode my third lap really well. I was no longer with the lead pack but knew I was still in the race. I conserved my effort on the fourth lap so I could give my all for the last, but did not earn the opportunity. In UCI XC racing if you fall twenty percent off the pace estimated from the leader’s first lap time you get pulled from the race. I missed the cut off by one minute and one second! I was devastated. Time to spin the legs then plunge into the creek to wash the dust and sweat from racing ninety minutes in blistering temps.

MSLA XC Results
What an all-star cast, pinch me!

Watching the Pro Men’s race I got the opportunity to talk to the other pro women and process what I had just experienced. It turns out that not making all the laps is just a part of the race; about half the field does not get to race all their laps. It does not mean you are a DNF (Did Not Finish), but your placing is the order of being cut after the racers who get all laps done. I was the first woman cut after four laps, several were pulled after three. In a field of twenty two women I placed 13th! My strategy to conserve my energy on the fourth lap was poor. In the future I need to go all out for each lap to make the last lap cut-off. The teams have someone at the support zone calculating the cut-off times and let racers know if they are on pace or falling off of it. If I had known I was on the bubble starting my fourth lap I may have been able to make up the time (probably not, but it would have been nice to have tried).

My first UCI race was an amazing experience. The style of racing requires a distinct strategy compared to regular XC racing; now that I know what game I am playing I will be able to really race at the next one. The race director, officials, competitors and volunteers welcomed and ushered me through my awkward first race phase. I’m so grateful for the cycling community.  Racing at this level is tough, and I’m counting down the days until I get to do it again!