“Carson City, So Hot Right Now. Carson City.” – Zoolander

xc 2 stan (2)Last weekend I headed to Carson City, Nevada to race the Epic Rides Carson City Off-Road Race.  It was the first time I have raced a 55-mile course with a women’s field this stacked, and I was stoked for a new challenge.  However, I never imagined my biggest challenge would be the extreme conditions.

course marker (2)
“More fun, hot, and exposed trail ahead,” Course Marker

Winter would not give in to spring this year in Bend, OR.  Much of our mountain bike terrain was under snow until I left for a few weeks of traveling and racing. I’ve been riding in leggings and sleeves to stay warm, and when I surrendered hope for the trails and hit the road, snow was in the forecast again.  Even my spring training week in St. George, UT was during a cold streak of rain and temps in the 60’s.  Needless to say, I do not have tan lines or acclimatization to the heat!  Arriving in Carson City I learned they too were melting out from an epic winter, and the course had to be modified to lower elevations: three loops covering 55 miles with over 7000ft of climbing on exposed terrain.  And then, last minute, the heat wave hit.  The temps rapidly went from the sixties to the nineties; I would be racing in ninety-five degree temperatures without tree coverage to stay out of the sun.  Gulp.  It was time to plan for how to race in the conditions when I was completely not acclimated to heat.  

Here is what I did to acclimate as much as I could in the days leading up to the race:

  • I pre-rode the course (about 19 miles) during peak heat every day except Saturday.
  • I drank as much water as I could all day, alternating water with electrolytes.
  • I avoided air conditioned environments, but kept cool with cold showers and dips in the river.  Likewise, I slept with the windows open.  ***(see bottom of post)***
crit 2 stan (2)
Staying with Sophia and Nicki through the corners on the crit.

Friday evening was the fat tire criterion race.  It would be a good test run of my heat hardiness.  I did a full hour plus warm-up in the heat for my race, and drank carbohydrates and electrolytes. The crit was a blast.  It was my first of this variety: a short loop on the roads through downtown Carson City with tight corners that we raced through on our mountain bikes. The pace was instantly fast, and we were shoulder to shoulder going into the first few turns.  At the second corner there was a crash that I stayed clear of, but it reminded me that my first priority was to stay safe.  The pack started to break up and I pulled into the lead group.  The worst place to be is at the back of a group in this sort of race.  You are forced to brake into corners and sprint out of them to keep up.  This yo-yo riding blows through your energy reserves quickly.  I knew this and had the sprint power to pull into the middle of the pack, but every time I did a more experienced crit rider would challenge me for position, and I would back.  As expected, I blew up just 10 minutes into a race of 30 minutes plus three laps.  After a lap, I recovered enough to try and claw back to the lead group.  That turned out to be an impossible task for me solo with a headwind climb, but I was able to practice smart strategy and pass two women who popped off the lead group.  It turns out I have learned a thing or two about road racing watching the grand tours on TV over the years.  Dripping sweat I made the final lap.  I knew I would have to be more strategic in managing the conditions on Sunday for the big race if I wanted to be successful.

Dennis and Spencer finish (2)
My host family father and son finishing the Epic Ride together.

Saturday, the amateurs took to the course.  I did my tune-up ride in the morning before the temperatures hit the nineties then headed out to cheer the racers on.  Dennis and Spencer, my host families father and son were racing as well as many others I knew.  Many of them were visibly overheated.  I knew preventing this was essential for me the following day.  That night my host family threw a backyard party to celebrate those who raced that day.  I heard their race play-by-plays and took note.  Cramping and sour stomachs were a big issue for them, as was their lack of desire to take in calories in the heat.  I had a plan for this and fell asleep confident for Sundays event.

XC stan (2)
Off the back… but only for a moment!

At 7:40am Sunday morning in eight-five degrees, the pro women’s field started the Carson City Off Road. The pace was social as we rode out of downtown and picked up as we headed to King’s Canyon.  As we hit the gravel road I glanced at my Garmin and was surprised to see my effort was too high to sustain for the distance in the heat.  It was devastating to be the first woman to drop off the peloton, but I stuck to my strategy knowing that going too hard too early would put my success in jeopardy.  Adding insult to my ego, my husband Joe and host family were just ahead to cheer me on, and I was in dead last. I did holler to Joe that my position was part on my “Grand Plan” so he wouldn’t worry and I pedaled by.  As we hit the single track the peloton started to break up, and I caught up to two women.  I got around them before the descent and put some distance between us.  Later in the descent I caught several women and knew that if I stuck to my steady-Eddie pace and confident downhill skills I would continue to move up the field.

XC Dennis pic edit
Headed home.  Olivia is just ahead.  Pavement is in sight.  Go, go, go!

The second lap was a blur of passing women, hydrating, fueling, feeling the heat take it’s toll, and enjoying the descent to cheering crowds.  At the end of the second lap I met Joe to pick up a new frozen hydration pack.  He dumped ice water all over me to cool me down then I pedaled through the streets to downtown feeling spry.

The third lap was a crusher.  I kept my pace in check, resisting the urge to slow.  I knew I was heating up so I started drinking as much cool fluid as I could.  I was dreaming of a breeze or the shade of a single tree as I caught Olivia, a beast of an endurance racer, ahead of me. Then I started to get goose-bumps, a sure sign of overheating.  I

finish stan (2)
Olivia and I at the finish, both of us are in disbelief that we rode the last five miles that fast.

slowed, and at an aid station I doused myself in ice water and drank even more until my temperature was under control.  I headed out again with a friendly push from the aid team.  I began to feel better and better as I continued to climb with only dim hopes of catching Olivia who had passed me while I dealt with my overheating, but I did near the end of the descent!  There was no room to pass, so I hugged her wheel.  We hit the last, short climb and Olivia took off like a rabbit.  I gave chase, but she put a little distance between us.  Olivia is a pro-roadie and can crush open terrain like the pavement we hit.  I spun my legs as fast as I could in my largest gear, zipping through the city and sprinting to the finish.  Though Olivia kept her lead on me, I was stoked to have a her to motivate me to give my all at the end of a tough race.  What a great day.  My thoughtful preparations to race in the heat and trusting the strategy I laid out for myself were key to a successful race.  Dare I say it?  Bring on the heat!

These beautiful images are generously provided by Stan Lattin.  Follow him on Instagram @mtb_stan_lee

***Follow up post about the science of adapting to extreme heat and how to do it coming next week!  Stay tuned.***

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Missoula Pro XCT: Where Even Mechanicals Can’t Dim My Race

STXC pain (2)
Yeah, this race is tough, and yes that’s dirt on my teeth.  Photo: Kenny Wehn

With my Dad as co-pilot, in a downpour that lasted almost the entire eleven hours of driving, I anticipated the Missoula Pro XC with glee.  This would be my third year at this race and it is my favorite UCI XC course.  It features a lung exploding climb with tight switchbacks, a steep descent that you cannot let your guard down on for even a moment, a heart-in-your-throat gap jump, and is lined with cheering crowds.  Not to mention that Marshal Mountain is in full wildflower bloom and town full of good eats. 

My race season started a bit late this year so I could savor the ski season, and only now am I in race form.  I could not wait to see what I could do at this race.  Afternoon race starts are tough for me to manage my nerves.  My Dad was a trooper putting up with me bouncing around in the endless rain which generously called it a day as the pro women took the start line. 

bull jump
Landing more gently off the Bull Jump than I’d like to.

As expected, the pace for the first lap was insane.  I held tight in the lead pack up the climb but prayed the second climb would be humane.  Thankfully the descent loomed and I launched over the first water bar.  A strange sound from my bike greeted my landing, but I had no time to ponder it as the second water bar was just feet away.  When I landed the second time I could not control my bike and crashed into the lupine.  I was unhurt, but mystified that I made an error on a simple terrain feature.  I freed my handlebars from the cables, put my chain back on, did a quick run through my bike to make sure nothing was damaged, and got back into the race a few riders back from my pre-wreck position.  I pressed through the next tight turn to the left and then the following one to the right.  But on the second turn my bike felt as if it was flexing.  Not good.  I trusted my scan of my bike after my crash and was confident nothing serious like a cracked frame had happened, so I surmised my bottom bracket lost a few bearings or my rear hub was damaged.  Neither mechanical would be so catastrophic that my bike was unsafe to finish the race, but I would have to descend with caution and at less speed than I like to carry.  I would have to make my gains on the field climbing instead of relying on my downhill skills as I usually do.

I rode very cautiously on my second lap amidst sporadic grinding sounds from my bike.  It took me a while to adjust to the lateral flexing my bike made when I make turns to the right or compressed my suspension.  The rider behind me took my wheel.  I needed to decide: trust my evaluation of my bike and race or drop out.  On the descent, I started to understand how to handle my bike with confidence and headed out for the third lap.

 

Dad and I
Dad greeting me at the finish.

Though I could not zoom the descents or air obstacles, I maintained my position in the race with strong climbing.  The last lap came and I felt good.  It was time to put the hurt on the women around me knowing if I didn’t put enough distance between us on the climb they could catch me on the final downhill.  My legs were up to the challenge and I got around the women near me.  I even saw a racer ahead of me who I’ve not been able to catch before late in the descent, but was unwilling to press my bike mechanical issues to close the gap.  Elated, I crossed the finish line in seventh place.  My best UCI finish yet!  If I had been able to ride the downhill sections at full speed I may have been in contention for a spot on the podium.  I was stoked!

 

 

missing pivot
Missing Pivot.  Doh!

Washing the mud off my bike, I saw the mechanical problem.  I had lost one of the pivots.  Pivots are the bolts and bearings that connect the rear triangle of a full suspension bike to the rest of the frame.  With one missing my bike would in fact flex whenever force was put into the frame.  It validated my cautious riding and I was glad I stayed safe.  I must have broken the pivot landing the first water bar and it must have come out on the landing of the second one.  This is a mechanical problem that is extremely rare, and just luck of the draw that it happened. Because this is a part of a bike that is almost never damaged, no bike shops or race mechanics had one to repair my bike with.  I really wanted to race short track on Sunday morning, but my bike was unsafe to ride.

 

XCT passing (2)
Being able to race Short Track was a miracle.

The bike community is AMAZING!  When word got out what had happened to my bike, the Bear Development Team came to my rescue.  They race Trek Top Fuels too and one of their junior men offered to let me borrow his pivot bolt so I could race.  I literally jumped for joy. Adams race was right before mine and he finished second.  After his award ceremony, Jack, the team mechanic, dismantled Adams frame and installed the pivot on mine.  I had ten minutes before the start of my race and did my best to warm-up my race tired legs in a few minutes instead of the hour I usually take.  I rolled to the start line just in time and we were off.  It took a few laps for my legs to warm-up and my sluggish start put me in a position that was hard to claw ahead from.  But it didn’t matter, I got to race!

 

Dad and I headed to The Big Dipper for a celebratory ice cream.  We talked about my races, and even though both had some bloopers, I was really pleased with how I did.  I kept cool through a mechanical and used it as an opportunity to test my climbing fitness.  My endurance is expanding; I could pick up the pace for the last lap and was not wasted from the race (aka I could keep my eyes open during dinner).  I am part of a community that is generous.  I am understanding race strategy more and can plan my attacks and know when to be patient.  Most of all, I had a great time. 

Special thanks to my awesome bike shop, Sunnyside Sports in Bend who overnighted a replacement pivot to meet me at the next stop on my race tour.  Also a shout out to Open Road Bicycles in Missoula and Velo Reno who both incredibly offered to take a pivot off a floor bike but unfortunately did not have a match, and Reno Cycling that got my frame bolted together again.  What an adventure. 

No Time to be Rusty at My First Race of the Season at a New Pro XCT Venue

XC start kennyFirst race of my season, and the first running of the Dev Tech Pro XCT in Midway, Utah.  A new course.  A new race season.  Old home turf and old friends to connect with.  Second weekend in a row with my sister.  Second to none stoke.

XC1
The fast line is usually the fun line

I have spent time with Summit Bike Club,   a youth development team, who created this event. These kids are as comfortable off monster drops as they are on highball balance beams. I knew they would turn the rolling hillside that was the site of the 2000 Winter Olympic Nordic events into something playful that would reward an XC racer with BMX, trials or DH skills.    On pre-ride, I was not disappointed.

The course featured two steep climbs that were just long enough to singe your legs.  But you would not get to recover from these; they were followed by descents full of tight switchbacks, extremely steep shoots, bike park style jumps and doubles, rock gardens, drops, up and overs, and slalom tree lines.  It would be impossible not to have fun on this course.  My challenge would be to stay at race pace and not get distracted playing on the obstacles.

ShortTrack1
Keeping My Flow on Short Track

Friday: Short Track.  I love it when short track is the day before XC.  It lets me work out my race nerves, get a feel for the terrain at speed, and is a great race tune-up.  This short track was not UCI sanctioned so the U23 women got to race with the pro women.  This was so cool.  These young women have grown up mountain biking, where many pros had not heard of a mountain bike at their age, and they added fresh enthusiasm to the field.  My sister cheered me on as round and round I went.  It was hard to stay fluid on the course and it took me a few laps to stop waste my energy braking to drop speed for a blind turn and accelerating out of it.  I’m not quite in race form yet and some cobweb clearing happened for me at this race.   Flow would be essential for my success at tomorrow’s XC race. 

 

XC2
It is impossible not to smile while riding this course.

Saturday: Cross Country.  My plan was to test my early season fitness by staying with the lead group for as many laps as possible.  The first climb pace was exhausting to keep up with.  I focused on my strengths: steady pacing so I am strong in my last lap, taking the direct/fast line at obstacles, and flowing through turns to not lose momentum.  I had moments where I moved up the field, I had moments where I knew I could not close the gap.  The whole time my sister was running around the course to cheer me on and take photos.  She was as tired from being a spectator as I was from racing. Though I’m in early season form and most of the other women have been racing since late March, I pulled into the finish in eighth place.  My best UCI finish yet.  Look out, I’m going to crush this year!

 

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.

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!

Fat Bike National Championships Race Report

FBNC 4What a fun learning experience!  The first Fat Bike National Championships were held last Saturday, February 14 in Ogden, UT and I couldn’t pass up on the chance to get my heart racing on Valentines Day.  Among a seasoned masters field I lined up for my first fat bike race on my “hot off the press” Kings Peak fat bike form Fezzari.  I spend a lot of time on a bike and race a fair bit, but a new flavor of racing always exposes your weaknesses.  After a brief climb off the start line I became aware of my rookie mistake for the race, I did not engage in the pre-race banter about bike set-ups and chose a 28 toothed chain ring that left me spun out on the flats.  This was my opportunity to maximize my strengths and make the most out of my deficits. I focused on recovering on the flats and not getting caught up in doubt when the field pulled away.  I charged on the climbs and worked the downhills like a BMX course (Powder Mountain used snow park equipment to makes banked turns on the course – so much fun).  My strategy kept me in the hunt and in the end I surprised myself with a second place finish.  Pretty cool.

racing to the finishLessons learned: 1.) If you are new to a venue, event, distance, etc., it is really valuable pre-race to chat up more experienced riders and gleam whatever insights they are generous to share.  If conversations are centering around clothing choice, it is likely an important factor that day, or if how you de-glaze rotors is all the rage you had better make sure your brakes are in tip-top shape.  2.) There may be a fewer less ladies at the start line than in the men’s division, but those ladies have real grit.  Stefanie Kyser may have been the solo female single speed racer but she was fast; really fast!  Rebecca Rusch was the expected champion her masters division race, but then she raced the open division two hours later and put down three equally fast laps.  The women’s field more than makes up for sparse quantity with the quality of the riders.  Regardless, we need more girls racing bikes! 3.) Having a cheering squad is the best.

What a perfect day.  Thanks you Fezzari for my fantastic fat steed, and Sage Coaching Multi-Sport for shaking the cow bells for me.