My favorite part of stage racing is the opportunity. When I showed up to Missoula, Montana this past weekend I knew I had 4 chances to make a difference. 4 races meant 4 times to take risks, and continue to find progress.
In all 4 races I finished 7th and I wrapped up 7th in the overall. While the results stayed the same, the races could not have been more different. Each race I took a step in the right direction and I finished the weekend with even my competition telling me that I’m right there, just waiting to break through to the next level. Keep reading to find out what these progressive steps look like to me…
Stage 1: Marathon:
The first stage this weekend was the marathon event. The race featured 3 laps, almost 7000 feet of climbing, and lasted just around 3.5 hours.
As we started the race I found myself more relaxed than usual. This has been a realization of mine over this season. I used to always wonder how my competitors could possibly start these events at such a high intensity. I’m beginning to realize that for them the intensity isn’t nearly as high. This realization has only been able to come to me as I find the intensity feeling easier and easier even though my pace is getting faster and faster.
As we started up the first climb I was happy to find myself in the lead group. I was immediately pleased with myself and wondered how long I could stay in the group. After 30 minutes, the pace started to increase as the group surged around each corner. I went with the group for a few minutes and then started to fall back. As a few women went around me I surged to get on these wheels but felt the strain and doubt in knowing that I had 3 hours left in the race.
As we entered the first descent, I was sitting in 8th and my legs had come back around. I was ready to play some damage control. Descending has never been my strong suit so I knew that I would have some work to do when I came to the bottom and started the climb again. I caught back up to 7th and gradually extended my lead. I could see 6th on the longer switchbacks. I knew I wasn’t far behind, but I knew my time was running short.
On the 2nd lap I was checking with myself trying to set a pace that would be higher than the women in front of me. It seemed that every few seconds I would make up I would lose on the descents. When it came to the 3rd lap I knew a pace wasn’t enough. I had to go for broke. I emptied myself and set my fastest climb on the last lap. The adrenaline was pumping, and every switchback felt like an opportunity for Christmas morning as I desperately hoped to see my competitor closer around the next corner. Eventually the next corner was the finish line and I had to start focusing on Day 2.
Stage 2: Individual Time Trial:
I have only raced the individual time trial twice but I love it. It feels like a chance to sneak into a new position. Since everyone races separately no one knows how fast other people are going.
I stood on the start line thinking, “I want this.” “I want this.” “I want this.” I exploded off of the line. I was up out of the saddle for almost a minute. All I could think was, “You have to be faster, you have to be better.” After 8 minutes my body was cramping and my legs were straining. My breaths were more like wheezes and I moaned as I asked myself to give more.
The only time to pre-ride the Time Trial course was right before the race so I decided that a good warm up was more important. It’s tough to know if I made the right call. As I turned up onto a new trail the pitch increased and I was in too hard of a gear. I pushed harder to turn over the pedals but I slipped on a root. I tried to save it and kick the ground to get started again. I couldn’t clip in. I got off my bike and started to run. I tried to remount. It was too steep. I was running again. When I finally got on bike I had to push it out of my mind. “How much time had I lost?” When I found my rhythm again, it happened again and I was running.
By the time I hit 5k (out of 6k) I was lying to myself. You’re almost there. The finish is around the corner. Maybe the map was wrong. It has to be almost over. Finally I dumped out onto a fire road and could see the incline increasing and increasing. Someone yelled, “The finish is at the corner.” I stood to sprint for it and I wondered if I started crying how much it would affect my time. When I crossed the line, I fell over. For a brief moment I thought it had been enough, then I heard I was 7th again. Only 80 seconds between 7th and 1st. How many seconds had I given to my mistakes?
Stage 3: Cross Country
As we started the race I immediately found myself in the front group. This time instead of questioning myself (like day 1), I checked that step off of the list and focused on what was next. I settled into the pace and into my self talk, “I feel great, I am strong.” I made it through the hardest climb and found myself in the selection. I was only focused on the group around me so when we hit the first switchback and saw that we had gapped most of the field I felt a little taste of personal victory.
As we hit the final climb before the descent on lap 1 (of 5) the racer in front of me started to fall off of the group and the racer behind me surged forward. I normally would have questioned the move but this time I just decided I could. I went with the move and entered the first descent in 6th still in the front group.
I rode most of the 2nd lap in 6th place but as we continued to climb I could see 4th just ahead and I moved around the racer ahead of me attacking toward the top of the climb. I was only about 15 seconds back from 3rd and I was still feeling strong. The racer with me was determined as she suffered just 5-10 seconds behind me not giving up. As we entered the descent she quickly was back on my wheel and attacked around me when the trail opened up. She entered the descent ahead of me and opened a small gap.
As I entered the 3rd lap I pushed to close the gap and rode only a few seconds off of 5th. I was still so close and was still in podium contention. As I fought to stay close to 5th, 7th was gaining behind me. I knew she was a strong descender and I was losing ground as the minutes rolled by. The 4th lap was tough for me as 5th rode away and 7th was right on my wheel as we descended toward the start finish. I had one lap left. The 7th place girl was now ahead of me in 6th and I was yo-yoing off of her wheel. She would pull ahead, I wouldn’t give up and I would come back. This happened a few times but ultimately she has stronger on that lap and my legs were cramping. I crossed the finish in 7th, but this was possibly one of my best races to date. I executed exactly the way I had planned to- other than of course just falling short of the coveted podium spot again.
Stage 4: Short Track
This was the last chance. I was determined. I was nervous. I was on the front line, clipped in, eyes fixed on the singletrack at the top of the climb. My body was bent over my bars and I was ready to start with everything I had.
I was so nervous about making it into the singletrack in a good position that I executed the best start of my career. I entered the singletrack in 2nd and as we started to enter lap two I glanced over my shoulder and saw that I had a small gap toward the chase group. Toward the end of lap 2 I found myself back in the small group and there were already only 8 of us together. I wanted to keep attacking.
I stayed in this group moving around anywhere from 4th to 8th over the next 15 or so minutes. As the race neared the end, the whole group was split apart and I once again found myself in 7th place.
I couldn’t help but be a little bit frustrated as crossed in 7th but I also can’t help but be very proud of the progress I have made. I’m thankful for my family, fiancé, the Clif Pro Team, and even my fellow competitors that all help me look objectively at the results and shine a spotlight on my progress.
I’ve spent most of this season working on my starts so that I could make it in the front group. After this weekend, I can be confident that that work has paid off and I’m ready to put in new and exciting training as I head toward Carson City and the National Championship!!
All Photos by Trevor Finchamp