The excitement at the US Cup in Fayetteville, Arkansas this weekend was palpable. Athletes and spectators alike were buzzing with excitement to have a UCI race back on US soil after almost an 18 month hiatus. Standing on the start line for Friday’s short track, I think every racer wanted to prove that 18 months of hard work had prepared us for this moment.
Friday’s Short Track
Short track is already a heart pounding, adrenaline pumping, elbows out type of racing format. Add in 18 months away from the format, Olympic qualifications in just a month, and a World-Class field and you get Friday’s Short Track Race.
When the whistle blew, we were off the line fast and sprinting toward the right hand turn, which came just a few short seconds after the start line. Starting 2nd row and not having a very big runway before the first turn I knew that getting the holeshot would be unlikely. In the races before ours, there were several crashes in that first turn so I also knew that as the pack went through it would be about minimizing damages.
As we went around the first corner, just as I suspected, tensions were high. As I tried to squeak forward in position, I got pushed into the post and was narrowly able to escape the crashes around me. Entering the descent in a less than advantageous position, I tried to minimize mistakes and recover, preparing for the long climb on the back side. I continued to dodge a crash or two on the descent as nerves and speed overtook some riders.
Finally, when we reached the steep climb I stepped on the gas and not only caught the group, but went straight to the front to lead the descent going into lap two. I wasn’t going to risk getting caught in more traffic!
For the rest of the race, we stepped on and off the gas as we balanced all-out racing and strategery. The whole race was battling for position, elbows out, leaning in on each other. There were moments when the aggression seemed at the high end of reasonable, then I couldn’t help but smile and think, “How cool is it that all of us women are strong enough and capable enough to have such a physical race?!” In the last lap, as we started going full-gas, I was planning my final move when one of the girls in front of me slid out in the trail. I grabbed brake hard and maneuvered around. At speeds well over 20 mph, this was enough to lose the lead group. In an effort to catch back on, I put in a huge dig to close the gap, but it was too late. No move of desperation would be enough to chase down the lead only a couple minutes from the finish. I crossed in 7th, but I felt hungry for more on Sunday.
Sunday’s Cross Country
Sunday’s cross country course was a high speed and exciting design. The 13 minute lap had some sort of technical feature (rock garden, log hop, drops, or gap jump) every few minutes to keep the racers on their toes. Standing on the start line, I was praying for patience, courage, and strength of body and mind.
The race started similarly to Friday’s short track. Patience was the name of the game as we descended in a single file line and I considered how I would begin to move forward in the tight terrain. I executed a “little by little” strategy as I gradually made up ground and had contact with the front group as we neared the end of lap 1.
At the end of Lap 1 there were two big logs that we had to jump up and over. I sprinted into the log behind a rider, and what felt like at the last moment, she dismounted to run the logs. For me, it was too late. I was committed to riding, but she was standing where my wheel needed to go. I hit the logs like a wall and my waisted folded over my handlebars with my hands on the ground. I guess I would be chasing the group…again. Good thing persistence is a strong characteristic of mine.
I set out on another mission to catch the group and by this time, the group was beginning to splinter. I was picking girls off, and eventually we made a small chase pack behind the group of 3 leaders. I led my group much of the day, adding confidence to my piggy bank. As the final laps approached, I was able to anticipate the strengths and weakness of myself and the riders around me and execute specific attacks to break apart my group. They worked. It was a great feeling to not only have the legs to attack, but to implement tactics. I crossed the finish line in 5th and I’m ready for more next weekend!
I’m just so thankful to be back on the start line safely, and with this great community. It was so good to see friends this weekend and to be back working with the well-oiled Orange Seal Off-Road Team.