Thrilling! That’s the best word that I can think of to describe the race this weekend at the Oz Trails US Cup Pro XCT in Fayetteville, Arkansas. When I came to pre-ride the new course this week, I couldn’t believe that they added another drop. Then, I couldn’t believe that they added another drop! The course was absolutely littered with obstacles from rock gardens, to gap jumps, to drops, mud, and more. I knew that this race would test us in more ways than one. I was excited!
Friday Short Track:
In the Friday Short Track race I knew that assertiveness was going to be key. If the race was anything like the weekend before, I knew that everyone would be fighting for lines and elbows out. In many cases it almost felt like a game of chicken as two of us would barrel toward an increasingly narrower space only for one person to give in or get caught out at the very last moment.
With a second row call up and not much time to pass in the initial straight-away, I knew that I would have to play some catch up on the one big climb of the lap. Off the line, it was just as suspected and I found myself further back than I had hoped, but around the first corner I took a wide turn letting off the brakes entirely and as I carried momentum out of the corner, others had to brake on the inside. I suddenly found myself sitting in 5th.
As we exited the woods and onto the first climb, I had planned to “burn a match” or give it a hard effort up that first climb to catch up. Since I was already with the pack, I decided to burn the match anyways and set a high pace for the race. I think short tracks are so much more exciting when the pace is high and everyone is working hard. I sat on the front for quite a while driving the pace. I would temporarily slip back to 2nd wheel, and then head back to the front to capitalize on more excitement.
The strategy in these races can be a bit tricky. If you sit on the front too much, you do too much work and don’t get to draft, but if you get too far back in the group then you fall victim to crashes and constant surges from the yo-yo effect.
In the final lap, I felt good, I was ready to go, but the attack went sooner than I thought. I hesitated just one moment and then it was too late. I was chasing, but I had burned so many matches that I was just barely hanging on. These races come down to just seconds. That’s what makes them so exciting! I crossed the line in 7th. Not exactly where I had hoped, but I came away from the race wiser and with a mission to be more patient in the future.
On Sunday, the pace started fast, and I found myself sitting about 5th as we entered the single track. It had rained the night before and it immediately became obvious that the course had changed and it was time to adapt. Adapting mid-race is one of the most exciting parts of our sport, but it can also to be one of the most challenging. Especially after you dial in lines for days, only to discover brand new ones on the day off.
As we entered the mud, I was sliding all over the place. I lost a few positions and was separated from the group. I put in a big dig and caught back on near the top of the next climb. Then there was a rocky climb, and my tires slipped on the slippery wet rocks and I had to run. I lost the group again. I spent most of the rest of the lap chasing and catching up. As we entered the 2nd lap, I was back with the group and it happened again, sliding all over the place in the mud, and slipping on the rocks, leaving me running and behind the group.
Reset. That’s what I had to do in my mind. Deep breath. It’s ok. You can do this! Don’t panic. Just breathe. Just pray.
I committed to attacking the climbing and minimizing mistakes. I committed to being smooth. I began to pick people off and move up the group. 8th– 7th– 6th– 5th… then we hit the 3rd lap and that mud section again. Improvement. We hit the rock section again and I rode it clean. Ok. We’re back. I can do this. 4th..3rd…
With 2 laps to go I was sitting in 3rd and feeling really strong. I had my rhythm and my mantra. I knew that 4th and 5th were close behind, though. It was going to be a battle, but I was prepared.
With a little over 1 lap to go 4th and 5th caught me. One girl attacked and was just a few seconds up and trail and I was riding in a clear battle for 4th or 5th place. I was on the limit. It would have been easy to give up. The woman I was in a tight battle with is a two time Olympian. I felt the weight of the challenge, but I also felt the excitement. It felt like Fireworks the final lap as we attacked and counter-attacked, each of us wanting to lead. I made a big attack up the climb and entered the big rocky climb ahead, she attacked on an inside line and entered the rocky descent ahead. As we entered an uphill log feature, I made a mistake and had to briefly put a foot down. A small gap opened up. We were both sprinting. She took the B-line around the drop, and I sent it down the drop. That was the time saver that I needed. I was back on her wheel. There was less than one minute left in the race and it was a full game of tactics at that point. I tried to attack around the final corner, but a pass on the outside was too great of a feat. I finished in 5th, less than 1 second behind 4th! In the midst of this epic battle, we were also only 10 seconds off of the 3rd. That’s some tight racing!
I am happy with the outcome of these two weekends, but I’m even happier with how the races played out. With the progress I’ve made and the new rider that I am. My biggest goal in this sport is honestly to consistently find improvement. This weekend felt like another big step in the right direction and I’m excited for what’s ahead!
Up Next: Swiss Cup