The first race of the season has always brought me a lot of nerves. The anticipation alone is enough to make you start sweating. This year felt different though. With a new Privateer Program and a new name (Hannah Otto) it feels like there is just so much possibility ahead that I can’t help but smile.
I know myself at this point and I know that the first race of the season is usually a bit of a tricky one for me. I approached this race with curiosity and an open mind knowing that if the past patterns are any indication of the future, then my results will only be improving from here.
When I was called up to the line as Hannah Otto in the short track, I couldn’t get the silly grin off of my face. I lined up second row, knowing that I needed to get around and up front as soon as possible.
When the whistle blew I was looking for holes. I found one and didn’t hesitate, I went straight up the side and sneaked into the singletrack second wheel. That was the first big sigh of relief. I thought, “Ok, now I can race.”
The pace felt comfortable and I felt in control. With so many nerves swirling around in my body I took the approach that made me feel the most confident and I spent most of the race sitting on or near the front. In fact, I probably spent too much time on the front, but it just felt so good to control the pace and to be able to respond to each and every attack that was deployed.
The group whittled down fairly quickly and then much of the race was spent with girls yo-yoing on and off of the group with the packing growing and waning in size. With two laps to go a big attack was implemented that split the group. Climbing up the short hill I followed the attack and was sitting second wheel until I got caught out in the first corner of the descent. Sitting 3rd wheel going into the last lap I knew was going to be a tall ask to get around two riders. In the end, it was too tall of an ask for me on this day, but I was still so pleased to finish the first race of the season with a tight and hard-fought battle and a 3rd place podium finish.
After the sensations in short track I knew my body was ready to put in a good effort for the cross country on Sunday. The race would come down to execution. In mid 80 degree weather and 70% humidity coming from one of the driest areas in the country in 30 degrees, I also knew that managing the head would be a huge task as well.
When the race started, I immediately had a little bit of work to do and slowly worked my way through the pack in the start loop. I entered the singletrack 4th wheel, but was able to execute an aggressive pass at the top of the climb to enter the descent in 3rd.
The descents here were dry, loose, dusty, and off-camber. I found myself a little off of the pace on the descent losing a few bike lengths with each long descent. The legs felt strong though and I was able to make up those bike lengths on the following climbs, entering the descent on the wheels of the girls ahead of me.
While I felt strong and gained confidence in my fitness as I closed these gaps, I also realized that this was likely an unsustainable way to race the course having to put in dig after dig to close gaps after the descents. In the final climb of lap one I put in a big effort to enter the descent first and control the pace a bit more.
As we went through the start/finish area I felt calm and confident and was trying to plan my tactics for lap two. Then, suddenly, the heat hit me hard. I became so aware of the sweat pouring out of my helmet and the heavy feeling coming onto my head as the humidity engulfed my body. I felt like I was pedaling backwards. One voice in my head told me to pull the parachute and hit the panic button, the other voice told me to “Be calm, you know what to do.” The right voice won this round. On lap two I felt like I was dragging myself to the feedzone and finally I began to dump ice water on my head and drink electrolytes. Lap 3 felt like I was cooling down my engine and still not able to shift into gear, but by lap 4 all systems were go again. I had fallen back quite a ways, but I know it’s not over until you cross the line. I made some passes and regained time. I was on a mission and I finally had my cooling strategy nailed. I could see 3rd on the same straight away as me on the final lap, and I just ran out of time on my comeback mission. I crossed the line in 4th and am quite happy with my tenacity, my body’s ability to rebound, and to stand on the podium again this weekend!
Now I have a week in Puerto Rico to train and adapt to the heat a little bit more before I race again next Sunday on the other side of the island.
A huge thanks to all of my sponsors for making this possible!