And just like that, the season is in full swing! This weekend was my first race in the US this season with the US Pro Cup at Vail Lake in Temecula, California. After pre-season prep that took each of us in different directions all around the world, it was so special to have most all of North American XCO athletes lining up to test our preparation at this first USA UCI race of the season! Walking around the venue before the race and talking to my fellow competitors and friends, the general consensus seemed to be a whole lot of nervous energy.
As I stood in the start grid awaiting the start of the short track, I felt a surge of adrenaline. I was pushed up against the side of the track and was looking ahead at a sharp curve just in front of me. My entire focus was on clipping in fast and making it around that first corner without a mishap. The official announced, “30 seconds to start.” Fans were holding cameras and phones out into the course to get the best shot and I quickly hollered, “Please keep the cameras out of the race track for the start!” I knew I would be using every inch of the course!
I accelerated off of the start line, went wide through the first big turn and found myself 2nd wheel entering the single track. I took a big sigh of relief and mentally put a big check mark next to my first goal for the race.
The short track was a high speed with a short 45 second straight away with plenty of passing and then about a minute of flowy single track with limited to no passing opportunities. It made for a very strategic race with lots of jockeying for position for the single track but also a lot of cat and mouse games. About half way into the race I was leading out of the single track and saw the big line of riders all single file behind me. I put in a bit dig thinking that I could split the field. This was probably my biggest strategic error of the day. While I succeeded to increasing the pace of the race and inspiring others to also start hitting the gas, I burned unnecessary matches that didn’t yield the breakaway I had hoped for.
With just a couple of laps to go, one woman threw down a massive attack from behind and fly by the field. We all stood to sprint and follow. The race strung out to 1st place then about 5 seconds back 2nd place then about 5 seconds back I was chasing in 3rd. Another woman came up next to me and I yielded to her in attempted to have her pull me back up to the 2nd place rider. Unfortunately, once I got on her wheel, the gap continued to grow and after about a lap, it became clear that the best strategy was to race within the group for 3rd. On the last lap I mimicked the attack that had split the field just a few laps before and I got a jump on my group. One woman managed to just nip me into the single track and it was an all-out sprint for the finish. I came across the line in an exciting 4th place finish!
On the afternoon of the cross-country event, the wind was howling and it was obvious that it would be a component of the race. Knowing that I had more time in the XCO than I had in the short track and with a big head wind to start, I didn’t worry as much about my position off of the line. Turns out, it was important. We all entered the singletrack in a single file line, but a few minutes into the singletrack two women had already formed a gap off of the front. With no passing opportunities we were all forced to just patiently wait until we had a chance to pass and chase up to the two riders up front.
Once it opened up, I put in a huge effort with one other rider and we managed to close about a 20 second gap down to just 5 seconds in less than half a lap. As we kept pressing just a few seconds off of the back of those two riders my body questioned that massive effort to close the gap and I started to see it open again. With the big headwind through the start/finish I knew I couldn’t afford to enter that section alone and I faded back to the group behind me for some shelter from the wind.
I hit reset while sitting in the group. I felt the pace and felt extremely in control with the speed we were going. I didn’t want to just pull the group around so my attack would have to be full-commit. Half way through the race I put in a big attack toward the top of the climb and shed all but one woman in my group. I then reset again as I waited for the final lap show.
Unwilling to leave anything to chance and knowing that I had the advantage on the climbs, I put in a big dig on the first climb of the last lap. I immediately got a gap and put my head down all the way to the finish line. I claimed another 4th place finish on the weekend!
Next I’ll head to Fayetteville, Arkansas for the next round of US Cup races!