Cyclocross Nationals '16 - Asheville, North Carolina!
By: Laura Pyle
I'd never been to nationals before, or (I think) raced a UCI-sanctioned 'cross race. My age-range race in Asheville was Thursday, and I could only get to Asheville Wednesday night. I'd been jittery about only getting to pre-ride that morning, which is hilarious since I've never had more than that, but the course had been open since Tuesday so I was hella jittery about being behind the curve. And just hella jittery.
We got all the access passes and numbers and stuff (4 numbers for one race, geez), and I got on the course. And put a foot down. And slid out on a steep descent and slammed my knee into a metal barrier. (Yay for black leg warmers that don't show blood.) And I actually considered DNSing. WTF, I don't think that's ever happened before. I told myself to just keep riding, take it a piece at a time, breathe, and I finished that lap without doing anything else stupid. There was a scary drop-off on a hairpin turn down into some woods, after some gnarly off-camber riding that looked like it had lots of tracks but they were all cattle tracks, and cattle are shitty bike riders so the tracks actually tended to drop you farther down the hill and into the tape before you'd even gotten to the scary drop-off, which you could take really wide but it was all big hard lumps and ridges of earth getting slicker as more people rode it, and THAT was where thank gads for technical mountain biking, because I hung my ass over the back of the saddle, took the turn tight, and just followed the bike down the drop-off. Features like that are less about riding and more about getting out of the way. That made me feel better, and I started telling myself yeah, I'm not scared of any 'cross course, this is my thing bitches, I've got this, etc.
The course was really good; it was on a long steep hill and had killer elevation, with so much off-camber and steep turns that the barriers, near the end, just seemed like an afterthought. There were two fly-overs so the course could double back over itself, which was great for spectating. During the first race, I heard one announcer say, "This might be the most challenging course we've ever seen at a US cyclocross race," and I went la la la I CAN'T HEAR YOU!
I got a decent start, but we got strung out pretty quickly. I knew I wasn't last, but didn't have much idea otherwise, so I just started to race the women I could see. I passed one woman on an awful horrible no-good long run-up because she was walking and I don't walk those fuckers; I want them over. The scary drop-off was crowded with spectators whooping, and I rode past another woman who got off her bike to run/slide down the turn (which I think was way freakier, and with no good place to remount). A bunch of Virginians were there and cheered for me, and a photographer from Snowy Mountain yelled "BFF!" as I charged into the barn, where I passed another woman (that barn was great--a short stretch of smooth, flat, and no wind!).
The last lap is always the most intense, and is when I start repeating, "if I get passed now, I'm gonna be so pissed." Actually I think I talked to myself more in this race than in any other ever--there you go, you've got this, yeah it's mud, I'm good at mud, hammer down here, I'm not tired, she's tired but I'm not tired...not exactly immortal prose, but it works. A woman in blue passed me at the start of the last (fourth) lap, just before some steep off-camber riding that was different every lap as the ground warmed up and more tires dug into it. That was a good place to pass, well done Blue. Damn you. Okay, I still had a woman in red behind me, until she passed me on the way into some trees just before the start of the worst uphill slog around steep, rutted turns. I started to feel dejected, but then I saw Red getting off her bike to run the scary drop-off--oh hell yes! I hopped my bike down like an over-excited mountain goat, skidded almost into the barrier and some spectators (mesh barrier, though, and puffy-coat-padded spectators), and skittered off down the techy descent. That was a great place to pass Red back (she told me afterward that she races road and doesn't have many hills, mwa ha ha), and she kept me going hard over the barriers and up the straightaway to the finish line. I got 23rd of 31 starters, and I am a-okay with that. My knee, which I never felt in the race, hurt so bad back at the car I could barely bend it to get my shoe off, and it's still bothering me three weeks later, so thank you adrenaline. I'm also glad that I could only get there the day of my race, because watching the races after mine made the course look way scarier than racing it had felt. Now that it's over, I think that announcer might have been right, which just shows, once again, that racing is 90% mental, and now I can use that course to pump myself up in future races. "Whatever, I can kill this, I was 23rd at Asheville!" Self-talk is so important for me, and I've gotten pretty good at keeping a running patter of ridiculous positivity.
And now 'cross is over and I'm having a hard time getting my butt in gear for what's next. Partly I'm being whiny about my knee, which keeps feeling better and then worse (I think it's probably a bone bruise), partly the circuit race I was going to do tomorrow just got canceled, and partly I don't know how to make a training plan and I've been lazy about figuring it out so far. BUT, I have GOALS this year, and next weekend is the first mtb race of the season, so it's ON. Also next year's cx nationals are in Hartford Connecticut, which I can totally get to.