The quick and dirty lowdown on the US Cup:
1. Puking while racing sucks
2. Heart rate of 200 beats per minutes that you can’t slow down while racing sucks
3. 93 degree weather while racing sucks
4. I magically became a fast descender over night that can huck my bike off big drops (and I mean big “cross country” drops)
5. 2nd place had 14 minutes on me, whoops
6. Pulpit Rock is my least favorite mountain bike course… even the Rumble at 18 Road course has it beat
7. Shivering 4 minutes into the race is a bad omen
8. I survived
9. Not only did I survive, but I closed a good 30-40 second gap in the first lap to take over 3rd place with my new gnarly descending skills
10. I survived to 3rd place, got a sweet trophy and a state championship medal!
Seriously, that pretty much sums it up. The WORSE race EVER. Sliding in the Fruita mud and taking out expensive bike parts was funner than this. Cracking ribs at the Gowdy Grinder was funner than this. Racing in 10 degree weather at Altitude Adjustment Cross was definitely funner than this.
The Colorado Springs US Cup was the final in the series. It’s a pretty big UCI race for the pros, and for us amateurs it served as the Colorado State XC MTB Championships. I decided to “pre-ride” the course by watching the pro women’s race on Saturday on the live steaming, which made the course seem flat, non-technical, and fast. It wasn’t really any of those things once I actually rode it, oops. I knew it was going to be a hot one (mid 90s), so I settled for racing with the evil Camelbak and made sure to load up with my Osmo pre-hydration stuff and Endurolytes and that stuff. I did a practice lap with Suzie and immediately I was feeling the heat even at 10am. My practice lap went horrible, to the point I managed to wedge my chain between the cassette and rear wheel AND the baby chain ring and the frame. I still don’t know what caused that to happen. I was drenched in sweat and already wanting to get in the car to drive home.
We lined up at 10:30am under the huge archway (it felt soooo pro!). There were 4 of us in Cat 2 women, and I already knew one would beat me because she always does, and the other two I didn’t know. We went off with the Cat 1 and Cat 3’s all in one group. Immediately my body just said no. Which sucked, because my legs were fine. But my heart hates heat, and when it gets to 195bpm and just stays there even when I try to recover, I just can’t put anything out. The Cat 2’s left me in the dust, but I managed to grab Marie’s wheel, who is a crazy fast Cat 1, on the pavement climb and some of the dirt two track. The course has the consistently of baby powder, which means crappy traction. We made our way up to the first big climb, which is impossible to ride, unless you’re Catherine Pendrel (I saw a photo of her still riding it near the top), which I’m not. We all came off our bikes and started the steep push to the top. This is when I started to shake with chills and goosebumps. GREATTTTTT. About 4 minutes in or so, and I was already feeling the heat exhaustion/stroke crap.
The part up top was a mess to deal with in the pack. Girls were walking nearly all the technical climbs, and I was at nearly 200bpm just trying to survive. I caught a glance of the 3rd place gal in Cat 2, Erin going down the steep, techy descent that has three drops that I normally would never try to ride because I have “Career&Mortgage-itis” and she didn’t seem to be going as fast as I could expect. So I just bombed down. Scary, yes… but then I realized there’s no reason why I can’t ride things like that. I flew down that descent and closed up the gap. The course turned back to a climb coming through feed zone 1, so Erin quickly sped away as I struggled to get the legs to do anything. The small recovery I got on the descent didn’t do much as my heart decided once again to just go to max. The course enters an area with about 4 or so punchy steep climbs that normally I would be able to climb if I wasn’t red-lined and if I wasn’t wading through baby powder, so off the bike I came. I was feeling pretty dejected at this moment, and I started to get queasy under the non-relenting sun (no shade whatsoever on this course…). I tried to drink down water when I could. By now I knew Erin had a good 30-40 seconds, if not more, on me.
Luckily it turns to a descent with rideable climbs (to a point) after this, so I made up ground on the downhills. There’s one last punch before feed zone 2 and the finish where I finally caught Erin again. I stayed on her rear wheel until the feed zone, and then I made my move and zipped around. I knew she was climbing way better than me, so I figure I had to put in the distance on the flats and downhills while I could to remain in 3rd place. By the start of the 2nd lap I just started regurgitating any water I tried to drink, fun times!
Erin caught me at the base of the steep hike-up hill. The course marshal at the top asked me if I was OK and urged me to stop if I had to. I wanted to, oh so bad. But every race I have those “oh just stop and take a DNF” moments so I didn’t pay much attention, although I know I was really physically out of the game, not mentally. Mentally I was pissed I wasn’t able to do what my legs wanted me to do, and that I was riding way worse than I really can ride. I got to the top, and committed to riding all the tech climbs, which I did, including a steep sandy punch. I was pleased to finally see that I was able to live up to at least a few of my mountain biking abilities. I hit the descent again, and coming through feed zone 1 I saw I had a very good gap on Erin, so I worked as much as my body would allow to keep it. In the Land of Punchy Climbs I Couldn’t Ride, Sarah a single speeder caught me. I thought I was being lapped, honestly, but she was just behind me the whole time. She eventually got around me on the last punchy climb that I could almost make it to the top, but not quite (story of my day). I didn’t see Erin anywhere behind me, but I didn’t take any chances and pushed the descents.
Came through the start/finish, and puked back up a drink of my Osmo I took in. I came through for my third lap. I had a motorcycle police officer behind me on the pavement climb and I joked to a pre-rider that he was going to pull me over for going so slow. Same torturous stuff, yadda yadda. Suzie’s man, Cody, handed me up cold water in the feed zone to dump on myself, which was heavenly. I still wasn’t seeing Erin, so I felt confident that I just had to ride smartly and finish. Really I just wanted to survive my embarrassingly slow race. In the Land of Punchy Climbs I was caught by the Cat 1 junior girls and lapped, which is always a nice feeling, haha. I came through the start/finish for my final 4th lap, and saw Erin off on the side, so I realized that she DNF’d and that I really, seriously, just had to survive to make it to the podium!
The final hike-up the big climb sucked. I had to take several breaks on the way up, and the course marshal poured cold water down my back. I sat at the top with my head on my handlebars for about 20 seconds just trying to control my heart rate. By now the Cat 1’s were lapping me. Marie caught me, and she didn’t know she was in 2nd place, so she was hollering that she was getting her butt kicked. I got another bottle of ice water from Cody in the feed zone and gave myself a shower with it. So I was a hot, heat exhausted, soggy mess with my jersey unzipped and flapping in the breeze and mud everywhere. Super sexy sight! Suzie caught me in Land of Punchy Climbs. I rode pass some spectators and assured them I was racing, just going super slow. That finish lap was just about one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever seen as I rolled through it at 1 hour 41 minutes 48.71 seconds.
14 minutes slower than 2nd place…. definitely not my best race… actually, just might be one of my worse races ever. It was just so frustrating, as my legs felt good and wanted to go go go and I just couldn’t. The heat was just that killer for me! (Garmin read 93 degrees average during my race) And it wasn’t just the heat, there was absolutely no shade. At least, for example, in PA on the nationals course it’s all shaded so at least the sun isn’t broiling you alive! The course was a lot tougher than they made it sound, which frustrated me more as I knew I could ride a lot of those punchy climbs but just couldn’t this day.
Suzie, Marie, and I went for a cool down spin, and since finally my heart rate dropped away from max, I felt good… it was no granny gear spin (well, at least not for me), and my legs responded. That just frustrated me even more, as I wish I could’ve done that during my race!!
The thing I wanna see most is the photos from the pro photog that was on the drops during the descent… I’m being impatient! Never mind I looked like a hot mess (even my number plate was ripped off on one corner and dangling) and had a pain face!
I’m not sure I learned much from this race… I just can’t tolerate heat. and I’m not sure there’s much I can do about that short of racing in a cooling vest. However, this does make the need of a hand up of ice on my second lap at nationals that much more important! I’m glad I worked hard on the 1st lap to close what I thought was an impossible gap, too!