Race Report: 2014 USAC Cross Country Mountain Bike National Championships

I came, I raced, I conquered those damn rocks!

I talked in my last blog post about how Nationals this year for me was mostly about racing myself and just worrying about putting in a good effort against myself.  I think the strategy worked out!  I stayed rubber side down, I rode a heck of a lot more than I even imagine I could, and I slid in under 2 hours total, which surprised me!

The weather this year was way different than last year, luckily!  I felt good going into the race, though I was annoyed to discovered on my way to the bathroom in the lodge that my start got pushed back 48 minutes.  I wish I would’ve known this the night before (just another annoying thing USAC did this week… ’nuff said) as I could’ve slept in longer and also I wouldn’t have been so quick to eat breakfast.  Darn.  So I spun, hung out at the car, spun, hung out at the car.  I was busy chatting up Kim and her husband as they looked for their results and realized I had to pee at the “one minute to staging warning.”  HAHA.  Made my way through the gazillion male cat 2’s to my ladies.  Amy was back from last year – luckily as a 40 year old 😛  I finally met Robin, who I had followed on Instagram for some time.  We all stood around in the sun for what felt like an eternity.  They did call ups, which was neat.  I had second call up (surprising considering the lack of USAC races I have done this year!), and got to ride to the starting line as they said my name, team, town, yadda yadda.  There were only 4 of us ladies in cat 2 30-39.

There's an invisible rabid dog chasing Robin!  (Photo by Robin Dunn's dad)

There’s an invisible rabid dog chasing Robin! (Photo by Robin Dunn’s dad)

The start was stupid fast… which well… is something I haven’t had all year!  I’ve spent all year training my sprinter self to start slow, and crap, there goes Robin like she’s being chased by a rabid dog.  Robin, Philicia, and I had a sizable gap going on the single track, with Robin up by herself.  On that damn first single track climb where I rode into the bushes last year my rear wheel spun and I had to walk. What the hell… what the hell?!  I jumped back on, and an annoying spectator told me to stop rolling my wrists under.  I just really hate unsolicited advice, especially while I’m racing. My rolled under wrists and I caught Philicia’s rear wheel rather quickly and I decided to just sit in and see what happens.  So we rode together through the forest, over the rocks.  On the first yucky climb that is a 50/50 split of me actually trying to ride it I made the mistake of following Philicia’s line, and she had to come off and walk, which meant I had to.  I passed her walking and took over 2nd place.  I hurried to the top, cyclocross mounted and powered my way over the flats.  I’m probably what some would consider a “power rider,” so I used the old narrow gauge mining roads to put down some speed on a course that doesn’t favor a power rider whatsoever.

I realized that the course is a lot harder at race pace when you’re cross eyed and redlined.  It took a lot more concentration than my practice runs had.  I continued to feel strong on the gravel and grass climbs to the summit, and I didn’t see Philicia behind me.  I skipped the summit water table (I had a Camelbak anyway) and headed down the single track for the damn Bear Creek rocks and roots.  I worked my way around the rocks cautiously.  I knew there was no hope in the world of catching Robin unless she had some sort of catatrosphic mechanical or wreck (though I did briefly think about how I thought that last year and then Alyssa vanished out of thin air giving Amy and I the top two spots), so I just wanted to ride safely for myself.  I didn’t know what to expect of Philicia… from USAC I knew she had raced pro years ago (!!!???) so who knew what tricks she’d have.  I nailed all the bridge crossings and the mud root pit which I called a “filthy whore” over and over until I got through it (hahahaha).  I went up and over a huge log ramp thingy that I walked last year, and felt good, but had the feeling Philicia was behind me.  She was, dammit!

I got my front wheel off my line on a rocky descent down onto the Bridge That Heidi Will Never Be Able to Ride Because It Sucks, and bobbled and had to stop, which allowed Philicia to pass me.  Since I was close to said bridge, I just ran it as I knew I’d waste more time trying to get on it and ride than running.  Philicia took off into the sunset.  OK, I was in 3rd.  I could handle that.  Now I was on the “10% luck, 20% skill, 15% concentrated power of will, 5% pleasure, 50% pain” rock garden switchback segment.  I dabbed a few times but rode it strong (missed my goal for the segment on Strava by only 2 seconds!), even clearing all the switchbacks for the first time.  At the top I went to switch back into my big chain ring (I baby chain ringed it for this segment only, otherwise no granny gear this year!) and my chain decided it wanted to lodge itself between my wheel and cassette.  It took about a minute for me to get it yanked out and back into place, and this kinda solidified Philicia getting away from me I think.  I passed a guy who was on his 2nd flat of the race, so I was thankful all I was having was chain issues!

Oh, the heckle pit.  Time to drop down into it… Down the first descent… riding smoothly.  Saw the final rock, stopped.  Effing rock!  It’s all mental!  Get back on and start up the steep descent and my left heel goes under my rear triangle and my shoe jams into my wheel.  WHAT THE HELL?!  By then a heckler took to too much heckling (seriously dude, where was your bike?  Why weren’t you racing?  See ya at high altitude sometime, I’ll have a word or two for you then), and I debated getting off and punching him.  But I continued on, clearing some rocky drop things.  Almost went OTB by a photog but bailed in time.  He got me while I was still on the bike, haha.  Which is great, the photo shows how messed up the line I was taking was:

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Bad mojo where my front wheel was headed… damn tree root! (Photo: Bear Creek Mountain Resort)

I continued down the descending switchbacks and realized that last year I had walked from the top of the heckle pit all the way down beyond the last descending switchback… and this year I was still riding!  I was riding stuff I didn’t even ride in practice!  So I had a huge smile, and I had two separate spectators tell me I was only the second person to come through this section smiling!  Woohoo!  I feel like I had a ton to smile about!!  I got in a good rhythm and just rode those damn rocks like I had been riding these trails my entire life.  I finished up all the rocks and roots at the bottom (though I had taken to getting my handlebars stuck on every tree possible… time for shorter handlebars), and headed through for a second lap.

For the second lap I went back and forth with a few cat 2 20-29 women.  It was good motivation to keep pedaling, as that second lap was downright killer.  I was tired, nothing more nothing less.  I was hydrated, so that was on track.  Just pooped was all!  I knew I was riding a lot slower, and I started to get messier on the rocks.  Also, the phantom severe pain that comes and goes in my left big toe started in, in the worse way ever!  I tried to ignore it, but sometimes it took all I had to keep my foot clipped in and still pedaling.  (This is after I had been battling a pebble in my right shoe the entire race… princess and the pea action going on hardcore!) The second time around in the segment of percentages was a hot mess as the girls in front of me couldn’t ride stuff, so until I got around them I had to walk, which sucked because that portion really is about just going at a good rhythm.  Once I was around them I cleaned it nicely.  The heckle pit was nearly gone, just two (nicer) guys, and once again I couldn’t ride down that final rock.  Down the descending switchbacks was a mess as well, as my mojo was gone.  I knew it was all about staying upright on the bike and foregoing any mechanicals, I’d be in 3rd place!  Coming out of the woods onto the gravel was an amazing feeling…

Then…

USA Cycling ruined the feeling.

Sigh.

There’s nothing like riding and finishing underneath a national championship arch banner.  And they took that from me (and quite a few other competitors). Due to THEM moving the cat 2 start later, it ran into the junior’s short track start.  And since juniors rule everything (no, I’m not bitter… well, yes I am.  I’m 30, I don’t have as many years left in me!), they gated off the finish and I finished down away from the crowds, away from the announcer, away from everything by the ski patrol lodge to a grouchy official going “you’re done.”  Wow.  Thanks USAC, that was worth the 4000 mile drive.  So that was my anticlimactic finish to what I felt like was one of my stronger races this year, despite all the messiness on the second lap.

1 hour 59 minutes 16 seconds!

Whoa, under 2 hours!  I didn’t think I’d pull that off!  9 minutes off second (Philicia), who was 9 minutes off first (Robin, of course!), and I was 36 minutes ahead of the 4th place finisher (rawr, go me).  Definitely not the murdering or clobbering I was expecting, and I thought my effort was good for someone who does not ride this terrain ever (unless I do Headquarters repeats in the rain, haha).  Given another week or two on Bear Creek, and I know I would’ve cut even more time off… but that’s the beauty of nationals, it’s very rarely everyone’s home court advantage… can I put a bid in for a nationals at Gowdy, though?  Haha

Philicia and I hung around forever waiting for results, and finally I decided to just go get cleaned up and get food.  I took off to Wawa for a 10″ hoagie (which I quickly devoured!) and spent time with the Sauchon Valley bike team folks, who my friend Kim is on.  Realized USAC was messing up results all over the place (like DNF-ing people that they personally pulled), so I ran to make sure I was properly placed.  I was.  Whew!

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Cat 2 30-39 Podium

I came, I raced, I conquered my own personal race 😀  So much better than last year, and dare I admit that I started to grow to like the course?!  Sure, not my cup of daily tea, but it’s ok once a year or so!

I’m happy I went with my ’13 Specialized Epic Expert as my bike of course.  I had briefly considered my hard tail, and I’m so glad I didn’t.  Sure, definitely would’ve given me an advantage on the climbing, but bouncing around those rocks would’ve been too much. The Epic did great on it’s second go-round of PA rocks, and aside from the one chain issue it didn’t miss a beat!  I am missing the back cover of my right hand shifter now…

I am super excited that nationals moves to Bend, OR for the next two years… it’s only about a 15 hour drive, and from what I can gather from photos, the terrain and rocks are much closer to what we have here in Wyoming so it’ll be a bit easier of a learning curve!  And hello to riding at elevation again!  The downfall is I know this year was quite possibly the last year I’ll be on a nationals podium for a long, long, long time.  Cat 1 is going to be an ass kicking and painful learning experience.  It took me about a half an hour of staring at the upgrade request before I could submit it.  As much as I want to be Cat 3 in cross, I’m not sure I’m going to exactly enjoy Cat 1 mountain biking.  Then I remember all the higher level non sanctioned races I do and how I still have a good time, so hopefully it all works out!  It’ll be nice to finally race for a Stars n Stripes jersey and National Champion title, too (cat 2 and cat 3 are not considered national championship classes)!

Thank you Bear Creek for the last two years, and the nice scar I’ll have my shin from practice last Tuesday!  I’ll miss you a tiny bit, but not enough to come visit 😛

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: The Nearly 4000 Mile Girly-Girl Adventure | Heidi Rides Bikes

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