We be cyclocrossing, even in 2020!!
One of my biggest flaws when it comes to competitive cycling is giving up before the race even starts. I’ll see a start list, and get all discouraged knowing a podium isn’t possible. Going into the first cyclocross race of 2020, I did just that.
To be fair, we didn’t know there would even be a 2020 season until a few weeks before as Without Limits confirmed a six race series. I was shocked to see that the race at Valmont would happen, but excited I could finally get some racing under way, even if there would be some long gravel races crammed in (including Robidoux Quick N Dirty the day after this race). I still didn’t train for cross specifically, as I figure making sure I had the fitness for 4-5 hour events was much more important.
With some panic training in the week leading up to CycloX Valmont (I’ve decided #panictraining is a legit training tactic now!), I kept checking the registration list. I kept seeing some fast names appearing in the single speed race, and I became more discouraged – to the point I almost considered racing in the cat 3 race instead. But I stuck to it.
Race day came, and it was interesting: no pre-riding, masks required until the 30 seconds to go, and no team tents/spectators/handups. Not what we expect from cyclocross, but sacrifices to be made in order to race. I warmed up a bit on the road, got stung by a wasp, and then took my place on the starting line.
My normal style is crazy sprinting at the start to take the hole shot, and then usually peter out in effort. This race was different, as I just paced Kristal and didn’t shoot out on the front. As we came off the starting climb, Kristi made a small mistake on an uphill corner and I found myself in front. OK, cool, I’ve been here before, everyone would end up passing me.
Except… they didn’t. I ran the 5280 stairs (thank you 60 miles of hiking in the last month) and settled into racing “blind” since I had no pre-ride – which is not uncommon for me to do in mountain bike racing, so it is something I am comfortable with, thinking on the fly and reading courses as I’m racing. The course was switched up a bit, which was awesome to keep it fresh after so many years of racing at Valmont. This venue has always been interesting for me, as it’s one of the venues I’ve never really had good race luck at podium-wise, but one I enjoy (minus the dang stairs). In 2017 I finally landed on my first podium, but it took a foot of snow to make that happen. In 2019, I had a crazy race and landed in 3rd, even after a big crash, which was one of my best races. But no way could I ever win here..
I focused on staying steady and staying out of my own head. I could check my gap to those behind me in certain parts on the course, and noticed some switch up in positions, but tried not to care too much. It was feeling surreal, leading a race at Valmont. Lap after lap I came through the start/finish still leading and I kept reminding myself to stay focused, remembering how I had a big crash on the final lap in this race in 2019. Aside from running into the tape on lap 3 or 4, things went pretty flawless for me.
Finally on the fifth and final lap I allowed myself to believe that it was really happening – I was going to win at Valmont in a well attended, legit field! I entered the finishing straight and fretted about posting up, but I gotta admit I’m still very nervous about taking both hands off the handlebars, so I did an enthusiast one arm fist pump.
I’ve always referred to winning at Valmont as my “Eleanor” podium, a reference to Gone in 60 Seconds. I still don’t know how it happened, with my lack of cross-specific training leading up to the race. However, once I viewed my lap times, I realized maybe there is something to the long endurance training, as the most they varied were 11 seconds, which is pretty crazy to me (when I first started racing cross, my final laps would be minutes slower than my first lap). I didn’t feel like I was struggling at the end (except maybe on that damn 5280 run up). And what an amazing lesson in getting out of my own head, and not letting start lists discourage me! To boot, I am finally learning how to race smart… winning the hole shot doesn’t always mean anything, and controlling my start helped keep my lungs and legs happy.
Here’s to a great start to the 2020 cyclocross season!