XCO racing, what’s that?
Well, it’s something I haven’t done since July 2019.
Alas, here I was, a ball of nerves fretting about racing Fangdango. With MTB Nationals in Winter Park again, I knew I’d kick myself if I didn’t qualify to race them, regardless of my feelings of them flouting current CDC testing guidelines for those fully vaccinated (that’s a whole ‘other rabbit hole that probably only annoys me because I work in public health and am all too familiar with best practices and recommendations… see, there’s that rabbit hole!). XCO races, let alone USAC sanctioned ones, have become incredible rare in Colorado, so Fangdango was my only feasible option.
I raced Fangdango in 2019 and had a horrid race where I came in last in Cat 1/Pro by… a long gap. I had cat 2 & 3’s catch me type of gap – it was bad. I find it to be pure a fitness course, and to this day I hide lack of fitness with skills when it comes to mountain biking (and cyclocross). So I was really nervous coming into the 2021 edition. I had only gotten back on my mountain bike for the first time since November the previous weekend, and I felt slightly rusty and I could tell my lack of strength training this year when it came to technical uphill climbing. So, for the first time probably since an LMBS race, I was a ball of nerves the day before and leading up to the race. I’ve been so caught up trying to get the endurance for long gravel events that I forgot what XCO felt like, except for just knowing it was going to be painful AF.
2021 is bringing out the big race fields, and Fangdango was no exception, with 16 women starting in the Cat 1/Pro/SS wave (with another 16 cat 2’s behind us, and then the cat 3’s). This was my biggest MTB race start group ever for my category (I mean, obviously I’ve been in mass starts with like 400, but not what I mean), and naturally I apparently forgot how to start a MTB race and flubbed my clip in at the start and was kinda like “oh, we’re going now, okay, eek, pedal!”
Nevertheless, I was able to work myself up into the lead group through the start loop and out for the first of three laps. I was a bit shocked to find myself there – I was REALLY good at underestimating myself for this race, apparently. I soon enough found myself making some passes and holding position. I remember just kinda thinking “huh, cool” and going with it. It freaking hurt, my lungs burned and the familiar taste of blood in my lungs returned, but I also was enjoying racing my mountain bike super hard like I did in “the before times.” I did pretty well until halfway through the second lap when it was like my body went into some sort of weird limp mode. It felt like I couldn’t get my heart rate up and my breathing was really calm. I didn’t exactly see this reflected in my heart rate data when I reviewed it post race, but I know it was real. Maybe it was mental, I don’t know. I honestly might think it was the adrenaline wearing off to be truthful.
Starting my third lap I knew I had two gals chasing me from behind and I just tried to keep on the pedals to stay ahead of them. Sadly in the final minutes of the race on what is really the last big descent, my rustiness in XCO racing came out in full force and I flubbed a downhill into kicker feature, and ended up at a dead stop in my hardest gear, unable to pedal with my calf cramping. If I was thinking, I shouldn’t just dropped it to the baby ring (long live the front derailleur!) but I panicked as one gal caught and passed me and I didn’t think clearly. Next up was the slog into a 26mph headwind up a sandy climb, and the second chaser passed me. By then I was just toast and pedaled it out to the finish and let them ride off into the sunset.
Whew, done and dusted in 1 hour 26 minutes flat. I knew I finished in the top half, which was a relief to me. Finally I tracked down some results, and saw that they actually did break everyone into age groups, and alas, I was leading the 30-39 until that windy sandy climb of doom when Megan got around me. Rats! But nonetheless, I was excited to finish 2nd, with a solid gap to 3rd and 4th. Overall, I finished 6 out of 12 cat 1’s, and was ahead of one of the pros as well. Much much much different than 2019’s saga!
Soooo… I think I’m going to race nationals now 🙂 Which will be my next XCO race… Eep!
Also, damn I miss XCO racing. It’s what got me into competitive cycling, and dammit, I MISS IT. Sadly, with the Laramie MTB Series dead (dramatically cries), there’s just not a lot it to do in my area (hence the whole nationals being the next opportunity for short distance racing). But in general I miss mountain bike racing, including the marathon/endurance distances so maybe in 2022 I’ll swing back that way. I filled 2021 with so much long gravel nonsense it is hard to squeeze anything else in. Woes of being a cyclist that dabbles in all the things, eh?
Much love to my team, Square1 Racing! My teammates Sarah and Mary also raced, with Mary getting 2nd in cat 3! Maxxis Tires kept me rubber side down (yes, even that mostly worn out rear Aspen did perfect on the course… and, I’ll change it out soon, I swear… maybe like end of June, LOL). Tailwind kept me fueled (at least with the two sips I managed to take). And it was super fun hearing cheers along the course from the “Laramie Fast Kid Club” as I’m dubbing them (Isa and Tristian and company!)!!!!