Cyclocross Nationals 12/9/2010
Folks around P-Town avoid driving in the snow let alone riding their bikes in it, especially during a workday commute. But racing in the snow? You mean people really do that? Until this week, I’d only seen bike races in the snow on youtube. How are you supposed to stay warm in a lycra? Go fast till you can feel your toes again? Nope. I’ve tried that one. Suitcase crammed full cold weather gear and a tub of embrocation, the goal was to finish my race at Nationals and frost bite free.
Leaving my hotel for the race venue early , it’s very cold (35 degrees) and smells like Christmas. Think fir trees and the comforting smell of a wood burning fire in the air. Unfortunately, no Bing Crosby song and fuzzy Snuggie to cuddle up with. Just the cold, harsh reality of cyclocross racing lay ahead that I paid good money to suffer in. Upon arrival, I wandered the grounds, hoping to find a familiar face in the team tent area. Like a beacon in the gloomy morning rain, I found the Portland Velo tent with my friend Malcolm Johnson tucked inside. Complete with propane heater (so nice), trainers and completely sheltered from the low 30’s wind, I am offered a spot in the tent and use of a trainer. Sweeeeeet.
Snow still covered parts of the race course, and the lake we were to paddle through looked like an arctic thaw with huge shards of ice floating on top. I did not pre ride so I had to study the lines of the morning racers in preparation. Malcolm gave me his report and suggestions since he had already raced. With a smirk, he lays his golden nugget of wisdom on me. “Don’t Crash.” Super. With that gem I’m ready to conquer the world. The start is a long pavement stretch to a 90 degree left turn slightly uphill into muck and deep grooves carved by wheels and weather. No barriers in my race but they did add two barriers . Short steep punchy hills, small sections of pavement, rugged loops through trees and one big set of wood stairs. One large hill was rideable for some depending on traffic and course conditions. Lots of off spectator friendly off camber sections ready to throw riders into the stakes & tape against their will to the chagrin of fans. Having run into my friend and neighbor Johnny Vergis (CyclePath) before my race, he volunteered to pit for me.
My dumb toes were still cold even though I was in a heated tent warming up on my trainer for 45 minutes before my race. Conveniently located next to the start, it was a short trip to the line up. 46 women in the 40-44 age group. And, two time National Champion Wendy Williams (River City) was in the front row. Nobody said this would be a fair fight. To my surprise, I received a nice talk up from my hometown race announcer Splinter as we waited for the whistle. Malcolm took control of my camera and accepted the role of jacket collector at the line. In front and behind me are Ann Kennedy (unattached) and Jill Hardiman (Existential Velo). Brain chatter says, “Keep Wendy in your sites. Stay with Wendy”. Oh silly pipe dreams.
Whistle blows and we jump into action on the long pavement start. The whole field almost slows to a halt when we bottleneck at the first left turn onto dirt. Rounding the corner, Jill gets tangled up with Stephanie Utrecht (WebCyclery) in the tape and they both hit the ground. As I pass the carnage, I see Wendy and the lead group have already turned the next corner past the pit and are sailing through the frozen lake ahead of us. That was the last time I saw her until the end of the race when she gave me a smile of acknowledgement. My own trip through the frozen water was shocking to the system, like watery daggers on my legs and worse on the toes as the water filled my shoes. Trying to find a pace and catch up with the leaders (ha,ha catch up), it’s through the soggy grass, 90 degree turn in more soggy grass and mud, then briefly onto pavement. A high muddy berm looked rideable but the ladies in front of me got stuck and I ended up pushing my bike. Elise Huggins (Veloforma) and Ann are ahead of me so my plan is to pass them. Through the rocky muddy sections in the trees and through the first run up, all is well as I chase Ann. Just before the next run up, my rear wheel hits a rut and I go down hard in big mud puddle, covering my face in dirty water (Malcolm got a photo seconds before this happened). Riding the small hills I am still pursuing. Too much traffic on the big hill so I opt to run it every time and avoid a time sucking crash.
Lap 2, I manage to pass Elise when she gets tangled up in the tape before the run up. Unfortunately, Stephanie and Jill both got around me and I am not able to stay on their wheels. Losing bits of time on the muddy berm because I am to stubborn to run it, I end up getting stuck, almost falling down hill in the ankle deep mud. Elise is chasing me and I know she is a strong rider having raced with her during . She passes me once but I am able to come around her again on a flat muddy straight section. She says “good job” when I pass her and looks like she is suffering. Lap three and Elise is behind me again at the stairs but in an attempt to pass me, slips on the outside edge of the steps and crashes knees first into and off of the side of the stairway. Yowza, that’s gonna leave a mark. Only slightly better for me as poor line selections sends me into the tape in two different off camber sections, one leaving me under my bike in the fabric barrier. Get up, Get up! Both allow me to be passed by other riders only making me more determined to pass them back.
Final lap and Virginie Calme (CyclePath) comes around me. This action is not lost on our local race announcer. Splinter’s microphone echoes as he announces this new battle between the “Portland Locals” to the crowd. “Who will it be with final bragging rites?!” booms over the loud speaker. At this point, Wendy Williams had long since won the race and in the process, lapped the back 10 of the pack (you get pulled if you get lapped). Glad it wasn’t me. Making my final push on the off camber section before the pavement finish, trying to keep solid lines in slippery mess of grass and mud. Virginie is farther ahead of me than I wanted so with everything I had, I pushed my legs into a final big chain ring sprint to the end. She beat me by 1 second with Ann Kennedy 5 seconds ahead of her and Splinter verbally documenting Virginie earning P-Town bragging rites. Wendy however, beat me by 7 MINUTES for her third National Championship win. I think she needs to Cat up.
Post race, Malcolm made my day by offering to take my Kona to the bike wash and pick up Pinky in the pit while I got dry and warm at Camp Portland Velo. Thank you Malcolm! I owe you a beer or three.
Special Thanks to Eric Tonkin at Sellwood for making my stay in Bend possible. Big thanks to the Chris Snyder (Bicycle Attorney) and Jill Hardiman for inviting me to continue my stay through the weekend in Bend with the team at the Bicycle Attorney team house. You guys Rock!
Lastly, thanks to Kevin O'connell for use of his fancy wheels.