Saturday was my last race of the season. (Well, maybe.)
Before Saturday’s race, I had no plans to do another this year. Over the last month I knew I’d lost some cycling fitness. After Tabletop Tuesday rides ended, I didn’t get out on the bike as much during the week due to some later nights at work, colder temperatures, and then that whole time change thing. Dark at 4:30 p.m. WTF. I also didn’t set up my bike trainer in my apartment like I told myself I would. (That will be a must this winter when I’m stuck inside on the weekend waiting out temps in the teens.)
^^^ The last TTT. Can’t wait until next year!
Because of all that, I’ve passed on several races over the last three weeks; I didn’t feel like my legs were ready to race. But the thing is, you have to keep racing to feel like you’re ready to race. You have to sign up and dive right back into killing yourself for 40 minutes out on the course. The double header at Valmont was my last race weekend and that was about a month ago, but when I saw Cross of the North on the calendar, I knew I had to get out there. It’s a fun and challenging course, and it always brings a ton of competition. Plus, the forecast showed sunny skies and high 60s in the afternoon when I was scheduled to race. How can you turn that down in the beginning of November?
I bit the bullet and signed up at work, hoping the long weekend rides and 4-mile treadmill runs I squeezed in after work had helped me hold on to even a shred of cardiovascular strength I built up over the summer.
Thanks to a 12:15 p.m. race start time on Saturday, I was able to take my time in the morning sipping coffee, packing my bags, and loading my bike into the car. I had about an hour drive to the race, but it was such a beautiful morning so it went by pretty quickly. Plus, I couldn’t wait to race in short sleeves for the first time in two months. Praise!
After I got all checked in, I had plenty of time to warm up and pre-ride the course between races. I met up with some friends and we talked a little strategy while watching the categories finish up before we made our way to the start line.
One thing I learned about when I started racing was the call-up system. When you race more and do well and work your way up the leaderboard by finishing higher in the field, you get better call-ups at the start line. When you get called up sooner, that means you don’t have to get caught behind women when the gun goes off and then try to work your way around people to get up to the front of the pack.
At Cross of the North, I expected to be one of the last called since I only moved up to Cat 3 this year and I hadn’t raced in several weeks. But to my surprise, I was in the top half of the call-ups due to a bunch of top finishes this season already. I was thrilled! But that definitely made me feel nervous. I closed my eyes a couple times in between big breaths and repeated the same mantra I went into the last race with:
No fear. No falls.
No fear. No falls.
No fear. No falls.
When the official blew the whistle, I pumped my legs as hard as I could to get up toward the front. I lost a few spots because I didn’t want to hit the brakes too hard going into the first turn. My heart was hammering and my lungs were already stinging, but I was hanging on. Then…
I hit a big dip in the grass and when I took another pedal stroke, I realized I dropped my chain. I was pissed, but I didn’t panic. I pulled off to the side as the entire field passed by, but I stayed calm, got my chain back on the ring and jumped on my bike as fast as I could. My chance at a podium place was gone, so right then I reevaluated my expectations. I decided, instead, to focus on having fun and not letting anyone pass me.
While I didn’t win the race, I had a few personal wins that meant even more:
I made it through the long looonnnnggg sandpit without getting off the bike and celebrated with an exuberant “FUCK YES!”
I had a couple tip-overs but no hard falls.
I smiled when mobs of people cheered me on over the tougher sections.
I took a beer hand-up! My first!
^^^ Having a blast even if my face doesn’t say it.
The beer hand-up was maybe the best part of the race. At the very top of a super steep run-up incline, spectators were handing out small cups of beer in front of a huge New Belgium beer tent. They shouted at us each time we rode by, and on lap three I thought, fuck it, give me that beer. When I jumped back on my bike, I locked eyes with a borderline-wasted man holding out a plastic cup as if it was meant for me and only me. I plucked it out of his hand, downed as much as I could, and tossed the rest into a metal bin off the side of the course.
What a rush! The crowd cheered as I threw my hand in the air and celebrated before heading into another steep turn. For the next couple laps I was burping bubbles as my gut churned to digest the suds between big belly breaths.
With two laps to go (I think we did five in total), I passed a couple more riders and rode into 7th place out of 18 which felt really good. I didn’t expect to finish in the top half after the chain mishap, but I also didn’t care that much because I had an absolute blast.
I did a quick cooldown with a couple friends then stayed for the men’s and women’s open races (pro fields).
They were so exciting because those racers are just so much faster than us, haha!
It was also fun to join in on the heckling a little and watch so many racers get in on the hand-ups.
The second place guy in the men’s field somehow smashed four beers in a row, which was kind of amazing.
As things were wrapping up and the sun was dipping below the mountains, I loaded everything into my car, kicked the dirt off my shoes and headed out around 4:30 p.m. I hadn’t had a bite to eat since earlier in the morning before my race, so when I finally sat down and got on the road, my stomach churned. After a quick sandwich and salad stop, I finally walked through my door around 6:30 p.m. It felt like midnight at that point. It was one long and amazing day. I was sort of wishing I had signed up to race the next day on Sunday, too, since this was also a double header weekend…but then I was thankful for a break when I woke up without an alarm on Sunday morning.
There are a couple more races on the calendar, so maybe this won’t be my last race. I have to redeem myself…right?