I traveled to North Carolina for the two days of the UCI C2 NCGP CX with Colin Williams, one of the ADF mechanics on November 22nd. We flew a red eye and got to Hendersonville at 8am. Another ADF mechanic, Jon Husk, picked us up from the airport and we headed straight to the race venue to pick a good spot and set up our tents. Because rain was in the forecast, we wanted to be somewhere where water wasn’t going to pool and have access to a spigot for the pressure washer since muddy conditions looked promising. I felt tired and wanted to sleep, I didn’t get much on the plane and knew I’d be a disaster if I didn’t nap and then sleep additional hours the following night. While the boys were setting up the tents I rode around the course which was staked and chalked, but wasn’t yet taped off. Although pre-ride wasn’t officially open until 3pm that day, Tim Hopkin, the course designer, said it was okay to roll around. The course was grassy and fast; I loved it. Although I knew the conditions were going to be drastically different the next day, it was still fun to practice different lines and try to carry more speed. Around noon we headed to our host house to unpack. Our host family had an insanely steep, narrow, and cruelly long driveway. Thank God the course didn’t include that thing and was also 15 minutes away by car. But the host people themselves were great. Steven and Jane were very welcoming and thought ahead to every detail and request we might have had. There were five of us total at the house and three were vegan (myself included). Jane made us plant-based dinners both nights and inquired our likes and dislikes so she could make us delicious food after a cold day of racing. I napped for about two hours while Jon went to pick up Emily from the airport and take her to the course. I woke up around 3:30pm and Jane offered to drop me off at the course for more preview as she was going grocery shopping right by the venue. My favorite part of the course was the wooded section right before the stretch of pavement to the finish line. It was a fast, twisty trail with a few roots and rocks. I loved practicing it over and over as the climb to the flat section didn’t take much effort and the downhill that followed provided a challenge to dial in the lines and memorize roots and rocks to avoid as well as anticipate a couple blind corners. After, we went back to our host house for dinner and an early night for me. I slept for ten more hours and that was awesome.
It rained most of the night and all day leading up to and stopping right before our race. I pre-rode the muddy course on both bikes and settled on tire pressure of 16/17 for the tubular wheels on my A bike and 17/18 for the tubeless Donnelley PDXes on the B bike. I had to use a pair of wheels ADF had in stock as mine had a broken spoke and tire width that didn’t meet the UCI regulations (although they were also PDXes). Almost exclusively, I race on the tubulars which have the Donnelley Boss tires. The tubular wheelset is lighter and of course, not prone to loss of tire pressure from burping. But I forget how amazing PDXes are in mud, insanely grippy on slippery off-cambers and just overall offer better traction in mud. I considered starting on the tubeless wheels, but decided against it. I was second row call up (me and my 8 UCI points) and lined up on the left as the starting straight climbed upward and bent to the right. My plan was to burn a couple matches passing on the left and getting to the front while everyone else tries to squeeze to the right from the get-go. It almost worked. I noticed I have a tendency of sitting up a little ways after the start. I’ve thought about why I do that and realized I assume the field as a whole sits up and settles in while the field actually just keeps on trucking by. I needed to work on keeping the pressure on the pedals until the field is actually forced to slow down due to course features. First lap I slipped around corners and contemplated switching to my B bike with PDXes and by the end of it I knew I had to. I pitted second lap and settled into a pace where I slowly closed in on people and passed them. PDXes felt great and although it was muddy, mud didn’t accumulate on the bike so I didn’t go in for a bike change for the rest of the race. Last two laps I caught two girls and for a little while, we played cat and mouse. On one of the gnarly sections, one of the girls got off the bike to run while I hunkered down and powered past, it hurt like hell, but I knew I’d gap her if I stayed on the bike and I did. The gap was small and going into the last lap I told myself I had to concentrate as much as I could and ride the sections two girls behind ran to increase my gap. Being chased when you’re on the verge of your limit is quite the mind game. You want to give in and just get caught because it hurts so much, but you also know there’s only ten or so minutes left of the torture and if you can torture yourself more than those behind you, you’ll beat them. I pushed myself, constantly looking back to assess my situation and noticed an increase in the gap which motivated me to push harder. I crossed the finish line in 8th while my teammate, Emily, finished 6th. Great 1st day of NCCX for the ADF riders.
It stopped raining sometime the day before and I was really hoping the course would dry up enough for mud to not cake on the bikes, but alas, that was not to be. The day was sunny, but cold and windy. Colin told me the new brake pads he put on my B bike were worn to the metal and to try to use less brakes today. With how deep some of the muddy sections of the course were getting, that wasn’t going to be a problem. I studied the transition from pavement to grass after the starting straight. There were deep, tacky ruts on the left and about a foot wide patted down strip on the right. That was going to be the fastest entry. I decided I was going to line up on the right, stay aware of the field’s movement, and hammer all the way to the transition and sit up only when we all got bogged down by the mud. Starting second row again I lined up second from the right and once the whistle blew, clicked through the gears and as the girl who lined up next to me on the right fell away, I slotted into her spot, right behind Erica Zaveta. I couldn’t believe it, my plan worked, I was fourth or fifth wheel into that transition and hit the foot-wide strip perfectly. However, my good fortune didn’t last long. I don’t know why, perhaps a lapse in attention, an over-joyment of my brain at the best start I’ve ever had, or whatever else, I ran into a stake and stalled while the rest of the field trucked past. There went my brilliant plan. With muddy races like that of day two, the field stretches out and time gaps become impossible to close. I tried to do as much damage control early on as possible to pass people, but by the end of the race I crossed the finish line in tenth happy and disappointed at the same time. Happy because I knew I could have a good start (I’ve a history of struggling with starts) and just proved it to myself and disappointed because I screwed up by needlessly crashing into a stake. Someone else in my place could have bounced right back and worked their way to the front again and completely have forgotten about that minor error. But, as the ADF mentor, Mo, said to me after the race, that’s part of developing as a rider. It’s all experience and learning opportunity and there were definitely lessons learned. Also, it being my third muddy race of the season, the results were pretty decent. One other thing I should mention is after the first lap on the second day, I pitted every half lap and the ADF support crew was amazing at turning out clean bikes half lap after half lap. It made a world of difference to jump on a clean bike and then come back around and have another clean bike waiting to be passed off. Without that support, 10th wouldn’t have been a reality. There’s one more race left in the season, the US Cyclocross Nationals, and I am so excited to have that level of support going into the biggest race of the season.