The day finally arrived. This ain’t my first rodeo, but it is my first official race as a Pro mountain biker. All week long I have been thinking about how this day would go. I have been eating extra healthy (no junk!) and keeping super hydrated. I am excited. I am nervous. I am ready to prove to myself that I belong here. My day started off early, up at 4:15am, to stretch and wake up the body and mind. Kevin is readying the bikes and I’m finishing up our breakfast for the road. Kevin is racing marathon category today, so we are on the road by 5:30 to make his 8:30 start time. Here we go! I don’t know what’s worse….to start in the chilly morning air or have to wait around and analyze every detail before a 10:45 start! But, the sun is shining, the team is congregating and there is electrifying excitement in the air. This is a good day. Just take it as it comes!
It is good to see old friends and some new competition. There are a ton of people racing today, a fantastic turn-out for MBAA! And the amount of women signed up to compete is amazing! This is going to be an outstanding race for all of us. There are 4 pro women starting today. I think I know where I stand, but there is also a new face, springing from the high altitudes of Breckenridge CO. Furthermore, we start off with the Cat1 women and there are some pretty tough cookies there, too (yes, one of them is you, Christine!). Kata Skaggs and Leah McCabe line up with me, both of whom I’ve had experience with and then there’s the HoneyStinger girl, Jaime Brede. I don’t actually get the privilege of meeting her until post race so thruout the entire whirl of a competition, I note her only as HoneyStinger in my head (sorry Jaime!). I warm up on the road, pushing the heart rate a bit and spinning out the legs. Feels pretty good so far, no little twinges and I can’t help but smile even tho I’m completely nervous to start.
We start off in the dirt parking lot, maybe 200ft before turning into immediate up and down, rugged singletrack. The goal is to get there first to avoid needing to pass in the first 1/2 mile or so. There is so much adrenaline and nervous energy all around. And its a fast start!
I make it into the singletrack in 3rd position just behind HoneyStinger and Cat 1 rider, Lee-Ann; good placement. And then it happens. Argh! First dip, my front wheel taken out and I’m on the ground run over by the next two riders, who are now also down. There are stories afterwards, I’m not exactly sure what initiated it. Maybe her chain did came off first, maybe I just somehow caught her back wheel; regardless, this was not how I imagined beginning my first pro race…on the ground. As I pick my bike and my ego off the floor, I urge Leah to continue on as she sorta waited on my well-being for a second and I see that my handlebars are completely facing the wrong direction. Shiznits! Kata is nowhere in sight and probably long gone. HoneyStinger is gone after I see her secure her chain back in place. This is not a rideable situation for me. Only a split second of WTH?! and I manage to get back to the start of the singletrack, score a tool, reposition my bars and launch again…behind the start of the Cat2 and singlespeeder women. This is gonna be tough…I’m a fighter, tho. I am not thinking about it at this moment, but this tells me that I have been off the bike almost 3 minutes. Time to bury myself. This is a 25 mile race, I can sprint this, right?! Without exploding?! I start passing people. Its not easy. Trying to be aggressive and considerate at the same time; I’m already bloody, I sure don’t want me or anyone else in the dirt again! Its not too technical, but there is a lot of singletrack on this course and in the desert this also means there is enough cactus lining the sides of the trail as there is dirt on it. A cycle. Speed up, get in a groove, catch next rider, slow down, sprint to pass, get back in the groove..doing this over 40 times (I counted!). It was intense and I’m pretty sure I saw my heart rate hit 200! Whoa! Then, after the rocky tire test of a descent on the backside of lap 1 (thank goodness for those Specialized Captain and Control!), I see Leah. I’m catching my first pro rider..sweet! I come up behind her on the lap thru at the venue, a misfortune of the starting crash, she chooses to sit the rest of this one out. I’m sorry for Leah, but she’ll bounce back like no one’s business for the next race. The only other thought right now is I’m not drinking enough. I know this could be bad. I slam a GU Roctane, throw it down at our team site, drink as much GU brew as I can and keep pushing hard back onto singletrack. My lap time isn’t half bad for what it took to get me there. I’m not even sure if I’m hurting at this point, I can’t see anything but the finish line ahead in my mind’s eye. By this time, the juniors have started out on the course and I have to be a bit careful of the kiddos. Talking to them as I get closer, encouraging them and trying not scare the hell out of them! They all do great and keep going..they are our future of mountain biking!
As the second lap grinds on, I find myself alone for much of it..could be a good or bad situation; but I’m motivated and now have a mostly open course. I get into my own pedal groove and just concentrate on the ride. What’s next, a curve, a climb, a rocky descent. I see it all coming. Then I start seeing some familiar riders, some of the faster Cat1 riders. Finally..Wow…really?! I keep pushing, pedaling as hard as I can manage up and speed down as fast as I can muster guts for. I see the Cat1 leader, Lee-Ann, as I come thru the venue from lap2, and pass her as the singletrack starts again. Then…there she is..all yellow…HoneyStinger. She is the one I had no idea what kinda competition she would be. And just as I was thinking my legs couldn’t turn over any faster…they did. Tunnel vision, all I see is her. And I catch her; catch her just as we turn onto the last bit of course, maybe a mile to go. This section is a swoopy, fun, fast section! I ride right on her wheel, pushing her faster and faster and I feel it..I can pass, I have it in me; but the opportunity just won’t present itself and all I can think is its going to be a damn sprint finish! And then it happens. In the middle of a sharp curve. HoneyStinger drops her chain and jumps off her bike. I was on her like white on rice (altho I prefer brown rice) and I almost ran her down. I yell “You ok?” and hear a faint, frustrated “Yes” as I take the opportunity and push as hard as I can to the finish that’s so so close. I’m trying to sprint to the end, uphill, and now I feel the pain.. the legs are screaming “Please no!” but I force them anyway and pull thru the finish just 20 seconds ahead of her. I succeed in getting second place, coming in 3 minutes behind awesome Kata. Its interesting to think about our race to the very end if the crash hadn’t happened…but it did, and I learned that I can accomplish anything I put my mind and desire to. I think I did prove to myself today that I belong here, even if it wasn’t in a direct route. This was an amazing first race for me and there is going to be some super competition among us women this year! I am so looking forward to the next race…only I’m staying off the ground this time!
Today, as I write, I am bandaged and bruised, consequences of crashing in a high speed mountain bike race. I look over my race day nutrition (No bonking!), what I could have done differently on course, what went right, how to improve for next time. The soreness subsides and I continue on, overcoming minor niggles, to have the grit to race again another day. I love doing this!
Congratulations to all the racers at Saturday’s MBAA #1! It was such an overwhelming turnout for the women’s categories, I hope we continue to see those numbers! Team Oro Valley Bicycle had a great showing for the first race… We had 2 first placers among the men and a new woman added to our roster..how exciting!! We are now 10 strong!