As last weekend proved, just finishing a World Cup is sometimes the most immediate goal. Then, not getting pulled is the next goal. But, I also had a stretch goal. Despite my less than stellar race at Mont-Sainte-Anne, I felt like I was capable of a top 30 finish and I hoped that Windham would be my chance.
We drove from our temporary Kinderhook, NY homebase to Windham to do a few laps on the course on Wednesday. The first lap was a ‘get to know ya’ lap where we just took it easy and observed the course. For the second lap we picked up Matt O., head mechanic for the Subaru Trek team. It was super fun to ride with Matt as he is super positive and offered really good insight as to line choice and other tactical details. My legs felt pretty good and I was able to ride everything pretty smoothly. I was excited to race on this course!
We came back to the course on Friday to do a few more laps and I was still feeling good, although I had some weird stomach stuff going on with a nagging headache. I chalked it up to race nerves and the heat and tried not to focus on it. It was pretty hot on Friday and I knew Saturday was supposed to be even hotter, so I was very focused on hydrating and coming up with a strategy to minimize the impact of heat which is something I really struggle with.
Saturday morning came and I prepped my bottles, got my bike and nutrition ready to go, and bought an extra bag of ice to have on hand. Troy for Subaru-Trek had nicely offered to give me bottle feeds during the race, so I dropped off a few, then went to get my transponder, then it was time to warm up. I had a nice ice pack on my neck throughout my warm up, but it didn’t seem to have much effect. I was drenched in sweat before the start.
The start was different from years’ past with racers starting in town and racing along the road up to the mountain before then getting on course. Apparently the starting line was on the only bridge that had survived the flooding caused by hurricane Irene last year. It really put the amount of effort Windham undertook to not only recover, but re-create a phenomenal World Cup course and event, into perspective.
Anyway, the start…so gun goes off and everyone surges forward jockeying for position along the road. I felt like I was in one of those big schools of fish that moves almost as one object but with a flurry of movement going on within the pod. I was working so hard to move up, and felt like I was, but really we were all just churning without really gaining any positional advantage. Finally, once we got closer to the course entry I put in a bigger effort to try and catch any spot I could. In hindsight, I’m not sure it was worth the effort as I definitely blew some matches in those first 10 minutes. I passed a few more people on the climb and tried to pass a few more on a steep uphill section with an A line and a B line…I took the A line which had a rock and log that you sort of had to get up and over, but seemed to be the faster line during our pre-ride. Some girl who had taken the B line in front of me turned sharply and cut me off, forcing me into a tree where I had to unclip and get re-situated. I lost a few places there…and then lost a few more when my chain came off when I tried to shift into a bigger gear at the next sort of rocky section. But, I worked hard to gain some spots back on the last uphill before the descent. I had no idea where I was at in the field, but hoped that by working my butt off at the start I was the 20’s somewhere. I had a clean, but not all that smooth, trip down the mountain before hitting the feed zone…super ready for a new bottle after finishing mine early on the previous lap. Unfortunately, Troy missed the feed, but assured me they’re be a bottle for me at the top feed zone. Since I was already sort of fighting the goosebump, cold sweat, symptoms of heat effects, I eased off the gas a little. Better to be conservative in these conditions. I grabbed a tall bottle of cold water at the top of the course and drank a ton, dumping some on my head. I usually don’t drink plain water while racing since I have had electrolyte issues in the past. Thankfully, I had a few salt tabs in my jersey just in case so swallowed those at my first chance. I got passed by 2 people on the downhill and was determined to ride smoothly to stay as close to them as I could until the next climb. When we went through the finish, I saw that the person in front of me was in 27th. That meant that I was in 28th and if I could just keep it together I could meet my goal. On the 4th lap I passed the girl in front of me on the climb, but again she got around on the descent. Geesh! I felt like I was riding everything smoothly, I just couldn’t match her speed. I reminded myself of my goals…first goal is to finish and I didn’t want to risk a high speed crash because I was riding too far out of my ability level. So, I didn’t let it bother me and just focused on pushing as hard as I could where and when I could. As I went through for the fifth and final lap, I gave myself a mental high-five- I wasn’t going to get pulled, and further I was maintaining a relatively consistent gap behind the leaders. I also saw that there wasn’t anyone too close behind me. I shouldn’t have looked, because I became complacent with where I was…I’d like to say I pushed it to a higher level on that last lap, but truthfully I was tired and sort of put it into cruise control through to the finish.
It was a very hot and hard race. We climbed almost 3000 ft, and my back and arms were sore from working my bike up, over, and around rocks, roots, and trees. But, I was (am) pumped with how I felt and how I finished. I still have sort of a nagging headache with a bit of a lingering cough so am praying that I stay healthy and can have a strong race this coming weekend. Yep, the moonlighting as a professional bike racer continues. After quickly checking in at work, I hit the road to head up to Sun Valley Idaho for the top priority race of the season: National Championships. Then it’s back home for a few days before flying out to Missoula, Montana for a ProXCT race. And THEN it’s back to the real world…