By mid-November, I was pretty happy with how my season had been going. After coming in 4th place twice I was aiming for a podium by the end of the season, getting the remaining 6pts I needed to upgrade, and being an elite-level cupcake baker in the NECX scene. I had 6 3/4 races left in which to earn the necessary upgrade points, and I decided to sit out Plymouth, a 1/2/3-only field, and reacquaint myself with some trails instead. I did a Luna Chix ride with my teammate Lori Saturday in Ipswich, where we rode the Weeping Willow race loop. It was a blast and I remembered how much I love my mtb, but Sunday I reminded myself it was still cx season and headed out to Cutler by myself and had one of the best rides of my life. I learned three important things on that ride: 1) I need to flip my stem and stop riding my cx bike like it's a hybrid commuter; 2) always use the bathroom TWICE when heading out the door in a skinsuit, once is not enough; and 3) I can ride in my big chainring.
Not to discredit the importance of points 1 & 2, but point 3 ended up being pivotal in my race season. Previously, when someone commented to me that they found a course to be a "big ring race" I kinda scoffed in my head and thought, yeah, maybe for you...It wasn't even something I had tried, I felt like I was pushing hard in the gears I was in and I didn't have much more in my legs. I was somewhat shocked and elated to find this to not be the case, and came back from Cutler looking forward to finding out what my new found WATTS and POWER could do at Shedd Park.
Shedd Park Review - I have a plan!!!
Mr. McKitty had told me of the epic run-up at this race (in addition to sordid details of growing up in Lowell and what going to Shedd Park used to involve in his youth), and I was pleased to find after pre-riding a lap that I found it ride-able, although it did require me to shift out of my coveted big ring. I did find everything else to be big ring-able, and was excited/nervous as hell for the start.
The 3/4 race started a minute or two behind the 1/2/3 race, after the Elite women had cleared the track. I was staged in the front row, they give us 30 seconds to go, whistle blows, and off we go. I pull ahead and, as we pull off the grass and onto the track...I'm still ahead. I keep waiting for people to surge around me in my peripheral vision and yet I have this new, odd feeling as I hear the wet gravel crunch under my tires that I am just riding by myself despite being a 40+ women field. We move off of the track, do the 180* turn around the tree and as I'm coming back around I see the field behind me and a Cycle Lodge woman tries to make a move on me. Right, I knew I wasn't in this alone!Ella came from Amherst & made me a beautiful glittery sign, so I had to listen to her!
I had talked to a few people in the days preceding the race about how I wanted to upgrade no matter what, as long as I was eligible. The response I received was less than enthusiastic. I was asked if I had won any races, podiumed any Verge races ("no, not even a local race...), etc and then was told to "learn to win" and stay in the 3/4 field till I knew what to do at the front of a race. Valid advice, but I had season goals! I wanted to suffer! I WANTED TO UPGRADE! And then, suddenly, I find myself on the front of a race thinking, "Oh holy crap, they were right. What DO i do?!" I decided the most advisable thing was to see if I could just pull away from the field, but these two pesky Cycle Lodge women were determined that should not be the case. I was able to pull away a bit after the barriers/first ride-up on the flat, rooty stretches but when we came into the slippery, winding descent before the big ride-up one came around and they both powered up the ride-up faster than me. As I descended back to the fields, I was a little heart-broken by how they had dropped me and I saw my chances at a win riding away 50 yards ahead. Not to be dissuaded, I figured at a minimum I was NOT going to give up my podium spot. I kept shifting into a harder gear and went bombing through the fire roads. And suddenly the blue and white figures of the Cycle Lodge women were getting closer and closer. Whoa.
I caught up to them in the woods and told myself to just sit in. That lasted until we got to the track again and I felt like I could be going a lot faster. And then I came up with THE PLAN! I estimated that I could open up on them in the power sections, and that they were stronger than me in the turns and steep ride-ups. I ought to open up as much space as I could where I could and minimize any damage they would do to me in the aforementioned areas. Then I would sit in on the woods section so that I was recovered and ready to go again once we got to the track. The last lap, if all went well, I could open up and pass in the woods and go all out to the finish. STRATEGY!
...and that's pretty much what happened. I slid out on the last turn of the technical descent on the last lap and had to work way harder than I wanted to in order to catch them in the woods, and they were keeping a close eye on me. I felt strong, though, and launched on them as soon as we took the left turn off the sidewalk to turn back into the trees. I nearly ate it trying to pass a lapped junior on our way out of the woods, I took the looser lower line on the descent and ended up with my rear wheel perpendicular to me in a power slide of doom. Every once in a while all the time I spend falling down mountains proves itself to be worthwhile and I manage some good emergency bike handling, but I did lose the bike length or two I had put into my competition. I blocked them from coming around on a turn and then stood up again. As I got onto the track, I shifted into the hardest gear I could and barreled towards the finish. I was watching the shadows in front of me on the track to gauge how much room I had, and while they were on my tail I was able to pedal comfortably to the finish with the biggest grin I may have ever had on my face. I was absolutely elated. Not only had a pulled off a WIN, but I had worked out a plan, executed it, and felt confident that I could ride in the front of a race.
As an aside, I talked to the Cycle Lodge women (Beth & Lori) post race and they were awesome. I definitely snot rocketed on them (which is gross) and blocked their lines (which is more aggressive than you might usually see in my race) and all they did was congratulate me on my great ride and blow off my apologies for wayward snot streams. Turns out riding at the front means you get to meet kick-ass competitive women! I hope the Elite races live up to the awesomeness of the 3/4 field.
Sterling Review - Hey guys, it's getting cold!
Having never had the time/money to make it through a whole cx season, I was dealing with the first seriously cold race weekend at Bay State Cx. I pre-rode the course before the cat 4s went off but the fields were staged so closely that it didn't really allow for any pre-riding immediately before my race, and I found out the hard way that when the ground is frozen and a 100+ people between two races ride the course before you, things that used to have traction turn into ice sheets by the time you get there. The course was an absolute blast and I was looking forward to racing it but things went to crap pretty quickly. They didn't give us a parade lap on the track on Day 1 so we were pretty bunched up going by the green monster deal and people started toppling almost immediately. As things started to pile up and I was contemplating "What would Nick do?" (member of Newbury Comics/High&Mighty team and expert at knowing when to run a bike) I hear Lily of Cambridge Bikes yelling behind me, "LAUREN! Just get off and RUN!" Well. Thanks, Lily! I dismounted and got around some people on the slippery run-up, bombed the big hill, and set about working through traffic. There were a lot of things going wrong, though, and I started feeling like my hopes of doing well were slipping away from me. A rider slipping/dismounting suddenly in front of me turned into a pedal in my front wheel, and her yelling, cursing and tugging did not aid me in my attempts to free my bike from her, ice patches on the lines I had been riding that morning led to sliding out and unintentional dismounts, and the cold wind blowing me backwards down the power stretches made it rough. Then, as we're in the last lap or two Ryan starts yelling at me that I'm in 4th and I start to see Cathy Sarvary in the Verge Leaders Jersey in front of me. Like, I'm closing in on her. What? My oxygen depleted brain couldn't appropriately process this, considering I had guessed I was barely in the top ten. As I come across the finish I hear Richard Fries announce, "...and riding for Back Bay Cycling Club is Lauren Kling in third place!" and I nearly crashed through the tape at the end of the track in shock. Then there was some bouncing involved as it sunk in that I had gotten a Verge podium AND had enough points to upgrade for next year! Whee. Then I put clothes on, because it was really freaking cold and bouncing only keeps you so warm.
Day 2 started out only marginally better. I watched Beth of Cycle Lodge evade death/injury when she got bumped from behind while remounting after the first set of stairs, jamming her right foot between her wheel and seat stay. She was headed for the dangerous drop-off behind the cement wall (that was spray painted DANGER! and we had specifically been told to avoid) with her rear wheel skidding and locked up by her foot. I have no idea how she survived that without injuring herself because she definitely started descending the hill like that with me next to her and unable to get out of the way, but she's amazing, recovered, and prevented us from both going doing/getting hurt in the process. After that harrowing start, I tried to move up. I felt good in 3rd or 4th when Kate Lysakowski of Bike Barn came by me before the second set of stairs, pulling Lori of Cycle Lodge with her. At some point while I was trying to catch back up to them I was behind Cathy Sarvary for a while, and we had a run in at the stairs where our bars got tangled together and I slipped on the ice a bit. Frustrated, I got back to Cathy and we were getting ready to overtake a girl in the NYCross kit when passing a lapped Cub Junior ended poorly. He put his foot down in front of Cathy on an uphill turn and she had to stop. I was right on her wheel but worked around them and then Cathy was next to me, and then Cathy was unexpectedly going down alongside of me. I tried to not run her over and then tried to take off.
I battled things out with Nancy LG for a little while in the last lap before attacking on the straightaway ahead of the turns on the back of the course and opening up a little gap on her, and as I was approaching the last kicker before the track I saw I was coming up on the NYCross girl again. I heard Cary Fridrich yelling at me to toughen up for one more minute, that I could outsprint anyone on the track and I decided that I wasn't going to wait that long. I stood up, cranked as hard as I could, and passed the rider at the base of the little hill. I descended onto the track and started pedaling as hard as I could to the finish to get a 4th place. Kate and Lori ended up in 2nd and 3rd, respectively, which is awesome, though I wish I hadn't let them get by me so easily earlier! Lori also introduced me to a "giraffe hug" and then started yelling at me about being inadequately dressed/putting on gloves/zipping my jacket and it was then that I decided to elect her and Beth to be my 'cross moms. It was still really cold, but it was a great race weekend!