Try, try again. This is my 3rd season of attempting cyclocross.
Season 1 (2014). I was pretty fit. Trained as a triathlete. Rode a few group rides on gravel. Went to one CX clinic where I learned how to dismount and remount (kindof). Signed up for Charm City Cross as my first race (hahahahaha, poor choice but I didn’t know any better). Finished pretty much last. Went to Whirlybird Cross. Similar outcome.
Season 2 (2015). I had actually started recreationally mountain biking so I had a touch more technical skills. Started the season in a similar fashion, nearly last place in a few races and wondering how the heck I could be a strong road rider and get my butt kicked in cross. By the mid-season I was posting some mid-pack finishes. Then I got tired of racing.
So here we are in 2016. I just finished a pretty successful road season, earning my Cat 3 upgrade. But I didn’t really ride my Mountain Bike from April through mid-September. I headed out to the cross scene on Labor day weekend and finished at the back of the pack at Granogue Cross, and again the following weekends at Nittany and Town Hall. I actually was putting together a decent race at Quaker City but suffered a pinch flat at the start of the bell lap and had to drop out.
Then I had a ride session with my coach Deborah on my mountain bike. She rode behind me and very quickly assessed some things I was doing wrong. In short, I had my weight too far forward on the bike and I was looking down right in front of my wheel instead of looking through the corners. There were other issues, I’m sure, such as being very tense and riding my brakes. But we worked on those cornering skills and then I followed her so I could emulate her body position and line choice. It was a huge confidence building session.
I had a chance to put these skills to work on the cross course this weekend, with Hippo Cross on Saturday and Caffeinated Cross on Sunday. These were NJCX series races, which have a Cat 4 women’s field (versus a combined Cat 3/4 as they do for MAC and PACX).
Hippo Cross was a bit muddy. A short course with mostly grass, some sand and mud sections, and one set of barriers. This course played to my strengths pretty well and there were some corners for me to work the skills I had been practicing. There were a few girls that got away quickly, but I was able to pick off a few and hold my ground. I finished 5th in a field of over 20 women, which earned me my first upgrade point ever in CX.
Then Sunday brought Caffeinated Cross, at the Gloucester County 4H Fairgrounds. I was quite nervous about this course based upon my pre-ride. There were several sections through the woods with some logovers, a few stairs, a giant log, and a steep hill which most women ran up. Plus a set of barriers and a tricky off camber section and then a ride across a sandy ballfield.
My son had a challenging race ahead of mine and I was about ready to pack it in and just head home. One of my teammates encouraged me to race anyway. So I thought “what the hell, just use it as practice for these technical skills.”
I got in a very short warmup and had a second row callup. Unfortunately I positioned myself behind someone that didn’t get clipped in right away so I really had to work hard to get a decent position in the prologue and into the woods. I was feeling good and wasn’t losing too much ground with my off-the-bike navigation of some of the technical elements. I had one or two instances where I struggled clipping in on my remounts, but overall was doing alright. I knew I was running approximately 5th place. There was a bit of leapfrogging going on in this group so I had to be smart about trying to pass and protecting my line.
The race was pretty short, we only did 3 laps (long laps). In the last lap I decided I wanted to protect my position and just buried myself through the sand section and for the rest of the course. As it turned out I finished 4th, with 5th and 6th very close behind me. This race represented a second upgrade point for me!
I managed to get out for a mountain bike ride again today, continuing to work those technical skills. Perhaps I can continue increasing my comfort on a CX bike and make the races more enjoyable and less stressful. It certainly speaks to embracing the outside of your comfort zone.