Eight weeks following the crash that resulted in two broken metacarpals, I raced my first UCI ‘cross race. I rode myself onto the podium. Second place. My best result of the season.
Smiles all around.
I flew to Los Angeles last Friday feeling pretty confident with the level of fitness I had maintained during my recovery. I had trained hard. I worked hard to do everything right. I rode the trainer, massaged my hand, stretched, strengthened and practiced patience until I was given the go-ahead to ride outside and to return to racing.
While confident of my general fitness, I wasn’t quite sure what sort of race legs I would have when I returned. I’m not able to simulate racing in training. I can train, train, train but nothing pushes me as hard as a race does. It’s the difference between a solo ride and a group ride or the difference between chasing my shadow and chasing the rider just in front of me. A ‘cross race is 40 minutes of full gas racing from start to finish. I knew I was fit. I just wasn’t sure how race fit.
I had the opportunity to ease back into racing on the Sunday following Thanksgiving. I took to the start of a local race in Morrison. I escaped from the field during the first lap and managed to stay away, alone, for the entire race. Although the race did not afford me the opportunity to test myself against other professional riders, it did offer me a chance to test out my hand. The post-surgery paw passed with flying colors. I suffered no complications, limitations or fears around my hand, and I left reassured that I could return to racing without any worries about the status of my hand.
A series of storms moving in from the coast hit LA during race weekend. The ‘pineapple express’, as I heard it referenced, brought intermittent rain and an overcast sky. The course was wet on Saturday, but the rain held off during the day. As we prepared to stage, the rain began to fall. The weather conditions were extremely unusual for LA – I was definitely not expecting to race in the rain and mud over the weekend.
When we pre-rode on Friday, there were sections of mud that had become so thick that they were unrideable. Race organizers had to throw down mulch to prevent us from running significant sections of the course.
The flat course was run over a fairly small area in the LA State Historic Park. The course was built over a combination of grass and peat gravel and featured tight turns, stairs, barriers, a flyover and a pump track section. This last feature was the most slippery. About 300-400 meters from the finish, there was a slight uphill followed by a short descent and a series of turns before the finish straight. This is where I made my move for second.
We raced at night on Saturday. The 7:30PM start meant we lined up in the dark. Lights shone along most of the course, but there were a few places where it was so dark that I had no idea what was in front of me.
Katerina Nash (Luna Chix) and Nicole Duke (Alchemy Bicycle) both got a great start. They opened a gap quickly during the first lap. Having jumped off the front from the gun in my local race the week previous, this was my first race back within a group of riders. It took me lap one to acclimate to the dark, push down the nerves and build up my confidence.
By lap two, I started to feel a lot more comfortable, and I knew I had good legs. I began to use the straightaways and power sections to come around the riders in front of me. Eventually, I became part of a three-rider group that included Julie Krasniak (Rapha Focus) and Canadian Pepper Harlton (Juventus).
Julie slipped in a corner, and she never rejoined us. I’m not sure what happened to her. Maybe there was something wrong with her bike or the knee she had fallen on at Jingle Cross – I’m not really sure. I only know that once she lost contact, we never saw her again.
Caroline Mani (Raleigh Clement) did a good job of bridging up to our group, and eventually we caught up to Nicole. With Julie gone, there were four of us – Pepper, Caroline, Nicole and I – racing for second. Katerina was long gone at that point.
During the final lap, Pepper and Caroline came around me. I felt comfortable riding third wheel because I had been doing a ton of work, and it was good to take a breather. I had already decided that I would attack them at the uphill section towards the end of the last lap, and I was confident that I could come around them. And that’s exactly what I did.
The course tipped up, and I attacked. I immediately opened a tiny gap. By the time I came through the twists and turns before coming out on the finish stretch, I had put enough distance between the myself and the group that I easily took the sprint. Katerina took the win, and Caroline rounded out the podium.
It was hugely satisfying to come away with second place against a strong field. After eight weeks away, I scored a season best result. I was the top American finisher. I picked up crucial UCI points. It was the confirmation I needed to know that I had done everything right during my time on the sidelines.
I’m back – and boy, does it feel good!
Check out full results here.