The end of the beginning (CX)

So, I’ve wrapped up my first ever cyclocross season! A season I didn’t plan to have until about a week before it started (and, even then, I only thought I’d be doing a handful of races). Warning, this post looks long (and it kinda is) but that’s mostly because of all the pictures – and because I wanted to sum up my season somewhere so I wouldn’t forget!

After starting in Cat 4, I had a forced cat up to Cat 3 mid-season. This meant that I’d race cat 3 for the last four races in CYCLO X series as a cat 3, as well as cat 3 for a couple of the other one off races.

I kicked off in my new category with the third race in the CYCLO X series at Louisville, also known as the “Louisville Bowl of Death”. I had been feeling stronger and stronger as a cat 4, but I knew I was often coming in behind the cat 3 ladies (cat 3, 4, and 5 all race together). I wasn’t sure what to expect! Louisville is a very bumpy and fairly sandy course with some off-camber bits. None of those are my strong points, and I definitely lost time in those areas. So, in the end, I was relatively happy to walk away with fourth given that it wasn’t a course I felt wildly confident on.

Thank goodness for teammate Jordan who was ready with muffins at the finish line #alwayseating

From there I got to do my first back-to-back race at Amy D. This 2-day weekend race is held at the same spot the early season “Back 2 Basics” courses were held, and sponsored by the Amy D. Foundation in honor of Amy Alison Dombroski, a rising young racer who was killed at 26.

Sunrise around 7:30AM

Those willing to head out for the early race start, made even earlier by a drive out to Golden, were rewarded by a spectacular sunrise. The first day of racing saw me make a newbie error in not bunny hopping the very small barriers set up just in front of the sand pit. By getting off my bike to run them, it forced me to run the sand pit which took a lot of energy. I also forgot the “smooth is fast” and made a few technical errors on my laps. On my final lap I had just lost contact with the girl in first and was chasing to come back. I was so focused on catching I dismounted for the barrier too late, tripped, and went sprawling into the sand.

After 20min at first aid cleaning it out

Anyone who says falling into sand doesn’t hurt has probably not taken a spill at speed in sand. Although I was able to jump up and finish the lap I lost any chance of the win, and left myself with an entire shin full of engrained sand.

I considered not returning for day 2, but I’m glad I did. It did take me a bit to get going. The course opened with some tight turns and I felt like my whole body stiffened up. One of my very kind fellow racers literally shouted encouragement from behind me (despite me telling her just to pass!). But I did eventually find my rhythm. I also figured out how to bunny hop the teeny barriers, and successfully managed them every lap!

Amy D. day 2 bumpy descent (which was a climb on day 1)

And from our tiny field (five day one and three day two) I managed to find myself on the top step at the end of both days.

Amy D. weekend podium with Mary (2nd) and Britt (3rd)

That brought us to the end of October and into the fourth CYCLO X race in Broomfield. This one involved COSTUMES for Halloween, which I was all for! I pulled out my old “Goldilocks” costume (this was not its first race!) and popped it on over several layers of warm clothes since the temps at the start were below freezing. Combined with the dark morning (it was the weekend before the clocks went back!) it was a chilly warm up.

But the sun came out in time for the start, and I had a great start! I got out with a lead group of five ladies who stayed together for the first 1/2 of the first lap. But then the front rider caught her wheel wrong and went flying over her handlebars! She didn’t move for a moment and I worried she was seriously hurt. But just as I was thinking I better stop I saw her slowly get up (she would go on to complete the race). The girl behind me soon fell off, and it was just down to three of us, and we were able to successfully pull away steadily from the rest of the field and put in an almost 2 minute gap by the end.

Heading towards the finish

At the end of the day I was able to take a win for Cat 3 that I was super proud of. And it was an extra fun day because we had other Ride or Die team members there, along with a crew of folks cheering and supporting. That’s what really make these races so fun!

Nothing like racing in costume!

From here we had two more weekends of racing – Cross of the North (at the New Belgian Brewery in Fort Collins) and the fifth CYCLO X race. Cross of the North was a blast, but the drive out there was a bit long. Happily it was the one race of the season where the 3/4/5 women raced late morning instead of 8 or 8:15AM, so I got to sleep in! The fifth CYCLO X race, Westminster, was SO cold at the start. It was down in the teens and my whole body so unhappy to be racing in the those temps. I went out too hard and had to back it off more than I wanted on lap 2 so that I could finish. That second lap was not so fun, but things came around and I did finish!

The hill nicknamed “Grandma’s Ashes” at Cross of the North
My teammate Liz and I at Cross of the North!
Cross of the North had plenty of sand and a really fun course
CYCLO X Westminster involved stair running, and plenty of it. Extra hard in the cold!

With that we were into mid-November and two Colorado races remained. First up was State Championships held at Valmont Bike Park. Valmont is super close to my house, and I’d been practicing there all season. I was excited to put my skills to the test. I didn’t really care too much about States but suddenly, the week-of, it seemed everyone was asking me what my goals were and telling me they thought I could win. MY main goal was not to break anything followed by “have fun” (which were my top two goals at every race this reason). But really, I knew Valmont would be a technical course and I was really hoping to keep my collarbones intact.

Turns out, it would be a different course than any of us expected. A couple days before the race Boulder got several inches of snow. Although Friday dawned sunny and bright, it was nowhere near warm enough to melt anything. A freezing cold pre-ride of the course Friday afternoon showed that the women’s 3/4/5 race, an 8AM start, would definitely be on the snow. I’d just managed to learn to corner and steer my bike on bumpy dirt, and I was 100% not ready to corner and steer on slippery snow.

Harder than it looks

I showed up on Saturday determined to just go out and have fun. I tried to remind myself to stay loose and relaxed, but I was very much not used to the snow and made several small errors. They all could mostly be assigned to “did not stay smooth”. Instead of remaining calm, I found myself chasing in the wrong places, not being patient, missing easy lines, and working way harder than I needed to in order to stay at the front. A group of four of us were together for over half the race, but slowly the woman at the very front pulled away and equally slowly I fell off the back.

A good line through the snow!

I was mildly frustrated, mostly because I hadn’t done a good job of putting all my skills to use. But, at the end of the day, I was proud of my fourth place finish and for battling it out in sub-freezing temps in the snow! And it really was a super fun course. Plus I spent the rest of the day hanging out with friends, eating chocolate cake balls I’d made, and heckling the other racers as we watched the course go from frosty to soft to a total mud fest in the sun. There was even free bacon and pancakes! A pretty great afternoon.

Part of our crew at States!

After a break for Thanksgiving, and for me to get my COVID booster, I headed out to the final race in CYCLO X series in Longmont on Dec. 3rd. Another very cold start brought a freezing cold pre-race ride. It was around 12 degrees during pre-ride and my hands were cold at the start. By the end of the “warm up” lap they had gone numb. I quickly headed over to the kind folks at the Trek neutral service tent where they had a space heater set up to stay warm. After a couple minutes I started to feel my hands again. But then they felt REAL BAD leading to a case of the screaming barfies and several more minutes of mild agony and nausea before I finally felt like I could actually think about racing.

Turn out was quite low for this race, likely a combo of post-Thanksgiving sluggishness, nationals being a few days later (although, that probably didn’t affect the 3/4/5 field that much), and the temps being in the low teens for the start. Still, we had a spicy start powered by pro-road racer Holly Matthews. After some first lap shuffling I landed in third, and while I tried to chase second she was just too quick for me on the day.

Committing to the ruts and pushing through!

It was a fun course with some sand, some barriers, and plenty of velcro-like grass, still partially frozen. In the end I was able to finish the season with a third place podium finish!

Real happy about this third place finish

That finish was also good enough for a surprise CYCLO X series win for the Cat 3 ladies. They take your best four finishes out of the six races, and the last three races are weighted higher. So even though I raced cat 4 for my first two races I was still able to collect enough points to take the win in cat 3 from the final four races!

And, after FIFTEEN races, my first ever cross season came to a close! It was filled with bruises and scrapes, mud and sand and dust and sunshine, temps in the teens and temps in the 90s, early morning alarm clocks, first place and last place (as well as pretty much everything in between but, oddly, never second), a lot of new friends, plenty of baked goods, a wee bit of Fireball, lots of cheering and heckling, plenty of cowbell and squeaky chickens, and a whole heck of a lot of fun.

I went into cross thinking I should try something new, but also not thinking I’d like it. Short hard efforts? No thanks. But, turns out, when you have a team and a whole bunch of friends hanging around, cheering you on, and showing up for each other it’s all really great. The folks I raced with were awesome – fiercely competitive on course but quick to offer a hug and a congratulations as soon as the race was over. I’ve heard “cross is dead” but I don’t think it is. I think it has real potential to come back swinging. The women’s cat 5 starting line up showed that there’s an appetite for new cyclists to try this ridiculous sport. And I think we can keep finding ways to encourage people to come out and have a good time. I’m extra lucky to live in Boulder where many races are close enough to bike to or less than a 40min drive. I raced all season long for less than the cost of two major gravel races. And, if I’d realized sooner, I could have volunteered for free entry at almost any of those races. How awesome is that?

Cyclocross, I fully intend to be back! And I hope to bring even more folks with me!

Author: cartwheelsandcake

Cyclist, climber, hiker, trail runner, back country skier, dabbling mountaineer Lover of cake, chocolate, brownies, and sweets. Excellent napper.

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