By Nitzel Hagan -- Poor Farm Pedalers CX (W35+) -- 09/12/16
Out of pure curiosity, and throw in a couple handfuls of dare into the mix, I signed up for my first cyclocross race.
Two weeks before the race, a bike friend of mine in Vancouver loaned me her cyclocross bike. I was pretty excited, and started taking the bike to a park to practice the so-called ccs: cyclocross skills. Itís been literally over a decade since I have seriously put any time on a mountain bike, but I figured I dust off still my skills to survive cyclocross. The bike fit like a glove, and with some minor adjustments, it was working perfectly!†
I was not familiar with McMenaminís Edgefield in Troutdale, Oregon, but when we arrived the morning of the race, we found out that it is a hotel and brewery with open fields and golf courses. In other words, lots of space, lots of terrain, and some very challenging elevation.
The rain had been continuously dropping everywhere in the PNW for weeks. And with the temperatures not breaking fifty degrees, it made for awfully cold, bone-numbing race conditions. On the flip side, in the eyes of the purest cyclocross racer, all of the elements set the course up to be the extreme muddy, fun playground they desire. †
After being told by the course marshall that this was the most technical race course he had seen all year, the weather conditions didnít stop me, as well as many of the other racers, to get in a pre-race course ride to answer any questions/concerns.
When I used to race mountain bikes, I remembered that the intensity always started immediately. Cyclocross is no different. We started out fast, and I was a little apprehensive soaking the bike in the man-made mud swamps created from the races prior to mine! It was that bad. With a borrowed bike, and not sure how the bike would respond in conditions like that, all I could think of was would the bike survive? †
It was very difficult to climb the main hill after a 180 degree turn; I had to pick my line wisely. We got strung out fast and then realized that the bike was not shifting properly. That resulted into a Ďjust-get-it-done' attitude while I muscled every climb. Mud was flying everywhere!
I was probably about middle of the pack, and seeing the riders start to hop off their bikes to succeed up each hill, it became evident that either Iíd lose my position quickly, or at the minimum, maintain while maximizing my strengths. There was a little bit of a flat spot at the top of the biggest climb, and I tried to do my best to hold my position to get to that point each lap. As luck would have it, there was a fast sweeping turn before the slippery run-up, so I tried blasting the decent to create some space before the un-clip and climb, which wasnít one of my strengths. I felt really confident with this strategy; I noticed that I put in a good gap with riders behind me. But I lost a couple of spots to people who obviously had more experience clipping and un-clipping, and with more matches to burn than I did.†
All the confidence and strategy coming from within didnít change the fact that the front of the pack was out of sight and we werenít even half way in the race. I, nevertheless, was thoroughly enjoying myself, and paced myself for what i thought was within my capabilities as far as fitness was concerned. As we raced down the bumpy, muddy downhills, I noticed that some riders were really slow and super cautious. I was proud of myself that day that despite being rusty, I still managed to conquer the technical sections with finesse and power! : )
As we raced back towards the main area each lap, one of the hills seemed to have transformed into a steep wall of gooey chocolate cake from all the races with rider pounding their path up that hill each lap. One would have to pick their lines properly in order to get through the wall without getting their shoes stuck and buried in the middle of that muddy, soft pile of chocolatey goodness! †
I was so thirsty that I was dying to get a sip of my usual Fluid Hydration Mix. However, it was raining, so I ended up not being so parched as usual. I was able to grab my all time favorite race fuel Gu Roctane gel, and it tasted so good! I felt a spark of power in me to continue powering through the race.
On the last lap of the race, after a long off-camber and a crazy downhill that made you doubt whether or not you were going to flip over your bike and eat mud, I was extra pumped because I was able to pass a rider and got rid of two riders that were with me for almost 3 laps.
Finally, haha, the race was over. I managed to keep a decent position and gain a little something at the end. The rain kept falling the whole time during 45 minute race. I managed to not crash, AND finish 4th in my category. My pride was shining bright inside and out, my JLVelo colors breaking through all the rain and mud. Though I didnít know any one that raced, I had a wonderful time. Right after I crossed the line, I had the best fans waiting for me, Terrance and Lila. My husband then handed me my Fluid Recovery Drink and Gu Stroopwafel, two of my favorites. And they were consumed in seconds!
Cyclocross is big in the PNW. Iím thankful to Edgefield for hosting this beautiful race. OBRA and itís officials did a great job too. First Cyclocross is now under my belt, now itís time to start planning for future cyclocross races. Iím thankful for the great support of people around me and a wonderful cycling community.
I miss my teammates and NCNCA friends, and hopefully one day I will get to race and show off my JLVelo colors with my awesome teammates again.†