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- by Laura Weislo|
Race #1 - Greensboro, NC
When the road season draws to a close, riders will ask each
other "are you doing 'cross this year?" I have always answered
this with a laugh and some flippant comment about how only crazy people do
'cross. Like "I only run if I'm being chased by an
axe-murderer". Usually I am so burnt out from the road season that
the mere thought of pedaling through mud and running up hills in an hour long
fit of hypoxia is enough to make me pull down all the window blinds and plant
myself on the sofa with a beer and the remote control. But for some
reason, this year was different. Maybe it was the beautiful weather and
the lack of mud? Maybe it was the fact that I took a break earlier this
year and wasn't burnt out... Maybe after a year of racing NRC events with
all those scary women, I was ready for something a little more "low-key,"
but this year I decided to give 'cross a try.
I didn't really intend to try 'cross, I just wound up going out
with my husband, Emory, to keep him company while he practiced. At first,
dismounts were pretty easy, but the jumping back on the bike part was really
hard. I had to do a little two-step before I could get on the saddle.
But after a couple practice sessions, I started to get the hang of it, and
leaping onto the saddle was fun! It felt kind of liking kicking up your
heels in an Irish jig - and that always makes you feel happy, right? We
had a blast practicing together and laughing when we tanked. So before I
knew it, I was driving off to Greensboro, NC, for the first race in the North
Carolina Cyclocross Series.
A few days before the race, the weather forecasters were
predicting clear skies and mild temperatures. Considering it hadn't rained
in over a week, I prepared for a dry course by putting my semi-slicks on the
mountain bike. Yeah, I don't have a 'cross bike, so what? Of COURSE,
as we pulled into Bur-Mill park, the clouds descended and covered the area in a
fine misty rain. Perfect. On the warm-up lap, I became covered in
bits of grass and mud. This was going to be fun. I checked the start
list and there were only four names. Then six. Then eight.
Then, when I came to the staging area there were TWELVE women. Holy Cow!
I was pretty surprised, considering last year's series had an
average of three women in the A race. I was really surprised again when the
whistle blew and all the other women took off like rockets while I was still
trying to clip in and get rolling. I was sucking wind through every pore
in the first 100 meters just to catch up. I bounced clackety clackety down
the course past the registration area and bombed down the little hill toward
some twisty switchbackey things they organizers had introduced. I had just
caught the pack when I realized, very close to the first 180, that I needed new
brake pads. I grabbed brake and very little reduction in speed occurred.
Women were getting big in a hurry! I yelled "NO BRAKES!!!" and
careened through the pack like a cannonball, bouncing riders out of my way as I
hurtled down the course and into the gravel road section. It was here that
these women were first able to take revenge on me. On the first barrier
section, I tip-toed over the barriers while the rest of the pack charged like a
herd of startled deer and disappeared into the distance. By the time I got
back on the bike, I was dead last again, and had to go deep into the red to
catch back up to the shattered pack.
to take a tight turn into the woods.
courtesy of Bob George
similar scenario occurred on the run-up, the next barrier section, and on each
subsequent lap. At every obstacle the pack was sorted into those that knew
what the hell they were doing and, well, me. Each lap my shoes got clogged with
more and more of the screenings that were mixed in with the gravel on the first
barrier section, and with a couple laps to go, my foot was cemented to the pedal
when I tried to dismount, resulting in an ungraceful spill just before the
run-up. Whoops. I got back up and got on with the race feeling
better now that I got that crash over with. After a while, my fitness won
out, and my skills got a tiny bit better and I managed to pass a couple women,
but I had really made a poor choice of a course for my first 'cross race ever.
If you're bad at barriers and have a heavy bike, a rolling course with three
sets of barriers and a run-up is not for you. I was covered in filth when
I came across the line in 8th place, but I was smiling anyhow. It's hard
to be unhappy after doing something this ridiculous. Splashing through the
mud is pretty fun, at least it is when it's warm. I can guarantee that I
will feel quite differently about this when the temperatures are hovering around
Candice Blickem continued her decimation of the Southeast and
creamed everyone, but my new friends and teammates for next season, Mandy Lozano
and Daniele Staskal came in 3rd and 4th! Add to that, Mandy had a dozen
Krispy Kreme doughnuts to share after the race. There's nothing like a
fine glazed confection like that after a hard race.
Race #2 - Cary, NC
OK, are you sure it's November? Because it sure doesn't
feel like it. It is not cyclocross weather when it is 85 degrees and
sunny. That's just plain wrong. The Cary course was much flatter
than the Greensboro course, with just one hill - the run-up. And, because
there was only one, it had to be really really steep and kind of long. And
to make it more fun, the organizers placed a barrier at the base that had to be
two feet high. I swear, by the end of the race, I needed a rope and
harness to get over the damn thing.
The nice weather only served to increase the field size, 15
women in the A's alone and 149 total riders competed at this event! This
is another record for NC, but cyclocross is booming all over the US of A.
I attribute this to the maneuver Lance made to avoid Beloki's crash at the Tour
de France this year. All must do as Lance has done, and gosh, you never
know when you might need to take emergency cyclocross action like that in a road
race, right? So 'cross has replaced spinning as the Lance-wannabe
preferred training method.
This time I was determined to get a better start, and I nearly
succeeded. I was about 5th place at the first barriers, but had a bad
re-mount and was passed by a few women. I was right in the thick of the
action when we hit the long, flat, barrier-free wooded section, but got caught
behind a Fuji rider who was either blocking or blowing up. She wouldn't
let me pass - every time I tried to go around on one side, she'd move over that
way. By the time we emerged from the woods and I was able to get around
her, there were six women off the front and only one of them was within shouting
When I hit the second set of barriers, I actually RAN over them
instead of tippy-toeing. I blasted through as much of the course as I
could, taking all sorts of risks (as Phil Liggett would say), but made
absolutely no progress toward the front pack. I settled in for a 35 minute
time trial. When I came out to the run-up, which was more of a "push
your bike and try to run up," I could see the leaders heading back toward
the first barriers, and each lap the fourth and fifth place riders stayed in
about the same place, while Candice, Alisha Little and Kathleen Billington were
way out ahead never to be seen. Mid- way through the race, I managed to
catch the sixth place rider and pass her, but never made any more progress than
that the whole race. I count that as Cyclocross lesson #1, the race is
pretty much sorted out in the first lap. You have to kill yourself to get
ahead of everyone you can and then settle into a manageable pace until the end.
It's kind of like a combination of a criterium breakaway and a mountain bike
race, which is probably why Candice continues to kick everyone's behind in every
All in all, 'cross turned out to be a lot more fun that I could
have imagined. And when you don't crash, you're a whole lot less sore the
next day. The atmosphere at a 'cross race is more laid-back than at your
typical criterium or road race. Everyone is friendly like at mountain bike
races, but the racers are more, well, normal. No tutu or rainbow-'fro wig
wearing 24-hour type freaks. It's just a nice day at the park... with a
couple hundred friends... going hypoxic... occasionally falling down... winding
up with all sorts of strange bruises the next day...