Cincy CX: A Race Fit For A King

Becca: The Cincinnati race weekend is close to a hometown race for me, having grown up about an hour north (note that in Ohio we measure distance in time). Despite my love for the race, it never really goes super well for me. Last year my body gave up, leaving me unable to pedal through my favorite type of heavy-mud conditions on day one at Devou. Day two went okay. Years before it was never complain-worthy but not super great. This year, knowing that both days were going to be at the King’s venue, I was pretty hopeful that I could finally excel on the C1 day – that course is raw power.

I was anxious for our race, knowing the start would be everything on the twisty, slippy course. I warmed up, focusing on the start effort. Front row call-up always adds some nerve, but it was long straight away and I built my confidence.

The whistle blew. I got my pedal and pedaled fast. I found myself drifting back and realized I had forgotten to shift. I shift and pedal, pedal, and shift. I am top five exiting the pavement, a good place to be. A few turns and I feel that the pace is slow. I go to the front. 

I.

Go.

To.

The.

Front.

Then I realize why the pace was slow. I slide out. Whoopsie daisies. It was slicker than even the preride. The best way to describe the surface is with saying it was like snot on glass: the top layer was saturated and was sliding on the otherwise dry and hard ground underneath. It never rained hard enough to saturate down below.

I go from first to third. Someone slides out in front of me and I go to fifth. Another slide. Seventh. Chase through to fifth. It was really a game of back and forth, not by who was going fastest but who was crashing the least. I was powering passed people when I could, only to crash in the turns. I was not riding smoothly or keeping my power in check. I was frantic, worried about the race and not the ride. I hate looking back because it is all so fixable in hindsight! It was so different from in preride that things I was riding easily had turned in to runs during the race and I didn’t have long toe spikes in so I wasn’t getting good foot traction. I was able to ride some things but when I saw others running I would hop off and it was maybe a worse decision than just staying on the bike.

 I was always so back and forth with people that I never pitted – it didn’t seem necessary. I must have bumped my rear derailleur hanger and that combined with the mud made my chain drop between my wheel and cassette. I had to stop to pull it out. Luckily, it didn’t get wedged because it was easy to pull out, and luckily this had before and I remembered to shift into an easier cog so that it didn’t happen again right when I got on – that’s a win. But in the time it took me to fix that, my solid lead on the chasers (who were in seventh and eighth) greatly diminished. I pitted for a new bike and in being yet more frantic to regain my old place I crashed even more. I ended up finishing eighth, quite disappointed in myself for the sloppy riding and rookie mistakes.

After the race I was able to find some positives, like my start, aggressive riding, and remembering to fix an error post-crash. I also felt a lot better after watching the men’s race, because they looked like deer on ice and it was HILARIOUS!!

Kerry: After checking out the course on Friday I was really pumped for Saturday’s race. It was shaping up to be a real slip n’ slide, especially once all the amateur racers got rid of all the grass. I was all smiles going to bed on Friday night and looking forward to the forecast for rain overnight and drizzling throughout the day on Saturday. 

Sure enough, when we arrived around noon for pre-ride on Saturday morning the ground was hard underneath and there was a thin layer of slick mud snaking its way between the tape. The name of the game was “smooth is fast” and how uniquely can you draw lines to find the most traction. For me this was skirting the main lines drawn from earlier races and running wide or inside, popping over the main line, and back out to the grass on the other side of the corner. Another phrase that comes to mind is “grass is fast”.

After watching the juniors race followed by the women’s race I had a pretty good idea that the race was going to blow apart. Therefore, I was dead set on getting the whole shot and having line choice and a wide open line of sight in front of me.

I didn’t quite get whole shot but I was second wheel to Gage. Then I jumped around him on the second set of off cambers. Then I quickly fell behind him as I floundered for traction. I was foot out tri-poding and my clipped in foot was still pedaling, nevertheless, I was moving backwards. I knew that meant my tire selection was not quite up to par so I got into the pit on a more aggressive tire. 

This immediately proved to be advantageous and I started making up some lost ground. Unfortunately, it was a little too late. By this time Gage and Lance were up the road about 15 seconds. 

I did all I could muster but could bring Gage back. He was riding super consistently at the front and maintaining his lead. Lance, on the other hand, started to fall apart on the last lap and I brought the gap down to single digit seconds. One more lap and second place may have been achievable. 

It was one of those races when you finished and didn’t feel super depleted. There just weren’t many sections where you could put down power. And the few sections that I could put down power I was hesitant too because I wanted to have my wits about me when I hit the slippery bits. It was all about managing and gauging efforts so you could stay consistent. I did that well, which I was happy about but coming up short lit a bit of a fire for Sunday’s race.

Becca: Day two. Would it be more muddy, just as slick, or a power course? Lucky for me, the wind dried up all the snot and then the sun came out to seal the deal on the tacky course! It was changed to cut out some corners, add some elevation, and make it overall more Becca-friendly. [Note: I LOVE the mud and perform really well in it. But Saturday was not muddy. It was snotty and just not a good environment for where I am in my racing right now]. The wind was so gusty that everyone had to take their tents down and really batten down the hatches. Gusts up to 45mph, not surprising if that was the speed of some of the sustained wind as well.

The whole day I felt mellow and quiet. I was in my head, but my head was empty. I decided that I wasn’t going to race that day. I would show up on the start line with a number, but I was the only person out there. I was going to ride smoothly. I chose a more aggressive tread than I needed on the day only because I couldn’t get the slippiness of Saturday out of my head, and I didn’t want that fear to linger out on the course.

Another good start for me. I had to battle some overly aggressive riders, but I was able to come out in front of them and settled solidly into fourth place, in line behind Ellen, Kaitie and Katerina. Good wheels to be on, and being that it was so windy it was good to be on wheels. I was anxious and the pace was low so I kept half wheeling – like a dick. Using my own energy doing mini yo-yo movements. Even worse is my ability to follow wheels. I was letting little gaps open up that I had to shut down. My own fault. I just don’t see how the other riders do it, follow each other so closely like a choreographed dance. I was seeing other riders slip and I was reacting to them. I was seeing them falter and making sure I didn’t get tangled. I was being reactive instead of proactive. 

After two laps I was tired of closing my own gaps and seeing that the group was still 10-deep I knew I had to do something or I was going to be at the tail end of the 10. I go to the front. I don’t attack, I just go there and ride the course how I wanted to. I really underestimated that headwind, though. On a day like that the usual 20% drafting advantage is put to 80% advantage no DOUBT. I am at the front for nearly a lap, and when the podium contenders wanted to pass, they did so easily. I know I could have kept up with their paces, but for some reason, there were a few turns that I could not get out of my head from the prior day’s race and I was going slow, picking around the ground trolls that were taking my wheels out from under me the day before. At some point Clara passed me, taking fourth, and I for some reason I just couldn’t close the gap. Maybe I had mellowed out my brain too much for the day, overcompensating from the day before. Maybe my legs were empty. I was not exhausted at the finish, but I was proud, and I guess that is worth it, to have finished a proud fifth than a regretful… somewhere further back. 

The ability to dance at the front is a skill that I should have worked on last year, except last year I never made it to the front to try, so here I am, a year later working on skills I should already have. I put in two good days of racing, but swapping around some aggression and decision making could have made two good days one really great day, or at least two better days. Each weekend I am clawing my way further and further up the results list* (relative to race quality), being very consistent, taking something away from every race, and usually applying to the next. Who knows, maybe I will have another breakthrough at the coming race at Pan Ams? Maybe Nationals? Heck, maybe I should save the breakthrough for worlds 😉

Kerry: Sunday the course went to the opposite side of the spectrum. From greasy slick to tacky dry. Muds to files. I slapped on some Maxxis Speed Terrane’s and was ready to rock. 

There were huge gusts of winds, 30-40 mph. Tents were getting whipped around like sails and the course tape was ballooning out across various sections of the course. 

I figured because of this the race would be a huge pack race like it was in the juniors race. In the women’s race, the first lap saw a huge group of 10-15 riders strong, so I assumed our race would follow suit.

I got the whole shot and kept her pinned. The technical sections on the second half of the course split our race up a bit more than I initially thought and so I kept the hammer down. 

A predicted sprinkle touched down on lap two so I hit the pit for a more aggressive tire. So did everyone else. Couple the gaps that formed from everyone pitting with the wind and the high pace and our race shattered. 

Gage, Curtis, Stephen, and I were on the same page keeping the pace high. By mid-race we managed to have a good gap between our group of four and the rest of the field. 

Then Curtis came off and then there were three heading into the last lap. 

Curtis didn’t lay down by any means and was chomping at the bit to latch on to our group trading pulls with Jamey Driscoll. 

Gage went first just inside half a lap to go. I latched on to his wheel and Stephen came off a bit. Gage kept the pedal to the metal and was pouring it on. I was hanging on by the skin of my teeth until I came unclipped trying to wrestle all the forward momentum I could out of my bike. I clipped back in but this allowed Gage another two bike lengths heading into the final feature on course. 

I kept pushing and hopped the barriers to maintain contact just as we turned right on to the finish pavement stretch. 

Gage sat up for a split second and looked back over his right shoulder. So, naturally, I punched it up the inside! 

With so much of a headwind into the finish line, I knew I needed all the help I could get and I may have got a bike length ahead before Gage reacted and got on my wheel. 

I was looking back under my armpit watching his front wheel creep closer and closer ahead of mine but I had just enough to hold him off.

Razor thin margin but a win is a win!

Check the last minute of the CX Hairs Maxxis Cyclocross Television “minisode”

I was gassed as you could imagine but so happy I didn’t lay down after Gage put the wood to me and had a few bike lengths on me. Persistence and a little bit of ninja work on the finish sprint got me to the top of the podium and has my confidence up heading into Pan-Ams looking for a new jersey.

Also, check Vlog 21 for all the behind the scenes shenanigans….