Becca: No one knows what to expect from the first weekend of cross. It’s really hard to train for cyclocross, because it’s only a race, not a ride. So you can come in knowing that you might be fit or having worked on skills, but maybe everybody else has worked just as hard or even harder. That first race can be the one that sets the tone for the season, or shows you what you need to work on. Last year it showed me what I needed to work on. This year I hope it’s setting the tone.

This year I’m coming into the season fairly fit, and having done a lot more cross specific workouts than I may have in the past. I knew it would be a good weekend while I was pre-riding; it didn’t feel laborious to turn through the grass, and I wasn’t going embarrassingly slow on the down hills and turns. It almost felt like I knew what I was doing. It only took five years or so to get that way.

The best part about opening weekend is catching up with old friends. I kept telling everyone that I was treating it like a local race, an opener for the season and not thinking about UCI points or being nervous on the start line. Sunny Gilbert said that she didn’t think I was prepared for the race that was coming. But I showed that maybe I was the most prepared of everyone.

Catching up with friends

Caroline Mani had the best start, but mine wasn’t too bad – I even took myself off guard. Finding myself in the front group not having to pass anyone, I took advantage and went straight to the front. Pretty soon into the first lap it was just a group of three of us, myself, Caroline Mani, and Sunny Gilbert. Throughout the second lap or so Caroline was trying to coach her teammate towards the front of the group. When Caroline said “go Sunny” I said “no sunny”. I would like to think that it was my verbal deterrent that gapped Sunny from the two of us. She was clearly intimidated. With Sunny out of the picture, it was just Caroline and I battling at the front. We exchanged leads multiple times. I had to convince myself that I can’t let her out of my sight, I started to drift back once, but I reminded myself that Caroline doesn’t fade, Caroline doesn’t crash. If I wanted to stay in the race, I would need to keep myself in it. After getting dropped off a little bit, I rallied and chased back on.

I wasn’t quite sure where I might be able to best Caroline, and in my head I thought, “well at least I have second”. Going into the last lap, I decided just to give it all I have in the few little power sections leading up into the finish. Luckily, it proved to be enough. I turned onto the short pavement stretch before the line and found myself alone. I won my first bike race of the season! But more importantly, I’ve won the first bike race of the season.

Kerry: Like Becca said, the first CX race of the season always holds a little mystery. I was confident heading into it that I had put in the CX technical skills and riding that I needed too. (head to my youtube channel to check out the 5 weeks of #crossiscoming prep I put together to get you all super pumped for the start of CX season) Here is an example of the local crew we got together to do some cx drills and workouts.

I was also happy with where my fitness was but that doesn’t mean much if everyone else has upped their game over the last six months. I tried not to think about it, and focus on the things I could control, my lines on course, where to be during critical times, and having some fun.

With temps in the low 90’s I planned on being a little conservative for the first half of the race so I could be competitive in the second half. Sometimes you never know how hard that first CX race is going to shock/rock your system.

After a clean start and a clean first lap I found myself at the front pushing the pace a bit. Everything felt pretty controlled, internally, so I figured why not.

After a couple laps of a bigger group at the front Curtis White started to push the pace too. The head of the race quickly dwindled to the two of us and we got in a nice rhythm. We were trading laps as we would cross the start/finish just tempoing it out. There was a point about mid race when I thought I might launch an attack but then all of a sudden the heat seemed to get cranked up a few degrees and I figured it may be best to sit in and save it all for the big show at the end of the race.

Sure enough the pleasantries went out the window as two laps to go flashed on the lap card. Curtis was on even lap duty and he tried to push the pace a bit more than in previous laps, putting in little digs here and there. Telling me he had some juice left in the tank.

One to go and I took over. I wasn’t too concerned with my positioning at the beginning of the lap because there were two main points to make a pass before the finish. There was a 30 second power straight leading into the woods followed by some tight turns and then the stairs. That was a long ways out to go but it was safe. There was another opportunity after the flyover but the pass would have to be quick and deliberate, no hesitation.

With Curtis putting the pressure on early and hard I knew the latter option was my go. I was on his wheel coming up the stairs when I went to jump back on a slipped my pedal in a bad way and immediately lost 3 bike lengths. I would have had to have been glued to his wheel to make the post flyover move and thus my hand was shown and his full house called my bluff.

Becca: Day two the course was much punchier, and maybe a little bit better suited for Caroline rather than myself. Nonetheless, we lined up at the start. I chose the same position as the day before, and I started in my saddle just as I did the day before. Starting in my saddle is new this season, I find him a little bit slower immediately, but I’m able to get my pedal more consistently. The whistle blew. I was a little slow off the line as expected, but I also missed my pedal. I immediately lost over a bike length. By the time I got my pedal, I heard something. I thought “man, maybe I can just get one more pedal stroke in and avoid…” And I was on the ground.

I heard the crunch of carbon and the slide against the pavement. I was already on the ground so I hunkered down and I put my hand along my face to protect myself in case anybody else was going to hit me. I knew that Sunny had gone down, but Caroline got off scot-free. The crash affected nearly everyone in the field except for Caroline Mani. I hunkered down for what felt like a solid few seconds, but I’m sure in retrospect it was only one. I picked my bike up, assessed my body, checked to see that everything on my bike functioned, and hopped on and kept riding. Again, all of this felt like it took quite a long time, but I’m sure it was only seconds. I was in the back of the group, not dead last but definitely in the back. My glasses were gone, my body was damaged, but at least my bike moved. The good news is the Shimano GRX group did not drop my chain so I didn’t lose more precious seconds.

The first pit was close to the start I was able to get there and swap bikes with Spencer without discovering the broken rear hanger. The first lap was full of passing and being patient, attacking, being patient, and passing. I found myself able to take much better lines than people around me so it was easy to pass. It’s into the second lap when I’m in the part of the race where people are taking much better lines and accelerated much harder out of corners making it harder to pass. I had to wait for long stretches at a time and I felt myself getting very antsy waiting to pass, knowing Caroline Mani was pulling away. Eventually I caught the chase group of three and was able to work myself passed them smoothly, and then it was just me chasing Caroline. Unfortunately, by then it was the last lap. And though I was only 20 seconds behind her, the gap was barely coming down anymore and the finish line was coming up quite quickly. Alas, Caroline took the win on day two, but I was able to rally for second place. 

I was obviously disappointed, because it was not a mistake on my part that put me behind, but instead I was crashed out. Most of us were crashed out. That always feels more like something was taken away from you. There were good things about this huge setback on the day, though. I got to put the new mechanic Spencer to the test in the pits, I got to prove to myself that I could chase through the field, showing that no matter what happens especially in those fast world cups that I should keep fighting. I may not always be able to chase back into second, but maybe sometimes I can chase back for the win, or at least chase back into something better than the feeling of just giving up.

There’s some pretty awesome footage from the crash, and hearing the crowd say how they really enjoyed watching the fight back made it almost worth it! But in the soreness of the days after, I am starting to doubt whether or not the good show was worth the pain and maybe the setback for the weekend ahead. But I keep trying to look for the silver lining, and will again be looking for a strong ride, with less drama, at Rochester.

Kerry: With Becca winning day one and getting second on day two I had my eye on the top step so I could even up our inter-team competition. Again I had a clean start and found myself in the front group.

A group of four of us got away within the first three laps and we held together for the first half of the race. Then it became a group of three, Curtis, Eric Thompson and myself.

Curtis and I were taking turns pulling laps again while Eric was sitting in and saving energy. With about four laps to go Curtis decided to get rid of Eric and put a bit more spice into his lap pull. The crack started opening and as much as I hated to do it to him I keep the pressure on. (Eric is a good friend of mine but I know how strong he is. So if there is an opportunity to get him out of the group you take it!)

With three to go it was one on one again. We took turns pulling but the pulls were sharp and the pace was quicker in the more challenging technical parts of the course.

I could tell Curtis was feeling good again so I set on trying not to waste too much energy. I knew the final effort would come down to a high speed paved bike path, uphill, sprint to one of the last clusters of corners before the finish straight, which was’t long enough to over take someone on. I came into that hill tucked on Curtis’ wheel but for the life of me couldn’t come around him. He cranked his throttle open to beast mode and try as I may I could only get my front wheel up to his bb.

We came to the final corners and I tucked in tight on his wheel looking for an opportunity. He hit the first left then right well but the next left hand turn he took fast and I could tell he was going to get pushed outside around the next right hand corner. So I choked up speed and dove inside and barely managed to nose him out before the final two corners leading into the finish straight.

I was so gassed but relieved. It was also a little bittersweet. I wanted to be able to come around him on the last uphill sprint and claim victory how I saw it play out in my head. But he was just stronger. On the bright side I stuck with it and managed to keep my wits about me enough to see an opportunity when it presented itself.

Viola! I evened up the score between Becca and I, tied up the ProCX, and got that monkey off my back (first win of the season).

Big thanks to Go Cross for putting on a top notch event. There were so many good vibes from the VA community that I am looking forward to carrying into the weeks to come.

Also, big props to our new team mechanic, Spencer Johnston. This was his first on the road debut and he exceeded expectations. The bikes were dialed and clean. He kept a good attitude all weekend in the sweltering sun, which was cracking everyone. I think we found a keeper. Looking forward to having him on board for the full season. Good things to come. Rochester Cyclocross is up next.

Here is a weekend recap! Vlog 62: Go Cross