Words by Kerry Werner. Photos by Meg McMahon.

Jingle Cross. In September. You’re probably thinking exactly what everyone else is thinking, so here’s some background. The name Jingle Cross is used because in years past, before it was a World Cup, the race was held in the Midwest’s mind-numbingly cold Decembers. Due to its proximity to Christmas, the race’s mascot was the Grinch, who would ride around on course and hang out on Mount Krumpit heckling all those who dare tread up it. And this tradition continues.

Our story: Touch down in Chi town. Doug made the drive from PA with the new bikes built and ready to shred. He picked me up at the ORD and we finished the journey to Iowa City. We got to the venue with enough time to drop the trailer then go for a spin before settling into our host house.

Friday was the first race of the weekend! I woke up at 8am or so and then had about 12 hours to kill… this is where I struggle with night racing. I passed the time by picking up Emily at the Cedar Rapids airport and trying to take a nap, though my excitement for the coming race intervened and the attempt was a complete and utter failure.

With the pro race at 8:45pm I got to the venue a little too early, but I figured I would have gone crazier sitting in the house all day, staring at the ceiling. It was hot but I had the convenience of the Shields’ RV, which was strategically parked right next to the Kona compound.

Kona had quite the representation. It was Doug and I, Helen and Stefan, and the S&M Kona crew out of Portland, managed by the legendary Erik Tonkin, Kona CX badass from back in the day.

The course for Friday night’s C1 was a bit of a letdown. It seemed like they took all the bad parts from the past Jingle Cross races and put them into one course. The Iowa climate had been extremely dry and hot so the ground was hard as asphalt and thus jarred you around like you were riding on a highway rumble strip.

Once the whistle blew it seemed more tolerable. I managed to have a mediocre start and had to work my way up into around 12th or so. The Euros at the front set a hot pace early and my legs couldn’t turn over fast enough to match the acceleration. I could hold a decent power but the snap was not in my legs and the entire race was a struggle because of this. I was constantly staring at one to two bike length gaps, dangling off the back of groups and being lazy, trying to outbreak my opponents to make up for my lack of snap.

I suffered a flat at one of the best places to flat, right before the sand pit, which was maybe 150m from the pit zone. With a leaky front tire, I floated through the dry/loose sand pit effortlessly, if only the rest of the course would have been more conducive to a lower tire pressure.

I finished 17th, which wasn’t terrible but I knew I could do better. In 2016 I got 9th in the C1… I think I spent too much time on my feet during the day in the heat and this sapped some explosive twitch from my legs. I am not the best at sitting still so I will have to work on that for future night races.

It wasn’t hard to forget about my not so desirable result when I gave Emily a dozen cupcakes from a boutique “cupcakery” in town for her birthday, which was Thursday. I won best fiancé of the year award for that one.

Saturday I tried to minimize time in the heat and on my feet. I got to the course for some World Cup preview laps and to spend more time on the Super Jake, every day feeling more at home. After the course preview, I went home and chilled for a bit before coming back to the venue to cheer Emily on in night C2 race.

She had a terrible start but charged hard throughout the race and finished 7th, grabbing some points and my heart for continuing to fight all race.

Back to normal race time of 3:30pm on Sunday. The temps dropped after some rain came through Saturday night, which caused the course to tack up and eliminated the “moon dust” effect from Friday and Saturday. Mt. Krumpit was grippy and traction was plentiful to ride up the damn thing. This meant the only limiting factor was my legs.

I was third row and found myself to have a better start. I quickly found myself in a group of 5 or so fighting for 20th. After a few laps, our group was solidified as there was a lengthy gap in front of us to the next group and vice versa behind us.

About halfway through the race Wout van Aert, current world champion, flatted and came into the pit just in front of us. Trying to cause some separation in our group I jumped off the front and did my best to latch onto his wheel and get a bit of a pace.

I lasted about half a lap before I thought my internal organs might explode and my legs may seize. Regardless, I got the result I wanted and now it was a group of 3 of us for 19-22.

We made contact with Stephen Hyde, who after an amazing starting half suffered from the heat and came a bit unglued at the end of the race. He motioned for me to “Go!” as we came through 1 lap to go. I don’t second-guess advice from the likes of people like Stephen and dropped the hammer. The group spaced out then came back together for the final straight where I managed so summon some demons from within and win the sprint for 19th.

Gutted but elated I hung my head while they pulled the transponder from my back number then promptly looked for a bench because I was having trouble keeping it upright. It took a good 15min of seat time before I felt like I could stand up… While the resulting pain was quite uncomfortable I couldn’t have been happier to feel good enough to dig that deep. That is all you can ask for in a race like the World Cups. I managed to minimize mistakes and save enough for the end giving me my best World Cup result to date.

I can’t thank Doug enough for having the rigs as dialed as they were and being as thorough as a mechanic can be with the odds and ends. Next week is the Trek CXC Cup in Waterloo, Wi. C2 race Friday off Saturday and the 2nd World Cup of the season Sunday. Stay tuned.