Our girl Angi Weston from the Kona USA Ferndale, WA office kicks some CX ass
I have (finally) tasted victory and it tastes a lot like dirt. Well, mud really.
Sunday’s race was the seventh race in the Seattle Cyclocross Series and it was the muddiest mud-fest of all. The race, known as Woolley Cross, is located in Sedro Woolley, WA in the heart of Washington’s tulip territories. A unique aspect to this race is its location. The course weaves riders around the remnants of Washington’s oldest hospital – the Northern Hospital for the Insane built in 1912. An insanely muddy cyclocross course laid out for insane Northwest Washington racers at a place once reserved for the insane. Coincidence?
My race day started like most do – I roll out of bed with a slight tinge of excitement then mix it up in my stomach with a splash of nervousness and a half a pot of coffee. Then I try to throw in a bagel with some cream cheese for substance and hope it all stays down once the real suffering begins. Kevin and I pack the back of the car with more stuff than we need for a day trip and top it off with my beloved Major Jake and his handsome Jake the Snake. I make one last walk through the house to make sure I didn’t leave behind something crucial like my helmet or pants, and then we hit the road.
On the drive to the race venue I try my hardest to think about anything BUT the race because the more I think about what lies ahead the tighter my nervously-excited-caffeine-induced-stomach-knot gets. Kevin starts to run through a list of things for me to remember while I am out there racing. Doh! I know he means well and his tips are wonderful, they really are. The things I have learned from his wealth of cyclocross racing knowledge are immeasurable, but not right now. Not while I am trying to untie this knot.
Finally, I give in. It is pissing down rain outside and we are driving by flooded fields of God-knows-what and I start visualizing myself pedaling through the mud bogs. I picture myself doing what Kevin is saying – carry as much speed as possible, shift my weight as far back as I can over the rear wheel and stay super light on the bars. I imagine myself executing this super-human-mud-plowing technique that is absolutely unstoppable. It’s awesome!
Then we pull into the parking lot and reality sets in… I don’t even want to open the car door and enter the wet and cold world that awaits us. But of course I convince myself to do it. After all I didn’t drive all the way down here to sit in the car. Did I?
I get suited up, registered, numbers pinned on, timing devices stuck to my helmet, Gore-Tex on over it all and I head out for a warm-up. As I am making my way around the course I catch-up to a few kids out racing so I pull over as to not interfere. I happen to be at a spot on the course that I call “super-epic-mega-long-mud-bog-from-hell”. I watch most of the kids dismount from their bikes and run/walk through the mess unenthusiastically dragging their bikes along for what must feel like an eternity to those tiny little legs and lungs. I promptly find myself cheering them on wildly. I get to a point where I actually start to convince some kids to try riding through this super-epic-mega-long-mud-bog-from-hell and before I know it a little engine-that-could pushes through! He rode the whole bog! I was so excited for him. I decided right then and there that I too was going to power through and ride the super-epic-mega-long-mud-bog-from-hell during my race.
After the wee racers pass I hop back on course and finish my warm-up. I quickly decide that the trick to success on this course is staying upright.
Then comes time to peel off the protective Gore-Tex layer and wait in the staging area. The knot is back in full force as I stand there Lycra-clad in the freezing rain sizing up my competition. They look tough. Kevin is there giving me a few last minute pointers and wraps up with a good luck kiss and a pat on the ass.
Next thing I know I am sprinting through a pack of wild women getting covered in mud spray finding it very hard to see. I have passed a few girls by the time we hit the first turn and all I can think is – please don’t go down in front of me, please don’t go down. The last thing I want to do is have to run over a pile of racers on my way to the first set of barriers. We hit the grass, fly over the barriers, and run up the hill. No casualties yet. Well, at least not in front of me where I can see. See? Shoot, I can’t see a thing! Quick, glasses off and into the back pocket. Much better. The pace is quick and my lungs already burn but I am mentally prepared to face the super-epic-mega-long-mud-bog-from-hell. As we roll up to the bog the pace slows. NO! Don’t slow down! We need all the speed we can get to carry us through! I think this to myself as girls start dismounting for the long, awful run. I swerve to the far left and power through. I hear Kevin shouting my name and BAM! I make it to the other side still alive, still upright, and now with only three girls (all on the same team) in front of me. The next few laps are a series of powerful muddy pedal strokes, Kevin’s shouts of encouragement, slick turns, and a few sketchy maneuvers until I startle the leader by popping up right beside her. She realizes that I am not one of her less-threatening teammates but I am a mass of muddy competition ready to challenge her. It lights a fire under her and the pace quickens. I’m not sure if I can really hang on but I know there is only one way to find out.
I find myself in the lead as we pass through the finish line area where the bells are ringing ferociously to mark the start of the final lap. I shift into my big ring for the first time all day in hopes that I can get a gap on my competition. This is the first time all season I have taken the lead over my field. I remind myself not to screw this up.
I push on but she doesn’t let up. She is right there on my wheel going into the first set of barriers. By the time we run up the hill and are hucking our bodies back onto our saddles she is right beside me. Damn she is quick on her feet! Stay in the game, Angi, stay in the game and focus. We are neck and neck heading into the super-epic-mega-long-mud-bog-from-hell. She goes right, I go left. I am so focused on my line I don’t even realize the Men’s Master 3 racer ahead of me until I have the gap almost completely shut on him. Shoot! I swerve left to get around him only to run right into his left leg as he catches himself from toppling over. A few curse words later and I am off my bike running through the mud. Here I am on the very last lap and for the first time in the whole race I am forced to run through the super-epic-mega-long-mud-bog-from-hell. My closest competition is pedaling through it and I think, great! This is it! I just lost the race because I wasn’t paying attention! Then I notice that she isn’t exactly pedaling away from me. Her line to the right was just slow enough that I was able to keep my pace with her while running with my bike. I hop back on my Major Jake without missing a beat (sweet) and there we are again, neck and neck.
The pace is insane and I can tell that she is probably just as stubborn as I am and neither one of us want to give up the opportunity to taste victory. All of a sudden I find myself taking a line that most ‘cross racers dream about. It unfolded perfectly. This line put me just in front of her leading into this super sketchy, muddy (of course) chute. Judging by all the spectators gathered around, this was the sight of many crashes today. I bomb the chute and don’t even touch my brakes. The next few minutes are a blur. I remember powering up a few steep punches and telling myself to not look back. Part of it was that I didn’t want to know how close she was and the other part of it was that I didn’t want to peel my eyes off the course in front of me. I knew the end was near and I knew I wanted to win badly. So badly that my internal mantra went something like this, “puke if you have to but don’t stop pedaling, puke if you have to but don’t stop pedaling”, and so on until the final sprint finish. I crossed the finish line first which was awesome but it was also very anti-climactic. Since we had actually started picking off the Master 1 / 2 Women racers who had started a minute ahead of us the announcer really had no idea that I was the lead Category 3 racer. I was just another muddy girl riding over the finish line to him. However, I knew I had won and I think the smile that spread across my mud spackled face let everyone who was watching know that I had just tasted victory. It tasted so muddy and gritty yet oh so sweet. I can’t help but want more.