I don’t write race reports very often but what the heck! I don’t win races every day, either.
On Saturday, Team Velo Girls mountain bikers headed down to Ft. Ord (Monterey, CA) to race the final in a season-long, 8-race cross-country mountain bike series. This long-running series is put on by by Keith DeFiebre of CCCX, and I’ve been racing it on + off since 2005 (when I barely knew how to ride a mountain bike).
Last year, I decided to try my hand at single speed mountain bike racing. It seemed like a good fit for me at the time, since I couldn’t race the beginner category (I’m really not a beginner) but the sport category is filled with uber-serious mountain-biking chicks whose technical skills put this roadie-who-mountain-bikes to shame. Short mountain bike races (about 90 minutes) fit well with my weight-loss goal at the time since I wasn’t able to deficit calories and ride long durations. In 2012, I raced the first 3 races of the series and then my roadie life of coaching, racing, and training for the Death Ride got in the way.
Honestly, I don’t mountain bike nearly as much as I should. If I dust off the bike (or dust up the bike) a dozen times a season that’s good for me. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy mountain biking, but it doesn’t alway fit into my coaching + training schedule. But interestingly enough, when I pulled out my mountain bike this spring, I found my technical skills were pretty good this year. I wasn’t riding as conservatively as in the past. I’m not sure why this is, but I wasn’t fighting it. And I was feeling fit and having fun, so I looked at the race calendar and realized the only race of the season that would fit into my schedule would be the series finale in August, so I committed to racing it with my teammates.
In preparation for Saturday’s race, I pulled out my Sycip single speed and did a few rides. As suspected, I was fitter and stronger than last year. I was able to ride a harder gear and still manage all the climbing at Arastradero Open Space Preserve on the Dirty Velo Girls rides. It felt easier than last year. And, with the harder gear, I was riding faster, too. All good.
Single speed mountain biking is fun. It presents a new challenge for me as I have to think about optimizing my gearing (not too hard because you can’t climb, but not too easy because you lose time on the flats). I have to capitalize on momentum (you can’t brake on the descents leading into the uphills or you suffer on the climbs). I have to think about when to recover so I have the energy needed for the challenging bits. So, for someone who’s ridden Arastradero for 10 years, which can get kinda boring on a geared bike, it adds a whole new element of challenge and fun.
I was excited to get out and race with our four Team Velo Girls mountain bike team members: Julie K. Cristina, Jessica U., and Simone. These girls have been super-active this year, racing a bunch, leading beginner rides as well as our weekly Dirty Velo Girls rides. They’ve been recruiting, encouraging and supporting women who are new to the sport. And they’ve had a ton of fun doing it!
I was excited to race on Saturday because it would give me an interesting perspective on how my fitness had improved in the past year and a half (since my last single speed race).
And I was excited to race just because I love racing. I also love my friends who race mountain bikes (and don’t get to see them often enough). And I love the fun, supportive vibe at mountain bike races.
I had planned to change my gearing to a smaller, harder cog for Saturday’s race, but I didn’t have time this week to change the gear and test it out, so I stuck to what I had on the bike (the gear I had raced with last year).
My alarm went off at 4:00am on Saturday and I was ready to go! I ate my usual breakfast of hot quinoa with apples, raisins, cinnamon, coconut milk, chia seeds, and coconut. My cooler was packed and I snacked during my drive to Monterey. I drank a couple of bottles for good measure to stay hydrated during the race. I downed some GU Chomps and GU energy gel during my pre-ride (and during the race).
I arrived in time to pre-ride the course once on my geared bike (to progressively warm up and save my climbing legs) and then finished my hour-long warm-up on the single speed, riding the opening climbs a few times to bolster my confidence. As I age, my warm-up is more and more important, and I find that 45-60 minutes is just about perfect. I really liked the course: swoopy singletrack, lots of sand to keep you alert, the awesome berm section, and lots of climbing. I knew I could climb faster than many of the girls due to my gearing. I was concerned with the extended flat sections because I knew I would lose time there.
And then, the familiar, standing at the line waiting for the race to begin: smiling, laughing, chatting with friends and other racers. All the women, regardless of age group, start together in the race, which is great, because it increases the pool of women competitors.
The opening climb felt great, although I lost time on the lead group of girls because I didn’t have the gearing to keep up with them. Bummer, as one of my goals for the race was to stick with Simone, our rock-star climber, until the first descent. Cristina and I climbed together and I realized she had a harder gear than me. She was climbing really well, and I started to think she would dust me on the descents and I’d never see her again. We stayed together for the first half of the first lap, until I was able to pass another racer and lost her. But with her harder gearing and her ninja technical skills, I kept expecting to see her right behind me again in no time.
I saw teammate Jessica ahead and made her my next target. I caught her on a climb and we stayed together for a while until I was able to out-climb her on an extended climb near the end of the first lap (thank you SS gearing), but she was never far behind and knowing she was there kept me motivated to ride hard. I had to dismount and run part of one long, steep climb, as Jessica inched ever closer. With Jessica looming, I railed the descent because I knew she was at an advantage with her gearing and skills. I’m pretty conservative and was impressed that I went balls to the wall, and then promptly bit it. Luckily, I landed pretty softly, jumped back on the bike and jammed to keep her out of sight. There’s definitely an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” tactical advantage to mountain bike racing so my goal was not to let her see me again.
As I started my third lap, I saw teammate Julie at the top of that stupid-steep climb. She was my new target now, and try as I might I just couldn’t catch her, but she kept me motivated through the third lap. I passed some guys and kept pushing hard. I got sloppy a few times and reminded myself to stay focused. I was able to finish 30 seconds behind Julie.
I rolled into the finish, first in single speed, and ahead of about half the field of geared girls. I felt great. I toyed with the idea of racing again on my geared bike with the sport girls, but my schedule was tight so I passed on the idea.
All in all, a super-fun day and I met all my goals (except for sticking with Simone):
#1 — support my teammates
#2 — have fun
#3 — improve on my last single speed race a year and a half ago (my average time was more than 2mph faster)
#4 — race smart but aggressively
#5 — don’t get lapped by the fast guys
#6 — win (yup, that was my goal)
Team Velo Girls at CCCX #8
The team had a GREAT day at CCCX! Simone, Julie, and I took the WINS in our respective races. Cristina picked up 2nd and Jessica placed 4th. Simone, Julie, and Cristina also WON the series and Jessica placed 3rd overall. Congratulations to my super-amazing teammates on a GREAT season, and thanks for letting me come out and play in the dirt with you on Saturday.