TJ, Maja, and I are cruising down I-10 headed home from the first race of the year as I type. We’ve been making this trip to California ever since we first started chasing the national cross-country circuit in 2006. Packing up the car, getting race bikes cleaned and prepped, and last minute (sometimes frantic in my case) packing is as much a part of our routine as anything else. Here’s our schedule: we leave for California on a Thursday, Friday we Klatch Coffee, pre-ride, and make final adjustments to our equipment, and on Saturday we race cross-country, and we do it again on Sunday in the short track. Then we hop on the I-10 and cruise home to Prescott, Arizona, usually fueled on In-n-out and stories of racing bikes. That’s where I am now: somewhere between the Salton Sea and Quartzite and thinking about the stories we’ll tell from this past weekend.
First, this weekend was something of a trial-run for Stan’s NoTubes-Pivot: an opportunity to test out our equipment, our legs, and ourselves as a team. The race was important but as a UCI C3, it doesn’t have much weight in divvying out international racing points (which determine world rank) or shaking out who’s on track to Rio. Even so, it’s an important confidence marker in the build-up to the bigger races ahead and the team has a lot to smile about from the weekend. While Rose and I did our jobs well this weekend racing our bikes, TJ and Kenny are the guys behind the scenes putting in 10x the work and setting us up for success.
Bonelli isn’t a very technical course but it still suits a full-suspension bike well as there are a handful of rocky sections and the added traction climbing helps. So I opted to race my Pivot Mach 4 with Stan’s Valor wheels. It’s fun to race the bike that everyone seems to want. :) Rose chose to race her Pivot Les (29” wheels) and that obviously worked out very well for her. So we can safely say there’s a ‘right-bike-for-you’ and not necessarily ‘the-right-bike’ for any given course. Of course, having some the best equipment available helps.
We raced six laps around the Bonelli Park course, plus a short start loop. At race speed, the steep downhills are short so there isn’t much recovery on course but that’s UCI cross-country racing in a nut-shell. The intensity is high. the. whole. time. Six of us were in the race after the first lap—the six that survived Rose’s attack off the start loop. Commenting on her start, Rose said, “I wanted to set a strong precedent.” Well done. And I had nothing to do with that! She’s also setting a strong precedent on the team front by baking us all granola, and cookies, and keeping me on task (if you can manage a three-year old, you can manage anyone!).
The meat of the race (laps 2-5) had the group whittled down a bit and Rose started to yo-yo on and off. I grew more and more confident that I’d be in contention for the win as the race progressed. On a couple downhill sections, I practiced my ‘attacking’ the downhills which was two parts fun and one part strategy. I opened up a bit of daylight each time and rode with it for a bit. It’s fun to be able to animate a race and handy to see who responds quickly (Larissa! Erin!). Sure enough, on the first climb of the last lap Erin opened the throttle. It was going to be a drawn out race to the finish. The mistake I made was not giving it 100% to hang with Erin on that climb. I was too nervous about putting in that effort too early in the lap and over-confident I could make up the gap on the first rocky downhill. I rode that downhill sloppy for the first time in the race and never closed anything. Erin held off for the win but I chased my heart out that lap. Honestly, that was good racing and a great start to the season. Then Rose came across the line in 4th place, which is quite the way to grab your first top-10 at Bonelli!
The short track event is the icing on the cake of a race weekend. The stakes are not very high and there’s a lot to gain from the race experience. It’s a great format for young racers to get their wheels up front, to learn the importance of positioning, and to learn how to race fast and smart (the learning never ends). So if you win—great! And if things don’t go as planned it’s shrugged off as short track. Rose and I talked some strategy pre-race and put in a couple fast laps together during our warm-up. We knew things would likely stick together in a group unless we could counter some attacks successfully to create separation. The race didn’t play out exactly to plan but we improvised well. The format for the race was 15 minutes, plus 3 laps. I came into the last lap feeling pretty good after a short bit of recovery the lap prior (there was a lull in the pace, which was good for me at that point!). When Jena Greaser put in an effort to come around Katka through a relaxed chicane before the start/finish pavement, I accelerated on the outside thinking Katka was momentarily boxed in. It was one of the ‘not really thinking’ moves. I just saw an opportunity and went all in. A few seconds after my attack, I checked over my shoulder to see if anyone followed and I had a gap to no clear chasers. Sweet!
While it may just be short track racing, a win is a win. Now how to we bring this format to the World Cup?
Huge thanks to our all our sponsors, supporters, and fans. Can't wait for the next race...in Argentina!!