I swear I thought I was going to puke standing around waiting for the start of the first cross race of the season. An hour from then I knew that I’d have concrete feedback on where I am with my fitness heading into the early season. Plus, I know I’m not exactly unique with my early season nerves. Standing around waiting for call ups, it was what everyone was talking about at Granogue. By the sound of it no one has been training as much as they wanted. None of us could seem to settle on a tread pattern or pressure for the rocky, dusty, and loose terrain. The official blew her whistle to begin staging and silence fell over the gaggle of hyper competitive bike racers that were all trying to convince each other that they were in no way prepared.
In years past this feeling was mostly just my nerves talking. Obviously I had trained hard for the season ahead. Last year I rode nearly 3,000 miles in the summer months. If anything I was over prepared. But that’s not the case this year. So many things are different for me this year. The biggest one is that I now live in Philadelphia. I relocated shortly after cyclocross nationals in January and haven’t looked back. But with the move came a few adjustments. I left my cushy in house coaching job for a part time job at a moving company. For once watching Instagram videos of my competitors doing weird one handed pushups didn’t make me feel guilty as i’ve basically been doing weighted core exercises all summer. The unfortunate part of my new fabulous paid core routine is that I’ll be doing it all through my cross campaign as well. Since, you know, bills. I also spent a great deal of my spring and summer ignoring my road bike in favor of my mountain bike. I’m calling 2016 my first full mountain bike season. This has been a hugely positive change for me in terms of my motivation and mental state.
So while I have spent way less time riding and way more time working in 2016 I knew in my heart of hearts that I wasn’t unprepared. Maybe a smidge under prepared but I knew I was still capable of putting in a solid ride.
The field at Granogue this past weekend was solid. Not 2010 era Granogue, but all the fast local dudes were there along with a couple quick mountain bikers who I’ve been racing all summer. If this race was last season I’d be feeling pretty good about my chances. Although I’d still be nervous as hell. I figured out this thing about me a few years ago that I really, truly, only get nervous for races that I think I can win. When I show up to a big C1 weekend my mind set is usually just “do my best, ride smooth, and finish strong”. As long as I do those things I’m generally happy with where I finish. But at a local race where I think I can win… I won’t be happy unless I win. The big difference between those objectives is that winning is very tangible. It’s not a scale. You either beat everyone else in the race or you don’t.
So combine my “you can win this nerves” with “early season nerves” and I was literally shaking with nerves. I knew I just had to make it through the officials speech. Once she gives us our final warning before the whistle I’ll be calm again. That calm sometimes feels like it goes on forever.
The whistle blew and contrary to all my nightmares about this moment, I didn’t miss my pedal. In fact I had a very clean start and settled into second. I knew my best bet was to ride conservatively and wait for the hilly course to take it’s toll. My plan was to wait until about 2 laps to go before going all in. This is a great plan for a late season version of me that’s been doing a bunch of racing and is confident in my abilities. However, the First-race-of-the-season-Me takes the first available opportunity to pass and go really really hard. This is what I like to call racing insecurely.
My attack drew out one rider and we took turns riding hard. I could tell a 3rd rider was closing fast and was most likely going to join us. Later-season-Me would have probably been fine with that as it would mean an extra person to take pulls on the front. First-race-of-the-season-Me attacked really hard before that rider had a chance to make contact. Too bad I still had 6 laps to go. Now I was just by my self with an insistent chaser about 7 or 8 seconds behind. I couldn’t get enough of a gap on him to be comfortable easing up and because the gap stayed so close he wouldn’t give up either. This truly painful race situation stayed unchanged until I rolled across the line with my arms up in the air both surprised and delighted that I pulled it off.
Truth is I’ve always wanted to win at Granogue. It’s an old school cross course with a ton of Mid-Atlantic history and prestige attached to it. When I was first starting out I remember it was called the “crown jewel Mid-Atlantic cross”. Perhaps it has lost a little bit of luster since it stepped down from UCI level in 2011 but I still had to go into deep dark hole for an hour racing around the DuPont estate. So it felt plenty prestigious to me. Which is good because it’s important to have some positive morale heading into the first UCI C1 race next weekend in Rochester. I simultaneously can not wait to see and dread racing against the whole North American Cyclocross family. Until then I’ll be happily training away in preparation for smashing my self in Rochester.