“Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”
I don’t know about you all, but whenever I thought about Nationals, my mind went straight to “Romeo and Juliet” and Shakespeare. For those of you who missed the race (for shame!), the race itself took place in a small town near Madison, Wisconsin, called Verona. Since I hold a fairly useless English degree, I’m going to jump at the chance to really dig into the first few lines of Romeo and Juliet here. Because it pertains to cyclocross. I promise.
“Two households, both alike in dignity”: Trebon and Powers. You know it’s true. Sure, Jonathan Page was the late entry dark horse in the Elite race, but really, what this weekend came down to was Powers vs. Trebon in one of the most epic ’cross clashes of all time. What everyone wanted to see was the showdown between the two, since it had been building all season. Would Powers be able to hold off Trebon, who had an amazing weekend in Chicago after seven weeks off the bike? Or would, as always seems to happen, Powers suffer some fatal misstep that would cost him the race? We all know what happened, and while “Romeo and Juliet” may have ending on a sad note, this race certainly didn’t for Powers and his ecstatic girlfriend, who (both still alive!) got to hug as he crossed the finish line with one arm in the air.
“In fair Verona, where we lay our scene”: Badger Prairie Park in the lovely town of Verona, Wisconsin, is where the two powerhouses of cyclocross, along with thousands of other racers, would go head to head in epic battles throughout the week.
“From ancient grudge break to new mutiny”: Powers versus Trebon, Powers versus the National Title, these are the ancient grudges. The new mutiny? Well, Page showed up and threw a monkey wrench into the mix. Coupled with Trebon’s triumphant return to cyclocross the weekend before, the elite race was shaping up to be an event to be remembered.
“Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean”: This is cyclocross. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: there will be blood. As far as unclean hands? Talk to anyone who raced and ask how many times they crashed. You want to talk about dirty hands? This was the muddiest I’d ever been in a race, and there wasn’t a drop of rain in sight. I just fell down a lot.
So there you have it. Shakespeare for the masses, or cyclocross for the academics. But enough of the iambic pentameter. Let’s talk Nationals and the crazy week that it was for the Cyclocross Magazine crew, myself in particular since a) this is my column, and b) I was the one silly enough to be in charge of online coverage and still racing the Elite race.
I spent the first few days in Madison, after a 17 hour long drive from New Jersey with my dad, working outside watching and reporting on the races, or in the Media Center at the Verona Public Library furiously uploading information. Nights were spent at the many events that Nationals had to offer, most of which ended at The Great Dane, an amazing bar with some seriously good food in downtown Madison. Then, back to the hotel for more work and a few hours of sleep. Preriding? Stretching? Spinning? Not so much. I got on course on Thursday, when it was a muddy mess, and fell in love with it. It was fast, and felt like a road racer’s course. Nothing on it scared me.
Sunday was another story. Good thing I had so much adrenaline pumping that I managed to ignore how terrified I was by the course conditions: permafrost with slick mud over top. The course had gone from my dream of a road rider’s course to one that even the best mountain biker was slipping and sliding on. On the warmup lap, I bobbled as Justin Lindine rode past, and he laughed and remarked that it was a little sketchy. I tried to wittily reply, but fell over instead. Smooth.
As it turns out, racing after working four days straight outside in Wisconsin with minimal sleep and living out of a hotel is … well, it’s hard. Add in the fact that you’re starting in a race with Katie F*^$@ing Compton, and are relegated to the second to last row behind 80 other women, and that’s when you start praying for a miracle.
Anyway, Elite Women’s Nationals are no joke. In fact, as Richard Fries, the announcer, repeatedly pointed out, they are “downright unladylike.” On the start line, you had Katie Compton, Meredith Miller, Nicole Duke, Kaitlin Antonneau and plenty of other hard-hitting ladies. There’s something amazing and truly incredible about having this many women at this level lining up at once. I’m not sure exactly, but I believe the numbers have exploded in the past year where the women’s fields are concerned.
So it was both awe-inspiring and terror-inducing, all at once. And before I had time to sneak out of the field, the whistle blew and we were off.
There was a long stretch of pavement before we hit the dirt, and I knew that if my race was going to go well at all, that was where I needed to make up spots. So, steeling myself, I careened into the crowd, hands nowhere near the brakes, slipping in between as many women as I could before hitting the small hill onto the dirt. Of course, the woman in front of me crashed in the dirt, but even after putting a foot down, I managed to not lose many spots by powering through as much of it as I could.
I was lucky that two minutes in, there was a false flat followed by the first tough climb on the course. Thankfully, my “big ring” mentality helped to put down serious power through the mud and make up a few spots, and I got up the hill where others stalled out.
“No brakes” was the mantra of the day, especially on some of the slick roller-coaster downhills. At one point, I had finally caught up to my “nemesis” of the season, only to get epically taken out in the slick corner before the barriers: another girl took it too hot and I went directly into her, destroying my hip in the process. It took nearly a lap before the cramp started to work its way out of my side, but once it did, I was back to chasing.
I finished my race a couple of laps behind the leaders, but with women that I was proud to finish near. Do I wish we’d gotten another lap? Heck yeah! If I’d known I was going to get pulled, there would have been much more carnage (mostly to myself) as I raced that last lap.
In all, it was an experience to remember. And I can’t wait for next year, though I admit to breathing a tiny sigh of relief as I hung up my good cyclocross wheels for the season.
After the race, in the Media Center (because us reporters only have time to change before getting back to work!), I had a fellow cycling news guy come up to me and tell me that even if I didn’t get first place, I got the prize for the most badass, aggressive look of the field. I credit the sweet Rockstar skinsuit I was wearing, though it was probably more due to what must have been a look of sheer irritation at not being able to pedal faster.
Now, safely ensconced on a couch at home in Providence, it’s easy to look back and remember how awesome Nationals, and the season as a whole, were. Who am I kidding? I already can’t wait for next year!
If you want to read more about my training, racing and editing exploits, you can find the painfully full version of events on my Twitter page.