Meredith Miller’s Rider Diary: Jingle Cross Rocks!
With two wins and one second place to her teammate Teal Stetson-Lee this weekend, Meredith Miller had a great run at the three day Jingle Cross Rock race in Iowa. She took the win on Day One, and again on Day Three. Today, she fills us in on how it all went down.
by Meredith Miller
Three years ago I decided on a whim to go to Coralville, Iowa, (yeah, I had to look at a map, too) to race Jingle Cross Rock. I’d heard it was a solid three days of racing that offered hard, fun courses and also those coveted UCI points that were important for making the Worlds team. Inevitably, winter weather would whip through the Johnson County Fairgrounds turning the course into one big mud pit and making the infamous Mt. Krumpit treacherous and dicey for even the most skilled riders. Sounded right up my alley. Ha. I went and I scored. Three times. I went back in 2010 and I scored one win and a second. I went back this year and I added two wins and a second to my total. I’d say there’s something about Jingle Cross that works for me.
The Friday night race is fun because, well, it’s at night under the lights and we don’t get to do that too often. Most people pull into the venue Friday afternoon after having stuffed their bellies full with Thanksgiving turkey the night before. Racing off some of the guilt from eating that extra piece of pumpkin pie now becomes high priority. The temporary lights shine bright, over most of the course anyway, as the races get underway. This year’s Friday night race was the warmest night of the last three years that I have raced – no leg warmers or gloves needed – and it was dry. Similar to year’s past we ran up and whizzed down the fly over, dragged our feet up the steep run-up, bombed down the backside of Mt. Krumpit, zigzagged our way through the barns and got dizzy as we rode into and out of the Whoville Whirl.
Of all the years I’ve been to Jingle Cross, this year’s field was the strongest I have seen. A win wasn’t going to come easy with the likes of Sue Butler, Mo Bruno-Roy, Teal Stetson Lee, Julie Krasniak, Amanda Carey and Coryn Rivera on the start line. Eager to get things going I took the hole shot (Cha-ching. Oh wait, this isn’t the Avid Shorty Ultimate Holeshot at the USGP!) and kept the pace high for a good majority of the first lap.
Rather quickly, a small group formed on the front with several different people taking turns leading the charge. After a couple of hard efforts on the front, it was clear that it was going to be hard to shake anyone off my wheel. Luckily for me, I had decent running legs, which helped stretch the rubber band a little farther each time up the leg-breaking run-up until eventually only my teammate Teal and I were left running neck and neck the last time up.
Figuring I probably had an advantage in the sprint (one of the times my roadie skills come into play), I felt confident leaving my final attack closer to the finish. I lead into the Whoville Whirl knowing that it would be difficult for Teal to get around me anytime before we hit the pavement to the finish. I hit the finishing stretch first and was able to hold off Teal to take my first win of the season. Yes, it was a great feeling to finally get a big W!
Saturday’s race was a whole new beast. The course was slightly different than the day before with the addition of the daunting Mt. Krumpit, a tricky off camber muddy section and a short, steep kicker into a moderate tricky descent on the backside of the course. The mercury had dropped, and was going downhill quickly every hour, and a steady rain was falling. The course had turned to slop and it continued to get worse as the day went on and the other races pounded the heck out of it. The UCI officials made some last minute alterations to the course because of the beating it had already taken.
We lined up knowing it was anyone’s game to win since such challenging course conditions leave the door wide open. The race started fast to get to the early off camber section first which lead right into the fly over and then up the greasy backside of Mt. Krumpit (the descent we went down Friday night). Mo and Sue lead up the first section of the climb, but as they tried to ride the slow and heavy grassy section at the top, I ran right by them and took the lead down the hairy Mt. Krumpit.
I ran, or mostly slid my way down while using my bike as a crutch, as everyone behind me followed suit. Trying to find sure footing wasn’t easy as the side of the hill was like a giant off-camber slip-and-slide but it was the surest way down the serpentine hill. Near the bottom, Teal remounted her bike and rode the last tricky section. That proved to be her winning move.
Behind Teal, Pepper, Sue, and Mo were in hot pursuit while I sat in letting the gap open to my teammate. Next time through the early off-camber section I came out with a little bit of a lead and was able to open that even more on the climb. Quickly, I became the lone chaser. Each lap, I would close the gap to Teal through the bottom of the course and up the climb but she would open up daylight again as she seamlessly rode the bottom of Mt Krumpit while I ran it. Teal won the battle on Saturday with her deft bike handling skills. I came across the line for second. Sue won the duel for third.
Although the rain had stopped, Sunday’s course was even more treacherous than Saturday. The temperature had dropped into the 20’s and the mud had dried up in sections. In many other sections it was sloppier, greasier and even harder to navigate. It wasn’t a question of if mistakes would be made but when. Who would recover from a bobble and stay focused versus who would flounder? Besides being able to skillfully steer the bikes through the mud, we also had to think about the grass and thick mud that clogged up our bikes and made them heavier than a ton of bricks. Bike exchanges were vital to providing a properly operating, lighter machine to ride as much as possible.
The long, steep run up had returned and was in a much worse condition than Friday night. Trying to find sure footing on the way up was almost harder to find than running down on Saturday. Sliding backwards down the hill wasn’t out of the question if there was a misstep. The descent on Mt. Krumpit was rideable, so what proved to be trickiest were the slippery twists and turns on the bottom of the course.
From the gun, Julie took the lead and never looked back … until a half lap to go when the game had changed. Behind Julie, Mo, Amanda and I were chasing hard. I had several mishaps which included a low rear tire off the start line, sliding out in a turn, a very stupid (and embarrassing) fall on top of my bike in the pit when I missed getting my hand on the right hood and an encounter with some course tape. None of these set backs were new to me (last year I experienced them all more than I’d like to remember), which helped me shrug them off, get pissed and keep charging hard.
I clawed my way past Amanda and made contact with Mo to lead the chase. Ahead it looked like Julie was having a flawless race. I thought catching her might be out of the question. With sheer determination, on the last lap Mo and I had made contact with her at the bottom of the run up. Then, on the top of the run up Julie missed her pedal on her remount and I was able to run right by her. Back on my bike I hammered up the rest of the climb as hard as I could to open up as much of a safety net as possible.
I still had half a lap to go and as the course had proven, mistakes could happen when you least expected them. I made it down Mt Krumpit, over the lincoln logs, through the barns, around all the dicey turns and out of the Whoville Whirl smoothly and without any mishaps. For the second time that weekend, I raised my arms in victory. Behind me, Mo had over taken Julie, who settled for third.
Jingle Cross is quickly becoming a race that people want to go to, even if it is in the middle of nowhere. The promoter, John Meehan, and his crew have done a fantastic job organizing a solid three days of racing. With C1 and C2 points and money on the line for the men, the start list will continue to get longer. Although there is no distinction between C1 and C2 for points or money for women, the racing is hard and the competition is strong. These things combined will see Jingle Cross grow to become one of the premier races in the country.
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