by Ellen Noble
Richard Fries calls me the hipster girl. Maybe it’s because of my awesome pink socks, my sweet Trek Portsmouth skinsuit or my thick-rimmed glasses, who knows. But it’s strange to think that before my hipster identity was created, I was just a normal mountain bike racer. A 3-hour-long-million-calories-burned-mountain-bike-racer. And in a true case of baptism-by-fire, I had to learn a lot about racing ’cross and I had to learn it fast. This is my story of the 2011 cyclocross season, and everything that I figured out.
I was born in 1995 and not long after that I began going to races with my parents and “working” in our family’s bike shop. I learned how to use clipless pedals at five and two years later I started racing Novice at the local Maine mountain bike races. As the years passed, I worked my way up through the ranks and this past season, 2011, I found myself at the starting line of my first Elite mountain bike race with Trek’s 29er crew jersey on my back and a 19 pound Trek Superfly under me.
The series spanned from the morning after my high school prom to the morning after my school’s Homecoming dance. While many girls were spending their their day getting their hair curled and make-up perfected, I was getting splattered in mud, hoping to get home in time to get a quick shower and make it to the dance on time. During the dance, while others were discussing the after-parties and sleep-overs, I was timing my arrival at home to make sure I get a full night’s rest before my last mountain bike race of the season.
Don’t get me wrong! I love going to prom, homecoming and any other events my school hosts, but I am a racer and I do my best to balance everything and I wouldn’t have it any other way. All of those rushed efforts; dressing in a rush, going to bed early on a Friday, all of that, was worth it. I won the EFTA Elite series. When this was over, I knew I wasn’t ready to put my bike away. I decided to try something I had always been curious about: cyclocross.
My parents used to race ’cross “back in the day” and I had tried my luck at a couple of races in 2010 with little success. Sometimes I prefer to not talk about it, but to be brief: I was lapped twice by the leader of the Junior 15-18 boys race in New Gloucester. Knowing so much about ’cross, I figured Junior 15-18 was where I belonged, but when the dust settled I had finished 60 out of 61. My second race was the Cycle-Smart International in Northampton. I have a few memories about CSI; one includes going over the barriers holding my bike by anything I could grab and tripping over them. I continued on to finish mid-pack, beaten by Emma White by over five minutes. I also discovered that signing up the day before a race with no Verge points puts you on the last line. We drove over three hours back to our home in Maine that afternoon, not realizing we would be turning around to go back to Northampton on Sunday. I was literally so addicted, I begged my parents to take me back the next day. I again registered as the last person but made up a few places the next day. Dare I say, this is when I became a “cyclist.”
From then on, even though I didn’t do a cyclocross race for the remainder of the season, I began training, racing and loving cycling. My weekends and weekdays were eaten up and I focused almost entirely on it. I’m really one of the only kids in my school that races bikes so I do my best to educate them on it, but all they want to know is “how fast can you go?” They just don’t really understand it. Most girls don’t understand why my legs are the way they are and guys don’t understand me in general and I guess it’s okay for it to be a mystery to them. Racing at such a high level (being an elite mountain biker and a competitive womens 3/4 rider) has really changed my life for the better. I’ve learned responsibility, time management and that the “high school experience” isn’t just about partying and such, it’s about doing what you love and for me, that has been racing my bike. My life is different than a normal 16 year old’s because of cycling, but I’m proud of it.
I knew ’cross held something different: was it the people? The racing? The cool bikes? Maybe it was the hipsters and their silly style, who knows. Either way, I immediately took action on working towards the 2011 ’cross season. I hired a great coach, Al Donahue of Cycle-Smart and attended the Cycle-Smart cyclocross summer camp hosted by Adam Myerson in August. At camp, they taught me that you don’t hold your bike by the seat (woops), you don’t “superman” when you get on your bike (woops) and you should never really expect your cross brakes to work … ever (double woops). After the camp was complete, I went to an early-season race called Quad Cross. I was surprised when I won the hole shot, but even more surprised when I won the amateur women’s race by a considerable amount of time. After that, I knew I was ready for the Verge Series.
The Verge series began with Green Mountain in Williston and I was there … I was put in the fifth row at staging, and up until the start of that race, I had no idea I could sprint. 45 minutes later, I came in third and I learned two important lessons: you have to be there at staging, not pre-riding the course and that they can have climbing in a ’cross race.
The next race was Gloucester and looking back, I think it’s a good thing that I had no idea that it was such a big race. Despite the sold-out field of women, I won both days at the Great Brewers Grand Prix of Gloucester, and I learned that you do have to pre-register for a race (I registered 109th out of 111 allotted women), that you are allowed to throw your arms up when you win and it’s definitely okay to cry after a race.
My next double victory was at Providence Grand Prix of Cyclocross. I learned that people love the Harpoon Beer Garden and also to never, ever, give up, because you never know when a girl will crash, flat or just plain quit.
Downeast Cyclocross wasn’t as much of a success. In my first non-UCI pro womens race and only about four minutes into the race, another racer and I collided and I ruined my front wheel. I tried the race, even though they pulled me a lap early and that day, I realized that those Pro women are crazy.
The next day at Downeast was a very interesting day. From the start, Lori Cooke (practically my second mom and a person with whom I’ve been very competitive all year) got caught in the tape, which gave me time to gap the group by over a minute and that day I learned that college boys make great spectators. Or hecklers. Speckelors?
The Cycle-Smart International race was my worst of the season. I was with the leading group, riding with some really strong riders when I got my chain stuck. I became extremely discouraged and dropped back to seventh place. I had similar mental problems day two after a crash with Emma White (my other best friend and yet again a more than outstanding racer) and I let her get away. I learned that you should never let a mechanical get to you, because you can still make up time, so never stop trying to close the gap.
By the time Baystate Cross rolled around, I remembered the one thing I learned from the CSI about 30 seconds in. Leading the hole-shot from the starting line, I attempted to shift into a big ring and got chain suck, but I didn’t quit like at CSI. Instead, I used my knowledge and went from dead last to winning in the final sprint. I learned that when you want something bad enough, you can win it. The second day I learned that crying at the starting line doesn’t qualify as a warm up, and when your head isn’t screwed on straight you won’t do as well as you want. I finished second behind Emma and, again, learned some very valuable lessons …
The final race of the season was a great one. It wasn’t my best race, but it was exciting. It was my birthday and I learned that pink frosted cupcakes make great post race food. I came in second both days to Emma White, but the second day I learned that you can go so much farther than your comfort level, and once you do, you can really put up a fight.
After the long season and approximately 11 races wearing the series leader jersey, I walked away with the Verge 3/4 womens title. But I didn’t just leave the race with a very expensive cowbell, I left with friends that I will have for life. I’ve become friends with the pro’s. I have stopped talking to them like they’re Gods, instead I’ve worked on talking to them like they talk to me; like a normal person. I’ve gotten to know a good amount of the junior boys field, but most of all, I’ve become friends with all those 3/4 women. It’s been interesting, racing my best friends. It’s weird knowing someone so well, respecting them so much, but still thinking to yourself, “I just want to beat them.” After the race, we all hug, and the competition is off, but I think it’s helped me in a way. When I’m training, I’m thinking “beat your friend,” instead of “beat this girl you don’t know.”
So with my Verge season having come to a close and Nationals only a few weeks away, I suppose my 2011 cyclocross season is about to be finishing up. It was such a great experience and I’m sad to see it go, and none of it would have been possible if it weren’t for my parents, Tom and Sandy Noble, my friends who have been so sweet and supporting, my coach Al Donahue, who gave me the tools to go fast and my outstanding sponsors: Trek Bikes, Trek Portsmouth, Bontrager and Shamano. I am looking forward to seeing everyone next season, making more friends and over coming more challenges while racing in the Elite women’s category.