The Girl With The Cowbell Tattoo

The Girl With The Cowbell Tattoo, created by Tim Shay.

by Molly Hurford

When I was a triathlete (don’t stop reading because I admitted that!), when you finished a race and looked at your score, what you saw was a realistic reflection on you as an athlete. With no drafting and no one but yourself to blame (unless you count getting kicked in the head during the swim), your rank is well, pretty much the full story. Sure, there might be outside factors like a mechanical, or internal ones like a stomach cramp, but generally speaking, how you finish makes sense.

In cyclocross, this isn’t always the case. Freud tells us that sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar. But when looking at a results page from a cyclocross race, that cigar, nine times out of 10, isn’t just a cigar. What I’m getting at here is that things aren’t always what they seem to be. This isn’t a bad thing, or a good thing. It’s just something that, as I report on each race, I notice more and more often.

Take Justin Lindine’s performance at Cycle-Smart International, for example. The first day, he finished a very disappointed racer in fifth place. The next day, he finished fairly happily in fourth spot. That’s only one place better. The difference in the races, though, was monumental.

Lindine taking a corner, passing lapped riders as he rode to victory. Cyclocross Magazine

Lindine tearing it up at Downeast. © Cyclocross Magazine

From a results standpoint, he only improved by one spot in the two day span. However, if you were a spectator at the race, you know that between those two days, there was a world of difference. If you were there, you saw him get dropped by the leaders early on the first day and finish a ways back from the top four, rolling through the finish frowning.

But had you been there on Sunday, you would have seen his determination, seen the “Honey Badger,” as he’s called in New England, come out and snag a spot in the lead group, looking furiously determined throughout the race. You would have seen him lose the group sprint at the end but put in a noble effort.

In short, you would have seen an entirely different race. And that, my friends, is why we have race reports. Because in cycling, there is always a story behind the results, often one that goes beyond how a rider was feeling or a mechanical error that a rider made. There are tales of triumph, of defeat, of despair. And because this is cyclocross, all of those stories are laced with pain.

And while Lindine is a shining example of this principle that “results only tell part of the race story,” there are the rest of us. For me, at Cycle-Smart International, I finished 32nd in the Elite Women’s race on Saturday and 24th on Sunday. Now, those are only eight spots apart, but if you look at who I’m with on each day, and actually watched the races, like in Lindine’s case, you would have seen a different race. The placings weren’t hugely different, but believe me, they felt like it.

2011 Cycle-Smart International Elite Women Day 2 © Mark Suprenant

Heading up the run-up at Cycle-Smart International on Day 2. © Mark Suprenant

If you race cyclocross, you’ve probably felt what an “on day” and an “off day” feel like. You know the off days: legs feel like lead, you’re breathing heavy, you can’t focus, and when that one person you wanted to beat passes you like you’re standing still, somewhere inside, you want to give up. But then, those on days! Legs feel like a million bucks, you rail a corner you could barely get around on the warm-up, you ride the run-up like it’s a flat straight-away.

And OK, maybe I wasn’t fully “off” on Saturday or “on” on Sunday, but Sunday’s race, despite being almost the same course, felt like it was lightyears different from the day prior. Why? I wish I knew so I could bottle whatever that feeling was. Maybe it was more sleep, better pre-riding, easier technical sections, stomach working the way it should, any number of tiny factors, but Sunday just plain felt good in a way that Saturday most certainly did not.

Of course, there are times where I wish I could say that reading results would show the full story. This past weekend, I scored a fourth place finish at a local race. Compared to a 24th in the UCI race the weekend before, the placing seems better at a glance. But then, you look at the racers. There were some amazing women out this past weekend, I’ll be the first to say that, and I worked darn hard for that fourth place. But compared to the field at Cycle-Smart International, which featured World Championship bronze medalist Katerina Nash and powerhouse Laura Van Gilder, the field was maybe not quite as stacked. And oddly enough, even with a 20-person difference in results between the two weekends, both finishes felt the same: good, but I can do better.

And on the topic of doing better, I finally made the move that so many pro cyclists have made, or were lucky enough to be born into. I am officially (at least, for now) a New Englander, having moved up to Rhode Island in the past week. I get to join the ranks of Adam Myerson, Jeremy Powers, Amy Dombroski, Tim Johnson, Jesse Anthony, every last Keough, and too many other pros to name. Plus, I get to use the adjective “wicked.” Really, life couldn’t be better.

So stay tuned for some of my New England adventures as I start to head into the next few weeks. There are only two weekends of Verge racing left, and I have some serious goals that I want to meet at each of them. Then, we start the slow descent into Nationals Madness, followed quickly by Worlds. Things are speeding up, so stay tuned!

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.