The Girl With The Cowbell Tattoo

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

by Molly Hurford

Cyclocross season is here, and has it ever started with a bang! And by a bang, I don’t just mean Joey’s epic crash into the barriers at Singlespeed Eliminators or the intensity of the pro field at CrossVegas, I mean all of it: the seeing old friends, making new ones, racing hard, training hard. You don’t have to be a pro to know that cyclocross season has started and it is going to be a good year.

As I write this, I’ve just had the craziest week of my life. From Nittany to Charm City, in the span of one week, I’ve:

  • Gotten second in two Cat 3/4 Women’s races
  • Upgraded from a Cat 3 to a Cat 2

    Leading through the mud at Nittany Lion Cyclocross. Anthony Skorochod

    Leading through the mud at Nittany Lion Cyclocross. © Anthony Skorochod

  • Frantically sent the UCI my license info so I could race Charm City as an Elite racer
  • Did live coverage of CrossVegas
  • Met about a million people at Interbike
  • Seen some crazy cool things at Interbike
  • Had a stretch where I didn’t sleep for three days straight because we were busy putting out Interbike and CrossVegas coverage
  • Flown across the country to Las Vegas, then back again just days later, to get in my car and drive four hours to Baltimore for Charm City
  • Raced my first Elite races, with very differing results

So yeah, it’s been a really long week. The fact that I could wake up this morning (sore, but otherwise OK) is testament to just how much I love this sport, because I’m pretty sure I should be asleep for another 24 hours or so before I hit “human” again. But hey, ’tis the season!

Trying to not panic at the line at Nittany Lion Cyclocross. © Anthony Skorochod

Trying to not panic at the line at Nittany Lion Cyclocross. © Anthony Skorochod

And what a start to the season …

Nittany Lion Cross in Trexlertown, Pennsylvania, crept up on me. That may have been because for the week leading up to it, I was sharing a somewhat cramped room with UK-based racer Gabby Day and we were very busy buying matching shoes and baking cookies. Also, riding and putting bikes together.

But when I got to the start line at Nittany, I started to panic. What if all of my training hadn’t done what I had hoped? I was saying that I wanted a top ten finish, but really, I wanted to be on that podium, and I was terrified.

A front row start thanks to MAC points from last year (a lot of the girls with more points than me had upgraded) was a welcome surprise, though it served to make me more nervous … starting in front meant no excuse for poor performance. But before I could panic too much about it, the race started and we were off. After two minutes, I realized that I was sitting fourth wheel and there was some serious separation happening.

I’ll spare you all the race report, but suffice to say, I’ve never been so grateful for a long mud run: running is where I gain ground, and I had been running on the beach in the weeks before. I crossed the finish line in second, coughed up what must have been a good chunk of my lungs along with half of the mud on the course, and very happily stood on the podium, a first for me in the MAC series.

Day two rolled around and a friend told me that I now had a target on my back. Not really reassuring when I was already nervous about the day before being a fluke. Luckily, I managed to snag second again, though not without some drama including an asthma attack on the backstretch and a miscommunication over which lap was the last lap.

With one cyclocross race weekend in the bag, I had enough time to file for my Cat 2 upgrade and UCI license before catching my plane to Vegas for the biggest social event of the season: Interbike and CrossVegas.

If you’re reading this, you’ve most likely seen our coverage of CrossVegas, and probably a good chunk of Interbike. If you haven’t, we have a whole page for it! But behind the scenes, between you and me, it was sheer insanity. From the minute I set foot in Las Vegas, I was in all-out work mode, scrambling to get to Dirt Demo as fast as possible. Even the night before Interbike felt like a strategy session for a football team the night before the Superbowl. I think there were even diagrams at some point.

Interbike itself is … overwhelming. Ask anyone who’s been to it and they’ll say the same thing. Walking into the expo center, first, you think, “Wow. This is incredible,” and you feel like a little kid at Christmas. Then, you think, “Oh, $hit. I have to get through all of this?” It’s a moment of panic where you just don’t know what to do first, or how to do it.

But even at Interbike on Wednesday, you see beyond the glitz and glamour of carbon fiber road wheels and fixed gear glory. You feel the grass, you smell the dirt, sweat, blood, tears … you know it’s almost time for CrossVegas. You check your watch over and over again, counting down to the moment when you can finally start heading to the event you’ve been waiting for.

Of course, time flies when you’re having fun, and pretty soon, we were on the announcer’s stage at CrossVegas, setting up for our live coverage. In so many ways, I was more nervous about this part than I was about racing the weekend before. With no one doing a live video feed this year, the live interactive coverage we would be providing was the only way people would be able to “watch” the race. For those of you who tuned in, you know how much we were typing and how fast we were trying to get out updates, and you know about our struggles to provide photos and video while working from a mobile hotspot. It certainly wasn’t an easy task, and I thought my fingers were going to fall off at the end of the night.

But you all responded, and it was overwhelmingly amazing hearing all of the great comments that you had, whether you were asking about a racer you cared about or commenting on our coverage or cheering on a race leader. I wasn’t sure how “interactive” coverage would work, but judging by the thousands of you who tuned in, it was a success.

The race ended spectacularly, with Lars Van Der Haar snatching up an unexpected victory. For us, though, the race didn’t end for hours, since we had race reports to get up, along with video and photos. Cyclocross Magazine also came to Ryan Trebon’s rescue with finish line footage showing him in fifth place, not the sixth place finish that the officials had given him. We were in our own race around the clock to get coverage out, and with our small crew of cyclocross fanatics, we proved that anything is possible, though it comes at the cost of our sanity (and maybe our good moods).

I have to say though: I have the best job in the world. I got to meet amazing people, write about things I love, hear from companies about some incredible new products that I’m really excited about, cheer on the racers from the stage and then fly home for my own races that weekend. It may be a lot of work, but I am living the dream, on my own terms.

I won’t go into any detail about Charm City this week. I’ll save it for next time, when I’ll have three weeks worth of tales from the Elite field to share. In the meantime, remember what cyclocross season is all about:

This is what cyclocross looks like, with the best crew around. Becky Frederick

This is what cyclocross looks like, with the best crew around. © Becky Frederick

Tell me: how did your season start go?

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.