There are some moments that are undefinable. There are some days that are just great. And then, if you’re really lucky, there are weekends full of those moments, one right after the other. This was one of those weekends.
I’ve been talking for a few weeks now about why I was looking forward to this past weekend. First, there was the Tour of High Bridge, a circuit race I had been told was “perfect” for me, and then there was the Rutgers Cyclocross Clinic with my best friends, complete with a barbeque (with waffles and Nutella, yum) that night.
I surprised myself.
In the Tour of High Bridge, the field was small but the competition was fierce, since it was an NJ Cup race. 16 racers on the line, and all ready to attack what can only be called a “wall” maybe 200 yards into the 3.3 mile course. After the incredibly steep hill came another hill, and then thankfully, a road so marred with potholes it could only be described as “Euro” or “cyclocross.” I liked the sound of that. I’m not the worst climber in the world, but I’m not the strongest either, so the hill dropped me back considerably. But railing onto the rough road, I made up any time that I lost.
By the time the race was over, I had done a hefty amount of leading, helped with the breakaway and even surprised myself by having a decent sprint at the end. More importantly, I got back in the race.
I’ve written a lot about kind of crappy finishes in road races in the past couple of months. I’ve had a myriad of problems, from mechanical issues to serious leg cramps to lack of training time. And I have to admit, after a killer season last spring on the road, coming into this season has been disappointing. I was starting to think that road wasn’t something I would ever be competitive at again. As I said in previous columns, I wasn’t racing to win. In the Tour of Ohio, I had a great time, I stayed in the race even when I fell off the back of the pack. I didn’t drop out or give up. But this race felt different: this race, I wanted to win. I had that drive, that motivation and that power back. I think a big part of it is due to the serious work my coach has had me put in. Before him, I was putting in the hours, but I wasn’t putting in the intensity. Now, there are sprints, threshold, tempo, you name it. And I’m following his plan to the letter. There’s some serious power coming back. I ended up finishing the Tour of High Bridge in fifth, narrowly getting beaten in the sprint, reminding me that I need to pay more attention in the future.
Of course, after I rode home from the race, the real fun could begin: cyclocross training! After a brief session Saturday night, I went to bed with dreams of barriers and run ups dancing in my head. On Sunday morning, my dad joined the group and spent the morning with the beginner group, learning some techniques like barriers (see picture on the right). In temperatures easily in the high 90s with air so humid it felt like drinking when you went to breath, I was impressed that he stuck it out so well. But if you read this column regularly, you know my dad is a rockstar.
On the other hand, I got to practice with the “advanced group,” doing a couple of “hot laps” around the practice course. I am insanely happy to report that there were only one or two guys (other than the coaches, of course) who managed to beat me, and I got a couple of high fives after each lap. Honestly? I was shocked. I didn’t think that my handling skills or stamina would have improved that much in just a few weeks of training, but then again, it’s been serious training. And thanks to the early summer mountain biking I did, I was taking corners without even thinking about touching the brakes. When we finished by doing a three lap “race,” a Princeton cyclocrosser and I had each other marked. I was disappointed that after two laps, he got a flat and had to stop and borrow a wheel, because I swear I was closing that gap. He got back in the race and finished behind me, afterwards telling me that he was trying to catch me the whole last lap. My old teammate, Eugene, wasn’t as happy with me. He told me I had crashed him out, and when I asked when, he replied: “When you passed me I tried so hard to catch you I crashed in a corner!” Then Pat Bradley, the coach for the weekend, pointed out that he wouldn’t have crashed if he had just stopped worrying about getting beat by a girl. I hope the whole team gets used to that, since I’ll be at practice every Wednesday night, trying to keep the boys on Rutgers Cycling humble.
Some of you may have read the Newbie News article on what to expect from clinics, where I cited the Rutgers Clinic as an example. The reason I chose to write that article for new racers wasn’t to suggest that the Rutgers Clinic is the be-all, end-all of clinics, though I loved it. Rather, what I wanted to do was let people who might be nervous about a clinic know that there isn’t anything to be scared of. I hate performing in front of people, especially when I’m performing something I’m not 100% confident with, like an off-camber turn. But when it comes down to it, I would much rather fall on a turn like that when I’m with new riders and coaches who have advice to give, rather than waiting until a real race, complete with hecklers. So if you still have time and can find a clinic near you (check out our calendar of events), I can’t recommend them highly enough.
The other up side to clinics? If you’re anything like me (and if you’re reading this, you probably are), you work as hard as you possibly can during the clinic (getting your money’s worth!) so by the time you come home, even though time-wise you may not have been in the saddle for too long, you worked at such a high intensity it feels like you rode back-to-back centuries. And on that note, after that weekend, I am very, very grateful that Monday began a rest week.
So tell me: how are you preparing for the season, technique and training-wise? Let me know in the comments or by emailing [email protected].
If you want to read more about my training, racing and editing exploits, you can find the painfully full version of events here: Molly’s CX Adventures.