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Kelly Benjamin, mouth closed through the mud © Matthew Haughey

This past weekend, Austin played host to the Lonestar Cyclocross Festival, which also served as the Texas State Championship. The cast of characters lining up to take a shot at the state title included many of Texas’ usual suspects, but mixed into the fray was pro roadie Kelly Benjamin (Colavita–Sutter Home). Kelly recounts her experience in her second ever ‘cross race. In case you missed it, also check out our coverage of the Lonestar Cyclocross Festival.

by Kelly Benjamin

Wow, Cyclocross is hard. And muddy. But talk about fun! Being from the undisputed cyclocross mecca of Portland, Oregon, I have seen my fair share of ‘cross races this season, but have only competed in one in my entire career. Now I know why: no drafting, no sitting in and no teammates to help you out make for a really hard effort.

I don’t know much about how a course should feel or ride but I know that the Lonestar race in Austin was a blast–slippery, muddy, smooth and with standing water and full-on mud pits. I felt like a little kid out there on Sunday, just playing around on my bike–very refreshing after a long, “serious” road season.

There were several strong women on the start line Sunday, but I’m not familiar with the Texas ‘cross scene, so I was going into it completely blind. I settled in behind a couple of riders going into the singletrack and quickly jumped out in front for a few laps. Things were going well and I was cruising along when I suddenly got passed by Mina Pizzini (SMU Cycling Club) like I was standing still. She came sailing past me in the mud section while I was battling with a huge gear giving a Herculean effort. She is clearly better than me on the technical sections, and soon she was riding away for the win.

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Kelly Benjamin all smiles over the barrier © Matthew Haughey

I settled into my own little personal hell behind Mina, just trying to have fun and ride as well as I could. Surely sensing that her lead was solid, I think she eased up a little on the last lap just to give me something to reach for–and it worked. I was closing in on her quickly, so I upped the pace a little and started taking some chances. I was closing fast on the backside of the course when I came out of the muddy water section near the lake and hit the pavement going waaaaay too fast. Next thing I knew, I was on the ground and feeling like an idiot. I had managed to crash on the tiniest section of pavement you can imagine in a cyclocross race. Way to go!

Embarrassed, I picked my sorry ass up off of the ground and was able to limp in for second place with a whole new appreciation for ‘cross racing and the Texas women. All in all, it was a great experience and I look forward to racing some more while I am in my adopted winter hometown of Austin, Texas because everyone made me feel right at home and was incredibly friendly. Maybe next year I will jump into some of those insanely popular ‘cross races in Portland! After Sunday, I will at least be ready for all the mud!

Kelly Benjamin