Wow, I haven't blogged about racing in a really long time. A bunch of other stuff happened this year, most of it awesome (got a poem published, got a new job that I love, and traveled a bunch), and some of it less so (crashed and hurt my lower back about a month and a half before 'cross season started in earnest). Despite my injury, I had a great start to the season at Quad... then got progressively less excited and more disheartened about the season with each New England Verge race I did... then went to the mid-Atlantic, found my mojo again, and raced my face off for two days at Granogue.
More on all of that later, but that brings us to this past weekend.
I did DCCX back in 2009, but skipped it last year for Downeast. This year, however, I decided to skip Downeast. Though I generally consider myself a mudder, the bacteriophobe in me really hates racing through a start-finish area that's covered in thin traces of cow dung. Plus, I thought it would be a good idea to stay out of the Verge rut I'd dug myself into. So, even though DCCX was the weekend after Granogue, I decided to sign up for it.
The drive down was much more merciful than it had been the preceding weekend, plus--BONUS--the no-parking area in front of my friend Ken's condo becomes weekend-long parking at 7 p.m. on Fridays, and I rolled up at about 7:04 to snag the first spot. SCORE. Ken and I shot the shit (we've been friends for years, and he was one of the folks who first got me into bike racing, back when he lived in Boston in 2007), then headed out to dinner with our friends Anna and Jen. After THAT, the cold I'd been nursing all week started to flare up into total nasal congestive doom, but I fought it with some sleep.
Saturday the course was open for pre-riding. If openers matter--and after this weekend, I'm beginning to think they do--I got in, like, the best openers of my life, and it wasn't just the Sudafed I'd taken a couple hours before. I did about 4-5 laps, figured out lines, and made a new friend--an eight-year-old 'cross racer named CeeCee who was going to move up from the kids' race (which she'd destroyed the previous weekend) for her cub junior debut. I talked to her about different tricks she could use to get more height when carrying, and also talked to her about how to get safely lapped.
Openers opened up my nose as well as my legs, so I was able to breathe a little better by the end of the workout. Ken and I got respective dinners from Whole Foods, watched Bridesmaids on On Demand, caught a bit of the Silver Spring Zombie Walk...
... and then headed back, shamefully, to watch Bridesmaids again. To those who hate, I have one word to say: COPCAKES. Anyway, with half an hour to go, I gave up on the movie and went to bed, then tossed and turned and had nightmares involving having to go to the vet put down my childhood dog TWICE because the first time didn't take (beagle zombie?!).
Ken's race was at 10:00 and mine was at noon. We got to the venue at 8:30, which gave me ample time to schlep my trainer to Ken's team tent and watch some of the other races. I did a lap after the 10 a.m. race finished, mostly concerned with the line I was going to take on the downhill hairpin chicane (it was already tricky, and Sunday it was muddier than Saturday). I concluded that it was rideable, hopped on the trainer, and sang Jen an impromptu, sarcastic ballad about my undying love for the trainer.
I switched wheels, and then, with thirty minutes till 'CROSS TIME, something started happening. I found myself feeling a level of nervousness that I haven't had at 'cross races most of this season. It was the good kind of nervousness, the kind that involves being a little scared but also a lot excited, the kind that's a lot like the nervousness you have before a date with someone you really like. And just like that, I realized that, holy crap, 'cross was something that I REALLY LIKED again.
I was staged in the second row of the Women's 3/4 field, with the 15-18 juniors in front of us and the 1/2/3 women in front of them. We went off about 40 seconds to a minute after the juniors.
Starts are generally not my strong suit, but I nailed this one, coming off of the pavement and up onto the grass solidly in the top 10 and in a good position to pass (for me, this is a more solid bet than the hole shot). I kept moving up during the parade lap to the start/finish, and by the time we were at the chicane, I was in the top five. We went through the start finish and when we came to the fast barriers I hit the gas again, then again on the bricks (some people were using the section to recover, but for me, it was big ring all the way). Before I knew it, I was behind Emily from Momentum racing, solidly in third position. Diedre Ribbens had a brief mechanical and we passed her; then I passed Emily and, holy crap, was actually leading. This meant that I was doing everything in my power to not go mental and crash.
I started building a gap on Emily, but Diedre surged by both of us, so I started chasing her instead, and we built on the gap. It was somewhere around here that it hit me: there were about forty women in the race, and I was in second. I had earned six upgrade points over the past eleven months, and, if I could just hold on to second place for the next few laps, I'd earn the final four points towards the ten that I needed for my upgrade. From then on, the race became about building the gap behind me and riding smart.
Diedre and I went through the finish area and the lap cards showed two to go. I thought, "I can do this" and rode another smart lap, surging where I could and recovering where I could, preparing to blow it all on the final lap. Then when we came through again... it was STILL two to go. In retrospect, I think this was because we weren't get lapped by Laura Van Gilder, whereas most of the other racers were, but during a 'cross race, there's not much retrospect: there's just things getting painful and then things getting awful. I'd been planning to see what I could do to catch Diedre in the final lap, but with two to go instead of one, Diedre built a gap on me. I clung on for dear life, miraculously managed to ride the penultimate chicane, and came through the finish area again determined to stay in second. I kept surging and building, until I knew I had enough space to hit the final hairpin chicane with care instead of desperation. I came down it, left foot out, brakes squealing, fork chattering, but line intact. Then I rode up it again, descended, came quickly and cleanly through the final few corners, and sprinted up the finishing straight to hold on to second with 15 seconds to spare.
My brain couldn't believe I'd done it, but my body and bike were moving on autopilot toward the team team tent, where I de-chamoidified and put on jeans and a clean jersey (as if I did this every day or something). Then Ken and I went back over to the finish area to wait for the podium. While we waited, I took advantage of the multiple snack vendors and procured a cone of frites and a tray of mini-pancakes, which I decimated in about five minutes.
Then we had our podium ceremony. Hooray podium!
Then I ate another tray of mini-pancakes, and went back to the team tent for a Yuengling. Hooray beer!
Ken and I went to Chinatown for dinner, then had celebratory cocktails in Silver Spring. Hooray Manhattans and Sidecars!
Then we went back to the condo and watched Bridesmaids AGAIN, because we're chicks like that.
Then I drove home to Massachusetts, unpacked, sent a race resume to our local USAC official, and, twenty-eight hours later, turned into a beautiful, slow-but-not-lapped-by-LVG-even-with-a-gap, Cat 2 cyclocross racer.