Race report from new Bella, Liz Bashaw, after her first Cyclocross race. She picked a good one-a cold and muddy USGP!
It all started with the purchase of my first cross bike from fellow teammate Kat Garner. I always wanted to race cross but kept purchasing other bikes instead. However, I could not pass up this opportunity. The minute I laid my eyes on the green Chile con Crosso, I fell in love. I knew it was time to start racing. I did not want to let Kat and her bike (soon to be mine) down by any means. I took a test ride and and rode back to her house to purchase my next obsession. Unfortunately I was not able to mount her (the bike) again until just last week. Due to absolutely gorgeous weather, it was very difficult to shun my road and mountain bike for something with which I was still developing a relationship. However, that all changed last weekend.
I had some friends in town from Tulsa, OK, where I lived for almost 28 years. I knew them through the racing scene in Tulsa, and they came just to race in the USGP of cyclocross in Fort Collins. Initially, I was only going as a cheerleader, however that quickly changed. I knew my friends would have nothing less out of me, and I certainly did not want to disappoint. After all, I was the one who has been living in CO for over a year, and since this race was held just an hour away, I had no excuses.
The USGP in Fort Collins consisted of two days of cross racing. The course was slightly different each day, as was the weather! I had not made up my mind as to which day(s) I wanted to race. I decided to tuck in early Friday night hoping I would wake early enough to get from Denver to Fort Collins by 7 am to register. That meant I was going to have to wake at around 5 am to allow myself enough time to eat breakfast and load my bike and gear in the car before hitting the road. Unfortunately, I did not hear my alarm, but instead I woke up to the sound of rain outside and much colder temps. I was not unhappy at all! After waking and eating breakfast we decided to head up to Fort Collins anyway to cheer on my friends from Tulsa. Once we arrived, the conditions had grown worse. I thought winter had arrived! The wind gusts were blowing the rain perpendicular, and the course was so muddy that it looked as if the racers were not even moving. I was happy to have been a spectator that day. However, I definitely was ready to give my bike and myself a mud bath the following day. I was told by a friend to sign up as early as possible because that would ensure me a better spot at the start. Since I was already at the race, I decided to take his advice.
I was more than excited to race the next day. I am not very good at sitting on the sidelines, so I knew Sunday was the day to put everything to the test. I woke up around 5 am the following day, gathered everything together and took off to Fort Collins ready to race in any conditions Mother Nature was going to hand me. Fortunately, the rain subsided the night before and nothing but clear skies were in the forecast. The weather was dry, however the temperatures were still cold. I was not bothered, for I came prepared. When I showed up to the race course, I felt confident I was going to be at the front of the pack since I signed up the day before. Wrong! In Oklahoma, I would not have had to worry because there are only a handful of women in the state who race, and we all signed up the day of the race mostly. However, it seems I was one of the last to reserve my spot in the 3/4 women’s race. Oh well, next time I will not make that mistake. I was surprised by the number of women who were present that day to race. Being that this was my first race in Colorado ever, I was still used to Oklahoma numbers. Once again, you could count the number of women who race on one hand. The number of women in this race was nearly four times what I had grown accustomed to.
The race I competed in was the women’s category 3/4. The race was 35 minutes long, which was about 3 laps on the course. Since I was at the back of the pack and this was my first cross race, and my first ever race in Colorado, I decided to play nice. Looking back, I realized I probably could have been much more aggressive at the start to try and jockey my way into the front, but it was too late. As soon as the whistle blew, everyone took off, except for myself. I could not get clipped into my pedals! This had never happened to me. I have road raced and mountain biked, and I have always been able to clip in immediately. I was frustrated, but I knew I did not have much time, for the mud was only yards away. As soon as I was able to clip in, we were already on the course and the mud was like quick sand. Front wheels were moving left to right rather unsteadily. My only goal at that time was to stay upright. If I were to fall then I knew clipping back in would be near impossible. Just two days before the USGP race I decided to buy some cheap pedals with some new shoes. I was in the market for shoes because my old ones were too big. I was able to mountain bike recreationally in them comfortably, but racing is another story. I did not want shoes to be a hinder my chance at finishing first! I was told later that the pedals I purchased did not provide much of an advantage for me in those conditions.
Since I had nothing to compare it to, I felt the course was fun yet challenging. There were a few hills with some obstacles mixed in. I am not afraid to climb, but climbing off road in mud is not the easiest. I felt that with every pedal stroke I was only making half the progress I would be if I were on the road. As I was on the course I kept thinking what the spectators might possibly be thinking. I wondered if they thought we could go faster, because to them I imagine we looked like snails on the course! Or maybe I was the only one with that thought! Throughout the course I was battling it out with a couple of girls. It seemed I passed them on the hills, but once an obstacle came and we had to dismount, they pulled ahead because once again, I could not clip in. In fact, I spent almost the entire second lap unclipped! This was a new experience, and I would not recommend it to anyone racing. The pack quickly spread out at the start. It seemed from my vantage point that girls were all over the course. It was hard to tell who was in the lead, however I did not look up much because the mud would have taken hold of my wheels and down I would go.
There were many girls named Liz who also raced that day. It was great because it felt as if I had a rather large fan club that came out to support me. In fact, one girl who stayed close to me throughout much of the entire race was named Liz as well, and many people knew her. Hearing the constant cheer “Go Liz” was a reminder to myself that no matter how much pain I was in, I should never give up.
Before I bought my cross bike, I would ask other people who had raced cross before what it was like. All they could tell me was that it was so much pain and pleasure mixed into one race. I was also told if I did not feel like I was going to vomit throughout and after the race, I did not work hard enough. Well, I guess I worked hard enough, because I definitely achieved the nauseous feeling. However, the smell of burgers grilling did not help much either.
After finishing, I was thrilled to have completed my first cross race. I even had a couple of girls who competed against me congratulate me on my finish. I was surprised for I felt I still had a lot of work ahead of me. I did not even look at what place I finished until a couple days later. I later found out I finished 9/18. I was not unhappy, but certainly felt that race was a lesson for me. I look forward to racing cross this season. I hope to try and compete in at least one race a week. I know every race is different and this is just one of many reasons why I love it!