Two flats, two championship races in two days, and two tough teammates. Racing at nationals proved to be quite the experience. Amanda Bye recounts her recent trip to Reno for Cyclocross Nationals.
The eagerness of going to a National race is palpable as we drive from Boulder, Colorado to the infamous Reno, Nevada. Social media creates even more hype as we drain our cell phone data watching course videos of off-camber sections and ditch crossings. We talk through our goals of racing in a national race against elite riders and USAC rules we never thought during our regular season (sock height, checking for motors, call ups, where to place all four numbers, etc) and pure excitement can be heard on that 16 hour car ride.
We got to Reno and pre-rode the course and found features such as a long straight away from the start that would prove to be a lung buster, three steps broke up the grassy section, a ditch that appeared easy to bunny hop, a set of Belgium stairs, a lengthy sand pit, two barriers following a 180 degree right hand turn, a steep uphill followed by a downhill and off camber s-curve with plenty of loose dirt to keep you focused and a dinosaur themed park just before the end. I had been practicing bunny hopping this season and felt confident riding the ditch. First try I pulled up with great confidence but quickly nailed my front wheel on the backside of the ditch and over my handlebars I went. Getting tangled in my bike shook my confidence and I decided to run the ditch from that point on. This ditch crossing was probably the most deceiving course feature as many hopped it with ease, including numerous junior racers.
On race day Bridgette, my teammate, and I woke up early to race our respective age categories. We were the first two races of the day and it was a brisk morning. Part of the dirt section that led to the steep uphill had crusted into deep ruts which would pull bikes whichever way it wanted; as a rider you were just holding on for dear life. The steep off camber section was rideable but was becoming slicker as the the dirt eroded to hard clay and rocks began to show through. Bridgette pinch flatted with half a lap to go on a sharp curb and was able to get the single speed bike from the pit so she could finish. I pinch flatted the last lap just after the steep off camber section on one of the exposed rocks and ran with pride a quarter mile to the finish. Despite both flatting, we were proud of our efforts and had a very successful day for both of us on a challenging course.
Bedtime came early as we planned to race single speed the following day. Thankfully, this race was in the afternoon which allowed us a bit more recovery time, the chance to race in the warm, Reno sun and the ability to watch the juniors in the morning. When it was time for our race, we lined up with single speed superstars including Meredith Miller, Kristen Legan, Kristal Boni and Liz Barcheck to name a few. In addition, there were also women racing in tutus, a unicorn costume and jorts. The blow of the whistle was the start of the party. There were offerings of dollar bill, whiskey, beer and donuts. On the first lap, I went down in the off camber s-curve and decided to run that section for the remaining laps. At this point in the day, lots of people were falling and the previously mentioned ruts were getting deeper with each passing race. My legs were feeling the previous days race and then I heard the announcer say that Meredith Miller was about to complete her race. However, there as another women whom I had been battling just behind me and thus no opportunity to soft pedal and do one less lap. I kept pedaling hoping that the officials would still call my race. This is not what happened as I passed the finish, I heard the bell…one more lap to go. I went 100 feet and asked a volunteer if anyone was behind me, did they call the other woman? Nope, she was still there and thus with every bit of energy that I had left I pushed the whole lap. She passed me in the downhill s-curve and I turned myself inside out to sprint in the flat section to regain my lead, which I held.
Exciting as these races were, the best part was racing with Bridgette and having the experience to race in a national race. My legs are still bruised and aching as I type this a few days later but I would still do it again. Reno did not disappoint and will be be a great location for Interbike next year. We are already talking about recruiting our teammates for nationals in Louisville, KY later this year. My goal in the off season? To nail bunny-hopping short, Belgium steps and longer distances, but I will pass on hopping the standard height barriers.