Thursday, March 28, 2013

British Cross Country Race 1

It’s always easier to write about the good races than the bad. But I feel it is important to identify why things have gone wrong, and learn from them, so that you can develop as a bike racer. Also, the effort it took from so many different people to actually get me to the first race of the British cross country series was huge, and I want all those people to be recognized and thanked.

Riding from near my parents house before the snow hit, again
Prior to the race I had spent the best part of 10 days: in London getting a new USA visa; attending countless meetings to arrange our wedding (which was actually really enjoyable, though time consuming); attending my hen party; while also trying to squeeze in as many training rides as possible in my frigid, wind swept, darling Scotland. The word I use to describe riding in Scotland is gritty, in all senses of the word. On top of that, I probably consumed my weight in cups of tea; tea always seems to taste better back home.

Even back in my 26 inch wheel days, I rode Stan's (bike I use while visiting parents)

Snowy Scottish singletrack

England was being hit by the coldest winter (or technically spring?) they have experienced in 50 years. The days leading up to the race meant that the course was being hammered with snow (that’s right north east American’s, northern Europe is also being plagued with eternal Narnia!). Whether the Sunday’s race was actually  going to go ahead was unclear; Saturday’s races were cancelled, but the organizers were holding out until the last minute to decide on the rest of the weekend races.

I had prepped the best I could for the race, so was keen to make the journey south in the hopes of racing. Queue lesson number 1: I had brought a pair of pedals from the US to use on an old bike that I store at my parents house. I couldn’t get left the pedal off and asked my dad if he could help while I packed up my stuff. “Turn it left to get it off”, I instructed. Dad struggled too, so gave the pedal a good smack with a hammer. Long story short, the pedal was well and truly welded to the crank. What’s the lesson? Always carry a spare pair of pedals when possible! I decided not to panic, however, as I had an old pair of shoes and pedals at my parents. Not ideal, and not what a sponsored rider should do, but I had little choice.

Mum, sister Claire and niece Georgia
Dinner out with family

So after an emotional farewell to my beloved family, I set off on an early Saturday train to England (I appreciate UK public transport so much more after living in the USA). I stayed with my friend Will in a small village about 25 miles south of the race. My bike had been safely delivered in a nifty bike box supplied by Bike Flights.

Bike flights delivery, very compact box by Serfas

When I woke early on Sunday, another 3 inches of snow had fallen. This was going to make for tricky driving conditions in a small Corsa car, with skinny tires and unplowed icy roads. After some slipping and sliding for an hour and a half, I made it to the venue, and headed down to some of the tents, as I needed some help with the poplock for my shock. 
Race Venue!

Not the best snow car, but it got me there!

The guys at WXC World Racing were the only tent open, and were really kind at helping me out; they let me shelter under their tent while they sourced someone to help with my poplock. Queue lesson number 2: The guys told me to keep warm, and had a generator sized heater blowing hot air on me. After my poplock was fixed, and a quick warm up, it was time to race. At the start line the ground was muddy ice. I made sure I could clip in, left and right. Right clipped in, but left wouldn’t. There was nobody I could shout to for an ice axe, so I knew I was going to be in trouble. What's the lesson? Never stand in front of a heater on a cold day; your cleats will freeze and clog with ice as soon as you step back on snow!

Evidence I actually raced (but you can tell how unimpressed I am!). Photo: Andy Whitehouse for British Cycling

Ice-caked frozen pedal

The start was chaos, although I was sitting in about 5th entering single track, despite not being able to 
get my left foot clipped in. Someone crashed in front of me, and I ended up having to put my right foot down. Race over: both my cleats were frozen solid and I couldn’t clip in. After a lap I knew it was pointless to go on, as my legs were like bamby on ice trying to find any place on my pedals were I could actually turn the cranks. I hate having to quit, and this is only my second time since starting racing; the other time was when my back seized up during the Shenandoah in 2011. It crossed my mind that maybe I should just give up on bike racing, and focus on running or something. That lasted about 10 seconds when I remembered how boring running can be, compared to tearing down a trail on your mountain bike!

At least I got to hang out with this chap, who even made me flapjacks for the journey back to USA
I spoke to Shannon briefly and explained my sorrows; I was feeling terribly guilty at making such a mistake, when we have a great sponsor in Crank Brother pedals (which I know would not have clogged up the way my SPD’s did). I was grateful for her support on the matter, that we all suffer mishaps, and to move onward. It makes me really appreciate the strong support I have on the Stan’s Team. Women have a tendency to worry about things more than men, and it’s good to have women to talk to!

So thanks go out to: Rich for packing and sending my bike to the UK after I left, Will Chadwick for the endless cups of tea, flapjacks, and a cosy house to stay in, Bike Flights for the timely shipment and super cool bike case, and of course the support of Stan’s NoTubes Elite Women’s Team. What’s the final lesson? Despite the outcome, be grateful for what you have, and use it to learn from and build on for success at future races. Thanks for reading!

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