Something clicked on, finally, in the last lap of the last stage of the inaugural Mountain States Cup Riverside Rampage stage race in Salida, Colorado.
I was there after the first (and hopefully last) 80-hour workweek ever in my life. The resultant brain fog, in combination with wind, rain, and lightning, had me pretty well convinced during a Friday preview lap of the cross country course that I had no idea how to ride a bike. I finished the ride with a very negative attitude and slight irritation at the inclusion of a trail named “Unkle Nazty” in the pro cross country course, where I envisioned having to jump off my bike into a pileup of epic proportion when all of the pro women gained the trail at once during the race.
We got home to my buddy Rachel’s house, who was graciously putting us up for the weekend, where I couldn’t stop complaining about how awful her favorite trails were. She repaid me with a trip into town to hear the worst comedian in the Rockies tell jokes that were neither funny nor palatable, to an audience of approximately 8 people who sat in stony silence. Worse yet was the decision to bring Tiziana, the 14-year old junior I had brought from NM to attend the race, to this supposedly family-friendly entertainment that featured jokes about such funny topics as handicapped people and, oh, worse things of which I will spare you the details. She was fortunately able to handle the “comedy” better than I was, and was much less phased by the 11 pm bedtime than I.
Saturday included 2 stages: a hill climb in the morning, which was over before I managed to get up to speed, followed by a short track in the afternoon which was more of a circuit race. We did 3 laps of a long steep uphill fire road followed by a mercifully slow descent through tight rocky off- camber switchbacks. I felt better for the short track, especially after managing to squeeze in a 20- minute nap between stages, and in spite of making a wrong turn while leading out the race, not to mention giving 3rd place a free ride up the hill in the headwind on the last lap, ended up 4th. Tiziana demolished the field for both of her races, where she was allowed to compete with the Cat 2 racers even though her license has her as a junior (there are no categories for riders under 15 years of age). She’d never done a short track before and thought it was a blast… we’ll have to get her on a more traditional short track course sometime.
Shannon and Kenny arrived late Saturday night to partake in the cross country on Sunday. Their pre-ride experience led them to the same conclusions I had: fun ride, maybe, but extremely poor choice for a racecourse.
Kenny bore out the consequences of the tight singletrack when he had to pass every expert man in the start waves sent out before him, but he said people were mercifully polite and got out of his way quickly as he worked his way to the front of the entire field to take the win in dramatic fashion… in front of Glenn, our gracious host, who was also in the 40+ expert race and had no idea who he’d let into his home the night before.
In the pro women’s race it was a different story. The 10-minute gradual road climb at the start of the race did a fairly good job of separating us, and the tight singletrack made one more quick selection aided by the always very sportsmanlike conduct in the pro women’s field. “Oh, you go ahead, let me do a quick trackstand here to let you by, oh nonono, you are riding much better than I”… sometimes I just want to slap us. Too nice. Brian Smith’s crushed downtube, demolished when another rider piled down on him from above, was an unhappy testament to the fact that it was a little different on Unkle Nazty for the pro men; sounded a little like unnecessary roughness to me, but I suppose that’s racing.
On the first lap I entered Unkle Nazty, saw a rescue gurney leaning against a tree at the top, figured I didn’t need to break my neck and prematurely proceeded to run the entire trail. On the second lap I was a new woman. My tires stuck to the rocks and I snaked through the stony turns like melted butter over a Frontier cinnamon roll. Someone had taken away the bumps on the course and left me with something that flowed and frolicked about upon a lovely mountainside. Where were those crappy trails I’d been complaining about before? I’ve never had so much fun on a bike. Suddenly I felt awake and as though too fast wasn’t fast enough. Most of Unkle Nazty was rideable, and I was able to scamper down the dropoff using tree roots as footholds followed up with a perfect cyclocross remount in front of the photographer at the bottom. Star of my very own mountain bike video, albeit perhaps a slightly boring one.
Shannon’s race experience was similar to mine: a crowded start with about 20 pro women, followed by a couple of laps with hardly any further interaction with other racers. We were both really happy to get to enjoy the singletrack to ourselves, ride as fast as we wanted, and enjoy the pleasant sunshine, fluffy clouds, slight breeze, and perfect temperatures for a day on the bike. Mountain States Cup races are always a little strange, because they have that small local race feeling but with some of the fastest pros in the country always in attendance. We ended up 5th and 8th in the cross country, and were happy to get some solid efforts in that will surely provide ample payback in the weeks to come. It was a bonus to get a workout on some challenging trails at a moderate elevation.
Tiziana again won her race, with a second lap ten minutes faster than the first, and was pleased to have a fast Cat 1 18-year old to chase up the mountain. It was awesome for her to get to see some fast girls at the race, and it was awesome for me to get to see her compose herself like a gracious professional toward her competitors. She’s got class, she’s got speed, she’s got style; now if I can just get her to remember her flat-repair kit for the next race…