I had Trans-Sylvania in my sights since last year. I wasn’t happy with how it went last year and I wanted another shot. When I got hit by a car last fall, it didn’t seem likely. But when the doctor’s orders were no racing until practically the exact day that TSE started, it seemed doable. So I had it circled on my calendar for a long time. And knowing the flogging that I would take there was motivating, both on the bike and through the excruciating physical therapy.
Finally the circled date on the calendar was here! With new work flexibility, I was able to join teammate Amanda for early east-coast departure and we spent four days with our lovely Scottish teammate, Vicki, and our NoTubes family, while getting to preview several sections of the course and remembering how to ride rocks. I was feeling a little nervous and frustrated about my skillz (or lack thereof) but I kept reminding myself to keep my expectations low – this was the first test after nearly a year off. I tried to relax and not approach every rock garden trying to protect my elbow.
We also shot video showing how to put a tube in a tubeless setup (not that you would ever need to). I’m told this will be going viral shortly.
Amanda and I joined teammate and legend Sue Haywood at our home for the week near the race venue on Saturday and we all headed out for a pre-ride of the prologue.
We puttered around the next day with last minute preparations and got ready for the afternoon prologue. Go figure, I was seeded to start 30-seconds in front of Sue. Fan-effing-tastic. Through the first technical section, she was breathing down my neck. But I managed to open it back up on the next pedally bit. I didn’t see her after that and I was pretty sure that something had happened – I knew I wouldn’t be staying away from Sue that easily. Sure enough she finished about five minutes behind me after a difficult mechanical. And I managed to snag second place.
On Stage Two, the pink ladies kept it together on the early road sections. When we hit the singeltrack, things came apart on the first steep, technical climb. Amanda powered up, Sue, myself and Vicki followed. At the top, Sue got away from me through a rocky technical section and I was able to put a little space between myself and Vicki. This stage is super fun and except for one super-man style wreck, where I broke my fall with my jaw on a rock (not good times), I kept it upright and was pretty happy with how it went. I mostly rode solo, playing a lot of cat and mouse with Dejay. I caught sight of Sue again near the end but couldn’t get her. Still sitting second in GC and pretty relieved with how my bionic elbow was holding up.
On Stage Three, we woke up to the sound of pouring rain. This stage has lots of road sections, too, so it was already going to be sub-fun. We skipped a warmup, in favor of staying dry for a few more minutes. After some initial yo-yo-ing, the top six GC women rode together for nearly the entire stage. Amanda didn’t have any reason to attack as she was sitting far up in GC. At times the pace was downright silly slow. I thought all day about going for it and trying to break things up but ultimately was too chicken to go for it. And, although I thought I was feeling comfortable, when the inevitable attack did go with about seven miles left, I had nothing to respond with. Sonya even tried to work for me and bring me back up. (Some people are way too nice). I was dropped again. Luckily we were so close to the finish, I couldn’t lose that much time. Still hanging onto second GC but now by a thread.
Stage Four was the Enduro stage, which I think everyone was pretty excited about. We soft-pedaled up the climbs and ripped down the descents. Um, I like this idea! To prepare for the gravity stage, I wore baggy shorts. Not sure they helped. Despite making some mistakes, I was still surprised to wind up in fifth place, six minutes down on Sue who had won, and now bumped to fourth in GC. Ouch.
After the demoralizing outcome of the Enduro stage, I was motivated for Stage Five. For whatever reason, this was a course that I remembered well from last year. With a little course knowledge, I was able to make a plan. I made the split with the lead men up the road start and hit the singletrack first lady. Amanda was only a couple of positions back and when we hit a long flat section of road, we worked together. We hit the next singletrack together and as we started a long grassy climb, Vicky and Sue were just behind. Soon we were flying down a steep, rutted fireroad and we were losing tons of elevation. I remembered from last year that all the elevation we lost in this section was NOT on a fireroad. It was on a super steep and fun singletrack. I hit the brakes, put a foot down and said (okay, frantically shouted) to Amanda, “I think we are off-course!” She replied, “Are you sure?!” At that moment, Vicki, Sue and several others came flying around the corner. F*ck, I said to myself and we took off again. Finally we reached to bottom of the descent and a T intersection. There were no arrows. There were no other riders. I wanted to start crying (or at least stand around and bitch and whine about it) but Amanda kept her super cool head and said,”Well, let’s go.” Up we went. For 2.5 miles. To an intersection we missed. We had been off-course for 30 minutes. I finished 25 minutes behind the winner, in fifth place, still fourth GC but now with a pretty big gap. Time to get to work.
Stage Six is the Queen Stage and is full of amazing rocky singletrack. I again made the split on the first road climb (of all the skills to develop at TSE…) but was gapped off on the fast, slightly downhill road section that followed. Well, that was useless. On the early long climbs, I could see Amanda, Andrea (now second GC) and Sue up ahead but couldn’t get there. Finally we entered John Wert Trail, a notoriously technical, essentially continuous rock garden singletrack. I passed Andrea here and got motivated again. I could still see Amanda and Sue on the road sections until we entered Tussey Ridge, the decisive section of singletrack. Where I cracked. I am ashamed to say, by the end, I just wanted to get back on the road. Though once I did, shockingly, the road miles didn’t seem so sweet, either. Finally I made it to the finish and I sat down to watch the clock until Andrea finished. Evidently she had cracked as well and I had made back the time I needed. Now sitting third GC.
Stage Seven, the last day is often ridden at party pace. GC positions are generally established so there is no reason to break each other. But Vicki was still down 41 seconds on Andrea after our little detour two days before. Poor Vicki was not in a good way, either. She had been sick for most of the week, was bummed about getting lost and had wrecked hard on the road the day before. But we had a plan and told her she didn’t need to worry with the pink-lady brigade behind her. Amanda led her out on the road and gave her the pass at the entrance to the singletrack. Unfortunately Andrea was marking Vicki and was right on her wheel. So when Amanda moved back into the singletrack, Area was right there and they both went down. I was right behind them and zipped by unscathed. I heard them both talking so I gathered there was no major damage and I chased after Vicki. I buried myself to pull her on open sections and let her charge the singletrack. Sue and Amanda were not far behind us and when we got to the aid station, we all came together. They told us that Andrea was way back and we just needed to ride safe at that point. So we cruised along in a pink train until the final miles. Sue said I should jump first into the last singletrack. I thought Vicki should get the stage win but when Vicki agreed with Sue, I didn’t ask twice I used what little I had left to motor to the finish for the gifted stage win. I’ll take it.
We closed out the week by organizing the most important stage of the week – Stage Eight. And appeared as podium girls.
Stick a fork in me – I am cooked. I could not have asked for a better return to racing.
Big thank you to Stan’s NoTubes, Cannondale, Kenda, Verge, Magura, Uvex, elete, Griggs Orthopedics, fizik,GU, Crankbrothers, Northwave, 3T, Progold, ESI Grips and King Cage. And to Mike Kuhn and Ray Adams for organizing the most fun, killer race!