After a 6 hour drive from St. Louis to Madison, Wisconsin, we settled into our hotel and tried to rest our legs after a solid 10 days of traveling and racing. Ten days on the road, jumping from race to race and livin' out of a bag...something I hadn't experienced during my cycling life. I think it sounds glamourous, but in reality, it's hard! Sleeping in unfamiliar places, eating food you don't normally eat at home, schlepping your giant bike bag and suitcase through the airport, breaking down your bike to pack it just to rebuild it again at the next stop. Traveling with a bike is hard work. Thank goodness for JP and Franky helping me stuff every last inch of my bag with wheels, extra bike parts and that damn foam roller that I can't live without!
On Friday afternoon we rode over to the venue to check out the course. It was more technical that the last couple races. Lots of off-camber turns, chicanes, and a nasty grass hill that is concievably rideable but the 3 railroad ties at the bottom turn it into a run-up! I was looking forward to this race. I liked the fact that more bike handling skills were needed and less pure power. Plus, this would be a repeat start list to Cross Vegas, which meant very good riders and a lot of them. Another chance to measure myself against the best.
|One of many off-camber turns during JP's race|
|View of the barrier section of race #1|
Saturday morning we woke up to mild temps and no rain. The constant focus of this trip has been my start. Clip-in, shift, and accelarate-moving up as many spots as possible and in theory, get to the lead group. Franky always reminding me during staging to "stay focused on the start". I drew # 21 during registration, the best number possible since I wasn't in the top 20 in UCI points. Some how there was one open slot on the second row behind Merideth Miller during call-ups so I quietly slipped into it hoping the officials wouldn't put me back to the third row...where I belonged! The gun fired and we were off. I found myself right in the mix, but it didn't take long for the leaders put the hammer down and split up the group. Once again, Franky was yelling at me to stay off the front. Apparently my thick skull impedes my understanding of working in a group. There are so many tricks of the trade when it comes to cyclocross racing and I need to learn the few important ones quickly if I want to progress. My mind functions in mountain bike mode too much of the time during a cross race. Never the less, I was solid through the run-up and barrier section and stayed with a good group for much of the race. I tried my hardest to stay with Kathy Sherwin, follow her lead, and learn from her well-seasoned experience. But in the end my tired legs couldn't hold her pace. I out-sprinted my group and finished in 14th place. A considerable improvement from the 25th place I took in Vegas with virtually the same field of women.
Sunday morning I looked out the window and saw it was pouring rain. We checked out the forecast and saw that there was no chance of it letting up so we knew that the race was going to be completely different than the day before. I was glad that Franky and JP had hooked me up with Dugast Rhino tubulars. Perfect tread for the muddy conditions that were ahead. Of course JP was giddy with possibilty of nasty conditions. He's one of the best technical riders in the world and I couldn't wait to pre-ride the muck with him and learn the best lines and techinques. We arrived at the venue and it was immediately apparent that the rain had completely changed the course. Riders just finishing were brown from head to toe with mud. Mud-caked deraileurs were hanging off bikes, once multi-colored skinsuits now brown, bloody wounds on the victims of poor tire choice, mud-covered smiles on the faces of...well, most of the riders! It was the scene of a true cyclocross race! I was almost afraid to look at the course for fear of seeing the battlefield scattered with bodies and broken bikes!
JP and I changed into our clean bike attire and rain gear to pre-ride the mud (we made a lot of dirty laundry that day!). It was raining and thundering so hard I wondered if we would actually race. I did my best to keep the rubber side down, rain and mud out of my eyes and make my way around one lap. According to the anouncers, the laps were taking about twice as long as yesterday's fast dry course. The entire time I followed JP with him hooting and hollering like I do a deep fresh powder day. His shitty-ass grin said it all...he was going to have a great race. He told me to forget everything I had learned on this trip about cornering and "just aim for grass"! We scurried back to that van to put on some dry clothes and begin warming-up.
|The slick mud made for true test of bike handling skills.|
|It's trickier than it looks. This off-camber turn ate riders for lunch!|
I was wearing number 25 which meant a 3rd row call-up. I knew that the start was going to be as important as ever today because the conditions of the course would require me to be in front of a group during the techincal sections or on the wheel of a great rider who would lead me to the good lines. At the USGP there is a "Hole-Shot" payout of $250 so from the gun the race is break-neck speed. Since UCI races always start on pavement, its not hard to gain speed quickly, but the first turn was a wide right into mud and standing water. As soon as the pack hit the turn you could hear tires skidding, carbon crashing and bodies flying. Luckily, I only felt my rear tire get hung-up for a split second and I knew the girls behind me were in the middle of the crash. I pushed to stay towards the front and found myself in a favorable position. I had David, the Planet Bike mechanic, in the pit with a borrowed bike and Franky walking about the course with me helping me to pick the best lines. After the initial shock of the first few turns, I was in 19th place. NOT the spot I was hoping for. Today my goal was top 10, relying on my mountain bike skills to help me. Because the laps were taking us almost 10 minutes, I knew we would only do about 4 or 5 laps so making as few mistakes as possible would be crucial. Having a flawless race in conditions like this would be virtually impossible. On the second lap, I was hugging the high-side of an off camber traverse. I got off track for a split second and found my handlebars caught on a stake and tape marking the course. "Oh shit" I yelled out loud! In half-panic mode I yanked at the bars a few times before I gained some composure to untwist the mess. During what seemed like mintues but in reality was probably a couple of seconds, I lost the 2 girls in front of me and the 2 girls behind me caught up. "Ahhhh! Why? Ride smart" I thought to myself! I regained focus on the slippery run-up and got back to chase mode. When I passed the start/finish with 2 to go, I heard the annoucers say "Rider number 25 (long pause as they looked at the start list to see who I was)...Kelsy Bingham?" With a bit of surprise. "Rounding out the top 12." I went from 19th to 12th. Ok, race smart for the last 2 laps and aim for the grass. With one lap to go I had so much mud and grass stuck in my deraileur, it was jumping all over the place and on the egde of failure. Crap, I was going to have to pit and take the borrowed bike. That meant a poor tread choice for the conditions, Sram Red shifting that is totally foreign to my Shimano brain, and a raked out medium frame. I yelled to Franky and he immediately told me to "Pit, pit!" Just ahead I saw Sue Butler running towards the pit. There was my chance to move up. I entered the pit for the first time in my cycling career and pretended like it was routine. With about half the course left and the most techincal areas still left I was face to face with Sue Butler. For those of you who don't know her, think David and Goliath! My heart rate must have been about 200! Okay, ride smart and attack on the run-up. I rode her wheel until the last off-camber turn before the pavement sprint. She bobbled just a bit on the slick surface. I dismounted my bike and ran, passing her in the corner. When it came time to remount, the tires gave way and the bike slid out from under me. Sue kept her head and passed me just before we hit pavement. I settled for 12th. Considering the difficulty of the course, I was satisfied with my finish, but lingering in the back of my mind was the goal of a top ten finish. It's sometimes bittersweet racing with some the best crossers in the world!
|The maze of chicane turns before the run-up.|
|The slick railroad ties at the start of the run up.|
|The hecklers loved the tortuous muddy run-up. There were plenty of beer hand-ups, |
waving dollar bills to grab, and uninviting comments towards any racer who struggled!
It was nice and grassy on day one.
After Franky sprayed my bikes and me with power-washer, I proceeded to the Planet Bike area to finish bathing using a bucket and a hotel towel. I've been so spoiled to have a mechanic cleaning my bike after every ride. I sat alone in the van as the men's race started, drinking a recovery drink trying to take in the events of the past hour...of the past two weeks! Acutely exhausted from the race, but also tired from the travel and racing, I sat contently in the van to call Brandon and watch the rain.
Bob Downs, the owner of Planet Bike and long-time sponsor and friend of JP gave us amazing treatment from the great hotel room to dinners to loaning us the Planet Bike Sprinter van. I met a lot of amazing people over the past couple of weeks who were willing to offer their house and time to cyclists. So thank you to you all as well.
So as much as I want to go home and spend some time with Brandon, I can't believe how fast two weeks can pass by. I learned valuable lessons and met great people. Headed home from Madison for some R & R, then its back to training. The second USGP in Ft. Collins is just two short weeks away. That top 10 finish is the fuel to keeping me training hard. Thank you again to everyone who helped me along the way especially Jonathan and Cori Page and Franky Vanhaesebrouke for giving me an incredible opportunity. Until next time...thanks for reading!