Hurt in the Dirt

Hurt in the Dirt

Monday, September 26, 2011

Rainy Sun Prairie-USGP #1 Planet Bike Cup

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!

Friday, September 23, 2011

St. Louis Gateway Cup

The famous St. Louis Gateway arch from the backseat of the van!
The next stop on my wild cyclocross tour was another Cross After Dark race in St. Louis Missouri. JP and I left the Kirske's house in Seattle BEFORE the ass-crack of dawn at 3:30 am to return the rental car and get to my 6 am flight. I didn't think these early flights would be that big of a deal when I booked them, but was I wrong or what?! I managed to get a little sleep on the flight and the second I arrived at our host housing, I basically stumbled to the bed and slept until JP arrived and it was time to go pre-ride the course.

The course was another dry, grassy park. Basically another grass crit of sorts, as many US cross races are in the early season. This course had one set of barriers, two run-ups very similar to Cross Vegas, and a stair run-up to fly-over. It seemed pretty straight forward when we pre-rode and I was pretty excited to get yet another UCI race under my belt.

These Cross After Dark races are really fun to race under the lights, but my eyesight is not real keen in the dark, so it posed quite the challenge too! By the time the Women's Elite race started, it was pitch dark! There were lights strategically placed about the course, but there were a few dark corners that I knew could be trouble. St. Louis drew a pretty good crowd with lots of cowbells and even fans handing up cash with the help of fishing poles!

Given the midweek race that was sandwiched between Starcrossed or Charm City and the first USGP, the women's field in St. Louis was very small. Only 12 of us made up the 2 rows at the start line. It's pretty easy to get a good call-up when there are only 12! I actually got a front row position for the start (the first, and probably last time to happen at a UCI race!) I've been struggling with my starts and I was very focused to make this start my best yet. Finally I got a good start and was in very good position through the first turn. The group settled in with the Giant Berry Farms girls leading the way. I was really pleased with my position and knew I had to race smart to give myself a chance in the end for a good finish. Somewhere during the 3rd or 4th lap, I was in the chase group not far behind the leader when the dark course finally took its toll. A mis-judged corner lead to crossed-up wheels and a crash. I went soaring over the handlebars and the group came to a halt. I quickly went from 3rd position to completely off the back! I picked myself off the ground and ran to my bike to find the saddle pointing sideways, front wheel out of true and wobbling, and rear brake rubbing! CRAP! I punched at my saddle a few times and remounted to sprint back to the group. Unlucky for me, I have no pit bike at the moment so I had to chose...1) stop in the pit and have Franky help sort out the problems or 2) forget about it and ride!  I decided on option 2! It took me a whole lap, but I finally caught back up to the group. Thank goodness this course had lots of chicane turns that kept the group at moderate speeds and played in my favor. I continued to move up and with 2 laps to go I found myself in the chase group with 3 other girls and the 2 Giant Berry Farms riders with a commanding lead. So here was my chance to race for 3rd at a UCI event. A huge turnaround from the previous races! Kathy Sherwin was driving the group and I knew her experience would give her an advantage. Franky was screaming at me each time we bypassed the pit to "move up, move up, be first over the fly-over". You'd think I would take his advice! But no...instead I waited too long and was 4th wheel into the fly-over. Kathy attacked and I was stuck in the back when the long road sprint began. I gave it my all and outsprinted one to finish in 5th place.

The fly-over.

As much as I was excited about scoring some UCI points, I was disappointed with the small errors that may have set me up for a 3rd place sprint. Lesson learned. Now the important part is not making the same mistake twice! Riding fast is important, but riding smart is sometimes just as important. Let's just say I wasn't the smartest. Overall, I was pleased with my finish given the suboptimal bike condition (oops!) and mental preparation. I finally feel like I'm developing a pre-race routine for cross, which is so different than mountain bike racing.

So today I'm celebrating the arrival of fall in Madison, WI for the Planet Bike cup set for the weekend. The last stop on this amazing trip. I've spent the last 9 days learning lessons from JP and Franky, so I hope to put together a good weekend for the first USGP. The women's field will be stacked again with all the top riders in the US (and the world for that matter!). There is a live feed for the elite races on Cycling for those who are interested. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Crossin' through Seattle

First off, I apologize for my lack of photos! I've been very bad this trip and I have no one to take photos of me and the media isn't really interested in mid-pack riders!

After my 4 am airport shuttle pick-up in Vegas I took an uneventful flight to Seattle. The approach into the SeaTac airport was a giant circle about the city. I got a great shot of Mt. Rainer poking up through the clouds followed by great views of the sports arenas, the space needle, and rest of the surrounding areas. After lugging my bike bag around the airport looking for the rental car shuttle stop and being asked about 50 times "What's in THAT bag?" I finally got a rental car and headed back to the airport to pick-up Jonathan Page who came in on a later flight.

I was pretty excited to arrive at our host family's house because Todd and Jonathan were talking up the amazing cooking I was about to experience. Plus, that meant I could try and get back to a semi-normal race day schedule and out of the Vegas chaos. I was amazed by the Kirske's house when we pulled up just as JP began to tell me that it has been in various commercials and movies. Oddly enough, David Sr. notified us upon arrival that a filming crew would be here bright and early the next morning to film part of a short film. Crazy! Since we were slightly behind schedule, thanks to a delayed flight, we rushed to put our bikes together and get to the race venue where JP was scheduled to teach a clinic. The course was located at Sammamish State Park on dried out grass and included a beach run on Lake Washington, one set of barriers, and a fly-over. Many of the women who raced in Vegas had made the short trip to Seattle for round 2, so the pack was yet again stacked with power riders and I figured the pace would be lighting fast again. Since it was JP's birthday, we came home from pre-ridding to celebrate with an incredible dinner and homemade chocolate birthday cake. Let's just say Lila's cooking was all it was cracked up to be!

StarCrossed on Saturday evening was warm and dry. My call-up was about 20th out of 30 so I knew I had some work to do. But, I did not help myself when the gun went off, I had one of the worst starts...ever! I panicked a bit trying to recover, then it took me what seemed like forever to get settled in. But once I did, I felt pretty good despite my mid-pack position. I ended up in 13th place, a little disappointed, but happy to get another race under my belt. The men's race was exciting to watch with JP taking 3rd place. And then we returned home for another amazing homemade dinner from Lila.

Sunday's Rapha Focus race was located at the same venue but because it rained all Saturday night the course was a bit more technical. The chicanes turns were a little slick and tree roots greasy...AKA more fun! My new tubulars were glued with care by JP's mechanic Franky and the tread was perfect for the wet course. Call-ups were not nice, once again. This time I was 3rd to last out of 28 girls so I played catch-up for the first couple of laps. I was feeling pretty good and was making up some time on the group of girls in front of me but with 3 laps to go I just plain ran out of gas! I obviously need to work on pushing through the "pain cave"! In the end I found myself in 13th place...again! I'm not loving the curse of 13! Not sure who will be at Gateway Cross in St. Louis on Wednesday, but I really wanting something better than 13th!

So one more day in Seattle before we head to St. Louis. Planning on seeing the city, hanging out at Pike's Market, and visiting Todd's swanky workout facility and shop!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Viva Las Vegas!

I officially started cyclocross season! I made my way to Las Vegas on Tuesday to attend the annual InterBike convention and first big UCI cyclocross race of the year CrossVegas. With work on hold until credentialing is complete, it was a perfect opportunity to take advantage of the time off and travel to a few races. Not to mention the incredible opportunity given to me by cyclocross legend Jonathan Page and his peeps to travel and learn from one of the best in cyclocross. So armed with a new coach, a new Blue bike and the ole Rooster's/Biker's Edge kit, I arrived in Vegas to embark on another crazy cycling journey.

For those of you who have never experienced CrossVegas, its quite the scene. I mean, come on...its Vegas! Nothing is small or ordinary in Vegas! From racing on a Wednesday, to the late night start times, to the Euro-sized crowd...its unlike any other bike race in the US. The women's field was stacked, as always, with the best riders the US has to offer (well, minus the great Katie Compton) in addition to the usual Canadian riders and even a few from Europe made the trip. Given my lack of UCI points, my start position was very near the back in the 40th position out of some 50 listed riders on the start list. Although I know its going to be fast and furious from the gun, I still am amazed by the actual speed those girls are able to generate. From the get go the usuals were out front and I found my self dangling off the back of a big group. After the first long lap, I was in the second group and beginning to settle in a bit. The uncharacteristically rainy weather made the course wet and slick, two things this race in NOT known for. I was glad that I had some MTB experience to rely on. The rest of the race was pretty uneventful. The group of 7-8 girls I was in fluctuated back and forth the whole time and on the last lap I was second wheel going into the last 1/4 mile. My goal at that point was to win the group sprint. With my best crit skills (learned from Nicky no less!) I rounded the last hairpin turn and hammered the last 100 yards or so for the pack sprint win! In the end I was 25th. Along with every other pro race I've done, there were things I wish I had done better or different, but that's what this year is all about...learning! I feel like this trip is invaluable for learning with some of the best mentors in the business.

So one more day in Vegas attending the I-Bike show and mingling with a few friends. Then off to Seattle for Starcrossed on Saturday. Hopefully I can round up some pictures from the race last night and post them later.

Special thanks to Weston Woodward for the ride down to Vegas and being Brandon's fill-in at the start line, pit, and post-race!