March 13, 2019
Vail Lake short track race was my first “big pond” race of the year. I knew from the previous race and training that I had the potential to do well, knowing that I had a really good sprint. However, I needed to see what the course was like and how the others (pro men/women/junior women) raced the course to figure out the best strategy.
The course consisted of two sections. The first half of the course was wide open and overall uphill. In this section I knew no one would want to attack or go hard, drafting would be a key part. I also knew from watching the previous races that the race would regroup along this stretch as no one would want to work. The second half was tighter, containing a fast straight downhill into a flying uphill corner. After a few more seconds of climbing the course went back downhill into two tight switchbacks before heading into the last straightaway which had a 180 degree turn into the fire road sprint back to the finish. Each lap took about 3 minutes.
I started 4 rows back with ~6-7 across. The start to any mountain bike race is important, but I knew that there would be time to pass and as long as I stayed out of a crash and in sight of the lead group, I would be able to move up. As the UCI official counted down our race start, I prepared myself to accelerate off the line and to stay alert. Normally, I have the power to accelerate to the front, but as I was behind others, I wasn’t able to move up. Rather than get anxious, however, I stayed calm and collected. For the first two laps, I rode behind my teammate Gabe, riding smooth and seeing how I was feeling. Looking back, I had a much lower heart rate during these laps, averaging 188BPM. Starting the third lap, the front group slowed down quite a bit, and I saw this as my chance to move up. As we were climbing the open section of the course, I took a more off-camber line and moved from 15thish position to 2nd, stealing a wheel from another racer as if I were on the velodrome. This “victory” was short-lived, as seconds later I felt my back wheel slide out underneath me as a rider fell on me from behind.
The whole thing happened before I could react as I found myself on the ground with a bike on top of me. I immediately jumped up, grabbed my bike in extreme frustration and jumped on it like a cyclocross bike. I had lost the front group and was about 15 seconds down. My legs hurt, my breath hurt, and my seat had broken in the back, making it wobble slightly. Looking back, I realized I had a moment of doubt, thinking that maybe this was where I lost it all. But as those ideas filled my head, they were quickly replaced with remembering Kate Courtneys UCI win despite flatting and losing her top 3 positions. I gritted my teeth and accelerated as hard as I could, passing 15 or so riders along the way. However, I knew that if I wanted to finish strong, I couldn’t burn all my matches at this moment. I spent a lap moving up until I caught a group of chasers with some of my teammates. I managed to pull it back so we were only 5 or so seconds back. The next lap I sat in a bit and tried to recover and save some more energy, before starting the lap 5 where I put in another effort to bridge up to the front group, back into the top 10.
At this point I was hurting quite a bit, having averaged 197 BPM, much more than my first two laps. For the next 2 laps, I suffered, trying to recover as much energy while still staying upright and holding my position. I remember hearing “3 laps to go” and mentally groaning. However as the announcement for 2 laps left went out, a new wave of energy hit me, and I moved to the front.
Going into the race, I knew I wanted a sprint finish. I knew that I was a sprinter and that out of most mountain bike racers, I was one of the strongest finisher. However, as I had spent most of the race chasing, I was never able to analyze who I was racing against and what their strengths were. So when I moved to the front, I put in some very short, 5 second or so efforts to see what and how people would respond. After a few 2 or 3 of these, I realized that everyone wanted to cover an attack, but did not want to commit to anything. More importantly, I noticed I had better acceleration than the others.
Going into the finish of the second to the last lap, I slowed down and moved to the right side of the course. At this moment, a rider from Mexico attacked and I slipped right behind him into his draft. He hauled it along the straightaway through the finish and the bell for the last lap rang. He thought he caught me off guard and had opened a gab, but instead, I was sitting comfortably on his wheel, using minimal energy. After 20 seconds he looked back and sat up. We now had 2 and half minutes of racing left, short, but too long to start the attack. We regrouped for about 20 more seconds before the next attack went. This is where I look back and realize I should have attacked. At this moment the rider from New Zealand attacked, with the Mexican on his wheel. I moved up to cover it but got blocked by another rider. This wasn’t the situation I wanted to be in, but I was able to accelerate around him and back onto the wheel of the Mexican. We reached the top of the hill. I kept my speed and kept pushing. Both the riders ahead of me sat up, tired, but I still had something left in me. I dug hard and passed them both as we started the downhill. As we went down and around into the flying uphill corner, I knew I had everything in the bag. That was until I pushed down on my pedals only to feel the force disappear as my chain snapped.
This… sucked. I’m proud to look back as without thinking I just got off and ran. I lost about 50 seconds and ran across the finish line in 22nd place, 21 places lower than I knew I would have done.