...or, we finally get to play in the mud!
Hot damn, we got some real 'cross conditions two weekends in a row! And did we ever! In NJ, the rain had been pouring down for several days, and we were in for it. This was a weekend that started out poorly, but ended on a high note:
We arrived in NJ just in time to ride the course a couple times, and we were confronted with lots of soggy, soggy grass. Because there were only 20-30 people out on the course, only a few ruts were getting laid down, but the writing was on the wall: a mudbath would be coming! The first few classes on the course shredded what grass was left, and the course turned into 3-6" deep mud, with no place between the tape unchurned. Depending on how wet it was, you could choose on whether running or riding was faster, which is really what CX is all about. The wetter stuff was very rideable, since you just splashed through it, but it also gummed up the bike pretty bad and left your drivetrain screeching in despair. The drier parts of the course were turning into peanut butter, and were impossible to manuveur through, on your bike or not. Also, it had stopped raining, so the course was gradually becoming drier, meaning that by the time I raced, we were running almost 1/4 of the lap! ...Of the 15-minute lap!!
An entire section of the course was eliminated on race day, I think just to preserve enough course tape to allow for fixes later on... We started on an uphill pavement section that went under the finish banner and promptly turned left into the bog. Everyone went from 30+mph to 6mph in about 10ft, and the slog commenced. I am usually a good runner, but something was off on Saturday. I would run well, but it would gas me for the next section (the next "section" being the rideable portion of the next straightaway). I would be gasping for breath, only to have to pedal as hard as I could to keep up the momentum through the muck. I was changing bikes twice per lap, and still the mud piled on heavy and clogged up everything. Shifting? Nope. Braking? Not really needed, but still didn't work. Breaking? Oh yeah, plenty of that. It was rough, to say the least.
Usually, I excell in these conditions, but again something was not quite right... Then the lights went out. I've had similar experiences, most recently at Nationals in Portland, when I couldn't keep the bike moving AT ALL. All power was gone, no fight left, it was pure torture to keep the pedals turning. At that race at Natz, I stuck it out and dropped 3 spots in the last lap, but was dead to the world for hours afterwards. At this race, I did the smartest thing I could, and pulled myself out of the race with 1/2 lap to go. I was in 11th, and had about 8 minutes of racing left. I took a lot of shit for yanking myself out, but I wanted to cut my losses, keep the effort manageable (so I could recover better), and come back better the next day. Plus, I would have been 30th by the time I got around to the finish. I might have walked the rest of the lap, I was that bad. I rode the trainer to cool down, ate a ton of food, and rested up, hoping that the next day would go better.
Well, the gamble paid off. My recovery is pretty good from all the stage races I do over the summer, and I'm usually better than everyone else on the second day of a weekend. I'm usually good in the mud, too, and that didn't play out so well, but I had to keep thinking positive and play to my strengths. I started Sunday's race and instantly knew I would be good. I felt the same as when I started the day before, but everyone else seemed to be going in slo-mo. I could punch it up the straights, and I lost no momentum grinding through the mud. EVERYONE complained after the race about how Sunday was harder than Saturday, but I found it much, dare I say it, easier on Sunday. It wasn't easy, but it just wasn't like getting your teeth pulled. I ended up 5th, which ties my best USGP result EVER, so I can't complain one bit about the day.
JoJo charged through the mud on both days, and on Sunday she had her best USGP result ever, coming in 7th! At this event last year, she was 21st, so that's quite an improvement! In a show of team solidarity, we both are ranked 10th overall in the USGP series, with one weekend left to go. We both were feeling good about the momentum we've got going the past couple weekends, with good results piling on during this late-season stretch. We're going to keep it going through until Nationals in a few weekends, watch for everyone else to wither at the end of a long season while we're breathing down their necks!