Another weekend, another great day for a cycling adventure! This weekend was the Garvey Park cyclocross double header, with racing both Saturday and Sunday – the biggest weekend of cyclocross racing in WA.
The weather was idyllic, sunny, calm and mild. The course was smashing – a steep downhill, a couple of short sandy uphills, the stairs, the LONG run through Normandy sand trench, long straights, twisty cornering sections, a couple of significant sections of mud, and the barriers right at the timing chicane. Everything you could ask for in a cyclocross race!
Today my race plan was to take off hard, try to get in front of a few of my key opponents, and try to stay in front of them – i.e. racing from the front rather than from behind. After my last few races, I’ve figured out that this suits me better as it pushes me to go harder.
So I took off hard, max power off the start line was 730W, which is darned high for me – but I still ended up second last in the bunch heading into the first – very muddy – corner. I also was stuck behind one of the riders who I had pegged as wanting to be in front of. However, it didn’t take me long to get in front of her – within the first quarter of a lap I had passed her. This was a good move as the gap in front of her was opening up to the other riders at the head of the race. By the end of the first lap, I had pegged back and passed two more riders, moving me from 7th to 4th.
I had my eye on the rider in front of me on the second lap, she was only about 30m ahead, but by the third lap that had changed – she had moved further ahead, and the rider behind me was starting to catch me up. Her skills were better than mine on the corners, but my fitness was better so I would pull away from her on the straights. The gap between us fluctuated from 20m to 2m throughout the third lap, then towards the end of the third lap in the muddy corners she got past me. Well, it didn’t last long – within 50m I accelerated and went straight back past her again, as per my race plan to race from in front.
Then we were coming into the fourth lap. I passed the timing tent and saw I’d done 36min. For Elite, it is a 45min race, so if the timer hasn’t reached 45min when you come past, you have to keep going and do another lap. I was frantically trying to do the maths and figure out my average lap time and therefore whether my fourth lap would be my last. I somehow thought I was going too fast and I’d have to do a fifth lap – maths at maximum heart rate is not that easy! But I didn’t want to slow down because I had that other rider not very far behind me! Then halfway through the lap I realised, of course I won’t have to do another lap, my average lap time was well over 10min. I was so relieved that it would be the last time through each of the tough sections, so I could push myself a bit harder.
Coming into the long sand running section halfway through the last lap, I knew that the other rider wanted to ride the sand. So I tried to keep in front of her and run on the riding line. She then came past me, running well faster than me – and I thought running was my strong point! She came past, got her bike onto the ridable line, and tried to re-mount. Well, she stuffed up the re-mount and I then ran in front of her and back onto the ridable line – and heard her laughing ruefully behind me (between trying to breathe). It was well worth a try tactically and could have put her in front of me through the technical section where she was strongest, but luckily for me I ended up coming out of the sand first.
So we head through the switchback corners and I know she is right on my wheel. I focus on getting my gearing right for the uphill efforts, and taking the best line through the corner to block any potential moves from behind. I prevent her from getting in front – great. Now we are onto a straight where I know I am faster. I accelerate as fast as I can over the bumpy ground, then brake hard and change down gears for the next technical cornering section. She is a little way behind, which gives me some breathing room to take a fast line through the corners without pressure from behind. This was a really fun cornering section, twisty but some really nice lines. We get through the technical corners, and I am still in front. The crowd can see us now and they are cheering her name and my name and urging us on. Then we head into the mud.
She approaches it faster than me and gets in front, but I take a different line to cut across the “race line” and get onto firmer ground faster. I use the firmer ground to accelerate and get straight back in front of her. Then the next section of mud – again, I stick to the same line I’ve been racing all day, across the mud and onto the firmer ground, then accelerating fast. Coming out of this mud, there is just one more corner before the finish line. I keep accelerating, then check behind me – she is more than 5m back, so I’ve got it in the bag. Across the finish line to cheers from the crowd. I ended up 4th out of 8 in the Elite grade, which I am super happy with. And, it is my second race where no B grade riders have beaten me – hooray!
I finish and save my ride, and my Garmin tells me I have a new maximum heart rate – 195bpm, which is 10bpm higher than my previous maximum! I’m not sure this is totally accurate, but I certainly did work hard with 98% of the race in my highest heart rate zone. All that sand running is a killer!
After my close fought battle on Saturday, I was a bit more nervous before my race today. Although the women’s Elite field was smaller with three withdrawals, leaving only five of us who stepped up for two days in a row, the lady I had battled yesterday was still there.
And we were off – my start today was probably the best I’ve done since being in Elite, and I actually got in front of a couple of people. Then we had the muddy corners, which were pretty boggy, and I dropped back and ended up fourth but still in the front bunch.
I was quite amazed to be sticking with all the front riders through the technical corners for about a quarter of a lap. Then things started to string out a little. After the corners we came up a rise and into the first long straight. I’d timed this straight in my recon lap and it was only about a 40sec effort. I knew these long straights were one of my strengths, so I put the power down and I went flying past the lady I’d been battling with yesterday, and almost past the lady who came third yesterday. She saw me coming and accelerated so I didn’t push to get past her.
After the fast straight, there was a downhill section on pea gravel coming into a corner then up a hill. I slammed on the brakes and managed to not skid, phew! Then up and down the zigzag hills, another few shorter straights, then up a sandy hill and into the Normandy sand run. The sand apparently was “rideable” today but my plan was to run it at least for the first lap. Gosh it is a long slog! Then re-mount after the sand, knock the sand out of the pedals and clip back in, ready for the next set of zigzag up and down hills. These ones were a bit steeper and really relied on pure power. Then another long straight, put the power down and see if I can get closer to the rider in front. Push push push. Then there was a nasty sandy section with corners, bumps and downhill leading to the bottom of the stairs. Good fun to negotiate at max heart rate after the long straight.
I got through the sandy bits and stayed upright, great. Then dismount at the bottom of the stairs, “run” up the uneven stairs that are at least as high as my knees, remount, downhill, around a corner, then into some more sand on a corner. I had to put my foot out coming through the sand but kept it upright. Once I get through this sand, the rest of the lap is a twisty cornering section then a short straight, then the barriers at the timing chicane again. All that was about 11min for a lap.
At the end of the first lap, I have well and truly dropped the lady I was battling with yesterday, and the one in front of me was a good distance in front. I was bargaining with myself saying “ok, just keep going hard for the next two laps, then if you still have a huge lead you can start to relax at the end of the last lap”. So I’m enjoying having a bit of space to focus on taking my lines through the corners, trying to pick the best line and be smooth. I also enjoyed having space to take a hand-up at the end of the second lap.
It is a good thing I kept pushing hard though, because the lady who came last in Elite yesterday has bounced back much stronger today – she passed the lady that was behind me, and started gaining on me. She is still over 20m behind me, but I know I have to keep pushing hard. My focus now is not just to pick the best lines through the corners, it is also to use my acceleration and my gears to pick up speed really quick out of each obstacle, and to try to get out of sight and out of chasing distance. I am doing really well, but through the sand she seems to gain on me – particularly on the third lap, my gap seemed to decrease by about half after the sand!
Coming past the finish line for the third lap, someone yells out that it might be my last lap if I’m lucky. I see that there is 11min left on the clock, and when I get a chance to check my clock after the first few corners, I’ve done 34min. Again, maths at max heart rate is a bit dodgy, but I realise that if I do a really fast lap, I may just come past the finish line under 45min and then have to go out for another lap – I do not want to do this! So again I bargain with myself, that I’ll keep pushing hard until right towards the end of the lap, and if I have a decent gap back to the rider behind, I’ll slow down.
So I keep pushing hard, accelerating fast and hard out of each corner, trying to pick the best line through the mud, trying to ride some of the sand, trying to be smooth and fast with my dismounts and remounts. I’m starting to get a bit raggedy; running through the sand I swear that someone has come and extended the sand section by about 20m, it seems to be getting longer. Coming up the power hills I know my gap is getting smaller so I just keep pushing hard, and try to get the power down on the straight and click through the gears even though I can hardly breathe. I get to the sandy cornery section coming down to the stairs, take my time to negotiate this slowly so that I stay upright, do a smooth dismount for the stairs and get up them as fast as I can. Then remount, tackle the one last sandy corner. Then I breathe a little sigh of relief – that is the last of the tricky technical stuff, and I can’t see the rider behind me. I know I am fast through the rest of the course and I can hold her off. Coming into the finish straight, I look ahead to see if the course has been opened or if the tape is still up for us to go through the chicane – thank goodness, the course has been opened up to a finish straight, which means this is my last lap and I don’t need to slow down. I keep the power on, and enjoy the cheers of the crowd and a satisfied fist pump as I come over the line.
I finish THIRD, which is my frst podium in Elite! It was another smashing race, pushing me hard, on a terrific course. Maybe Garvey Park isn’t so bad after all!
The things that worked well for me and that I’m really happy with:
- There is a steep downhill that normally I don’t have the guts to ride. I have specifically been practicing on some steep downhill banks at my local park, and this paid off because I rode the steep downhill for the first time on Saturday, and rode it every single lap. This would have saved me precious seconds that in previous races would have been lost to running.
- In my training the past two weeks, I’ve been doing an indoor VO2max sesson that I developed specifically to target the long straights and repeated steep uphills at this cyclocross course – one of the advantages of knowing the course and being a coach. Each time I got to a long straight, I thought “you have specifically trained for this” and I knew I could go hard(er).
- My race plan to race from the front worked well.
- I didn’t come off! First time in a couple of races that I’ve not come off and generally kept good control through technical stuff like sand and mud.
- The padding on my shoulder and arm definitely helped protect me fromt some bruises when shouldering my bike.
- Dry lube on my cleats helped with clipping in after the sand section.
Things that I can keep working on:
- Running through sand. Although I practiced running up stairs, I should practice sand running as well. It is tough!
- Dismounting and shouldering my bike. Again, I did practice this, but in the heat of the race and with sand in your cleats and dismounting after a corner up a hill, it doesn’t always go as smoothly as I would like. I have the bruises and grazes to show for it.