Jingle Cross 2011

If anyone felt like they'd lacked the experience of a "real" 'cross race, this year's Jingle Cross was an easy way to end that. Photos by Berly Brown, Emily Hoesly, Noah Marcus, Josh Rice, and Anne or Mark Savery.


After 5 hours of driving, I wasn't really too excited to race. Legs didn't feel good, stomach didn't feel so great either, and though it was exciting to be there and under the lights and such, the doomy cloudy sky wasn't really revving me up. I did a practice lap and headed to the line with all the rest of the Cat 4s. 

GO! Watch 608, she's my competition...
The mess began just after the start, as the officials had only left a 15-second gap between the 60-ish Cat 4 men and the women. We'd caught the tail end of them in a bottleneck right after the first corner, and trying to maneuver through the group was going to be critical in the first lap.

Running up Mt. Krumpet. Beastly long and steep.
This hill run-up helped with that. Lots of people were moving really slowly up this, so I tried to push it harder, sending myself way into the red. After the first lap, where Ms. 608 kicked my bars on her remount, I got ahead of her. Not for long, though, as she attacked somewhere on lap 2 and put in a bit of a gap. Girls 1 and 2, speedy Juniors, were way ahead, and I was trying to find motivation to push harder while also thinking about the 2 additional days of racing ahead.
Under the flyover. You're supposed to ring the bell for good luck.

That motivation came in the form of John Lefler, race announcer and fellow Lincolnite, calling out that the race for 3rd place was the one to watch. He called me out, called out 608 (Sarah Rice from Chicago), and started doing a play-by-play of our last lap, wondering over the loudspeaker if I could catch her. So I did. I shouldered and ran a long, muddy off-camber section all the way to the base of the flyover, and I caught her on the top. Lefler saw and called the catch, and I drilled it down the other side and to the base of Mt. Krumpet. Pushing as hard as I could to run up the hill, I started to make a little gap. Down, through the barns, and back through the pinwheel -- where you could catch glimpses of your competition repeatedly -- and grinding to the start/finish, and I'd pulled out 3rd place on the podium. Phew! Time to go have some fun on the hill.
Friday podium, with two girls half my age.
After watching the pros, we got dinner at a great pizza pub. Back to the hotel, time to sleep for an early start Saturday morning, rain in the forecast.


It was raining steadily when we woke up, and it was clear that the ground that had already been a bit soft Friday was going to get soggy pretty quickly on Saturday. Luckily, when we raced at 9:30, it hadn't yet gotten much colder, and the temperature in the upper 40s was perfectly tolerable despite the rain.
Start line on Saturday. Rain, but not too cold yet.
I hadn't really warmed up at all Saturday (having a really full car meant forgoing luxuries like trainer and extra wheel), and there was a new cast of characters on the line. Adding to the fun, teammates Berly Brown and Emily Hoesly were in the mix as well.
Soft, wet ground. Not bad here, much worse elsewhere.
The ground was a real powersuck. Though there were many places that were truly muddy or necessitated running, I could ride more than others despite not having mud tires. Lots of places, though, were just soft, wet ground, and my legs felt tired from the effort the night before. I slipped from 3rd into 4th and then 5th wheel, with 6th giving me chase. On the 3rd lap, the rider in 4th went down in a greasy corner, and I came around her with now-5th place hot on my heels. She gave good chase for the last lap, but it wasn't enough, so I ended up with a 4th place finish, a wet, cold, muddy body, and a really messy bike. Clean up, warm up, yell at friends, and hit the hot tub.

One of my favorite spots for food in the Midwest is Masala Vegetarian -- it was an oasis of great vegan food that I always tried to make part of my road trips back and forth to Providence when I was in college -- and after a cold day in the rain, Indian food sounded so good. A group of 10 Nebraskans met up and gorged ourselves on spicy deliciousness. It's so awesome to get a full menu from which to choose!


Sunday was going to be cold, windy, and full of the muddy effects of Saturday's rain. It was a mess. I warmed up in the parking lot, knowing I wouldn't actually be sprinting much once on the course. Again, there was a new set of characters (albeit smaller this time), though all three of Saturday's podium finishers were on the line again, too.
Running through the logs.

I took the holeshot, but not having pre-ridden the course meant I was completely unprepared for the first re-routed turn. Oops. I maintained position for a little bit, but two-time 1st place finisher Skyler Schneider moved around me pretty shortly. Along with her came Saturday's second-place finisher, and another girl who hadn't raced yet this weekend. I settled in to my tempo again, trying as best as possible to find good lines through deep mud and puddles. Slow and steady, no mistakes, that was my goal.
Holding steady in the mud.

And slowly but surely, I was once again in the position of holding 4th place and gaining on 3rd. I found my attack on the third lap, and I think I heard Lefler call me a diesel engine as I came through the start/finish. I rode the last lap increasing my gap for another solid 3rd place finish.
Sunday podium, and an end to my 2011 season.
After getting cleaned up and watching the other races (including Ryan goofing off in the Single Speedo race wearing Sheclismo bikini briefs), we headed up to Mt. Krumpet for some SHEnanigans. It was a fun way to end another great weekend with friends, and a somewhat bittersweet cap to my 2011 season.

SHEnanigans on Mt. Krumpet.

I'm pretty tired of being on the road every weekend -- I've only had one weekend home since the end of September -- and my house shows for it. I have freelance projects demanding attention, cats demanding attention, and knitting projects to finish before friends have their babies. I still haven't unpacked my race travel bag, but I'm hanging my hat on racing until spring. Being at a race age of 29, I'm in an odd spot for Nationals. I could spend a bunch of money for a Wednesday "non-competition" race, or I could complete my upgrade and race the elites, only to get pulled after Katie Compton blows by me a couple times. Next year, I'll be old enough for Masters', and with Worlds being in Louisville, I'll plan on extending my season into January. This year, though, I'm going to build up my anxiously anticipated War Axe, goof off on it in my parents' pasture, ski for the week between Christmas and New Year's, and enjoy that 29th birthday.

Nebraska travel squad who went to Jingle Cross, it was great to hang out with y'all for the weekend. Super fun times. If you want to just ride around sometime, look me up. The calendar seems a lot more open now...


Lincoln CX Weekend

Well, this weekend was quite the tale of night and day differences in racing for me.

As I've mentioned before, the Lincoln CX race holds a special place in my heart, as it was my first foray into organized bicycle racing of any sort two years ago. (See video of me with fixed gear "racing" 'cross in 2009.)

Well, throughout last week I was fighting off either some food poisoning or, more likely, a gastrointestinal virus brought to work by a co-worker silly enough to have young children at home. Nasty little buggers! I wasn't feeling all that well all week, and then Thursday night I really came down with it. I got up to shower Friday morning and realized going to work wasn't going to be possible. Great. Staying in bed all day and not eating is a superb way to prepare for a demanding weekend of racing, right?

Ryan was sweet enough to go pre-ride the course Friday afternoon, camera in tow, to take some video for me. Even though I couldn't really get a sense of the course, I could see that it was going to be really hilly, with lots of fun ups and downs. Not a course to get bored on.

Got up Saturday morning, forced down a bowl of plain rice, a banana, and a little applesauce with some Good Belly probiotic juice and headed out to Pioneers Park, prepared for cold. And thankfully so, because the temperature dropped about 15 degrees in just as many minutes. Stiff North wind, cloudy skies, and a little drizzle and it really felt like winter.

I needed a decent race to solidify my win in the Midwest CX Stitch series, and with 2nd place Julie Higgins coming up from KC, I had to give it the best I could. Double points on the line, and though I hadn't taken the time to do the math, I knew that if I wasn't right behind her, I'd be in trouble.

Day 1, with 24 women lined up to race. Photo: Sydney Brown
I hardly had energy to do a warm-up, so I just spun my legs for a little bit. Heading to the line, I did get a little boost of energy seeing 23 other women standing there shivering, too! All the work put in to making the series a reality, bringing in racers from out of town and convincing local ladies to take the line for the first time worked, and we rivaled the biggest field of the day. (Compare to 7 women in 2010 and a mere 5 in 2009, and this is a pretty amazing accomplishment.)

We started out somewhat slow, and a crash at the start line had lots of us hesitant, I think. Janna took the holeshot, and the front group's pace was easily too fast for me. I also noticed that I hadn't checked the saddle height on the demo well enough, and it was about an inch too high. Not so comfy, yet another detail to fall victim to my general ill-feeling. I sat on Julie's wheel for a bit, then attacked on I think the 2nd lap going up one of the longer inclines.

Running up Hooligan Hill. Photo: Kyle Hansen
Much to my surprise, the Hooligan Hill run-up proved to be one of my strengths. Training with my quite heavy bike and then getting to race on a demo that's about a third of the weight put some spring in my step!

Though I put on a little bit of a gap, by a couple laps later she was on me again, and when she launched her counterattack, I was out of gas in the tank.
Struggling. Photo: Kyle Hansen
By the 5th lap, I was just doing everything I could not to let anyone else catch me. Any effort I tried to put out, my body had nothing in it to react. I was relying on the flow and momentum of the course to keep me moving, and when I pulled around to the finish on my last lap, the beautiful and ever cheerful Berly Brown was making her way through as well. Suffering the climbs on a singlespeed, I reached out and gave her a push through the finish. (If anyone got a photo of this, please let me know. It was wicked cute.)

Getting warm after the race was nearly impossible, as the wind continued to be fierce. I took cover in the Trek van for awhile and watched the next two races. Then it was time to pack up, clean up, and party! I was starting to feel a little better -- most of all, I was hungry again -- and we headed to the Hour Lounge for the Midwest CX Stitch awards party.
Prize table. Amazing, generous donations, particularly from local women!
A really nice crowd turned out to eat pasta and enjoy some drinks before we dug into giving out series awards. In addition to winners in the Category 3 & Category 4 divisions, we also gave out a Singlespeed series winner. On top of that, we had a Skillz award (for best technical riding) and a Makes CX Look the Most Fun award -- and that lovely lady got first pick of the prize pool! For the Lincoln race, we also had a ballot box on Hooligan Hill for the crowd to pick their favorite racer and for best costume. Jen, as Cookie Monster, won that one hands down.

C is for Cookie Monster the CX racer. Photo: Kyle Hansen

As if that weren't enough, there was also a match preme given by Conrad, a Lanterne Rouge preme sponsored by Lincoln Hustle, and a Grindcore Memorial Dive in Head First award, given to the rider with the least-appropriate bike for cyclocross. And thanks to the generosity of our sponsors, everyone who raced got a chance at the prize table!

Brunch! So much oatmeal with fixins!

After a good night's sleep, I woke up early, a good sign that I was on the mend. My lovely housemate Diane had volunteered to help out with making an oatmeal bar for racers, complete with lots of fancy fixins', and we headed over to the lovely Bulfinch home for a cozy brunch. Did I mention it was 15 degrees out? Yeah, it was frigid.
Even though I wasn't quite sure if my stomach was ready for it yet, I needed calories badly, so I went for the oatmeal. Twice. A nice dollop of probiotic-rich yogurt, and I felt a little more ready to conquer the day. I always feel more relaxed the second day of racing, it seems.

The sun was shining, and even if it wasn't getting that much warmer, at least it felt that way. I packed my new winner's jersey and headed out to the park.

Flashing the winner's jersey. Photo: Sydney Brown
 I was excited to try my hand at this course again. With a heavy emphasis on technical features, it was super fun to ride, and if I was liking it even while feeling crappy, now that I was feeling better it was going to be a blast! Off the line, I was easily in with the front 5 or 6 riders, and as we settled in to position, I was in 7th position. First time up Hooligan Hill, and a bad remount dropped me to 8th. Sandy Collins and Renae Weaver -- a woman who has let me know I've been making her nervous all year -- came by me, and I hopped on her for the next lap. After we came through the start/finish and back onto the grass half a lap later, she told me it was time to go get the next one. I pulled ahead and found myself chasing Aubrey Dock.  She looked tired, and after coming around her, I caught a glimpse of the next rider...5th position was being held down by none other than Janna Vavra. And she wasn't that far ahead!

Feeling pretty good in the cold, PINK FAST! Photo: Kyle Hansen
Slowly but surely, I pulled up to her until I was right on her wheel. Everybody we passed was cheering us both on, and for about two laps, I held steady. Janna's a really skilled rider and experienced racer, and I was reading her for the places I might have an opportunity to attack.

And at some point, she knew it, and really gave it the gas. As we came off of the climbs and into the Pinewood Bowl section the last time, she motored off, and I couldn't catch her on the way down and through the finish. Afterward, Janna said she just couldn't let it happen...yet! Still, finishing 6th in a pretty stacked Open field felt darn good. It was exciting just to be that competitive with that level of racers.

After the women's race, it was time to do it up, Hooligan Hill style. The women on the Hill came up with a new game, the DK'd Willies came to play again, and Lincoln rocked. Keith Walberg captured it best.

All in all, it has been a fantastic season of racing. This weekend marked my 17th and 18th CX races since the first of October, and with three more at Jingle Cross on the horizon this weekend, I'm pretty tired and ready to be home and knitting for a while. I wouldn't trade it for anything, though. Traveling with my teammates from Sheclismo -- and with my adoptive team the Trek Midwest CX squad -- has been a blast, and I've gained so much valuable experience and knowledge, not to mention made new friends. 'Cross is awesome.

Sheclismo CX ambassadors, Elisabeth Grindcore, Berly Brown, and Syd Vicious. Photo: Nancy Brown


Up and Down the Boulevard

Sometimes, things click and you're just ON. Welcome to Boulevard Cup 2011.

Last year, Boulevard Cup was my first out of state race, and in the midst of all my documentary editing and premiering, I hadn't had nearly enough training. In a huge field of 4s, my fresh legs pulled out a 3rd place finish. Needless to say, I was really stoked.

Fast-forward to this year, where I've raced all but one weekend since the 1st of October, as well as every Wednesday night in between. I've done the training. I spent the summer riding gravel and mountain bikes, and improved my bike handling skills dramatically. And after a couple of weekends of somewhat frustrating racing on wide open power courses, we pulled up to this venue alongside a very visible, long off-camber section. My heart started pumping. This was going to be awesome.

Spent my warm-up tooling around Saturday's course with Emily Hoesly, chatting with her about off-camber riding. We watched some of the Men's Master's race, then squeezed in a practice lap on the course. After riding into the sandpit, I realized that I'd been spinning around in my big ring the whole time without even noticing. This bode well, as I've spent a couple weeks forcing myself to stay in that big chainring to build power. It also meant following my travel buddy Schmidty's assessment that this would be a big-ring course. Since I'm still rocking bar-end shifters, minimal shifting is a very good thing.

I headed back to the staging area to find 46 other women lining up. WOW. This has been an absolutely incredible year for growth in women's cyclocross. We were split into Open (fasties, 2s & 3s), 3/4s (where I opted to be), 4s, and then Master's 40+, 50+, and 60+. Behind all of the ladies were junior racers, including an adorable 11-year-old girl.

The start was on a bike path, and I worked to hold myself toward the front of the group. I'd lowered my tire pressure to about 30psi for confidence in the off-cambers, and with pretty grippy tires, this wasn't going to be my strongest part of the course. I managed to be about 10th or so through the first bit of grassy turns, and at the first sharp S-curve, traffic slowed to a near stop. Grr. Time to get a little more aggressive in the corners and move around -- these were going to be my strong sections. Not too long after that, we hit the off-camber hillside for the first time, and I was zipping past women struggling with a couple steep little rollers. This section offered a bit of recovery for me, and even the short run-up was fun!

Loving the off-camber, with Julie Higgins right on my wheel. Photo by Roger Harrison/Lanterne Rouge
We popped out of this and onto a long flat stretch. I don't know if I just get bored with these or what, but they really aren't my strong suit. Unless I'm chasing someone, being chased, or really focused, I'm pretty sure I'm slowing down on these. The first time, I was on the chase, and once we hit the sandpit, I was caught partway through by a couple racers not making it the whole way across. Bailing and running the rest of the way, I hit the pavement in front of them and drilled it into the stretch in front of the announcer's stand, holding 2nd wheel in the 3/4s pack. Renae Weaver of Women's Free State Racing wasn't far behind, and she made her attack on that long back stretch I mentioned not liking earlier. Also chasing was Jessica Vanackeren of LocalCycling.com, who had suffered a fall and a dropped chain in the sandpit.

Renae's attack stuck, and I spent the remainder of the race checking over my shoulder for Jessica on the flats and increasing my lead in the sandpit and whoop-dee-dos. I particularly enjoyed hamming it up a bit for the sandpit crowd, as it felt proper to let out a big "YEAH!" after grinding it successfully across. 

Peeking over the top of a hill on the whoop-dee-do section, having a blast! (That's on my face, right?) Photo by Roger Harrison/Lanterne Rouge

Emily crushed it! I don't know if my little pre-race off-camber lesson helped, but this girl rocked it.

Emily Hoesly, making serious progress. 5th race and a victory in the 4s. Welcome to Sheclismo! Photo by Roger Harrison/Lanterne Rouge
 After the race, we were chatting, and she remarked that she didn't think she saw anyone with a 700-number pass by her. Could she have won the 4s race? Sure enough, they did the podium, and there she was on the top step! Quick subcommittee meeting:

Sydney: Why isn't she in our kit? 
Elisabeth: We need her in our kit!
[Emily returns from the podium]
Elisabeth: Congratulations! That's awesome! Want to be part of Sheclismo?
Emily: Well, I've "liked" you on Facebook for a long time. Don't I have to be in Lincoln? I'm not getting up at 5 AM for trainer sessions...
Elisabeth: That's too damn early; I don't do that either.
Emily: I'm in!

We cheered on the Cat 3 and Singlespeed men, the highlight of which was heckling our Nebraska guys coming out of the sandpit, threatening slaps on the rear if they didn't go faster. This was particularly fun with Malcolm, all decked out in the Daisy Dukes and a Dolly Parton wig.

Best part of Malcolm's get-up: mimicking the 'cross woman's affinity for tall sox. Photo by Roger Harrison/Lanterne Rouge
It was great to have such a large Nebraska contingent at the race, but it's also been awesome to make new friends through the Midwest CX Stitch series. This weekend, I'm heading to the USGP in Louisville, and then comes our series finale and State Championships at Pioneers Park. Nostalgia abounds...that was my start to racing just two years ago, on a dare. Who are you going to dare into this?