I’m in California for the next couple of months, taking advantage of the weather and racing as much cyclocross as possible. It’s a little different here on the west coast, as California gets about 5 days of rain a year, and it’s generally between January and April, so there’s not much mud around. Instead of mud, race organizers around here add technical BMX-style sections that tend to be pretty challenging, but also super fun. In general, I’ve been really impressed with the organization and consistency of the SoCalCross series, which stretches all the way from October to January.
I spent last weekend at Spooky Cross — a course assembled inside a horse racing track at the L.A. Fairplex. Because there were long, flat sections of packed dirt and the grass was relatively thin, the course was a little more favorable toward my road racing/endurance background than the previous week’s super sandy course that had some single-track-like sections. Of course, because I’m a bit of a hot mess, I arrived late, with roughly 20 minutes to warm up, so I wasn’t so sure how the race was going to go…
But when the whistle went off, I surprised myself. I got a good start (in the women’s 4 category) and was just behind the lead group of three on the first straightaway, ready to pass them when I heard a sickening crunch and my feet stopped dead. I looked down to find my chain had popped off the end of the cassette and was stuck between it and the frame thanks to my super-pro tiagra derailleur. I had to watch the leaders, then the rest of the pack pull away from me as I stopped to try to get my chain back on track. It took a good 30 seconds of pulling, but I finally got it and set off trying to catch the rest of the group. I was preparing to suffer for the next 35 minutes for a thoroughly mediocre bottom-half finish, if I caught up at all, when something of a miracle happened: my brain told my legs to push, and they responded, and my LUNGS WERE SORT OF OKAY WITH THAT. This was a major development in my CX racing experience. Things are starting to come together for me — I figure by the time my new Pink Rhino kits arrive in a few weeks I’ll actually be looking like I know what I’m doing(!).
On the third and fourth lap I caught up with what I would refer to as the “chase group” behind the two leaders, and passed them, only to be caught on the technical BMX sections by a girl who clearly had major skills that I lacked (*note to self: spend a few hours at a pump track*), only to pass her again every time we hit the flat. On the final lap I was gaining ground on the leaders, but simply ran out of time. I came in third, out of 11 women, just 0:29 down on the leader. And perhaps more importantly, I can’t wait to go out and do better next time.
This is the best prize I’ve ever gotten for third place in a W4 race, so thanks to SoCalCross for the swag!
I stuck around for the women’s elite UCI race after mine, and took some photos of the pros tackling the course:
Somehow the giant flyover doesn’t look as steep in the photo as it did riding up it on race day… Still, Teal Stetson-Lee makes it look easy.
French CX champion Caroline Mani, who I met at Starbucks on the way to the course Sunday and was nice enough to give me directions, tackles the BMX section — can you see the whoops on the left-hand side? I’m bad at those.
— Shane Ferro