Feb 21 saw the 2016 edition of Monster Cross, RVA's favorite "gravel grinder", a 50mi trek around the fire roads of Pocahontas State Park. Last year's race date was rescheduled due to snow, and when the race did finally take place, Poco was a soupy, sloppy mess. I was on the MTB last year, and my finish time was >5 hours. It was miserable. I definitely had some unfinished business with this race, so armed with a new "cross" bike, I was ready to tackle it again.
We could not have asked for better race weather for a February in Virginia. The precipitation in the day leading up had been minimal, so the fire roads were in near perfect condition. I'd put in a lot of fire road time leading up to this race, so I felt I was as prepared as I could be. Based on my training paces, I figured maintaining a 13+mph pace was a reasonable goal. Holding 13mph would finish me somewhere around 3:50:00. I thought I was definitely capable of at least a 3:45:00, anything faster than that would be a bit of a push, so 3:45:00 was my own personal goal to beat.
This race has a mass start which goes off approx 5 minutes after the pro field is let loose. I positioned myself towards the front of the main pack for the start, and tried to keep a mental note of the other racers around me. There are both cross and MTB divisions, so any other woman I saw on a cross bike was my competition to beat ;)
Off we went, and I tried to keep a strong, but controlled pace to start while the speedy guys duked it out. I only saw one other girl get ahead of me at the start, so she was the first one I had to chase. Her bike had really cool lime green bar tape. I stayed just off her tail through much of the first lap. She was speedy, and at times it was a push for me to keep up with her, but my only focus was keeping an eye on that green tape!
|Photo by Jesse Peters, MCX official photographer|
Somewhere around mile 12, on the short paved section, I felt I could move a bit faster, so decided to pass her. Now she knew I was there to chase! Her and I hop-scotched for the rest of the first lap. One other girl with really cool striped socks showed up in the mix, and the three of us were close together as we headed towards the end of the first 25mi lap. I got a great surprise as we were finishing that first lap. I'd told Hugh to stay home because it would be a really boring race to spectate, but he showed up to cheer me on!! I caught sight of him coming across the reservoir bridge back into the parking lot. Made me so happy to see him (and the Gunner dog!).
Split time for that first lap came in right at 1:45:00...holy cow! That was fast! I had left fresh bottles in the pit area for the Blue Ridge Cyclery crew (thanks guys!), and I was able to keep my pit for a bottle swap under 30 seconds. I must have dropped green tape and cool socks with the quick pit, because I don't remember seeing either one of them again for the rest of the race. By the start of the second lap, I guessed that I was probably somewhere near the front of the women's cross field, but I really had no idea. I could have easily missed someone snaking ahead, either during that crazy mass start, or between laps 1 and 2. Just keep pedaling.
|Photo by Jesse Peters|
About five miles into the second lap, I was passed by another girl on a cross bike that I hadn't seen before. "Blue jersey" was who she was the rest of the race. She went FLYING by me on a uphill section, looking so incredibly strong. She pulled away very quickly and made an impressive gap in a matter of only a few seconds. I was not sure I'd be able to hang on, but kicked it up a notch to try and catch her.
The next 20 miles were an absolute battle. I pedaled my ASS OFF, just trying to keep blue jersey in eyesight. Not catch, not pass, just keep an eye on. No matter how hard I tried, I could not seem to narrow the gap AT ALL, and she stayed about 20 seconds or so ahead of me. There was one uphill section that I had managed to close the gap just slightly. If I could only catch her, I'd have a better chance at hanging on and sticking with her to the end. I was within 10 seconds....stood up on the pedals to hammer up the hill...and the chain came off my bike. $&%$#$#!!!! Forced to stop and fix, lost another 30-45 seconds. Figured I was toast at that point. No way could I catch her now. Carried on, feeling a little bit deflated, but still pushing the pace, just trying to get her in sight again at that point.
|Hugh cheering me onto the last upper loop!|
The last 9 miles were in the upper part of the park. Didn't see her...didn't see her....still pushing....still don't see her. The road opened up to where you could see wayyyy ahead, and she STILL wasn't there. Done. It's over, not going to happen. It was the last few miles of the race and I was finally starting to feel tired, so at that point I was just trying to hang on until the finish.
The last 1/2 mile is off fire road and onto more of a wide single track. That's when I spotted her again! Literally the last few minutes of the race and I could actually SEE her again! That definitely lit a fire and I attacked with everything I had left. I could see she was standing up on the pedals and not moving really fast, so she must have been feeling it too. I had finally caught her wheel and was right on her tail as we went across the bridge. Just across the bridge was a short, paved, uphill section to the finish line, maybe 200 yards. She didn't know I was there, so this was my chance. As soon as we hit the pavement, I took off. She was riding with someone who yelled "you better go catch her!" as I slipped past. She attacked back, and the two of us were right on each other up that hill, and were side by side as we crossed the finish line. Wow, what a fight! I had no idea which of us had crossed first, or how they would determine which of us had crossed first (no chips), but what an awesome ride that had been! Unofficial time somewhere around 3:34:00. NAILED IT!!!!
There were no results posted or award ceremony that day, we were told because of bad weather coming in. We would have to wait a day to find out results, which were posted the next night. Apparently I had won the battle! First place Woman's Cx with a time of 3:33:52! Per initial posted results, blue jersey was 7 seconds behind me. (I knew it hadn't been 7 seconds, but if they were manually inputting finish times as people came across the line, I could see where 7 seconds would come from.) I was SO STOKED with my race effort and finish time, coming out on top of my division was just icing on the cake.
A day later the results and finish times were updated. I was still first, blue jersey was still second, but now there was a 1 second difference in our times. That was more realistic. I'm not sure what happened next, but it was several days later than I looked at results again. Our times had been updated a third time. Blue jersey and I now had the same finish time of 3:34:24, but she was listed as first and I was listed as second. What happened?? I tried really hard to not let it bug me, because in the large scheme of things, it really didn't matter. But I really wanted to know what had happened to overturn a placing, especially if first and second now had the exact same finish time. An email to the race director received a reply of "I will look into it and let you know," and that was the last thing I heard.
Per official results as they stand today, blue jersey and I are tied for first. I am happy with that resolution. It had been so close, so for race officials determining finish place just based on a visual "who crossed first", it really could have gone either way. Regardless, for a 50 mile race to come down to milliseconds at the line, I think is pretty freaking cool! I am so proud of how I raced, and pushed hard when I didn't think I had any push left in me. I felt so strong, and I am excited to see where this new found bike fitness will take me this year!