Bittersweet Race: DCCX

My second cross race had a very inauspicious start, what with a stolen bike and all. But despite all of that, my desire to ride was overwhelming and I found a bike to borrow for DCCX. And I’m so glad I did, because it turns out the act of racing means so much more than the bike I’m racing on!

It is a two day race and I was only planning to race on Sunday, but still went and spectated most of the afternoon on Saturday, despite the sadness of the bike theft. While Saturday was bone dry, with dust choking everything, it rained overnight and made everything a little soft. So, it turns out, if you want a muddy course, just invite me because I seem to bring the rain!

Very dust on day 1!

Very dust on day 1!

It wasn’t soupy like it was at Hyattsville, just a slick and slippery. And wow, what a course it was! I had been terrified to learn earlier that week that they had brought the flyover from Charm City to use at DCCX, but when I got there on Saturday, I heard that because 3 people had been taken to the hospital because of the flyover, they took it out for the early races with the less experienced riders. And I was thankful for that! However, it was still a wicked course. There were a LOT of sharp little inclines, all very short and very steep, which was made it a LOT harder than Hyattsville! Hyattsville was a slog, with the mud just sapping all the strength. DCCX was a lot more technical, requiring not only the legs to get up the inclines, but also the skill needed to keep up the speed around all the turns (although, “speed” is a relative term when talking about my racing). I normally would have been able to make it up those inclines, but I wasn’t able to keep up any speed on the downhill because I didn’t trust my wheels to keep enough grip on the slippery grass. Plus, the lack of tread made it impossible to stand up on the hills, as my back wheel would wash out every time on the soft ground and I’d had to do an awkward dismount to “run” up the hill.

DCCX 2015 (793)

I was learning how to be a little more fearless on the bike, to try and be a little more technical in my racing, but riding with my friend’s bike didn’t help that. I know I have the skill to be a really good technical racer, gaining and keeping speed through tricky bits, but I was so paranoid of my wheels washing out, I slowed down way more than I wanted to. I fear this is a habit that will be hard to break! The most treacherous part of the course was a “M” configuration, where you went up a steep hill, immediately went down a steep hill that turned right into another steep hill which turned right down until a longer downhill with a nice tight turn at the bottom (okay, not that tight, but it felt tight with the speed from the downhill). PLUS there were the rocks and roots on the downhill to avoid AND the sand/dirt at bottom, which not only made it very hard to keep up any speed to get back up the steep incline, but also added the risk of washing out! So, you know, basically turned me into a scaredy-cat. I’d dismount at the top of the “M” and cautiously pick my way down the hill. Chris gave me a lot of grief about that when he saw me stop and get off my bike. But in my defense, it was a new bike with crap tires, so I think I was justified in my caution.

Walking cautiously down the "M"

Walking cautiously down the “M”

This race has another first – my first handup. Honestly, this was the part of cross that I most looked forward to! The first lap I took a bacon handup, which was a mistake. It was a whole piece, which was hard to chew quickly and it was so salty! The second lap I took a beer handup, which was better, but honestly, when you’re going as hard as you are in a race, any food does not sit well in the stomach. I spent the rest of the lap regretting that beer. But I don’t think that will stop me from taking another handup….

DCCX 2015 (801)

Advantage to doing early races: your race doesn’t have to eat up your whole day. Disadvantage to riding early: limited opportunities to pre-ride. In the Super 8 series, my race is generally at 10am, which means I can only pre-ride before the 9am race, unless I want to get to the course before the 8:15 race (HA). Another disadvantage: I rarely get to cheer on Chris/@cycleboredom because I’m always either standing in line to pick my number up or getting ready to pre-ride.

Overall, it was a great race. My dad visited me for the weekend to watch me race and it was so, so great to have him there – it was great to have his calming presence during the bike debacle and it was great to have him there to cheer and take pictures during the race. I regret that I forgot to take a picture together! It was a hard, HARD course. I felt like throwing up multiple times and definitely cried a little, both during and after the race. But the support and the atmosphere of the race make it all worth it and I can’t wait to do it again!

Bike Love and Loss and Love

I was all ready and excited to do my 2nd cyclcross race last Sunday, at DCCX (The Only Race In Your Nation’s Capital!), when a trip down to the bike storage area in my building revealed a terrible fact: my bike was gone. My beautiful, new, only-raced-once bike was gone. All that was left was a lousy cut cable lock (no lectures please, I already know that was dumb). The details are too painful and shameful to recount and every conversation reminds me of what I don’t have anymore and it hurts my heart too much. I always thought it would suck to have a bike stolen, but I never thought it would hurt this much. Maybe it’s the thought of all the good times I knew we would’ve had together, all the rides we wouldn’t go on, all the races we wouldn’t do. I mean, I fucking loved that bike. This inanimate object opened new doors and introduced me to new experiences and people and I just MOURN all the experiences that stolen along with the bike. That’s what hurts the most when I think of what I’ve lost – it’s not the missing bike so much that hurts, as it is all the experiences I won’t have with it.

However, in the dark, dark storm that is trying to recover a stolen bike, there was one bright spot – the care and compassion of my fellow bike lovers and friends. I had lots of genuinely sympathetic comments on my Facebook posts and I could just tell they were just as upset as I was. When I tweeted my stolen bike with the #bikeDC hashtag, asking people to spread the picture, tons of people (most I didn’t know) retweeted the picture and some strangers even replied back, saying how sorry they were. When talking to the police and spreading the word about the bike, I wasn’t too emotional or upset. But once I felt the kindness and sympathy of all these people (strangers and friends alike), it was hard not to get emotional

The truth is, being a bike owner is living in a constant state of “I hope my bike is still there when I get back to it”. ANYTIME you have to lock your bike up and leave it, there’s a chance it might not be there the next time you go back to it. You can do things to try and make your bike seem like an unattractive bet for stealing, but in reality, there isn’t a bike lock that can’t be broken. And I think that is why there is so much sympathy from strangers when it comes to stolen bikes – everyone knows it could happen to them. All of our bikes are vulnerable to theft and every time you see a stolen bike post, you think “that could be me next time!”

Having a bike taken is like having part of your soul stolen. It hurts a lot and leaves a bit hole. But, somehow, the love and support and sympathy you get from other bike lovers helps fill the hole a little. I don’t hate life quite as much, knowing there is a whole community who knows my pain and genuinely cares for your loss.

While I was talking to the police and posting my bike picture all over social media, all I could think about was how I just wanted to be at DCCX. Partly because I wanted the distraction and partly because I love that race so much. It was pretty rough seeing everyone with their bikes, thinking about what I’d lost. I waffled back and forth during the day, trying to decide if I wanted to find a bike to borrow. In the end, I decided I wanted to ride more than anything. So, the next morning, I lined up with a bike my friend in the building had lent me. It was a little big and didn’t have quite enough tread on the tires, but it was a bike. This bike let me be part of a community that is amazing and I know I’ve only just started discovering how much this community to give me.

And in the end, the community is all that really matters. A bike is just an object and while its theft caused a huge hole inside me, I can rest a little easier knowing that my body is still whole and that there is a community out there that will embrace me and comfort me in my time of sadness.


Love and Cyclocross: My First Cross Race

Sometimes you try new things and it works out and you have a good time. Other times you try new things and the experience exceeds your wildest expectations.

I did my first cross race this Sunday, Hyattsville CX and I can’t believe what a ride it was. The race itself was about what I expected, in terms of difficulty. But everything surrounding the race really even more than I expected. (To read how I got to the start line, read this!)


Not exactly jumping the barriers…

The race itself was brutal. I did not enjoy myself while racing. I chose Hyattsville CX as my first race because it seemed like a pretty easy course – and had it been dry, I assume it would have been! But, unfortunately it spent the 4 previous days raining nonstop, so the course became soft and soupy. There were two long sections where it was a pure mud pit. And holy Jesus, mud is a soul sucking, strength sapping disaster. Running the mud was out of the question (because I am not that fit!), but walking was no easier than riding and I only stopped riding to avoid falling over in the mud. I did pretty well in the technical sections, was able to handle my bike well and seemed to have a good eye for picking good lines. Chris (@cycleboredom) insisted watching all those Svenness videos must have paid off. He’s probably right. (He also did his first race at Hyattsville. Read it here!)

Riding in a race is so different than riding for fun or through town. When I’m riding on the road and on trails, I’m always looking over my shoulder to make sure I’m not moving out in front of someone, calling out my presence, apologizing. But it seemed weird to do that on the course. One women was passing me, I went to move out of her way, but she still sort of cut me off and said “Sorry!” and I said, “No worries!” I mean, if you’re passing a competitor (not necessarily someone like me who’s back of the pack), should you say, “On your left!”? I don’t know! I will say I was impressed and grateful that all the junior riders on the RCV (Rock Creek Velo) club called their passes to me – it was polite and I appreciated it.

Once I finished, my throat was so parched and that first beer I had was hands down the best beer I’ve ever tasted. Then I had a 2nd one, which was also delicious but then I had to wait a few hours to drive home again…

Post race, waiting to wash my bike. Photo by Cycleboredom

But, above all, I was just BLOWN away at how great the cross community was on Sunday. I’ve always admired how accepting the cross community feels, but never imagined it would feel this good to be on the inside of it. From the other women I was racing with, to the spectators, to my friends, to random strangers – they were all amazing. There was the woman who lined up next to me asking me if it was my first race and giving encouragement, my friends shouting my name as I rode past, the woman waiting to get a beer who asked me about the race – all of it made the whole day amazingly special.


But the best, BEST support were the words of encouragement from every Masters women who lapped me (which I’m pretty sure was all of them!). There is a lot of talk about how women don’t support each other, how feminism makes women enemies instead of friends, how they tear each other down instead of working in solidarity, and can’t women just get along?? What I saw here turned all of that on its head. These women embraced me and welcomed me. These women  understood the struggles of life and of cross – the struggle to over come the obstacles of even getting to the start line and the actual struggle on the course to compete and finish – and reached out with their words to push me own. I was so worried about being embarrassed or not feeling worthy and with a few words, these women took every bit of that away from me.

In fact, with every word of encouragement that came from the other racers or spectators, it all became worth it and I stopped questioning why I was out there. The guy who complemented my line choice, my friend Shauna who rode next to me on the course, shouting encouragement and coaching at me while I struggled through the mud, the guy who remarked that I had a nice dismount (the new compliment to make a girl swoon?), the other guy who shouted at me “You’re right there! Finish strong!” – it seriously gave me strength to start another lap. As I finished one lap, I did not think I had the strength to do another lap. But the cheers made me WANT to do another lap and they made me happy for all of the times I had cheered my heart out for those at the back of the pack, because perhaps they need it the most.

So, for all you women (and guys!) out there who are intimidated by cross, let me tell you it’s worth it. The stress of finding a new bike, the intimidation of the skills needed, the sick feeling you get when you think of lining up – the cross community, the love they have for the sport and those that put themselves out there to try their beloved sport, make it ALL WORTH IT. Life can be hard and cruel and overwhelming, but there are times when you are surprised and grateful and welcomed. This was one of those times and I can’t wait to do it again.

Over the Barriers: A Journey to Cyclocross

I’ve had my bike for about 4 years now and most things are old hat right now – I haven’t been discovering new things or really going on new adventures, so nothing feels exciting to blog about. However, recently, I’ve been embarking on a new adventure. And that adventure is cyclocross. (if you don’t know what cyclocross is and need a primer, check out an introduction article I wrote here)

I’ve spent been engaged in the pro cycling community since the 2010 Tour de France, but didn’t really pay much attention to its winter sister of cross until a few years later. Once I actually started paying attention to cross, I was immediately fascinated. I loved the community it seemed to foster, the fun everyone seemed to have, and its accessibility as a fan. I never thought about actually racing myself, even though I loved that it was such a participation sport – I’m not drawn to competition, and the skills needed were intimidating. I’m not sure what changed or shifted in my head, but last year I started to wonder if cross participation was something I could do. However, I didn’t want to drop the big bucks on a new bike if I was going to be hopeless at the skills (as putting the crucial knobby tires on my current bike wasn’t an option). So, when I realized Team Sticky Fingers ( a women’s cycling team in DC) was running women’s only cross clinics in August and September of last year, I rode over to try it out. And it turns out I wasn’t terrible at the cross skills! Dismounting and remounting were intimidating, but not impossible. Barriers were a challenge, but not a challenge I felt I couldn’t overcome. Pus, I have decent bike handling skills. However, cross bikes are freaking expensive, and it wasn’t in the cards to buy one in time for last season. So, I saved my pennies and vowed I’d buy a bike in time to have my cross coming out season at Hyattsville (Hyattsville CX felt like a good 1st race on a few levels: the course isn’t too challenging, I bought my first bike at Arrow in Hyattsville, who sponsor the race, and relearned how to ride a bike in the same area where the race takes place). I need that hard deadline, or else I’d always find reasons to put off making the commitment.

I was ready to buy a bike in August of this year but good Lord, I’d forgotten how overwhelming buying a new bike is! Researching bikes online is practically useless, as there are SO many options, I get option paralysis. So, I decided to just start with the shops: I went to all the shops in the area that were relatively accessible for me and said, “I’m looking for a cross bike, what do you have?” And that turned out to be perfect, despite the fact that most shops only carry one or two brands of cross bikes and often don’t have my size in stock. It was perfect because it really helped me focus on a handful of brands and make a decision from that smaller pool. On top of it all, I went to about 4 shops and they were all respectful and kind to me – no one talked down to me or tried to force me to buy a bike I didn’t want. So, if you’re looking for any kind of a new bike, I suggest starting with a small pool, and narrow down from whatever options you have at your LBS.

In the end, I went with a Giant TCX SLR 2 from The Bike Rack. I love how it looks and I love how it rides!


Once I bought the bike, I had to actually start practicing those cross skills again. As I wasn’t able to find any clinics in the area, I did some refresher reading on the internet and just went out to the local park to practice those dismounts and remounts. I’d find a relative flat, empty section of Rock Creek Park or Sligo Creek Park and just do laps, jumping on and off the bike. However, I was still really nervous about barriers – I wasn’t sure I would be able to practice that on my own and didn’t trust myself to remember how to do it from last summer. Luckily, The Bike Race racing team offered a cross clinic this week – the week before my first race, perfect timing! It ended up being a perfect cross practice, as it poured rain the entire clinic – that seemed fitting! The clinic was wonderful on a couple of levels – it gave me a chance to do some last minute skills training AND a fair number of the women who showed up were also planning on doing the Hyattsville race. The thought of a friendly, familiar face on the start line was a HUGE comforting factor for me.

But on the eve of my first race, my big secret is that it’s not failure I’m afraid of, it’s embarrassment. I worry way too much about how others perceive me and judge me, and my insides feel sick at that thought that someone might be laughing at me because of something I do, say, wear. Are these fears unfounded? Probably. But the mind is rarely rational. I’ve been working a lot to stop focusing on how others might perceive me (because those are their issues, not mine), and this article about mindset as it pertains to cyclocross, really spoke to me. Basically, those with a flexible mindset don’t see failure as embarrassing or a setback – they see at as learning step and necessary to grow. So, I’ve been trying to move from a fixed mindset to a flexible mindset when it comes to cross, and look at whatever happens as a learning event and nothing more. Plus, every time I wonder what a spectator might think when they see me struggle, I think of every time I’ve been a spectator at a race and how much I supported and cheered and encouraged those on the course, no matter how they were doing. And in fact, I cheered MORE for those who seemed to be struggling, because I wanted to convey how much I admired what they were doing and thought they were brave. Not to mention, all the great people I’ve met in cross who are genuinely good people and would never laugh at me for a “mistake”. So, whenever the bad thoughts crowd into my head as I think about the race tomorrow, I just imagine it’s me on the side, cheering and encouraging me on as I struggle and suffer. And I suspect I’ll need all the encouragement I can give myself.

Do you ever have crappy rides?

Because I just did. The weather was beautiful, I had a funny podcast to listen to, there wasn’t too much traffic, but I just wanted to OFF MY BIKE. Instead of looking forward to my ride home after work in lovely weather, I was trying to get out of it. The way people talk sometimes, you’d think a ride cures all. IT DOESN’T. I rode on Sunday and had a wonderful time. I rode today and couldn’t wait to be home. Part of the problem might be the routine- I’m bored of my usual commute home. So I don’t look forward to it. So I’m gonna have to fix that, because that whole thing was unpleasant. BAH. 

Because People Always Want to Know

Because People Always Want to Know

Marijn de Vries explains (and illustrates!) peeing techniques for women out on a ride.

The Daily Bike: Fall

What a lovely fall day for a ride! However, what with the truly winter day we had on Saturday, I was anticipating cold temperatures and cold wind on Sunday. I didn’t actually bother to stick my head outside, though, to check and instead of a cold winter day, it was a mild fall day. Therefore, I was way overdressed! Regardless, it was a wonderful, leisurely ride. I’ve been eating like crap lately, and have been feeling guilty about not riding, so the two hour ride I took today helped alleviate some of that guilt.

I’d been feeling nostalgic for my old riding haunts, now that the weather has turned, and decided to ride back to my old neighborhood. A great choice, as the leaves are turning and the trail riding was beautiful. Since I was in the area, I decided to go back to my old bike shop to have them look at my rear derailleur, as it’s been acting wonky for awhile. I was glad I went. Twenty minutes later, I had a derailleur which shifted nice and smooth again, new brake pads, tightened brake cables, and a straightened brake hood. Thanks Arrow!

It was just a great ride. I was in no hurry and just rode along as I felt like it. I don’t even know how far I went or how long I rode- I just went until I needed to turn around and then went back again! The trails were lovely and now that it’s a bit colder, there are fewer people out, so I had the trails all to myself. I’m comfortable riding on the road, but it’s not very relaxing in the city- there’s too much traffic to be aware of. On the trails, with no one around, it’s much easier to let your mind wander and enjoy the scenery. I welcome the return of the colder weather, as I find cold rides invigorating and the roads empty.

So, let us not lament the end of summer, but embrace the empty trails and hardcore status that winter riding gives us.

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#30DaysofBiking: Day 18 | Easter Dinner

#30daysofbiking day 18

Shannon's Easter feast

Before we begin, I must say that although the official #30DaysofBiking might be over, my #30DaysofBiking is not. For me, #30DaysofBiking became not about getting on my bike every day, even though it started out like that. It became about finding ways to share my adventures on the bike. I don’t have a huge social life to begin with and my cycling obsession really cuts into what social activities I do do.  That, combined with the fact that the way my life works makes it really hard to just “pop” back home to get in a quick ride, lead me to very quickly abandon the idea of riding 30 days in a row. Had I done that, I probably would not have seen any of my friends for 30 days. So my 30 days of biking are not over yet.

So without further ado, my day 18 ride!  Today’s ride was thoroughly miserable. And this time it wasn’t the bike’s fault! I had to go to the grocery store to pick up some things for Shannon’s Easter meal, of course left too late, and in my rush to leave, did not realize a) it was WAY hot out or b) I had left my lock on the table. So a 5 minute ride turned into a 15 minute ride as I had to turn back to get my lock. By the time I got home, I was so hot I thought my face might explode. I almost didn’t go to Shannon’s house, but hate reneging on my friends, so I went. And I’m glad I did, because dinner was amazing.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège: Gilbert is King!

What’s there to say? Philippe Gilbert was the king of this year’s late season Ardenne Classics. With great form, good tactics, a supportive team, and, of course, a little bit of luck, Gilbert was able to take 4 wins in a row. Having won Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallone and now Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Gilbert has done what no other racer has done and won all four in a single season.

Calm start, calm finish

Compared the previous Classics of the season, LBL was relatively calm. There was no bunch sprint, no last minute attacks, no successful breakaways. But even the calmer races still make for an exciting time. A ten man breakaway got away within the first 12km – Sébastien Delfosse (Landbouwkrediet), Jesus Herrada Lopez (Movistar), David Le Lay ( AG2R), Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana), Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Thomas De Gendt (Vancansoleil), Tony Gallopin (Cofidis), Mickaël Delage (Française des Jeux), Yannick Talabadon (Saur-Sojasun), Mathias Frank (BMC). The break was never allowed much leeway, unlike Flèche Wallonne, where the break had 17 minutes at one point. OmegaPharma-Lotto and Leopard Trek worked to keep the break close, which never got more than four minutes.

On the Côte de la Haute-Levée, a counter move by nine riders, including Enrico Gasparotto (Astana),  Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step), Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale), Laurens Ten Dam, Juan Manuel Garate (both Rabobank), Blel Kadri (AG2R), Kanstantsin Siutsou (HTC-Highroad), and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) went up the road and with 63km to go, they caught up with the original break. In spite of the large group up the road, the group was allowed a gap of 1:43.

Not until la Redoute climb was the gap reduced through Leopard Trek’s hard work. By the top of the climb, only seven riders remained in the break and they had only 45 seconds. Gasparotto, Pineau, Van Avermaet, Garate, Ten Dam, Kadri and Siutsou were alone in the front now, and were allowed to grow the gap while OmegaPharma-Lotto and Leopard Trek argued a bit over who should lead the chase.

The decisive move

With 21km to go, on the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons, Gasparotto and Van Avermaet took off from the lead group just as the Schleck brothers took off from the peloton, with Gilbert in tow. The Schlecks and Gilbert quickly reached the leaders, who had been joined by Pineau. Gasparotto and Pineau were not able to hang on, but Van Avermaet stuck with the three favorites as they came by.

With this move, the fate of the race was written. The peloton was only able to get within 24 seconds of the leading four and although Gilbert attacked on St Nicolas climb, dropping Van Avermaet and Andy Schleck, A. Schleck made it back to the two in front with 5 km to go. As they came up the false flat to the finish line, Gilbert put on a final burst of speed the brothers could not match and crossed the finish line to take his 4th victory in 12 days.


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