By: Kris Gross
My first “real” US Race is now under my belt, and it could not have been a more enjoyable day! First of all, my parents arrived just in time to be in attendance, and with Gerhard already agreeing to come along that meant it was a chance for “team training” leading up to BC Bike Race. Everyone was very attentive to pre-race procedures so I’m confident the support crew will be in tip top shape come June 28.
Pre-race procedures this time meant the song and dance I usually reserve for early-season Ontario races: will it rain, or won’t it? Mud tires, or no? Where’s the Pam cooking spray? What’s the latest forecast? The rains we had in Southern California recently are rare, but much-needed (though I read they still didn’t make a dent in the drought situation we find ourselves in). The course I pre-rode last week was completely different from the one I found on race day. Thank goodness. Gone were the hot, dry, choke-on-dust conditions I expected and in their place was cool, tacky, cloudy (but not raining!) perfection.
We joined up with the awesome people of Team Ninja under our team tent and tried to get as many racer stories as possible. Our team was looking sharp in our new kits and everyone was buzzing with that post-race glow. Love this team! I did my warm up on the trainer (a first for me, but not the last), then jumped on the mountain bike to make sure it was working as perfectly as I left it and then it was off to the start. There were five women in my new “Cat 1” category, but since we were divided by age group, I was really only racing one of them. Another light class for the ladies. Sigh. I’m told that later races will fill up a little more. Fingers crossed for that day, and big thank you to the Cat 1 ladies who came out for this one: Ema, Michelle, Shelly and Rhonda!
Our category started last in the 1:30 group so we had no one behind us chasing us down. So lovely. We agreed that since almost no one in our start gate was actually in a race, we’d all work like a pride of lionesses to chase down as many men as we could. Look out, boys! Fun game.
My perfectly-working mountain bike declared it was less-than-perfect right off the bat with a near-to-“Schlecked” chain that just never really sorted itself out. Team Ninja cheered me through the opening stretch as I wrestled to get into the big ring. Oh well. I was trying to climb and spin the adjusters at the same time for the first half of the lap and eventually did find a place where I could make use of my big ring (!!).
With the rain, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the course, but bikes from the previous race were coming out fairly clean and Ninjas had mostly good things to say, so I was confident we were in for a treat. I was right. The climbs felt like we were riding elevators, my tires were like velcro in every corner (regular tires … not mud ones … thank goodness I didn’t succumb to that temptation) and with the dust pasted down, I could actually breathe. I hammered off the start line despite my beleaguered drive train, opened a gap and didn’t look back until the course wound back on itself after the first super fun drop.
Ema was leading the rest of the ladies and looked determined to close the gap. With three nine-mile laps on the menu, I picked a pace and stuck with it, trying to focus on men up ahead rather than Ema on my heels.
Halfway through the lap, she closed the gap. Ema was racing in the 15-19 category and I was super thrilled to have her back there. She was riding smooth and strong and if that’s the quality of racing coming up the ranks, then that’s great news for the women’s scene. I asked her if she wanted to come around, but she declined, so I said, “Okay, let’s go” and we rode together for a little while. I hope I helped her, because she helped me. I lost her amongst some passing/trail traffic and then I was back on my own until lap three.
The second lap I ate up some more men, and started to really settle into my pace and enjoy the course. Vail Lake isn’t everyone’s favourite race, or so I gathered. But without any others to compare it to, I was fully enjoying it. It winds back on itself a number of times, skirting ridges and going in and out of canyons with one climb in particular, “the switchbacks” standing out as “breathtaking.” And then the descents were just a blast. No brakes, lovely berms, some rocks and drops to play with and I was loving it. On one of the drops, I misjudged my line, carried in way too much speed and I don’t think my tires even touched the ground except to skitter over the tops of the rocks. Regained control just as I hit another well-formed berm and laughed out loud it was such a rush. There were so many “yee-haw” sections and I found the course had plenty of flow to offset the long steady climbs and punchy steeps.
Brought it around for the last lap, collected a fresh bottle (I fudged my feed on lap two carrying too much speed into the feed zone … regrettable … but there were plenty of shook-free bottles to choose from on the course!) and enjoyed seeing my team, my parents and my husband cheering me on for the final push. My shifting was once again slipping back out and I’d narrowly avoided tearing a side wall on one of my more daring descents so I was mainly focused on finishing up clean and safe.
And then of course, I look over my shoulder and there’s Ema again. I kicked it up, and brought it home to cheering friends and family. So awesome for the Cat 2/3 Ninjas to stick around for the few of us Cat 1 racers, I really appreciated it!!
Collected some neat hardware and then the best part, Team Dinner swapping war stories and filling our faces. All in all an awesome first US Cup/Kenda Cup experience. Looking forward to Bonelli!
I want to thank Team Ninja and all of our fabulous sponsors. In particular, PowerBar, thanks for those “real fruit” pouches. Delicious. Rudy Project, thanks for making a bright pink helmet that my mom can easily spot on the course! Thanks Champion Systems for our enviable kits — I have never had more people ask to have the shirt off my back. Thanks to Aaron Hauck and Inner Strength Fitt Labs for getting me so comfortable on the bike. Huge thanks to my coach, Richard La China for ALL THE THINGS. And a big thanks to all the Team Ninja racers for making all this suffering feel like FUN! Feeling pretty lucky to be part of our awesome team. Going to be a great season.
And I also want to thank my mom and dad for coming all the way from Canada for this race!! (okay okay, they just happened to be here anyway). Thanks dad for snapping all the pics in this blog, and Mom for trying to feed me (sorry I messed it up!). And my husband Gerhard who always makes me feel like I can go 20% faster just with his presence. I love having you guys at the race, and can’t wait for our “Team Kris” reunion at BC Bike Race.
|The Start of Cat 1 Women|
|Coming through at the end of Lap 1 with Gerhard cheering me on|
|Crossing the Finish|