Runnin’ Down a Dream
By Emily Georgeson (Helen’s/Cannondale)
The SoCal Cross Prestige Series put on by Dorothy Wong provides incredibly well designed and built courses that are challenging and fun. I don’t know how they get it all done. The fast women who show up for Elite A races have pushed me to ride beyond self annihilation in order to hang near the front. The two-day event at San Diego’s Balboa Park was no different. A few of the familiar fast wheels were out of town, but, the series leader, Carolin Schiff (SDG Felt), was ready to make me work. My strategy going into each race is to power to the front group immediately and then go deep into the pain cave to hang with the leaders. I hopefully get a chance to settle into my pace and work my mental focus, riding the course with technically efficiency.
At 1pm when the Women’s A race was ready to start, the sun was beating down and the gusting winds carried some sort of throat-seizing heat/poison that dried your mouth and throat the second you started breathing with any ferocity. Series call-ups brought us to the start line, and the siren got us going off to a fast start on the velodrome where Caroline took the holeshot and I held in second. We sprinted a half lap with crit like speed before turning right into the infield that was littered with gopher holes. After spitting out any loose dental work on the body numbing jagged bumps, the field twisted through some tight 180 degree turns before shooting straight up the velodrome wall and cutting a hard right that hung up riders in previous races. It was critical to be near the front there.
I stuck to Carolin’s wheel, flowing downhill on hard-packed double-track and steered a precision line in-between all of the rocks strewn about the course. Lifting the front wheel up and over the sidewalk lip, she accelerated effortlessly, and I realized I wish I had more air in my tires because it felt like I was riding on hot tar. Through the wood chips we pulled away and put some distance between us and third place. We then went through the twisting grass maze, the punchy hills, and I was still sticking to her. We approached the double barriers together, hop off, lift, hurdle, hurdle, remount, we were still together. Down around the sand pit and accelerate into the dirt to end lap one in the velodrome. I focused on giving it my all and staying in her draft as she pulled through the velodrome. Yes, one lap down. We meandered through the infield, over the barrier, re-mounted and on to the cement, and there goes Caroline. I could not maintain to stay in her draft. And there begins the all so familiar chase.
From that moment on, I got small glimpses of Carolin as I kept putting my head down and pedaling with all I had. I worked at mastering the corners, looking through, trusting the grass and learning the course in anticipation for tomorrow’s re-match. In cyclocross races, mechanicals are not uncommon, so I kept focused on finishing strong, just in case Carolin had a misfortune. Lap after lap I saw her out front. In the end, I placed second, behind by 1:12, but I feel I am getting closer each race.
The weather felt a bit cooler on Sunday – in the mid 80s. Still hotter than my optimum racing temps, I loaded up with ice down my back before the race start. My legs felt tired, but I told myself ”It’s all in your head. You have strong legs, and you know the course.” During warm-ups, I made the deal with my boyfriend, Chris that I would stick for two laps, and see what happened from there. With call-ups complete, the siren sounds and I immediately get into Carolin’s draft. The course was so familiar on the second day. I was flowing through each corner faster with more confidence. We hit the pavement, and the air pressure felt right this time. The tar has dried. I was on her wheel, flying through the nicely rutted wood chips that sucked us in like quicksand the day before. I knew where to brake and where to pedal.
We hit the grass section and I could see third place on our wheels! Exciting! Not sure who it was but I could see The Team SoCal Cross jersey. Winding around, through the grass, over the log, the run-up, the remount and, pedal, pedal, pedal. Over the double barriers, through the sand pit, and we’re off to the velodrome. Somewhere in there we lost third place, but I was committed to Carolin’s wheel for another lap.
For the entire second lap it was the same thing -, I am stuck to Carolin’s wheel. “Maybe today is my day,” I thought. Then I thought, “Wait, it’s still early in the race, Keep focused.” I stuck to her wheel through the velodrome and then, her fitness and explosions started to exceed what I could produce. “Keep her in sight,” I told myself. “It only takes one error.”
Each corner felt like it took less effort as we knew the course. I knew where Carolin excels, and I knew where I could make up time. Every time I passed the wheel pit my crew was telling me the time difference. Was it possible to make up the difference? I kept seeing Carolin in the infield, on each lap, counting down to the last lap. But once again, Caroline won again. I took second place, but I came away more confident, and motivated to keep chasing. On day two, I cut the time gap down to 18 seconds. Maybe it is possible. I will keep chasing because like any cyclocross racer will confirm, anything can happen in cyclocross.