We arrived Tuesday at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville the week of nationals, but it was less than an hour before my race on Thursday when it really hit me (and not just the usual gurgling stomach) that I’d be lining up for my first ‘nats.’ “Good morning, Ali!” said our coach, Mark, in a voice so chipper it’d be hard even for an optimist like me to match.
Looking back, I feel like I just stared at him for a minute. But then he began asking all the right questions, and before I knew it, the rest of my morning took motion (thanks, Mark!).
Before the Biltmore
CX race days begin well before the gun goes off with good preparation (not just high-quality training in a relatively short period of time). For us it comes down to having a good routine when we travel and a system that keeps us organized and high stress at bay. We’ve kept our routine pretty consistent this year (which I hope to tell you more about in a later post).
Nats morning was a little different though – but icing on the cake for me. Spencer and I normally race the same day – mine in the morning before his. That means I’m the first one up so I can hydrate (with Skratch Labs matcha or lemon lime), make breakfast and choke it down in enough time for my stomach to settle down (I like to top things off with some beet juice from The Local Juicery in Chattanooga).
But, it was a real treat to have a newly-crowned National Champion (see national and local news coverage) serving me breakfast and coffee shortly after my 5 a.m.-ish wake-up call that morning. From the moment he finished his race on Wednesday – he was ready to make my experience a good one.
Once the coffee kicked in, I did minimal packing (thanks, Spencer!), got dressed for my last cx race of the year and headed toward the car. We arrived at the Biltmore shortly after 7 a.m. (I think).
Let’s warm things up
My first order of business after settling in at the Biltmore was to ‘clear’ a particular part of the course I didn’t during pre-rides. I’ve been to several big UCI races these past two seasons, and I was used to being able to ride between races. But at nats, you could only ride at certain times each day which meant there were a ton of people trying to get through the course (and especially difficult sections) during pre-rides. I had a hard time feeling confident enough to ‘take my turn’ practicing while so many people were going through – which is something I need to get over before next year’s nats.
Luckily there was course preview time before my race, so Spencer hopped on his bike and came with me to get a good run at that section. He showed me the line he took, and I had no problem following him through the descent. It was a ton of fun and became my favorite part of the course.
Then it was time for the trainer until ‘staging’ (we report to the starting area about 15-20 minutes before the race so the organizers can line us up).
Time to get the party started
To keep my nerves/emotions in check in the starting grid, I try to focus on things I can control:
- Get the best spot for me depending on my call-up (2nd row this time)
- Make sure my bike is in the right gear for the start (3rd or 4th from the top in the rear cassette for me)
- Hand my warm-up gear to Spencer no later than 2 minutes to start
- Make sure my pedal is in the right place for ease of clipping in
- Have my Garmin ready to push start at ’30 seconds to start’
I took a few deep breaths before the gun went off. Right away another racer had an issue with her shoe, and I hesitated/slowed down a little (which wasn’t good in this instance) before taking an alternate route. I guess I still had a few nerves left after having a front-row seat to my friend, Philicia going down with another racer on the pavement in Louisville.
Photo: Yet Another Bike Photo Page
After that, the race went well for me even though I couldn’t shift into my easiest gear. In many races this wouldn’t be a big deal at all – and it wasn’t the end of the world here – but this was definitely the course to have an easier set-up since there was so much climbing. I didn’t crash and had a lot of fun on the descents – I have some work to do on the climbs and run-ups. I think I remember uttering ‘it hurts so bad’ to one fan (luckily I already had a regular massage scheduled with Virginia Lee after nats).
Overall I was happy placing 15th and especially how I progressed later on this season thanks to Coach Mark. I’m already excited to improve next season and start spending some time on my mountain bike. I really appreciated all the cheers I heard while racing – especially from Jim & Susie Farmer. We’ve traveled with them many times to races throughout this season. They’ve been great friends and tremendously encouraging throughout cx training and racing.
Photo: Yet Another Bike Photo Page
- Bike: Focus Mares (‘A’ bike is 2016/‘B’ bike is 2015)
- Wheels: American Classic carbon disc tubular
- Tires: Clement PDX tubulars (think Spencer had me at 26 rear / 24 front psi)
- Components: SRAM CX1 (11/32 rear and 34 front [Wolf Tooth front ring since SRAM’s lowest is 38] on ‘A’ bike) / SRAM Rival (11-32 rear and 36 front on ‘B’ bike – which I only used for pre-rides)
- Gloves: Handup Gloves (embro on my hands and toes so I could shift and run)
- Socks: CEP Compression
- Shoes: Shimano SH-XC90
- Helmet: Lazer T1
- Skinsuit (for racing only): VOmax
- Jersey/Shorts (during warm-up): Pactimo
- Glasses: Smith Optics
Big shout-out to NCCX / Biltmore. This race was exceptionally done and the course was top-notch. Everyone seemed to be having a great time – even the livestock living on the grounds. Cheers!