Becoming a Cyclocross National Champion (50-54 age-group)
This is a bit of a long read, but I hope you find it worth your time and take away something for yourself. A few weeks ago, I won the Cyclocross National Championships for the 50-54 age group. This was a special accomplishment for me. I’ve raced a long time, 20+ years in triathlons as an age-grouper and elite. I’ve won national off-road and Xterra age-group world titles, and those were special as well, especially the world title which happened 1.5 years after a bad car accident that I had to work hard to recover from. But, this cylcocross win was the most exciting one hands down because I had my Stage 1 Cycling teammates, friends, and other New England racers to share it with in the moment. They were all over the course giving me splits and encouraging me out there and that was really helpful and meant a lot to me. And in the last minutes of the race some of my Stage 1 teammates had just pulled up from the long drive from CT to hear my name being announced that I was leading. They were able to catch the last bit and were so excited! They also deserve a medal for coming out to the awards in the afternoon in the pouring rain to see me get my stars and stripes jersey!
Another reason this win was special is that it was in a sport that requires different skills and strengths than a triathlon. When I first tried cross back in 2013 I was pretty bad and really the only thing I had going for me was good fitness from triathlons, but my skills were terrible (my friend and main pit mechanic George Dickerson can vouch for this). I did a couple races each year at the end of triathlon season for fun, but it wasn’t until 2017 that I decided to commit to getting better at it. I took the time to work on my skills and anything I was not good at. I had to work on building more explosive power to handle the pace changes and accelerations cross has in short fast races, unlike triathlon which is a steady effort. I had to learn the ins and outs on equipment (tire choices, pressure, tricks keeping mud out of your shoes, etc). How to corner, ride sand, mud, roots, wet grass, barriers you name it, run with bike up a runup or stairs, starting, negotiating other riders, and dismounting and mounting smoothly all while your heart is about to explode! I did some UCI pro races with a lot of fast women in big fields the last couple of seasons, except for 2018 where I focused on the Xterra Pro Am Tour. It was really challenging with the speed of those women all half my age. This year with half the UCI pro races gone the fields were flying I swear 2x as fast as they did in 2019! The starts were fast and I was downright scared of just crashing and getting hurt, especially the first few races! I got my butt kicked every UCI race this season, but I learned how to ride faster and smarter, deal with aggressive riding, finding tight spaces to pass, holding my line, being smoother, and trying to hang on every lap! There were a few races I did feel a bit demoralized, but I tried to focus on what I got out of it and how that was going to help me get to be a better rider. I did a lot of racing, 20 races in 2021 starting at the end of August up until nationals on December 12th, and all that hard racing, learning, and practicing in between paid off.
I knew in my heart I had a shot at winning if I could avoid mechanicals, crashes, and stay calm. I took a deep breath and reassured my nerves on the trainer race morning. When I did one lap pre-ride at 7:30 am race morning it was icy and really slippery I was like, oh boy this is going be interesting! At 8:50 am race time the ground was frozen like a rock with a layer of slick mud and frost ice. The course was choppy and super bumpy on the grass in most parts. The corners and stairs were slick as ice. It took being calm, finesse, and skill to ride in those conditions to keep the bike upright. I have a lot of practice riding in a lot of different conditions in training and racing and I love it when it gets slick and there is mud! When I look back at the race video and I see myself riding around the course I realize how far I’ve progressed from where I started!
I hope what you can take away from my experience is the following: if you decide you want to work towards something, with time, work, study, patience, and commitment you can see what you are capable of. You never know where you might end up! Part of the enjoyment and challenge is in the journey to see where you can get yourself to. And this doesn’t just apply to sport, you can apply this to your other passions as well. It can be scary and uncomfortable but that comes with pushing yourself outside your limits but you learn a lot about yourself and the amazing things you can do! Just make sure to keep it fun along the way as well!
Special thanks to everyone who has supported me, you can’t do this alone!
Coach Sergio Borges who I’ve worked with for years got training nailed again for racing strong thru the whole season!
Scott Tribby from Ranfone Strength Training who I’ve also worked for years helped get me strong and build more power. Yes I’m a coach but even coach needs a coach!
My husband Mike who has supported all my crazy endeavors thru the years, and there have been many. To quote him, I can’t believe someone who hates to be cold just won the national cyclocross title!
George Dickerson who tirelessly helps me fix the bikes, even changes tires at 4:30 am in hotel race morning, and talked me into going to nationals.
Airline Cycles and Stage 1 teammates and friends for their amazing support and enthusiasm!
Joe Sayers at North Haven Bike for all his support thru the years.
Amity bike crew for dragging me on mountain bike rides in all conditions and pushing my limits.
Jimena Florit my good friend who has helped me tremendously with my riding skills over the last few years on the mountain bike. And yes I heard your voice in my head before the race saying “You are capable of more than you think.”
Doug Vail mechanic and friend whose brains I constantly picked about the world of cyclocross.
I rode Cannondale SuperX DI2 with 38 single chain ring in front and 11-34T, Challenge PDX tubeless tires with pressure 18psi in front and 19.5 in rear.
Cyclocross is the sport of racing bicycles over rough terrain that usually requires carrying the bicycle over obstacles.