I headed up to Wayway extra early to get a run on Sitting Bear – a trail with an extended rock garden that I had trouble clearing at the pre-ride earlier in the week. Since I had used my training bike for the pre-ride, I was extra anxious to try out the new body position of my race bike over that technical section. I really wanted to get a feel for how the bike would handle and if I would need to adjust my approach.
The run through was clean, giving me confidence for the race.
As I was running through my warm up, I noticed the suspension felt super stiff. Lucky for me, Jeff Lenosky was kind enough to give both shocks a once over, dialing in the rebound to suit the raw terrain of Wayway and releasing the font lockout, which I had inadvertently click on (duh – I’m chalking that ridiculous oversight to pre-race nerves).
I had a clean, smart start and sat in on the long, fast prologue until Jane Pearson made a move on the road section. I knew sprinting at this stage could mean sudden death for me, but all I could think was, ‘Stay on her wheel! Stay on her wheel!’. She made a smart move through the corner, taking a line that stalled my momentum and then proceeded to accelerate into the wooded single track. She pulled out of sight as I got back up to speed.
I could hear the other girls hot on my wheel, but I didn’t look back. I just settled into a strong pace, hoping to keep the super speedy women behind me at bay, knowing that the upcoming technical sections would be the place I could make up time. The first few sections of extended rock gardens came up fast. I dialed my pace back to keep my momentum smooth through the rocks. I couldn’t hear anyone behind me anymore.
Most of the first lap I plowed along solo, occasionally catching a guy here or there. I felt strong on the open fire road sections, and really tried to power through those, knowing that was where everyone would unleash. In the past, I would be dead on these sections, especially on any extended climbs. I passed a few guys on the uphill fire road sections, and I thought “I’m passing someone on a climb? That’s new!”
My mantra through the entire lap was “go slower to go faster”. I had a consistent dialogue reminding myself to be relaxed, lay off the brakes & keep the momentum steady.
I drilled the loose, rocky descent, holding back just a little, hugging the rocks and barriers I would normally jump. I didn’t want to washing out or lose control.
Coming through the lap line people started shouting, “She’s just ahead!”, “You’re only 15s off the lead!”.
When I came around the corner I could see Jane at the top of the gravel climb! As much as I wanted to sprint up to her, I knew she would be really strong through the open fire road sections. I was hoping she didn’t notice I was steadily closing the gap. Jane is legend in my eyes and has excellent technical skills, so I wasn’t confident that I would be able to make any ground on the single track. My eyes were laser focused on her rear wheel. It was getting closer. I made a pass around a male racer, and I was sure she knew I was behind her now.
As we worked out way through Sitting Bear and the endless rock gardens I realized I could take some of these sections just a little bit faster than we were moving. As we ascended a rocky, punchy climb where the trees were really thin and small, my bike blasted through the brush, swerving through the trees, before my brain even realized I was passing Jane!
I got out in front and it hit me. I just passed a rider I have admired for years. Unreal. I can’t believe I’m here. Doing this. I became a little frantic at this point, and started back up with the dialogue, stay relaxed; just relax and ride your ride; keep it steady.
Through the next few miles of technical singletrack we yo-yo-ed away and together. As the rocks wore at us, I started to get a little distance, as I exited the single track, a quick look back told me that Jane had dropped slightly out of sight. I could still here her, so I knew it couldn’t be more than a few seconds, but losing sight of someone can be a huge mental challenge. Some people, like myself, often lose motivation, or course for plenty of riders, especially a seasoned pro like Jane, it might only motivate them to rider harder. In an attempt to keep the gap and capitalize on losing sight, when I hit the fire road climb I put as much power as I could into it. A few more punchy climbs and short single track sections and suddenly I’m at the rocky descent near the end of the course. There is no sign of Jane so I take this descent hard, but in control.
I’m rounding the gravel road to the finish, which is uphill and I keep on the gas because you never know (check out the finish from the Sugar Hill race). I use all the ecstatic energy I’m feeling and lay it all out to sprint through the finish as hard as I possibly can. UNBELIEVABLE! 1st! I’m beyond thrilled.