Panda’s POV: West Coast ‘Cross

There was nothing groundbreaking about my CXLA races in Long Beach, California. I slept in my own bed, cooked in my own kitchen, had my family out to cheer, and hung out with my friends. It was like a regular SoCalCross weekend except for the fact that I was dangling just off the pace of a world-class lead group of women.

Saturday 11/21

With lingering PTSD surrounding the start of a cyclocross race (Louisville, KY crash), I quietly rolled up to the second row grid and stayed focused on having a clean start. The CXLA Long Beach Course is long, flows really well through the trees in the park, sucks all the power out of your legs, and rattles your brain through the bumpy sections. The key to the bumpy dirt is to just hammer through it as quickly as possible. This is trickier on the first lap because the bumpiest of bumps hit directly on course after the pavement start and you’re forced to navigate it with others bobbling around you.

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© 2015 Ian Hylands @ianhylands

Katerina Nash (LUNA Pro Team), Rachel Lloyd (California Giant / Specialized), Caroline Mani (Raleigh Clement), Elle Anderson (SRAM / Strava), and Courtenay McFadden (American Classic/Zones) formed into the lead group mid-way through lap one. I had another mediocre start and found myself somewhere outside the top ten, struggling to make up some ground. I came through lap one in the top ten and then made my way up to Beth Ann Orton (Kona) who was just off the front group of five.

Chasing a lead group that strong made for a very painful couple of laps by myself. One factor getting me through it and motivating me more than ever was the hometown crowd. I race, cheer, and hang out with SoCalCross as often as my schedule will allow during the season and I absolutely love the fact that I get to race a UCI weekend at home with all of them. I’m so very thankful that Dorothy Wong makes the effort to host a UCI weekend in southern California every year and I was out there giving it my all to make SoCalCross proud.

The Nash-Lloyd-Mani-Anderson group shook off McFadden with three to go and I eventually caught McFadden with two to go. Anderson was popped off the back of the lead three and sat comfortably in fourth ahead of me. On the last lap I dug deep a few more times to try and close the gap to Anderson but there wasn’t enough time left to catch her. I waved my hand across the finish line thinking, “This one’s for the series that helped get me here!”

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© 2015 Ian Hylands @ianhylands

Leading up to the weekend, Nash was ranked second in the world, Mani 13th, Lloyd 24th, McFadden 38th, and Anderson 52nd. I was ranked 149th as my previous year’s Jingle Cross results had just expired. I feel like I should be ranked in the top 100 and not lost on page four of the rankings list, but UCI rankings aren’t always an accurate representation of fitness. There’s so much that goes into the point system and getting to the races is the biggest hurdle. That’s a topic for another day, however. My point here is that this Southern California girl was in the mix with some of the best women racing in North America.

In SoCal, we do extended podiums to fifth place. I don’t want to hear the grumblings of “that’s not a real podium” because it wasn’t solely for the top three. I was elated to stand on the extra large podium and take our annual podium picture with Dorothy. It’s my third year in a row getting a fifth place finish at CXLA and with this year’s caliber of riders, it was a win for me and my first top five of the season.

Sunday 11/22

The San Gabriel River Trail is a bike path that parallels the San Gabriel River and runs right by the El Dorado Regional Park. It’s one of my favorite features of the El Do Park because it allows for peaceful, safe rides before and after the races. On Sunday morning we went for a spin on the bike path and I could feel the fatigue of the previous day’s efforts in my legs. I was happy with the fatigue though, knowing that I pushed my body to its limit and banked that effort away for the remaining races in the season.

It was another second row call-up for Sunday and this time around I stayed focused on having a clean AND fast start. With a better awareness of how the bumpy terrain would play out on lap one, I held my position and came by the pits in the top ten. As we reached the double stairs hill, the Nash-Mani-Lloyd-McFadden group had already formed at the front and there were a few racers in between them and me. The Long Beach course offered up a unique feature on top of the dusty terrain through the trees: pine needles. This seemingly harmless carpet of slick dead pine needles covering the ground in some sections actually required skill to navigate, and with the sun setting in the background throughout the race the lighting also could catch a rider off guard.

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© 2015 Ian Hylands @ianhylands

Everyone made it through these subtleties quickly. Then following the sandpit, Anderson got on my wheel and proceeded to stay there until we hit pavement to start the second lap. On the way we passed Orton and Caitlin Vestal (Feedback Sports Racing). I got out of the saddle and sprinted my way across the pavement, into the start of the second lap. When we hit the bumps, it was just me and Anderson together and she came by me on my right side like she had some levitating powers over the brain-rattling bumps. I tried my damnedest to keep up but she got a five second gap through the next two turns and stayed there, keeping a five to ten second gap on me for the next two laps. It was hard to hear spectators yelling the gap time at me, mere seconds, and feeling like I was throttling myself just to maintain it.

There’s a long straightaway on the second half of the course when you come by the pit for the second time. It’s half pavement and half bumpy grass towards the end as you head towards the sand pit. I could see Anderson barely ahead of me and got too excited as a voice in the pit yelled the gap was down to five seconds. I felt like I could close that with a few hard efforts and only two laps to go. I came off the pavement hot, shifted when I got to the bumps and bounced my chain. By the time I got the chain back on my ring, Vestal caught up to me and I got on my bike just in time to stick to her wheel through the sand.

I came under the start/finish and with two to go, I was now relegated to damage control work to maintain my sixth position instead of throwing out big efforts to try and close the gap to fifth. It’s tough knowing I had some matches left to burn on those last two laps that could’ve gone towards the chase for fifth instead of maintaining sixth. But it wouldn’t be bike racing without at least a tiny hiccup thrown into the weekend.

Current Rankings as of November 24th:
UCI Overall: 138
UCI American: 33
USAC Pro CX: 21

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© 2015 Philip Beckman. www.pbcreativephoto.com.

This season I’ve competed in five UCI weekends and I’ve got three more coming up before Nationals. I’ll be on the road for 3 weeks making a long road trip out of the Oklahoma and Texas UCI races in December. It’s my chance to make up some ground on points and I’m excited to come into the home stretch of racing in a good place mentally and physically.

Special thanks to professional photographer and Niner employee Ian Hylands for making the trip out from Colorado to shoot at CXLA for Niner Bicycles and SDG Components. I would not be able to recount these stories and travel to races without the support of my sponsors, of which I am extremely grateful.

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