Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Race Report | US Cup 3: Bonelli HC

Kathy Burcham photo.

Back to Bonelli for US Cup number three this past weekend, and what a change from our first visit. Most notably, the temperature was much more hospitable. Coming a close second on the list of positive changes was the course. Though it still had a heck of a lot of climbing (362') crammed into such a short loop (2.6 miles), it was definitely more flowy, and the added technical sections were of my favorite variety: log overs!

Morning of, I arrived nice and early, got registered and then headed out with a teammate to walk the course and see it for the first time. At first look, the log and rock features were definitely intimidating. But I decided to include a lap as part of my warm up, and that took care of that.

Although we've had plenty more time together since the last visit to Bonelli, my Rocky Mountain Vertex is still "new" and these were actually the first log overs I'd tried with it. Verdict? I felt like I was cheating. The bike has so much clearance I didn't need to worry about hitting the chainring, and it felt like it just wanted to get over stuff. That must be the magic of 29ers I've been hearing about. Super stable through the whole maneuver, and the wide handle bars really gave me the control I needed to get over smoothly.

My fav part! Thanks to the cheering section! Michelle Allen photo.
Though there were about six log/rock overs total on course, the section that attracted the most blood-thirsty spectators had a set of two large obstacles: The first was all logs, and the second was of similar shape but made of rocks, and only a few pedal strokes away on a slight uphill. Momentum is your friend.

On my first attempt in warm up, I balked and had to redo. I realized I was looking at them as a set so I decided to just concentrate on the first one first, and then work on the second. A quick refocus and it was up and over, no problem. My third attempt I threw in the second feature, and rode away with fresh confidence. It was a great reminder that when you're working on skills, progression is key. Start small, then work your way up, and you'll be amazed at what becomes "easy." (PS: Here's more info on log overs from my fellow coaches at Ninja Mountain Bike Skills!)

Once I'd lapped the course once, I took the rest of my warm up to the road and the start loop. I love these moments before the race when it's still anybody's day. The energy is electric. When it was time for staging, we all gathered under the limited shade near the start line. I was in a gaggle with the US national champion, current US Cup points leader, Swedish national champion, and the World Champion, listening to them joke with each other and offering up my own comments from the peanut gallery. Young girls came up to have their picture taken, and the media was around snapping photos as well like paparazzi, calling out "Hi Catharine; Oh hi Georgia; Lea, over here ..."

I knew I wanted to do better at getting off the start so I selected a "go" gear and got ready to mash it out for position. I think everyone must have had the same idea because it didn't feel like an option for me to skirt around the pack. The opposite seemed to be happening as my lungs began to burn and my HR shot up, and 37 tigresses surged off the line.The start lap had me dogging it, but once we hit the steep climb, I was back in the mix.

On my first lap through the logs, I reminded myself to be calm and smooth. But I forgot there would be spectators! If I fell on my face, there would be an audience for it, at least. The girls in front of me got hung up, so I slowed momentarily so they could clear the way. The Vertex flew up and over both without a problem, and I pedaled away relieved. With every lap I gained more confidence, until by the end, I could hardly wait to hit those big log overs.

I raced back and forth with a girl I don't know except by her blond, curly pony tail. We seem to often be racing near each other so I focused on catching her. As the course doubled back on itself, I realized our time was running out: The front of the race was quickly coming at us from behind, with Emily Batty and Catharine Pendrel in a tight fight for the lead, which they maintained right to the wire. (Emily took the win by less than half a second.)

Emily Batty 1, Catharine Pendrel 2 after a really impressive, tight race.
With only one single track left I heard them charging up the climb so I pulled off just before the entrance to let them through. Since they were alone ... and I was alone ... I then quickly jumped on their wheels for the fun descent and tried to hold on. It was like going for a drive in a friend's sports car. I flew through the section, pulled along by their jet stream, and then jumped on the pedals to try and stay with them. They were in the heat of battle, so it lasted maybe all of 7 seconds but it is not every day I'm hanging on to Canadian MTB Queens' lead group. So thanks for the ride, ladies!

Of course, once the leaders go by you, you can be assured you will be pulled thanks to the UCI's 80% rule, so that was my grand finale. I was happy with how it all turned out: I rode every part of the course smoothly without incident, I worked hard, and I got in one more lap than I did at the first Bonelli to finish just one lap down from the leaders. Good enough for 29th place, and putting me in 31st in the overall ranking.

Looking forward to Sea Otter this weekend for the final round of the US Cup that I'll be racing, on a course that I think is absolutely perfect for the Vertex. Not to mention beautiful!

Rocky Mountain's Raphael Gagne finished second to Schurter
Big thanks goes out to Rocky Mountain for the race rig; and congrats to Rocky Mountain's Raphael Gagne (also on a Vertex) for taking second to current world champion Nino Schurter's win in the pro men's race. Thank you GU Energy for the shout out before the start, and for all the goodies I so happily received last week! Team Ninja, you guys are my favorite. It was so fun to see all of you and cheer on our riders together. Thanks to Brigid as well for being an awesome help with carpooling and hangtime. Can't wait for Sea Otter and beyond! RIDE Cyclery, I can't do it without you! Thank you so much for helping me with all the little things (like how DO you quickly, easily, and bloodlessly change your pedals?) and for being the awesome community of riders you are. Eliel, the kit is amazing. It breaks my heart every time they make us put safety pin holes in it for number pinning. And thanks ZOIC Clothing for all your support!! Thank you thank you thank you. Next stop? Sea Otter!! Can't wait to see everyone there!


Watch the whole race, announced by legends Bob Roll and Christian Vande Velde as well as US Cup stalwart, Colt McElwaine, for both pro women and men (you can see my pink shorts off the start and for a little cameo at about 1:23:52) 

And here's a a few more photos:

Super proud of my coached Cat 3 athlete Bjorn, here on the third step at only his second race ever! Congrats! #BCBR2015, look out for this ripper!

Pro Men's field gets ready to launch, including reigning World Champion, Nino Schurter

Future World Cup course? Bonelli Park. Michelle Allen photo.

Loving the Bonelli course! Michelle Allen photo.

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