Fueled by Stubbornness

The last week and a half has been tough.  It’s been tough enough that I’ve had a hard time figuring out a lighthearted way to talk about my last few weeks of racing.  That said, I wanted to write this before I get the results of my MRI this afternoon (want to know why I had an MRI? stay tuned …)

Let me back up a little though.  2013 is the first year that USA Cycling has created a “professional” classification for women and as a result the U.S. women’s pro peloton was invited to race Professional Road and Time Trial Nationals in Chattanooga, TN rather than Elite Nationals as we have in the past.  This was a huge honor and I was extremely excited to be part of the inaugural event.  I was also nervous since this would be my first foray into the domestic pro peloton this year after spending most of my spring abroad.  I had yet to even race my new Wilier Twin Blade and only had a rough idea of how the riders on other teams were going.

I spent the 4 or 5 weeks going into Nationals training and racing at home mostly against the Pro/1/2 Men with my teammie Rhae Shaw.  I even managed to ruffle a few feathers (sorry, not sorry).

u mad

u mad

I also raced the Mutual of Enumclaw Stage Race with the women.  I’ve been trying to win this Crushed itding dang race for 5 years and I’ve never been able to do it.  Last year I won two stages and still got second solely due to letting the eventual winner take more time bonuses in the crit.  This year, I was determined to crush the TT to the point that I could afford tMOE TTo not win the other stages and not have to chase every time bonus.  Let me just say, goal, accomplished.  Over a super short course, I finished 27 seconds faster than last year and won the TT by over 50 seconds averaging about 28 mph.  With my cushion I was able to MOE RRplay around in the crit and road race without having to stress about losing the GC.  It was so fun to reconnect with a lot of my local Washington and Oregon racing friends and to meet some new Canadian pals (watch out for these girls, they’re FAST).  I was happy to finally win the GC at this race and to go into Nationals with a little bit of extra confidence under my belt.

I left for Nationals on Tuesday and met up with my teammate Ruth.  We spent the week doing recon on the road and TT courses and trying to make new friends in Chattanooga.  We were suuuuper lucky to meet Jamie Ingalls of Hub Endurance who set us up with a home base, trainers, a second person to ride in our caravan vehicle, and even helped us find extra wheels for our wheel car. His hospitality was so above and beyond and I can’t thank him enough.

Niels and our other teammate Amy arrived onNational TT Friday morning and Saturday was the TT.  The TT was really my target and I then hoped to work for Ruth in the Road Race.  How do you write about a TT?  I went out hard but not too hard, I tried not to panic, I didn’t throw up in the first half of the race, I threw up just a little in the second half of the race, I caught my 1-minute girl, I didn’t crash, I didn’t get caught.  The course was rolling, breezy, a little technical, didn’t favor any particular type of rider, and was super fun.  I finished in 44:04.04 which was good enough for … 9th place!  I was so pleased to finish in the top 10 after a really marginal ride last year and I was extra pleased to be less than a minute and a half down from the winner, Carmen Small!

As pleased as I was with my time trial I had to move on right away to the road race.  Our plan was to protect Ruth and be smart with our matches since we only had 3 riders toeing the line. The race started out with three laps of an 11k technical circuit, two times up and over Lookout Mountain, and then three more laps around the circuit.  It felt like a crit followed by a road race, followed by another crit.  We mostly sat close to the front for the opening circuits and then Ruth and I moved up towards the very front on the run in to Lookout.  Once Ruth was close to the front the first time up the climb I sat in and monitored things from her hip.  When she slid back a little I pulled up next to her and then in front to try and protect her.  About 2/3 of the way up the climb there’s a short descent with a sweeping left hander.  By the time we hit this section I was in a lead group of about 12 riders.  I don’t know what happened but I somehow took myself out through the sweeper. broken shoe I hit the deck HARD on my left hip and immediately hopped back up to see that I’d broken my left shoe and left brake lever.  Neutral support was there immediately and used a toe strap to tie my foot back into my shoe.  My brake lever was flopping around but was still held on by the brake cable.  I got back on my bike and began furiously chasing through the dropped groups despite a throbbing hip and broken gear.

I chased with a small group back through the caravan catching the peloton about 7k before the next ascent of Lookout.  There was a break up the road and we made the snap decision to try to send me across on the next time up the climb.  Amy and Ruth were awesome and led me out into the climb so I hit it about 2nd or 3rd wheel.  I tried.  I tried so so so hard to stay with Evie’s bridge attempt up Lookout but I just didn’t have it.  I finished in a group of about 8 riders rolling in 17th.  I was and am still so disappointed in myself.  I finished 17th after crashing hard and burning a huge match chasing.  I feel like I disappointed my teammates, our sponsors, and all of my supporters.  It was such a stupid crash and it likely cost me a much better finish than I had.

The day after the race I woke up to find that despite having almost no road rash, my hip and thigh had swelled up to about twice their size and I had grown what appeared to be a small grapefruit under my skin.  I could barely sit, stand, or walk.  In fact all I really could do was feel sorry for myself.  I flew to Philly that Tuesday afternoon for the Philly Classic which was set to run on Sunday.  I had 5 days to work real hard to get rid of the swelling and the grapefruit.

By the morning of Philly I knew my concerted healing Alexander the Grapefruit!efforts had failed.  I had accepted that the grapefruit and I were now in this together.  I even gave him a name and thought about letting the left thigh of my shorts out a little to accommodate him.

Alexander the Grape(fruit) and I went in to Philly with the sole goal of doing our job and helping out the team.  The plan was thwarted though when I got tangled up in a huge pileup towards the front of the race on the first lap.  I didn’t go down hard but I did go down right on Alexander’s face.  I was back up and on my bike almost immediately but by the second lap I was having shooting pain and numbness down my leg.  After the second time up the Manayunk Wall I dropped back to our team car and told our director what was going on.  He told me to go to the med tent.  race over.

I will not go into the nitty gritty of my injury because frankly I don’t know what it is.  I can still ride my bike but my left leg is pretty weak.  I had an MRI yesterday to try and determine the nature and extent of the damage and I’ll get the results today.

It’s hard to be lighthearted and funny when I’m feeling crummy but I am so grateful for the support of my team, family, community, and friends.  I’m supposed to head to NVGP on Monday and god willing I will be there either with or without Alexander.

Thank you to Billy Wynn of Cycling Illustrated and to Amara Edwards of Wheels In Focus for allowing me to use their photos.

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All About Niels “Manderkitten” Thogersen III

I’m not usually one to gush over my significant other or to form my identity based on my Night Rideromantic relationships (I’m too much of a crabby feminist for that) but the fact of the matter is a huge part of why I am able to do what I do is because I have the support of my husband Niels.  Niels is not only my number one fan and supporter, he’s also the Vanderkitten Team mechanic (an official Manderkitten) and an outspoken ally of the movement for equality in women’s cycling.  I thought about writing a post that praised Niels for all the awesome things he does but instead of that, I thought I would just own up to what a pain in the ass I can be to deal with and make a list of all the things I do that he has to deal with.

1. Prerace panic

Does not matter what the race is, I will completely panic beforehand.

Local road race that I’ve done 100 times? panic.

National championships? complete meltdown.

Particularly competitive group ride? in tears.

2. I made a Flickr page with pictures of all of the things Niels writes his name on

Okay so I find it super charming that Niels writes his name on all of his stuff so against his protests I made a flickr page dedicated to this.  Maybe not so nice, but super cute and charming.

3. I can never find anything … ever

Niels leaves every day for work before me and at least 3 days a week I will call him completely panicked because I’m running late and I can’t find my flat kit, helmet, shoe covers, keys, garmin, left leg warmer, etc.

4. I won’t scoop the litter box

At least 100 times I have told Niels that I will scoop the litter box for our three cats “next time.” I have yet to ever do it.

5. I will put off doing anything Niels asks me to do until he gets frustrated & does it himself

Some examples of this are:

– planting the gardendishes

– mowing the lawn (I still don’t know how to use a lawnmower)

– cleaning the bathroom

– doing the dishes

– sweeping any floor in the house

6. I ride my race bikes in the rain and then make Niels clean them

Despite knowing thatdirty bike I live in Seattle and obsessively checking Weather Underground I consistently take my race bikes out on s**tty and rainy days and then just leave them on the stand in the bike room and wait for them to magically be clean.

I’m also really good at feigning ignorance about what the weather was and what I thought it “should have” been.

I’m sure there are a lot more things that I’m not remembering but at the end of the day I know I can be a pain in the ass and I’m so grateful to have my awesome Manderkitten to take care of me and clean up after me.

 

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Small Fish in a Big Dutch Pond (an exercise in being humbled)

I’ve been thinking super hard for nearly two weeks about how to properly write about my first foray into the European peloton.  Every time I think I’ve got it nailed in my brain, I panic and I can’t even write.  Fortunately I have a bunch of other stuff that I want to procrastinate on even more right now so I’m making myself sit down and write.

I started my trip super early in the morning of April 1 with an uneventful flight to Washington D.C. followed by a scary flight to Brussels when I realized that United, in an attempt to save money, had foregone getting a second wing on all of its airplanes.

i'd be more relaxed if my airplane had two wings.

I’d be more relaxed if my airplane had two wings.

Upon arriving in Brussels I was greeted by our Soigneur Andrew.  Neat!  I’ve never had a Soigneur before! F**k having to make my own sandwiches or do my own laundry!  I’ve hit the big time!

First Ride!That afternoon while the rest of the national team ladies raced Grand Prix de Dottignies I rode backwards on the course in my awesome new USA National Team kit and got totally scared by how huge the peloton was and how narrow some the roads were (sidewalk, yo).

My third day in Europe and it was time to race.  We were racing Energiewacht Tour in northern Holland.  A 5-day six stage race totaling over 500k and with a monster total of 12m of climbing throughout the tour (we went over a few highway overpasses).

I was told by several people going into myBig Bike first race to stay in the front and hide behind a tall Dutch girl.  Seriously, the women in Holland are super tall! and fast!  Just to put it in perspective I took a picture of Niels next to one of their bikes.  Despite their height I would soon discover that holding the wheel of a strong Dutch racer, no matter how tall, was about as easy as walking a tightrope blindfolded or trying to draft a hummingbird.

Tall girls aside, road furnituregoing into the first race I kept hearing people talk about “road furniture” on the course and kept thinking, “those silly Dutch, why are they leaving their sofas in the road.” Well I learned really quickly that road furniture is actually just medians and obstructions in the middle of the road (“obstakels” in Dutch which made me feel like I was in a CX race) usually with a dude with a whistle and a flag standing on top of them hoping that no one rides straight into him.

I had also heard about how narrow the roads were and how much the wind could rip the peloton apart but really nothing could prepare me for these roads.  The roads would go from three lane highways down to roads that were barely wide enough for a small car in the blink of an eye and once the front of the race would start to echelon in the crosswinds I would watch helplessly from somewhere in the back 50% of the race as the 700m long peloton would shatter in front of me.  If you weren’t in the front, moving up even 1 or 2 wheels was a near herculean effort and once the girls on the front started to hit the gas you would be dropped before you knew what happened.

The first two days of Energiewacht I finished in the back group which left me close to the bottom of the general classification going into the TT.  For the TT, I got to do something I’ve never gotten to do before, I got to roll it!  My only job in the TT was to not get time cut and to not expend too much energy.

easy now

easy now

Since it was the first race where I wasn’t going cross-eyed trying to hang on to the tail end of the peloton or suffering so far into the gutter that I could only focus on the wheels in front of me, I finally got a chance to look around at the Dutch countryside.  I even almost managed to crash myself out when I was watching some pretty horses run alongside me!

The same day as the TT was a crazy circuit race that was run back and forth along a canal.  This was the first race I managed not to get dropped but I still couldn’t figure out moving more than halfway up the peloton.  This was also the first race that I saw girls crash off of a dyke into a canal.  cool.  Ruth finished 15th on the day which was fantastic!

The next day was another flat circuit race on narrow roads. It was the queen stage totaling 130k and I was in the groupetto almost immediately.  I felt terrible, I couldn’t get my heart rate up and I felt like I wasn’t able to turn my pedals over.  After 2 of 4 laps, I was barely holding onto the groupetto and I did what I’ve pretty much never done before, I pulled out of the race. I felt terrible, I should have kept riding but at the time I was just suffering so badly that I wasn’t even thinking straight.  Energiewacht Tour, USA Cycling women's teamI especially wish I would have stayed in the race because the next day was straight up American style crit racing on a 14k circuit with wide roads, lots of turns, and a lot more room to move up.  Ruth managed to initiate and drive the break of the day finishing 6th and taking the Most Aggressive jersey for the entire tour!  I was so proud of her that my heart felt like it was going to burst.  I was just sad that I wasn’t there to contribute to her awesome day.

After Energiewacht we had a week off to train and recover at our home base in Sittard.  USA Cycling's Fitland Team Facility, April 2013We spent some time team-building, drinking coffee, and posing for the paparazzi. Niels flew in this week so I was able to spend some time with him exploring Sittard and Liege.  We did recon on the Fleche Wallonne course and … I was so happy!  There were hills!  6 of them!  I spent the day happily chasing Kristin McGrath up all of the climbs and totally looking forward to my first world cup!

However before Fleche we had to get through Ronde van Gelderland.  I was actually fairly excited for this race because there were 6 short climbs in rapid succession before dropping into another race full of flat, narrow, windy Dutch roads.

hills!

hills!

This was the first race where I felt like I was getting the hang of things.  During the neutral I was pushy and even sprinted into oncoming traffic to get to the front.  Unfortunately though just as I was moving up on the first climb, I got tangled up in a crash where I mostly rode up onto another downed rider and tipped ungracefully over into the dirt.  I untangled my bike and worked hard to get back on. I was covered in dirt.  It was in my hair, on my face, and all over my embro soaked legs, and I still had 130k to race.  I worked my butt off over the climbs and managed to stay with the third group on the road which then caught the second group on the road which then (with a huge crescendo of crashing that unfortunately took out two of my teammates) caught the lead group.  I hung onto the lead group for another 15 or so kilometers when I once again found myself out of position on a narrow road and watched a gap open up in front of me.  I finished the race in the last group of riders to not get pulled.  There were over 170 starters and about 100 finishers.  Our mechanic made fun of me for being so dirty.  C’est la vie.

Two days later it was time for La Fleche Wallonne.  I was so excited because I’d seen the course, I loved the climbs, and I was getting the chance to race one of the most epic races of all time.  We started out in the front (if you think U.S. women line up early, do a Euro race, we would camp out on the line for 30 minutes minimum) and as we rolled out I found myself right next to Marianne Vos! OMG! I concentrated really hard on not crashing her out and looking cool and casual.

Over the first few climbs I was really finding my rhythm although I was still way too timid on the descents.  My poor descending bit me in the butt when I allowed myself to drift backwards through the peloton on the last descent and get gapped off on the flat run-in to the Mur.  I was in the caravan inhaling all of the burning clutch fumes the first time up the Mur and Dropped GroupI somehow managed to catch a group of women who chased onto the second group on the road and eventually back up to the lead group just before the first climb on the second lap.  As I was getting dropped on the second climb, I heard our director say into the radio “okay I need you all to move to the front on this climb.”  Too late.  I found myself in a group of 6 riders and with 20k to go the broom wagon offered us a ride.  I was tired and crabby and something on my bike was feeling rough and making noise but dammit I was going to finish.  The other riders and I decided not to get in the wagon and keep riding.  I finished the race about 14 minutes down but all of the women who finished more than 10 minutes down were not placed.  Kristin did awesome finishing 21st and Lauren was in the top 40.  Ruth killed herself on the front of the race in the first lap while I was mostly useless, not able to find my way past the middle of the peloton.

I went into the last race, Omloop van Borsele, feeling both demoralized and desperate to just once be able to do my job in a race.  Borsele is notoriously flat, windy, narrow, and filled with crashes.  It starts off on a wide road before making a nearly 180 degree turn on to what was essentially a bike path.  My job was to do an all out pursuit leadout effort for my teammates in the first 3k before the turn.  I started in the front and went as hard as I could  I didn’t stay in the front the whole time but dammit I was up there. My bike was still squeaking and I still felt like I was fighting my rig but for the first time in the whole trip I felt like I did my job.  The beauty of it was that because I did my job, I found myself close to the front going into the narrow technical part of the race.

I stayed with the lead group for most of the first lap.  I was in the second group when there was a HUGE crash in the first group and as I was getting around it I saw my teammate Kristin struggling to get off the ground and get her bike working.  I turned around, gave her my bike, and dutifully waited for the team car which was stuck  with the rest of the caravan behind 2 or 3 other groups on the road.  The first spare bike that I got was approximately 3 inches too tall for me, the next one was the proper size, and then the next one was my bike.  By this time I was so far out the ass of the race that I knew I  was going to get pulled.  I caught Kristin who had taken too hard of a hit in the crash to continue on and rode in with her to help her treat her wounds.

I left Europe feeling sad that I was mostly terrible at Dutch racing but motivated to learn better bike handling, get fitter, and train harder.  I didn’t have the results or performance to make me think I’ll be invited back soon but I am determined to go back and do better and be more useful to my team.

A quick post-script.  As any of my readers know, I really don’t have much patience for people’s excuses when it comes to bike racing.  As Sue Butler once told me, “excuses are like a**holes, everyone has one and they all stink.” I hope what I’m going to share next doesn’t come across as an excuse, it’s not, it’s just another fact.  When I got home I had Niels go over my bike and try to figure out what was feeling so weird and making so much noise when I pedaled.  Niels pulled the bottom bracket bearings out of my bike and discovered that one was dragging quite a bit and the other was frozen solid.  I don’t know how or when or why this happened so I don’t blame my performance at all of the races on frozen bearings but it did make me feel better that some of my struggles may have been, in part, due to trying spin a frozen bottom bracket bearing.

Last Saturday I raced Olympic View Road Race with the Cat 1/2 men.  OVRR is a 144k flat, windy, narrow, and rainy race.  It was time to put my Dutch skills to the test.  The race itself ended up being fairly slow when the winning break went from the gun but I felt approximately 100x more comfortable than I ever have in a men’s race.  I was able to steal wheels, attack, bridge, chase, and be comfortable bumping and moving around.  I even anticipated and avoided the dude that swept my front wheel sprinting for … 20th.

So I don’t really know how to end this.  There’s no appropriate epilogue except to say I am so unbelievably grateful for the opportunity afforded to me by USA Cycling and even though I’m disappointed with myself in countless ways, I know that I gained more than I can even begin to quantify.  It’s strange that it’s May and I haven’t yet done a U.S. domestic pro race but I don’t feel like that’s a disadvantage.  My next big race will be U.S. Pro Nationals with a couple of my Vanderkitten teammates and I can’t wait.

Thank you so much to USA Cycling, Vanderkitten, and most of all Niels for helping me live my dream of getting to Europe.  I only hope I can live it at least one more time.

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Big News in the Cutler House!

Guess what?

Have you guessed yet?

Okay I’ll give you a hint.

wizard of oz?

oz?

Did you get it yet?  No?  Okay let me give you another hint.

chilling with my buds

chilling with my buds

You must have gotten it by now?!  If you haven’t, too bad because I’m dropping the news now.

I’M GOING TO EUROPE!!  I’m going to be racing a block with the U.S. National Team in Belgium and The Netherlands beginning with the Energiewacht Tour and ending with Borsele.  I am going to race La Flèche Wallonne! La Flèche motherf*&$ing Wallonne!

My dream has always been to race in Europe and my super big dream is to race in Europe for the U.S. National Team so I am beside myself and so honored to have been asked.

There is no way I could have gotten this invitation were it not for the support of my husband Niels (Manderkitten), Vanderkitten DS Jono who put me on the radar of the National Team, and the Washington State Bicycle Association who helped fund my trip to El Salvador.

I will do my best to update my blog, twitter (@jessica_cutler  – give me a follow, yo!), and facebook throughout the trip.

Thanks to all my friends, family, coach Kendra, and fans who have given me the support I needed to get where I am today.

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The Rules of Racing in El Salvador

February is early. Really early. In my mind it’s too early to race your bike absent a lethargic and lackluster local time trial or a Strava throwdown with your husband’s team. Since this is my feeling and attitude, naturally I decided that racing what would not only be the longest stage race I’ve ever done but also the first UCI road race of my life would be a great idea this February. I mean it’s not like my CX season had only ended a little over two months ago or anything like that (who needs an off season? not this lady).

Niels and I headed down to Vanderkitten team camp on February 20th where we mostly concentrated Team Camp!on being awesome and photogenic. It was so great to see my friends and meet my new teammates! We rode up hills, drank tons of espresso, learned about Canary Foundation, drank our weight in Osmo, and brushed and braided eachManderkitten others’ hair. We even got to go on a ride from Mike’s Bikes with our fans wherein Niels was christened as the official Manderkitten.

I should back up a little bit though. I’ve never travelled to a third world country so in an attempt to be real diligent I went to the UW Travel Clinic (awesome) to learn all about how to not get sick in El Salvador. I was prepared! I got vaccinated for stuff! And three types of water purification systems! And two types of bug spray! And 200 texts! I was not going to get sick! I was going to be able to text!

So naturally I caught a nasty cold on the last day of team camp. Before I’d even gotten on the plane to El Salvador.

Take our bikes

would you like some bikes?

After 4 days of fun five healthy Vanderkittens, one sicky, and Jono (OG Manderkitten) headed down south for our adventure (!) at Vuelta El Salvador. When we arrived at the airport we had no idea who was picking us up, where we were staying, or how to fill out a customs form (it took me 3 tries).

Adventure!

Luckily there was a very official looking Thule guy named Robert with “Vanderkitten” written on a sign at the airport waiting for us. He and a small child loaded all of our bikes and luggage into a truck and the truck drove away … without us. Thankfully Robert came back and drove us without our luggage to the race hotel (The friggin HILTON!!!) Doubly thankfully when we got to the hotel our luggage and bikes were also there.

Our first full day in El Salvador we met Wilfredo who would be our driver for our entire stay. recovery time Wilfredo was the perfect fit for us because he didn’t speak a word of English and none of us spoke a word of Spanish.  Luckily Jono and Wilfredo managed to make up their own special language that they used for the rest of our time there. Wilfredo is also seriously the fastest and best driver I have ever met in my life. We quickly learned that there is not a single problem in El Salvador that cannot be trafficsolved by using your horn.  Wilfredo would often get us to where we were going faster than if we had a police escort.  It was unreal, but I digress.

On this first day, Wilfredo drove us out to the coast where we did a beautiful shakeout spin followed by some serious recovery time at Ruben’s (the race director) beach house.  Unfortunately on the way home we got caught in a little bit of rush hour traffic but it was no big deal, Wilfredo just honked his horn, drove us down some stairs and through a field and we were magically back at the Hilton.

quiet little loop

no bicycles

“prohibido bicicletas” whatever that means

In cycling and in life it’s very important to make friends. The Vanderkittens excel at making friends so on our last day before racing was to begin we met up with the Colombian national team to go on a short escorted ride. It was our understanding that we were to be taken to do a few laps on a quiet and low-traffic loop just a couple of kilometers from the hotel.  The loop just so happened to be on a 6 lane freeway with many signs like the above that we ignored (they were in Spanish so I plead ignorance).

mascots!After our shakeout spin it was time to get dressed and prepped for team presentation!  The presentation party was at San Salvador’s beautiful 333m outdoor velodrome and featured everything you could imagine!  beauty queens! large stuffed corporate mascots! PresentationA Salvadorian Rolling Stones Cover band! Fireworks!  The MC asked us what song we would like played when we were called up on stage.  I said I would appreciate anything in Britney’s vast library but my request fell on deaf ears and they played “American Woman” when we went up.

The first day of racing was a 1-day race called Grand Prix de Oriente and I … bowed out.  I was so sick on that last night before we were to start racing that Jono and I decided it was better for me to not start in hopes that I could heal a little before the stage race was to start.  I stayed in the hotel and concentrated real hard on not being sick. It didn’t completely work since I was still coughing the next day but I was so grateful for the extra rest and recovery.

The first day of the stage race was a rolling coastal stage that took the peloton through 4 terrifying unlit tunnels tunneland finished up an exposed 6k climb.  I like to get a crash out of my system early in the race so I rode straight into a pileup during the neutral rollout. Once Coke!that was over and done with it was time to race! Adventure! Through each tunnel I somehow managed to start in the front and then magically end up in the back except for the one time that it counted, the time we were being photographed.  When we hit the final climb, I popped almost immediately.  My heartrate had been spiking the entire race and I knew that I was still sick and couldn’t hang on.  Kate and Ruth killed it though finishing 7th and 9th on the stage!  I rolled in a few minutes back in 16th and was rewarded for my efforts with a seat on a local bike and a Coke!  Coke became my best friend during this tour.

The next day was the TTT and a circuit race both right in the heart of El Salvador.  The TTT PracticeVanderkittens had practiced our TTT skills in the hotel room the night before so we were totally dialed. Just after the first few teams went off we received word that two riders on the ISCorp team had been hit by a car on the urban run-in to the main part of the TTT course.  I refuse to post the video here because I don’t want to see it again but I will say that there is a video out there of the collision and it is terrifying.  After hearing this we were pretty cautious for the first part of our race.  I have never done a TTT before but I think we did pretty well at communicating and taking appropriate pulls.  We finished 7th about 1:20 down from the winning team.

That same day was the circuit race which was … interesting.  It was on the same highway as the TTT so we were familiar with the course.  After the neutral rollout we were stopped and announcement was made in Spanish.  I didn’t bother to ask anyone what the announcement had been but would later find out that what was said was “we are moving the finish line.” Whoops.  Ruth and Kate finished in the top 10 and I found out we had finished 20m after we had actually finished.

The next day was el Boqueron.  It’s as terrifying as it sounds.  The race is a 36k flat-ish run in to an insanely hard 14k climb with pitches as steep as 21% and an average grade of 10%.  El BoqueronStarla was kind enough to go in a break in the first 5k of the race while the rest of the peloton farted around, everyone dreading the impending climb.  We hit the climb and I did my best to protect Ruth by moving to the front and trying to set a false tempo.  This lasted approximately 500m before everyone just pulled around me and eventually rode away from me.  I ended up riding the rest of the race with two other women and finished a surprising 13th on the stage which moved me into 13th on GC.  Not bad for being sick and having almost no climbing in my legs.

Next was the circuit race which looked flat-ish on paper:

not so bad

not so bad

everything looks flat from above!

everything looks flat from above!

But actually started straight up a brutal 2.3k climb before twisting through the city into a somewhat technical run in to the finish.  I did my best to cover moves, pull back breaks, and protect Ruth for the finish.  Even though I still wasn’t there for an organized leadout, Liza was able to set Ruth up to finish 6th!  In the UCI points!  Despite Ruth’s good result, for some reason though I ended up being the one taken to doping control!  Doping control!  UCI!

The next day was the longest race of the tour, 115k and I woke up feeling like absolute death.  I started the race and somehow found my way to the finish line but did it on almost no food.  I couldn’t keep anything down.  Thankfully Liza made the break and finished 5th!  More UCI points!  Starla and Ruth had to pretty much coax me all the way to the line.  I lost 2 GC places and 5+ minutes on the stage.

The final day of racing I was still having a hard time keeping food down but was feeling at least 50% better than the day before.  This was probably the most unforgiving stage of the tour beginning up a 14k  climb with barely a flat or unexposed section of the race:

RU4REAL?!

RU4REAL?!

I made it with the lead pack just about to the first QOM but couldn’t match the JessetRuthacceleration to the line.  I ended up in a group of 4 that included Ruth.  We rode tempo together all the way to the finish line.  I didn’t have much in my legs so I was happy for the company and to get through the final day of the tour.  Jono was awesome and for the most part stayed with us the whole time feeding us bottles and coke.  We lost a lot of time on the stage but by that point, given my health struggles throughout the entire tour, I was just happy to have gotten through it.

The next day was a rest day before the last two one day races of the tour and this was my time to say goodbye.  I was sad to not race the Immigrationlast two days with the team but needed to get home and didn’t want my health to suffer further.  Wilfredo drove me and my gear to the airport where I hopped a plane to San Francisco. When I arrived in San Francisco I was greeted by this line for immigration.  I’m not lying, this was only the back 25% of the line and I only had 1:45 to get through immigration, pick up my luggage, get through customs, walk to the domestic terminal with my luggage, re-check my bags, and make my flight to Seattle which happened to be the last flight of the night.  Adventure!

Lesson of the day? Crying will get you everywhere.  I cried and begged my way to the front of that line and somehow managed to make my flight back to Seattle with about 15 minutes to spare.

Since this post has already become a novella I am going to add an epilogue to turn it into a true novel.

Without exaggerating I have to say that I could not be happier on my team.  I don’t think I personally have ever gelled so quickly and easily with a group of women and I don’t think that there is a more fun team on the VKFUNplanet than Vanderkitten.  At every meal and before and after every race I would look around at the other teams who were often sitting quietly together or playing with their phones (okay we played with our phones too but much less) and we were always cracking up over one thing or another.  Every woman on this trip added something cool and interesting to the team to make us into this vibrant and awesome whole.  Kate was without a doubt one of the wittiest and funniest people I have ever met.  Liza and Jeannie were constant sources of laughs and wisdom.  Starla is one of the most selfless teammates I’ve ever met. Ruth, despite her youth is funny, fearless, and focused and knows bike handling and tactics inside and out.

I guess what I’m trying to say (OMG FEELINGS!) is that I am so happy to be part of such an awesome team of women with such unique and fun personalities.  I love the mission of our team, I love our sponsors, and I love spending time with them.

VK4LIFE!!!

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Winning at Cycling Without Actually Winning

Well I am just blown away by the attention and support (i.e. hits) that I received for my last post, Jess Cutler’s Guide to Winter Training.  It’s good to know that so many of my friends and followers will be following my sage advice and having a great season!

Since I’m obviously such a great and insufferable inspiring human and important online presence, I’ve decided that it’s a far better use of my time to share my wisdom through words than actually training and/or doing my job. Anyway, writing is pretty much the same as training, right? (see winter training guide tip #4).

As many of you, my loyal readers, know I have been around the professional cycling scene for quite some time now (nearly 9 months if my math is correct) and in that time I’ve learned a lot about how to succeed in the cycling world.  I’ve tried to succeed by winning races but that’s really hard and requires focus and training so I’ve had to learn other ways to succeed without actually succeeding, i.e. redefining success, everyone’s a winner! yay!

It is my opinion that in this digital age we are experiencing a cultural renaissance wherein if you’re internet famous then you’ve pretty much made it (et tu, Star Wars Kid?).  And since 10,000+ My Bookhits on my wordpress blog can’t be wrong, I’ve decided to do what all moderately internet famous people do and write a book. Here’s a sneak preview of the cover.

The book promises to be chock full of useful information with chapters such as “Passive-Aggressive Tweeting,” “Advanced Excuse-Making,” “How to Get your Picture into Cycling News or How I Learned to Cause a Crash and Blame Someone Else,” and “Epic Instagramming p/b Rapha.”

So while everyone else is spending the winter getting actually faster, I am spending the winter internetting about getting faster.  What’s the saying, “one watt for every twitter follower?” If that’s the case then bring on 2013, it promises to be “epic.”

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Jess Cutler’s Guide to Winter Training

Since it’s officially the off-season that means it’s time to start getting ready for the on-season by putting in tons of miles in miserable weather, eating your weight in shot blocks, and becoming a complete and total hermit.

I wanted to share with you, my five loyal readers, my secrets to getting through the slog of the winter training months, especially living in a cold and dark place.

1. Dealing with Training Alone or How I Learned to Stop Caring and Listen to Audiobooks

If you’re anything like me you’re very particular about how you do a workout and as a result have totally alienated all of your friends, your husband, your former teammates, and all of your training partners by constantly berating them for not riding in your zone or for having to pee and other stuff like that.

Last winter while training I listened to nearly every single episode of “This American Life” and “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.”  This year I started listening to Audiobooks and cannot recommend it enough.  So far I’ve listened to all of The Hunger Games books, some David Sedaris books, The Life of Pi, several Flannery O’Connor short stories, Kerouac’s On the Road, and many many others.

Besides from the O’Connor stories which left me too depressed to train and On the Road which made me too much of a beatnik to be able to commit to the rigor and structure of a training schedule, listening to Audiobooks has been my saving grace for the last several months.

2. Training Inside

It’s no secret that riding inside is literally one of the worst Rollers with Handsthings in the world.  I recommend purchasing and learning to ride on a pair of rollers.  Riding rollers will do wonders for your ability to be able to ride in a straight line, your core strength, and training on them adds the extra exciting element of crashing! Just like in a real race!

In our house I have been relegated by Niels to riding the rollers in the basement bike room after I crashed one too many times in the bedroom (although I would argue having burnout marks on your hardwood floors is pretty hardcore). Rollers no Hands I set myself up down there with a fan, an open back door, and the entire Indiana Jones library.

Once you’re comfortable riding the rollers without crashing too often you can start doing hard efforts on them.  If you find that you’re still not crashing enough, try riding no hands, this almost guarantees a crash and some cool scars!

* pro tip, even though rollers can really help your bike handling, I wouldn’t recommend working on your cornering while riding them.

3. Add a Pop of Color to Your Training Wardrobe!

Spice up your winter wardrobe with a pop of color! Nail Polish For me, because I am forever attracted to bright and shiny objects, I am pretty much always wearing a bright neon sports bra from my extensive Target collection.

Also, since not everyone needs a sports bra, I recommend painting your nails fun colors!  I have just a few nail polishes to choose from and evencandid if you can’t see them under 7 pairs of gloves they will brighten your day when you pull your frozen mitts out at the end of your ride.

For Women (and men if you prefer) I also recommend always wearing a full face of makeup at all times.  As professional female cyclists we’re obviously super famous and therefore subject to the prowling paparazzi all the time.  If you’re going to be constantly photographed it’s nice to look put together much as I do in this candid picture taken of me on my training ride last week.

*pro tip, if your husband, wife, or partner is super cool like mine, he or she will let you paint each of his/her nails 10 different colors during every single visit to the drug store!

4. Make Sure to CONSTANTLY Post About your Training on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

Passive-aggressiveness is actually a requirement Twitter Feedfor residing in Seattle so naturally I excel at this.  Additionally, it’s common knowledge that subtly bragging about your training is the same as actual training so if you both brag about training and actually train you’re getting twice the bang for your buck!  This is also guaranteed to not at all further alienate your friends or make you a super annoying facebook friend.  Finally, much like whatever you ate for lunch and grainy pictures of your shoes, nothing is more interesting to your friends than your training.

This picture of my twitter feed is a perfect example of how to do this.

5. Always Wear Mismatched Kits

all the kitsNothing says “I’m wishy-washy, hard to get along with, get kicked off teams, and have been racing forever” than sporting one piece of clothing from every team you’ve ever ridden for.  I’m not sure why this is such a pro look but it totally is.  If you want to look really pro, don’t even wear two matching arm warmers or leg warmers.

*pro tip, if you haven’t been on enough teams to wear a 100% mismatched kit, do like I do and make your husband/wife/partner buy you one of his or her team kits.

So there you have it, my complete guide on how to succeed at winter training and go into the season fresh, strong, and without the burden of friends or family.

Happy training!

Posted in Training | 6 Comments

the cat’s out of the bag!

vanderkitten!

oh my god you guys!! how many feline related puns do you think I can make?! that’s the only one for today but I promise more will come!

So the news dropped on Tuesday that I have signed on with Vanderkitten Racing for the 2013 road season! I’m so excited to be part of such a long-standing and professional operation with teammates and team staff who I totally adore and admire.

I should back up a little bit though.

I haven’t mentioned it here because it was never really formally released to the press but in August of this year, before the Aspen Women’s Crit I got a call from my director at Primal / MapMyRide letting me know that the team would be folding at the end of the year.  I was totally devastated and terrified that I would not find another team to ride for.  I didn’t want to ride for another team!  I wanted to stay with my team!  After a year of huge upheaval and change, this final blow felt like the last straw and I was ready to give up my pro dreams.  I also learned that another team who had reached out to me in the past would be folding meaning that there would be about 20 currently pro women looking for jobs.

I immediately reached out to Vanderkitten’s Jono Coulter and after a month or so of me harassing him he finally caved and offered me a spot on the team (okay it didn’t actually go that way but both he and I can attest to my own persistence).

Vanderkitten was the only other team I could think of besides Primal that felt like a really really good match for me as a rider and a person.  Jono and team owner Dave are so mindful of not just finding great sponsors to support the team but also of finding riders whose personalities and strengths on the bike will mesh well together.  Of course I wish I could have taken each and every one of my Primal teammates with me but since that was obviously not a possibility I am doubly glad excited that my teammates Liza Rachetto and Emily Kachorek were also picked up by Vanderkitten!

As I move into the long hours of winter base training in dark dreary Seattle, I’m feeling more motivated than ever to be the best possible rider I can be in 2013!

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season wrap and a quick post script

So I realize that I haven’t updated my blog with anything about any ACTUAL racing since October.  I’m no longer a triathlete so I no longer have to give blow by blow reports of every minute of every race that I do (sorry triathlete friends, love you, but some of you are wordy!)

The long of the short of it is that I came into the season with the goal of earning one single UCI point and I actually managed to walk away with 18.  I know I should be really happy with this achievement and for the most part I am but I still feel like I have a long way to go to be at the level I want to be at in cross.

I earned my first points at LA Spooky Cross weekend which was put on by the unbelievable Dot Wong who is literally one of the most kind and tireless supporters of cyclocross and women’s cycling development that I’ve ever met.  I finished 8th both days walking away from the weekend with 8 points.  Spooky KneeI know I should have been happy but I left feeling like I hadn’t raced well.  I crashed pretty hard in a loose corner and tore up my knee and then fell on the stairs on the same knee on the second day.  Both days I had multiple opportunities to attack my group of 4 and was a bit of a chicken and finished last in my group.  Sometimes I seem to forget that you can’t win if you’re afraid to lose.

It was right around this time that my coach called me and told me that he was quitting coaching to become a tycoon or something of the sort (apparently there’s more money in finance than being a cycling coach?!) I was really scared to hire a new coach.  My coach (literally) has one of the largest heads that I’ve ever seen (presumably to fit all of his cycling filled brains) and all of the coaches I interviewed appeared smart and knowledgeable but with normal sized craniums.  I was worried!  After a bit of research and some good vibes I decided to start working with Kendra Wenzel of Wenzel Coaching.  Kendra coaches some of the coolest and most talented ladies I know and I am certain that she can make me way cooler and more talented!

Next up was some local racing before heading to Iowa for Jingle Cross Rock.  Unfortunately, the weekend before Iowa I was racing Woodland Park CX, one of my favorite races of the year when I made a really dumb pass around a dude from the race in front of me and completely took myself out when I misjudged the angle and height of a root.  I landed hard on my pelvis and had to be taken to the hospital to make sure it wasn’t broken.  Luckily it wasn’t broken but I could barely walk for several days.  Even a month later my pelvis is still tender to the touch and hurts if I try to lay on it at night.

Jingle CXI went into Jingle Cross with appropriately low expectations since I was starting the weekend only 5 days off of my crash.  I managed to walk away with a few more points and some sweet photos thanks to Doug Reid from my awesome sponsor cyclocrossracing.com.  The courses were fairly technical and had a GIANT runup on days 1 and 3 and a long off camber descent on days 2 and 3.  I was extremely thankful for my Rolf Prima wheels and FMB Super Mud tires which kept me glued to the slippery off camber sections.

Next up was Bay State CX which was no joke, one of the most fun courses I have ever ridden.  There were tons of twisty off camber sections, 2 sets of stairs, some single track and a nasty little runup on the first day.  I went into the races feeling oddly relaxed and rode my way into 7th on the first day, my best ever UCI finish.  The second day wasn’t quite as good as I made some silly mistakes which cost me another top ten finish when I lost the sprint for 9th against my group of three, coming up 11th.

State CXNext up was the WA CX state champs.  I like to support this race since it’s historically been really under-attended with sometimes as few as 4 women taking the line in the elite race.  The course was really boggy and muddy with tons of twists and turns.  I had a little bit of a rough start and found myself fighting from the back in the first 1/4 lap.  Amazingly though I was able to take the lead fairly early, maybe only half way through the first lap as a lot of women were sliding out getting stuck in the mud and I was lucky enough to choose good lines and stay upright.  I concentrated on riding hard where I could and choosing good lines.  I didn’t take unnecessary risks that could potentially cost me more time than they would earn me.  I bobbled once in the deep mud on the last lap and lost 5 – 10 seconds but was still able to come up with the win which was cool for me and my sponsors who have been so great to me this year.

Next up was Bend USGP.

Every year that I have raced cyclocross I have ended my season in Bend, Oregon on what is essentially the same course from year to year.  The first two years it was at Nationals and the last two years was the USGP.  Bend is my cruel mistress.  Year to year I keep going back to her even though she never shows me any love.

In 2009 I had literally upgraded to Cat 2 the week before and decided to hop in the elite race.  It didn’t end well.  I’ll leave it at that.

In 2010 I was at the bottom of this pig pile walking away with a concussion, broken shoe, broken bike parts, and a lot of scrapes and bruises. I still tried to do the elite race and was so beat up that I was pulled after only 2 or 3 laps.

Last year I was having an okay first day until I crashed 4 times on the last lap, giving up 5 places.  On the second day I rolled a tire and by the time I made it to the pits, I called it a day ending my season with a DNF.

It’s almost as if I want to end my season on a disappointing note.  This year was almost no different.  On the first day I had a good start until I didn’t.  My foot wasn’t clipped in even though I thought it was and ended up slipping off the pedal almost taking me and several other women out.  I was near last place in the first minute of the race.  After that, I was just fighting my own brain. I couldn’t clean any of the sections that I was riding smoothly in warmup and I never felt like I was able to push myself.  I finished a disappointing 24th and wanted to pack it in and not race the next day.  Sunday I decided to take the line and actually felt much more relaxed.  I didn’t care about how I finished, I just wanted to feel like I was able to conquer this course.  I still didn’t finish as well as I know I can but I feel like I finally started to figure this race out.  I was able to easily ride all but one technical section (Niels said only 4 women were able to smoothly ride the one ride/runup) and I was consistently choosing good lines.  I finished 18th on day 2.  Still not great but I felt like I rode well and really that’s what’s important.

So that’s the end of my season.  There’s a couple more small CX races in Washington this year but I’ve decided to draw the line in the sand and start recovering and training for road.  If there’s one thing that this last weekend taught me is that I am tired, not necessarily physically but certainly mentally.  I need to start getting ready for road and get back on a consistent training schedule that doesn’t involve always recovering from or prepping for another race.  I’m disappointed to not be toeing the line at nationals this year but I also know I’m not in a place physically or mentally where I can really be a contender there so it will have to wait for another year.

I did want to add one quick post script to my last post on sportsmanship. I received more views and feedback from that post than anything I’ve ever written. Frankly I usually assume no one reads what I write.  I’m actually fairly certain that a lot of the traffic I get on this blog are people who are looking for the other Jessica Cutler even though I’m pretty sure I’m cooler than her.

I wanted to say I really appreciate all of the positive feedback that I got as well as the criticism.  I apologize if any of my post came across as passive-aggressive or (ironically) unsportsmanlike. It is possible that I should not have used such specifically identifiable incidents to illustrate my point.  While I had been thinking about writing about sportsmanship for quite some time I did allow a specific incident that hurt my feelings to spark and influence that post.  I don’t think any woman in the Washington cyclocross scene is a bad, mean, or vitriolic person and we all make errors in judgment (I’ve made several today already!) I just hope that we can all try to treat each other with kindness and respect both in victory and defeat.

Thanks to everyone who has made my first season as a pro so awesome and thanks to everyone who continues to support me and put up with my crankiness and spazziness (that’s a word).  I’m hoping more big things are coming for me in 2013!

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Jess Cutler’s Guide to Good Sportsmanship

I was going to write a post updating the world on my most recent adventures, really I was.  Then after some post-race negativity this past weekend, I decided that a post about feelings and sportsmanship is a little more fitting so feel free to tune back in when I start talking about more interesting stuff and posting pictures of myself being rad.

When I first started this blog I made a post about how I think we as racers (and especially as female racers [insert dogmatic feminist diatribe here]) should treat each other both in and out of competition.  I included an anecdote about the first race I ever won and how I was basically told that I didn’t deserve to win by another rider.

As a rider, I’m probably more sensitive than most which is why experiences like this affect me and stick with me but at the same time I use these negative experiences to grow as a person and to work on growing thicker skin.

Since this idea of good and gracious sportsmanship seems to still be lost on many people, I’ve made a beautiful MS Paint to illustrate my point.

Sportsmanship ChartI really don’t feel like these ideas are difficult ones to grasp yet time and time again I run into riders who make me and other women who occasionally win races feel like we didn’t deserve our wins or results.

We all have excuses.  I am full of them. But that doesn’t mean that I or anyone should publicly spout them off as a means of letting another person or the world know that you are more deserving of a win than the actual winner.  At the end of the day in a bike race and in life (look at me waxing philosophical!), it’s not always the objectively best woman who comes up the winner and that is a fact that we should all be able to accept and appreciate.  The brilliant and funny Kathryn Bertine really hits this nail on the head in her article about the ever-present idea of “that’s bike racing!”   I truly believe – and feel free to disagree, I love healthy debate – that we do more for the sport and for each other by supporting one another in competition through being fierce competitors and gracious winners and losers.

We could all take a lesson from the book of Rafael Nadal who is in my opinion the best tennis player of all time but who will always compliment his competitors before building himself up.

I won a race yesterday.  It was the WA CX Championships and it was held on a course that didn’t really suit my strengths.  It was incredibly flat, boggy, muddy, and had a lot of slick corners.  I went into the race with no expectations besides just wanting to give it my best shot and I was fortunate enough to pick good lines and ride a (figuratively) clean race and come up with a win.  After the race another rider – and one who I’ve always admired and looked up to which made it sting even more – more or less told me that if certain things hadn’t gone wrong for her, she would have won, not me.  I spent the rest of the night feeling like I didn’t deserve my win.

Negative experiences with other riders also make me really appreciate the kind, supportive, and gracious women that I have met and raced with over the years.

When I first started racing Cyclocross there was this amazing beacon of a local CX racer, Kristi Berg, who I admired from afar.  That year, 2009, Kristi won every Seattle Cat 1/2 CX race that she entered.  She won with authority, often by more than a minute.  When I got my forced upgrade from Cat 3 to Cat 2 I was terrified of having to race with such a talented and fast woman.

From my first day toeing the line with the local elite women, Kristi was an amazing and kind competitor.  Whenever I would compliment her for winning a race, she would throw a compliment right back my way.  Whenever I would bug her for advice, she would give it without hesitation.  Kristi showed me that cares about her own racing and results but through her words AND actions she showed me that she also truly cares about supporting all women in the sport.

The first time I ever beat Kristi in a race, despite the fact that I later found out from someone else that she was sick with the flu that day, the first thing she did was to congratulate me and the winner (I had been second).  When I won my first Cat 1/2 CX race she was one of the first people to congratulate me.  And this year, since she’s not racing, I can hear her cheering for me and every single other woman in the race from the pits.  Kristi embodies a good sportsman and she, her husband Chad, and possibly others have built a small team, the Cycle U / PopCap Elite CX Team, of riders who all seem to share this basic ethic of competition.  Every rider on the team, both male and female, are always the first to congratulate and compliment every other rider after a race.  They are kind and supportive of each other and their community and they deserve to be acknowledged for that fact.

I also want to acknowledge my friend Jenni Gaertner who rides for the Motofish Racing Team.  Jenni spent all last year absolutely kicking my ass but always being a kind and gracious winner.  This year, I’ve managed to come around her in a few races (my starts are really bad and hers are really good).  On two separate occasions, when I’ve come around her she’s shouted words of encouragement at me.  To encourage your rivals during a race is like next level good sportsmanship and it warmed my heart.

One thing I think I should close this feelings-fest with is that despite there being some bad sports(w0)men out there, for the most part I think we tend to be a very supportive and gracious community and that’s one of the reasons that I love racing bikes and the cycling community.  We have all, myself included, made errors in judgment in the way we approach other riders and we’ve all had a touch of “race brain” or post-race disappointment that have led us to say not so nice things.

The takeaway message here I think is embodied in this vignette from a classic film of my childhood.

Party on.

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