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!

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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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on neti pots and knowing your limits

Last weekend was the USGP of Cyclocross Smartwool Cup in Fort Collins Colorado.  This would be my third time racing at over 5000 feet of elevation but my first time racing cyclocross at over 5000 feet of elevation. Since my oxygen intake would already be limited by the altitude, in totally awesome form I managed to get really sick on the Wednesday before the race (which was totally conveniently also Niels’ birthday).  I had the whole thing, coughing, runny nose, fever, chills, and this guy living in my head.

I pretty much never get sick but when I do one of two things happens:

1. I fight it off by sheer force of will and stubbornness; or

2. I succumb to being sick and basically turn into a helpless adult baby.

I was determined to fight it off and still race but the problem was that I had to be very careful to not take anything on the banned substances list such as Sudifed or pretty much any other effective cold or flu remedy in the history of forever.

I sent a distress call out to several of my friends seeking home cold remedies (not homeopathic, I was sternly corrected on my misuse of this term).

I was given an awesome list of suggestions from my pals many of which included drinking Brandy.  One suggestion was to use a neti pot which I had never used before.  In my brain a neti pot was roughly what is pictured to the left (yes including the flowers, decorative mirror, and ambiance).  “Great! Aromatherapy steam pot!” I thought. “This should be pleasant and relaxing and place me firmly on the road to healing my body in a natural and non-stressful or gross way!”

I happily bounded off to the store to pick up my Ricola, Vicks Vaporub, Emergen-C, saline inhaler, and neti pot.  When I grabbed the neti pot I turned the box over to read the instructions and learn about the relaxing aromatherapy steam bath spa journey I was about to embark on; but when I looked at the picture on the back, this is what I saw.

You guys, how come no one told me what a neti pot actually is?!? I took one look at the box and was like “nope!” and left with all my other moderately effective treatments to go be sick without having to drown my brain and eyeballs in saline.

Saturday came and I was still feeling really under the weather but I was on the mend! I was going to have a great race!

It rained all morning which was actually a good thing since the course had been really bumpy the day before.  Just before I lined up Niels applied a mustache of Vaporub under my nose and I was off to my awesome 6th (of 7) row callup.

I of course had a horrendous start and came through the pits in 30-something place on the first lap.  Determined to at least look like I was trying to get into the top 15 I just focused on picking off girls one at a time.  At the end of the day I finished 17th, only 3 seconds down from my point (which ended up being not my point at all).  An improvement over Vegas in my books but still not quite there.

Sunday was a beautiful day and a faster course.  I was excited to race until I did my warmup laps and realized that I had burned every match I had on Saturday and had literally no jump in my legs.  Even worse, my hamstring which has been bothering me since I was hit by a car in July, flared up and it hurt to get out of the saddle, a pretty essential skill for cyclocross.

Setbacks aside, I applied my mustache, lined up, had a shit start, and went to work.  At the end of the second day I fell apart in the last lap.  My body, my lungs, and my head just couldn’t keep up with the pace.  I finished 22nd on a day that had I been feeling better I could have been in the top 15.  I did however manage to get my picture and a mention into Cycling News which is always great when you’re having a terrible day.

I did come to realize something this last weekend.  I may have been going about this whole UCI Cyclocross thing wrong or at least a little backwards.  When I planned my calendar this year, I planned to do all of these big races, Cross Vegas, the USGPs, Nationals, without realizing that all of these races are the races that the best women in the US and the world come to.  Since I don’t have a single UCI point yet, I’m starting each of these races with a huge disadvantage.  It’s incredibly difficult to finish in the top 10 or 15 riders in a race where there are over 30 women with UCI points all starting in front of me.

I realized I need to be a little bit more of a cherry picker, because I’m not going to do well in a big race until I put myself in a position to do well. For that reason, I decided to go down to LA this weekend and do a couple of much smaller UCI races where I really think I have a shot of finishing in the points.

So this weekend will be the smallest UCI races I’ve done to date but could likely end up being the biggest races of my year.  Stay tuned.

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