I have so many thoughts about the season that it is hard to put them all into words without over-sharing. I’ve had a bunch of new triumphs (both racing and life-wise) this season along with a number of challenges, both of which I would like to elaborate upon here. Before I do anything, I would like to thank everyone who made this second season a possibility for Andrew and I. I believe we have been good ambassadors for these brands, for the sport, and for athletes in general. I think athletes, perhaps especially elite cyclocross athletes, need to be good advocates for themselves. In cyclocross, we need to be good ambassadors in order to grow the sport to the point where it gains the status it deserves. Our sponsors see that vision as well I would like to think, and together, we were able to grow the program for ourselves and for those we work with, and get some nice results this season as the icing on top of the cake.
I figured I would just give a big ‘ole season recap since I haven’t been particularly thorough on the PSCX blog this year. Things this season have been a lot easier in many ways, but the season also offered plenty of new objectives and roadblocks that have taken away much of my ability to keep folks up-to-date online.
Overall, the season was bookended by two really positive race blocks. Other than using a bad batch of glue to glue up all 20 tubulars – having to re-do the entire process from scratch the night before we left for our two-week block of Trek and Jingle – we started the season strong. Trek was a complete shock to the system, given that we started the season in a C2 filled with Europeans before jumping into my first World Cup ever, which was technically so far and away above anything I had ever done. I was terrified. But Trek actually pleasantly offered no expectations. I wasn’t expecting myself to podium at the World Cup, but I surprised myself by finishing near some strong and technical athletes in both races, and was pleased with the weekend. Andrew was not able to do the World Cup, but had strong days in the C2, the first pro 1/2 race and then an even better day on the second pro 1/2 race before getting head-butted right before the final turn. And we were able to hang in the tent of, and get to know, our kit maestros: Champion System. Spending time with people who support cross is so much fun to me.
We then made the trek (lol) out to Iowa City where I was then able to race thrice at Jingle Cross: in the C2, the World Cup, and then the C1, which allowed me to jumpstart the season with tons of points. I also found myself leading the C2 at Jingle at one point in front of none other than Helen Wyman, who dropped her chain but got back to me in about half a lap. The World Cup was a bit of a mess. Anyone who saw the live stream probably saw the race replay in which I dismounted midway through a descent I had crashed on last year. I got spooked, and couldn’t clip in so I made the brilliant decision to just get off my bike and everyone around me was like “WHAT ARE YOU DOOOOING.” The boa on my shoe kept popping open and I couldn’t clip in the entire race, although the latter is just a problem I have had forever and I am just not good at it. My mid-descent dismount pushed another racer into the course tape. She beat me by a spot or two at the end, so I suppose she got her vengeance.
The C1 at Jingle was a nice surprise too, where I finished 11th but was well within the top 10 Americans. I was riding well and with some people who are flying right now at this point in the season. But going into lap two I ran into the fence and took a header into the mud. I was fine and my bike was fine, although my pinky fingernail is just now growing back. I found myself in a strong second group, until I once again couldn’t clip in on the last lap, and jammed my ankle so hard into my pedal that I had to stop and yell for a second. I was happy with 11th, and even more happy that I was able to push myself hard for the entire race, even if I fell back at the end.
I think Jingle is one of the best race weekends of the entire year. They manage to blend amateur, pro, and international races like you wouldn’t believe – it’s such a smooth event. And we were able to establish a smooth workflow with one of our (amazing) mechanics for the year, Bobby. Bobby, if you’re reading this, you are amazing. It’s no joke that the mud is hard to deal with, but it might be the hardest to deal with for the mechanic, who has to clean the bikes not only in between races, but also before and after, as well as before and after each pre-ride.
I quickly learned this season – given my significantly better results and mental state at Jingle as compared to Trek – that I have a big weakness in cyclocross: dry, fast courses. You might find this counterintuitive, given that I am a punchy climber and sprinter on the road, but the repetitive, short bursts are my achilles heel in cross. Once I am up to speed on the road, in a long sprint or in a sprint finishing on a climb, I am great. But in cross, you don’t get up to speed. You sprint, sit. Sprint, sit. Sprint, sit.
Give me a long slog in the mud, where you go one speed the whole time, and where there is a good bit of running. I am a dense rider too, which means I can sink down into the mud and get a lot of traction. And, I run well for a dense rider, so courses like Jingle and nationals this year really suited me. Charm City and DCCX however were packed, dry, and fast, and I saw what I thought was good early season form languishing back to results worse than I had gotten last year as a first-year UCI racer.
I unfortunately got sick after Charm City, missing a critical training block that I really wanted to do, partly because I like to train, and partly because it increases my ability and confidence. I struggled a bit at Charm, got sick, and then had a downright disappointing weekend in DC, which was a big thwack on my mental state. On courses like Charm and DC too, I got in the way – both of myself, and others on course. As someone who works really hard, and who takes this sport very seriously, I get pissed when people get in my way, especially people who don’t know what they are doing. But I was that person a few times, this year. And each time it happened, my confidence shrank, which made me more likely to mess up again later on.
Don’t get me wrong. I am always interested in helping people figure out how to improve. If I hadn’t had mentors when I was coming up, I would be nowhere. But, as someone who is trying to ride as a career, I understand the frustration when someone inexperienced gets in the way. It’s hard enough for women cyclists as it is. But you read about my incident at Jingle above. At Charm City, I surprised myself with an awesome start, rolling into the pinch point cleanly in fourth wheel. Then I immediately hit a stake, unclipped on both sides, and the podium rolled away in front of me, much to the chagrin of literally everyone behind me. Then I finished ninth.
On the second day, someone yelled at me for picking bad lines. I would be less upset about these things if I thought I were actually picking good lines, but these were very evident mistakes that held other people back, people who are just like me and who these races are very important for. But I did end up getting sixth on the second day in a strong field, and I felt like I left literally everything out there. And despite lackluster performances at the other races in the Mid-Atlantic this year, I would like to say that Charm City and DCCX are some of my favorites. We have a host family in Baltimore that are truly wonderful, and that part of the country is beautiful. Aside from the traffic, DC and Baltimore are both cities with much to offer, also surrounded by lush, rolling hills. I think Andrew and I would be happy to live in either of these cities.
And putting on a cross race is a lot of work. Charm City and DCCX went the extra step of forming a series this year, and were one of only two regional series in the entire country (I think this is correct?) Offering this financial and travel incentive was a brilliant way to draw riders to the Mid-Atlantic, and Andrew and I had a great time participating. Andrew actually had a very strong race weekend in DC, and greatly improved upon his 2017 results at Charm City this year.
I found on these dry, fast courses that cornering at speed and picking good lines is something that I will need to spend a lot of time working on. Especially on tight courses. We traveled to Spain in the middle of the season for a bit of a cross-cation, and the courses there were tight, tight, tight, with tons of turns, after turn, after turns. Andrew and I both faltered the first weekend there, trying to figure out how people maintain any sort of speed over the completely rutted out pastures we were racing on. That being said, Spain was probably the highlight of my season, from a personal standpoint. On the second weekend I managed to snag a podium spot, behind two racers who are ranked in the top 25 or so in the world. The following weekend, one of them got 8th in Tabor, so I was confident that our competition was not lackluster, especially because I finished minutes down on those top two at each of the races we did there.
Just being in Spain really was a bit of perspective that I needed. We stayed with my dear friend Marty at his apartment in Barcelona. Experiencing a different lifestyle was exciting and fresh. People walk, ride the train, or drive small cars or scooters for transportation in Spain. They spend time outside socializing with each other at all hours of the day, and there didn’t seem to be a huge preoccupation with money where we were staying. No one asked us what we did for a living. Everyone spoke multiple languages. Life there felt very peaceful, and I would love to return some day.
Before traveling to Spain, however, we experienced the disaster that was Cincinnati. Is this how you spell Cincinnati? I can never get that one right. As we pre-rode the day before, it started to rain. Pretty much the entire course was off-camber, which I was actually very excited about. I hoped for mud, and a course like this would allow me to test out use some of the skills I had learned since 2017, mainly tripod-ing and flowing with the mud on course. I stated the night before, out loud, that “I will either love this course tomorrow, or absolutely hate it.” I absolutely hated it.
The mud was this slimy, slippery mess. I was in good position coming off the pavement in the C1 when someone (everyone, all of us) wiped out right in front of me, taking me down and causing the person behind me to straight run me over, crunching my bike along the way. C1s are huge when it comes to worlds selection, and so far, I had missed one, done OK in another, done OK in another, and now I was pretty much at the back of the field in one of my last opportunities of the season. That’s not to say that it was anyone’s fault but my own that I crashed. If I hadn’t panicked, I might have been able to salvage some of the ride. But I did panic. And then I fell approximately another eight thousand more times over the course of the race. I had absolutely no traction and instead of switching to a bike with lower pressure, I completely gave up after one lap. The second day was better. I had a clean race, but I still felt slow, rolling into 13th in the C2. Andrew dropped out of the C1 and had kind of a bummer of a C2 day as well, so it was just a bummer of a weekend.
That being said, we stayed with a family who had never hosted before, which is one of my favorite things. I always hope Andrew and I can be a good representation of cyclists, and interact with the hosts in a positive way so that they will want to host again. Host housing is a unique thing about cycling. I do not know if this is due to small budget or whether it’s just a cycling past time, but I love it. We loved our host, Erin, in DC as well. Hi Erin!!! We talked to our hosts in Cincy about all sorts of things, including their two teenagers who eventually might want to ride in college. Given that Andrew and I both raced in college, hopefully we had some good insight for them, and hopefully we were fun to watch on race day, even if we weren’t at our best. We also got to see my friends Carlos and Estelle. I rode with Carlos in Chicago back when I first started riding bikes. Being able to see friends from bikes, all over the country, from months or years before, is one of the best things about cycling.
Coming back from Spain, I had five days off the bike, which is a much-needed physical and mental break that my coach, Alison Powers, gives me each road and cross season. It’s often hard to take this break without getting some FOMO, as others are still training and racing, but this was the booster I needed to end the season on a really strong note. Andrew and I traveled all the way to Dallas for Resolution Cup at the beginning of December. Initially we had planned on going to NBX to get C1 points. My goal at the beginning of the season was to make it to worlds. However, by missing the C1 at Rochester, and then performing relatively poorly at the remaining C1s of the season – with NBX not technically even one of the C1s listed as a selections race for worlds – we decided to head to Texas for a C2 race and some potential points.
We could have gone to Ruts n’ Guts if we wanted more C1 action, but it was the same weekend as our home UCI race in North Carolina, NCGP. And Dallas turned out to be a good weekend for us. We saw some people I really care about, which helped me relax and enjoy. The weather was warm, and the conditions required little bike maintenance. While it was one of those fast, flowy courses, I managed to get the hole shot on the first day and was second leading into the grass on the second day. I animated the race, attacking the front group and holding on, but only until about halfway each day before falling back to finish fourth both times that weekend. While I wasted a lot of energy on the course, and fell behind the leaders technically, I felt for the first time since Jingle that I was actually part of the racing.
And then the highlight of the season came the following weekend, a week before nationals, just in time to come into good form. I won my very first UCI race on our home course at NCGP. It was snowing and the course was deteriorating fast, making for a heavy slog with terrible conditions, just the kind of race at which I excel, even if it’s just because the rest of the competition doesn’t want to be there. I took the hole shot, exchanged the lead once or twice on the first lap, and then was able to just ride a steady pace for the rest of the race – with not a single slip up – to take the win.
Winning at cross is a lot different than winning on the road. I think it takes a lot longer to find success in cross, for the obvious reasons that technical ability does not come overnight. If you are a strong athlete, you can find some success on the road pretty quickly.
Additionally at NCGP we were able to work with our home-base mechanic, Eric, who traveled to many of the races with us this season. We cannot thank the help Eric and Bobby provided enough. They made the difference for us this season at every race they attended. Eric let us into his shop to help us wash and repair our bikes after the first day of NCGP. Although the second day was cancelled, we then didn’t have to overhaul everything the week before nationals. Diminishing little stressors like that is a game changer, especially because there are about 100 of those little stressors that add up every week. Thanks, Eric.
I was able to head into nationals with confidence that I hadn’t had all season, and somewhat of a burden lifted. One of my season goals was to win a UCI race, so having attained that, I felt much less pressure to do well at nationals. I ended up with a great result at nationals, but it was also a stressful and frustrating experience. I really wish that USAC would separate amateur national and pro nationals, like they do in other disciplines of cycling. There are plenty of good things about combining the amatuer and pro events: I loved seeing all of my friends at the race from the midwest, we were able to cheer on our team’s junior and masters riders, AND many of the racers from the week stayed to watch our races on Sunday. But, the week was a shitshow for the pro riders.
I want to preface all of this by saying that I am thankful to be able to compete at nationals. Two years ago, I desperately wanted to race pro nationals. But I wasn’t good enough. I drove 10 hours from Chicago to race NCGP to try to qualify and I barely finished on the lead lap. Needless to say, I didn’t qualify for pro nationals and I understand that it is a privilege to race there. But that doesn’t exempt the event from having some issues.
Firstly, I can’t tell you how many times someone we didn’t know asked if they could get warm in our tent, or use our pressure washer, or use our pump. Maybe if you filled up the water, recharged the pressure washer and pump batteries, and bought the propane, sure. (We actually did have someone refill the water after borrowing our pressure washer on Friday, so that guy is mad cool.) But it’s so frustrating to have an unprepared racer coming up and asking to use the resources that we paid for. It’s not that we don’t want to share, it’s that we don’t have the time while we’re preparing for our races, and despite what you might believe, we don’t have infinite money and staff running around to do our bidding. We also had foot traffic dragging mud all through our tent area with little respect for our space, even when our mechanic was working. Someone used an entire bucket of our water while we were on course. The venue did the best they could to accommodate our tent space after it rained and flooded the parking lot, but we paid a lot of money to get disrespected by people who were done racing.
I’m also aware that host families open their homes to us and sometimes even offer their food to us at races. They don’t have to do that. It’s at their expense. Sharing and community are part of what makes cyclocross go ’round. And we obviously share with our teammates who aren’t pros. But we can’t share with everyone who asks or there would be nothing left for our races. There were also neutral pressure washers.
Additionally, the course was destroyed by the time our race came around. Absolutely destroyed. I was thrilled with my nationals performance, but it was a running race, thanks to how torn up the course was by racers earlier in the week. I would estimate that 60% of the race was running. My body is still in pain from sliding around with a bike on my back, and many amazing bike handlers didn’t get to use their talents at all. It didn’t really feel like a bike race.
My main gripe with the whole week is that there was literally no UCI-only pre-ride time. The entire week. In Reno I remember pre-riding and sessioning the course for at least 90 minutes the day before the race. Here in Louisville there was one 30-minute block the morning of the race, when you couldn’t ride the course at all because of the mud. There was one pre-ride the night before as well, but the races went over time and it was dark by the time that slot opened. I think there was one other 20-minute pre-ride on Friday, and I honestly don’t know about earlier in the week because the pre-rides at that point would have been completely irrelevant to the course by the time we raced. Plus, Andrew and I have to work and can’t get to the course five days before the race to pre-ride.
I would like to air one final grievance here as well. This isn’t particular to nationals, but it was exacerbated by no UCI-only pre-ride. Men – you are the absolute worst to pre-ride with. I don’t think it’s a far cry to say that every woman thinks this. I think many men think this too. I don’t care if you’re a junior man, masters man, collegiate man, or singlespeed man. And don’t #notallmen me, because there is actually one single group of men who are generally very respectful: the elite men. The elite men just pass, and do their thing. But otherwise there is rarely a pre-ride where I do not get raced by, cut off by, my line taken by – some random dude who comes blasting out of nowhere and then crashes right in front of me on the part of the course that I want to session at speed. This was especially prevalent with no UCI-only course pre-ride time at nationals.
The amount of times I hear cross racers saying that they like cross because it’s so much more relaxed and chill than road – as if the reason they like cross is not because they actually like cross but because they like that it’s cooler than road(????) – 1) you guys are actually obscene, and 2) I don’t get raced like this by men on the road ever. Not even in aggressive group rides when we are literally giving everything to beat each other. Or when I was in a literal race where they combined the pro women and masters men. I feel like I am able to earn the respect of men on the road. In cross, I feel like I will never earn that.
What could have been an amazing course, with tons of climbing and technical descending, was just completely wiped out by the time of the pro race on Sunday. And instead of allowing the pros to pre-ride on the most important course of our season, we had random 20-minute blocks on course, scattered among every single other category of racing you could imagine. We also had to pay $20 per person to get into the venue, after paying to race the most expensive race of the year – with no payout. No prize money for professional cyclocross nationals. Although there wasn’t money at pro road nationals this year either.
As I mentioned above though, this race was still nationals. And given the conditions of the course, the whole week ran very smoothly. There was a free live stream. There was both and male and female announcer. Kids, amateurs, and new riders were able to come and race, and then watch their favorite athletes race. There was plenty of food to purchase, neutral pressure washers, and a very spectator-friendly venue. Tons of vendors were there watching, hanging out, and selling their awesome stuff. I just wish they would have separated the pro and amateur fields into two events. But what do I know.
And then Andrew and I had pretty much the best races of our entire season at nationals. I was 7th, which is far and away better than any C1 I did all year. And Andrew got 16th, which is probably his best race ever. He was ranked 35th. He beat some serious racers out there, and I am so proud of him for doing that on a running course, which I don’t think is really his strength. Our friend Eric Thompson too (who I am ranked the exact same as going into every single race) got 7th, which was a season highlight for him. Our friend Sunny Gilbert got on the women’s pro podium with an amazing 2nd place. I cried when I read her race recap, and am tearing up just thinking about it now. What an accomplishment for someone who works so hard. Sunny, I hope you’re not reading this because that would be embarrassing. But I am proud of you.
The season is over now, and I am sad that I am not continuing the season in Europe, but I am also ready for some time away. It’s been a really amazing year across disciplines and it’s time to wind it down and not push my luck. I’m also not ready for Europe. When I race, I want to be on the top of my game, and I want to be able to compete, and not get in people’s way. I am pleased to say that I did not have one mechanical this season. I’m a bit overly proud of myself there. I am super proud (and thankful) of my mechanics for that more than anything. We got to the pre-ride on time, every Friday before every race, which I don’t think we managed to do a single time last year. Our budget and some new sponsors allowed us to have a tent, a pressure washer, a mechanic at every race, 10 wheelsets, a heater, two pairs of shoes, and tons of warm kit, which made 1000% of a difference in our ability to relax at many of these races. I was still pretty wound up most of the time, which is just something I will continue having to work on, probably forever.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations. This is quite the novel. I wanted to sit down and wax poetic for a moment on a season that, while not perfect, allowed me to overcome some challenges, which is a really fulfilling way to get something done. A big thanks goes to everyone who supported our season. Cannondale and SRAM for the bikes, wheels, and top-notch componentry, Champion System for the stellar kit. We received many compliments and felt like we looked great. Lazer and S-phyre for the shoes and helmets. I don’t know what we did last year with just one pair of shoes and no aero shell. Not having wet feet is a huge advantage. Along those lines are warm socks. Defeet once again was our local North Carolina sock sponsor. If you haven’t tried Woolie Boolies, then you seriously need to. Defeet makes the best socks for winter riding and racing, period.
Of course also, you can’t ride a bike without tires, and having a full fleet of tubulars – minimizing the stress of flatting, and rolling so smoothly – made the season realistic. You just cannot race cross without the proper equipment. Thank you to Vittoria for providing our fleet. Carborocket kept us recovered and hydrated. Nutrition is a huge part of our game. If you don’t have it, you can’t build your body up to do what you need to out there. And then one of the biggest thanks goes to both KPMG and Bike Index for providing the ability to set ourselves up for success. Andrew and I both work. We’re making our way up, but for now, we have to support ourselves. We cannot do a cross season out of pocket. It just will not work. And finally, the Pony Shop. Thank you, Lou, for not only supporting us, but for supporting a full team of riders from all ages and backgrounds who come together to do this weird crazy thing. Without your help and just general encouragement and support, we would not have a team. The number of riders who cheered for the Pony Shop on course at nationals on Sunday was unprecedented. I don’t even know those people, but they know the Pony Shop, and they see what you are doing for the sport.
That’s all for now. Stay tuned for the team’s 2019 plans. I’m going to go take a long nap.
One thought on “Goodbye 2018. Thanks for an amazing year.”
An insightful short novel. Congrats Lily.