Courtney Tanner race report: NCGP

 

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When I begin to notice the variants in colors of mud during a race, it could perhaps suggest that I am not riding hard enough. But it could also mean that my eyes are looking ahead to the next turn; seeing the lines change with each lap as wheels cut through the ground creating lines different from the last. This past weekend’s race in Hendersonville, North Carolina offered an abundant array of colors of mud, with each type shaping the sweeping turns and rutted off-cambers. 

We met day one of racing with steady rain, creating a slippery and technical course. With 12 minute laps in the women’s elite race, it was as tough as it was technical. My powerhouse teammate Erica Zaveta charged through the slop with power and finesse, earned through years of hard work, and finished just off the podium in 4th. I found myself somewhere far behind her, learning my own lessons in riding through slippery mud. I was delighted to ride a clean race and finish in the top 20 of the UCI race (my first!) on a tough course with difficult conditions. Andrew and Rory rode smart and fast as well, finishing 6th and 7th, shedding those riders who had fast starts but less steady and skilled legs. 

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The sunshine dried up day two, just enough to create tacky ruts but still with plenty to slip and slide on. Many sections still favored running. I consider myself a speedy runner, but slogging through thick mud with cycling shoes and a bike uphill is not my strong suit. As I pre-lapped and prepared myself for my last UCI race before nationals (and my last hope this season of snagging UCI points to qualify for the elite race), I focused my preparations on embracing the pain of running and pushing my hardest with heavy legs, mud, and the unavoidable mental frustrations and mistakes that come with racing in technical mud.

Through it all, my mind lingered on a quote from Rabindranath Tagore, “the joy of sitting upon the open lotus of pain, and know{ing} not a word.” What is cyclocross racing if not learning to ride on the edge of your fitness and skill in the presence of pain and discomfort; pushing yourself to do your best despite the strange and unusual elements of the sport, emptying yourself the moment you cross the finish line, and experiencing the joy of completion? My race was filled with tricky riding and Bambi-like falls into thick mud, yet I found myself thinking about how ridiculously fun it all was. I finished my race with my best ever UCI finish of 16th and completely spent. 

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I watched Andrew and Rory tear through the course following my race. Andrew was caught in an early crash that put him behind Rory but still sitting in the top ten. Rory was steadily catching 6th place each lap with smooth riding and fast running, until the course tape wound itself tightly through various parts of the bike with 2 laps to go, sending him back to 9th and Andrew moving up to 7th. Watching my teammates race is its own kind of joy; a remedy for alleviating the stress that can plague competitive sport and a thoughtful reminder of all that we share together – both the suffering and the delight of racing cyclocross. 

Photos by Weldon Weaver


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