I wasn't quite sure what to expect as I entered my first full CX season. I dabbled in a handful of races in 2012, and was hooked, so I knew I wanted to race a fuller schedule this year and I definitely wanted better results. I focused on fitness all spring and summer, and felt like I was in a good place as the opening weekend approached in September. In my head, I figured that since I'd race a bit last year and trained all summer, that I would automatically just be a better racer.
The season opening Kick-IT TT was a rude awakening. While I was definitely more fit than last fall, I wasn't anywhere near "race fit". And with all that focus on fitness, I'd neglected working much on my bike handling skills. I finished near the bottom of the pack in the TT. Not only was I slow, but the trickier parts of the course taught me some valuable lessons about what I needed to work on.
The next day was the first race of the season, Cross of the North #1. I tried to put my struggles in the TT behind me, but after a decent start, the rest of the day was a battle just to finish. I had a mechanical early on the first lap, and ended up off the back. I was able to pick off a handful of spots before getting pulled with one lap to go. While it wasn't the start I'd hoped for, it was a very educational weekend.
I started focusing on handling/technical skills that next week. That seemed to pay off a bit at my next race a couple weeks later at Valmont. I raced confidently and aggressively, and managed to pull myself up to a mid-pack finish in a big field. That would begin a trend that I carried for the rest of the season. I was happy with where my fitness was; when I could really open it up on climbs and straights, I could pick off riders most of the time. But when the course got technical, my weaknesses really cost me time and positions.
A few highlights:
Cross of the North #3: My first mud-fest. While previewing the course, conditions were fairly dry, and the course was nice and tacky. About an hour before my start, the rain began to fall. I knew I was in for a sloppy ride, but had no idea how nasty it would get. The course turned to total grease, and I ended up off the bike way too much, probably running close to half the race. I was pulled after three laps, along with 75% of the field. Looking back, it was a blast. But at the time...
Cyclo-X Xilinx: This was the course where I raced for the first time ever last year, and it really seems to suit my style. This was the most complete ride I had all season. I started a few rows back in a big field, but I was able to pass and improve my position on every lap, finishing just outside the top 20.
Castle Cross (State Championship): My first bitterly cold, snow filled winter race. It is amazing how you can completely ignore how much your hands and feet hurt when chasing down the guy 50 feet in front of you.
A few takeaways from the year:
1) Balance my training: Rather than just focus on fitness and strength, work in a lot more bike handling and CX skills practice this summer.
2) Race fitness: I don't know any way to do this other than race, so I'm planning on tackling several road races this spring/summer.
3) Focused racing: Too often I get to the starting grid thinking only about my result. I spend the first couple laps in the red trying to keep up with the front, then blow up and have to battle just to survive. About halfway through the season I started picking two or three specific skills to focus on each race. As soon as I did that, those things started improving, and my results trended up.
4) Race more! Entering the season my goal was to race 10 times. I ended up starting 14 races, and that wasn't nearly enough. Even when the results weren't great, I always finished the day having learned something, and I usually had a blast doing it.
Thanks to everyone on the team for their help and support this year! It wouldn't have been successful without you. I'm already eyeing the road calendar to pick my training spots, and looking forward to more CX in the fall.