My race didn’t start until 1:15 (yay!) so I enjoyed a very leisurely morning, while Jason’s day got underway much earlier. I left for Fruitland around the same time Jason finished his race. He called as I was driving up to tell me about his race. The long slow hills in the bumpy thick grass had sucked the life out of his legs. It was THE most painful race he’d ever done. The drive was much easier in happy oblivion.
Parking was easy, even in the middle of the busy race day. The museum and the outdoor sculpture pieces were so picturesque. Registration was warm (indoors) and entertaining. (I’m enjoying the familiar greeting “Oh, the other Alex!” whenever Alex Carlson’s racing.) I was happy to score an extra bonus at registration – some sweet @CXSisters stickers for Hannah and me.
We hopped on to the course for our first pre-ride. The first time around the course I was pretty tentative on the downhill turns on the far side of the course. We watched another race and then went out for a second lap, and I felt pretty confident that I’d make it around ok, but I knew it was just going to be hard. I decided that warming up was key, given the long uphill grass start. So I went back to the car, changed kit, set my bike on the trainer, and made very sure I warmed up well and had plenty of calories and water in me.
The women’s combined field was a good size at just over 50. The Cat 4s started 30 seconds behind the Women’s Open. I had a pretty good start, for me, and kept with racers from my start row. I felt pretty good about that. I felt good for a handful of seconds before my lungs started to burn from “sprinting” the long uphill start. This was painful. Less than a minute in and I was pretty sure I might explode.
The pain never really subsided. The turns on the upper field provided a little recovery before the 1st run-up (that I never got right – not even close). A few more turns and we emptied out onto the long stretch of field where each lap I was humbled by my inability to produce any speed despite the crazy burning in my legs. This stretch messed with my head on every lap. But on a positive note, I’ve never been happier to enter a turning downhill section or climb granite stairs in the middle of nowhere.
The course had a few more changes in elevation and series of turns through hard cut fields. The terrain was incredibly uneven and bumpy. My arms were tired. The final to hill climbs prior to the finish were tough, but I was able to ride them. The reward for riding them was total exhaustion as I crossed the finish line – Lap 1 – ugh. The long uphill start was brutal after the climbs.
The second lap felt pretty much the same as the first. I didn’t drop places and I didn’t pick many up places. Some of my lines got better through some of the turns. It was about the same for the 3rd lap. Although I think I forgot to unclip on my dismount on the 1st run up, which made for quite a tangle of myself and my bike. As I passed Geoff and rode up the last hill on the third lap and turned toward the finish all I could think was thank god, there’s just one more lap – I can do this one more time. I looked up and saw the 2 on the lap card – I was deflated.
This was the singular most pissy moment of the race for me. 2 more laps…? that couldn’t be right. I was certain that we’d only do 4 laps. 5 laps? It was crazy. I was cursing myself. My goal for the season was to get strong enough to finish on the same lap as the leaders. Stupid goal – what was I thinking?
I’m pretty sure I pouted to the top of the hill and into the first set of turns. Ugh. I changed my goal – my new goal was to just put my head down and suffer until I got to the downhill. I had said to Nancy during the preride that this course was like a Sufferfest video. It was. There was nothing to do other than accept it and keep pedaling. When I crossed the finish area again and saw the 1. I briefly wished I’d been lapped, but I knew I could push through a last lap. I could push through anything for 10 minutes.
I had moments of optimistic delusion when I thought I had caught a second wind and that I might catch up the the next racer. But mostly I just kept pedaling and hurting, knowing each stroke brought me closer to being finished.
The finish was sweet. I was spent. My lungs were junk. Jason had called it correctly: THE most painful race.
I enjoyed hanging out after the race and commiserating with everyone. It was ridiculous. Our legs were junk. The field was never-ending hell. Those who rode the run up were heroes. Those who had made Fruitlands their first CX race ever were amazing! The cider was great. And as we watched the Men’s 123, I just couldn’t imagine being on that course for an hour – riding 8 laps – inconceivable.
Of course I woke up the next morning wondering if I could have done better If I was fully healthy…and then I watched the DirtwireTV Fruitlands’ CX highlights…
oh damn, I’ll be back for more fruitcup next year.
Beginner’s notes: This course was challenging, not from a gnarly technical perspective, but because of the combination of two long, slow climbs and hard climbs before the finish. It’s a punishing course. There were some downhill sections with turns that were challenging, but runable if necessary. The bumpiness of the course on these sections sort of gave a feeling of slipping even though you weren’t. Extra practice here was helpful. The hard cut grass is bumpy – I was happy for extra lube and spent a lot of time just off the saddle. This was an endurance course, for sure.
Thanks to Geoff Martin for his wonderful photographs and brilliant heckling.