I had a good feeling about Kelso. Despite being laid low with strep leading up to the race, not to mention my general lacklustred-ness this season, I still had a warm little corner of my heart for this race. I followed Steve Neal's advice for the first week after recovering, and then had some great rides at the start of last week to shock ... errr, welcome ... my body back into some kind of shape. Top it all off with a totally zen preride on Wednesday and that would have been plenty for me. But to seal the deal, I had the support of not one, not two, but of SIX whole cheerleaders, just for me. Spoiled!!
Gerhard's parents happened to be in town the weekend of the race and being the good sports they are, were totally game to head out to Milton for race day. Gerhard and Adlar, his little bro, came too. And my parents made the trip from Port Elgin, so my stoke was all time.
Kelso can be an intimidating course, given the ginormous climb right off the bat. But having my squad lining the trail turned my usual strategy of survival into one of actual hunting and bike racing I haven't yet enjoyed this season. They'll have to come to all my races from now on, I think.
Anyway, with G's mom to help move things along in the morning, we got out right on schedule and I even had extra hands to load up all the stuff. Didn't even have to drive. Mellow. She kept asking me what she could do to help and the concept was so foreign to me I had a hard time coming up with an answer. And yet still, she seemed to know what to do. Awesome. We got to the venue, got sorted and then I left them to explore while I got ready.
At this time, I should also mention another contributor to my best race this season: Jerome! On Tuesday night, he was kind enough to give me a crash course on elite level tuning. We went over my bike inch by inch, component by component and lubed, tightened, trued and screwed every possible surface. My bike FINALLY felt like my bike when we were through, and I left with knowledge, a perfectly-squishy ride, and a shopping list. That's not to say the guys in the shop don't do a fantastic job, but they're very busy gentlemen, and haven't usually got 2.5 hours to spend on one bike. Which mine needed. Things were wrong with it I didn't even know could be wrong.
Speaking of the shop, my next thanks is to Owen and the guys for helping me complete and install said list at the shop. All new contact points: grips, saddle and cleats.
Back to race day: installing a new saddle is second only to changing tires for my least favourite bike-maintenance activity. I'm never sure of what I'm doing and it seems like I'm adjusting things forever after, even with careful measurements. It never feels the same. Anyway, with my old saddle bent (how'd THAT happen?) there was no getting around it. Although I suspect that this bent saddle business has a lot to do with why my shoulder pops out all the time. Hmmm. So better to have a saddle that's a bit too far forward or back than one that is literally hurting me. During the race I realized that I move around so much it probably doesn't make that much difference.
Anyway, warm up. Decide to second-guess saddle position. Twice. Back to the van for adjustments.
Get start bottle from mom.
Get good luck kiss from G.
Up we went. Our pack quickly turned into a single file train up the service road climb. The rest of the course was so open and fast that unless you put time into your competition on the climb, you probably wouldn't put much time into them at all. With that in mind, I was happy to be in the front half of our group. And then the girl in front of me stalled, my wheel hit hers, the girl behind me hit mine, and we all had our feet down while the front of the train steamed away.
Thus unseated, I ran for it. Oh my god how I hate to run from a sudden stop when my heart rate is red lined. On the bright side, this little slip made me angry, in a good way, and I put it into my pedals. The result was a pretty awesome little bike race between me and Erica Bota for the first two laps. Back and forth a bunch of times, then riding with each other in sight for sections, before I hit a wall on the third climb and couldn't close the gap. After Erica, I never saw another girl.
But I did see my cheerleaders!! Every lap they were in a different section, snapping pictures, and yelling really loud. Gerhard's dad has a booming voice, and he isn't shy. My mom stood out no matter what in her pretty blue outfit, so even as I came barreling out of the single track, and everything blurs except the trail in front of me, I could see her.
I'll just say one more time, support is so, so awesome. Every mountain bike racer will tell you hearing your name pulls out a little bit more from tired muscles and pumping heart.
So then I finished and stuff. Got a little air on the finishing stretch, collected chocolate milk and congratulated Erica before heading over to regroup with my "team". Congrats to Sue Stephens, the day's winner! The only mark on my day was the mark I left on my bike when I wobbly-kneed tried to dismount and clipped the top tube with my cleat. DOOOOHHHH. Alas. It's a mountain bike, I guess.
Oh, another little story: after the race Chico asked me "for a word". I was worried I was in trouble, and sure enough, someone had apparently suggested that a "female Sweet Pete's Elite rider caused a crash in some double track". Huh? I had no recollection of this run-in and relayed the story of the only time I had contact with another rider. It was when HE hit ME sliding out of a high speed turn. Neither of us went down, and he apologized when he passed me shortly after. Anyway, if there was another incident, and you were involved and are reading this, I assure you, I was not aware of it. I was pushing so hard I had that annoying loss of hearing that feels like there's water in your ear and all you can hear is your pulse and your breathing. So if there was some missed communication I'm sorry, and I'm sorry you crashed.
Besides that little question mark, I was in amazing spirits. I rode well, I rode my best, I had a great result (8th [for the fourth race out of five], collecting 6th place points thanks to two Kiwis from New Zealand's visiting national team ahead of me) and re-ignited the love of going fast on bikes from wherever it was flickering all season. Just in time for fall racing and a winter of getting back on track I'd say.
We closed the day with a proper meeting-of-the-families in Milton at an Irish Pub (that also served Mexican, Greek and Indian) complete with fishing stories.
As if the day wasn't good enough, mom sent us back to Toronto with fresh farm fare, and BAKING. Mmmmm, cracked wheat chocolate chip cookies and fresh zucchini bread. I'm a lucky girl.
Thanks to Mom, Dad, Gerhard, Adlar, Gerhard (G's dad), Christine, Jerome, Owen and the shop, and Steve Varga for feeding me.
Can't believe there's just one left!