Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sea Otter Classic 2015

 Getting the hole shot at the beginning of the short track. Photo: Etienne

Specialized hosted another Lemonade Social on Saturday after the cross country with the Specialized Women Photo: Etienne
This year's Sea Otter Classic was the most success one yet.  This year marked our fifth anniversary of running the Little Bellas national camp at the Sea Otter Classic.  It just seems like it keeps getting better and better over the years.   My Sea Otter Classic began on Wednesday when Specialized Women launched a new bike, the Rumor 650b.  The Specialized women, Kate Courtney, Hannah Barnes, and myself joined a great group of female journalists to ride and check out the new bike.  I was thoroughly impressed with how well all of these women rode.  It was supposed to be an easy ride, but it was hard to hold back with all of these ladies pushing it.  It was a blast.  Kate and I also got our new matching national champion kits, and we got to wear them together.  This is probably the best kit I've ever owned.  I was so excited about wearing it for the first time that I only went on an hour spin, but I probably wore the kit for a total of three hours.  There's something about literally wearing an accomplished goal.  I'm really proud to be wearing the stars and stripes on my back.

Friday was the first day of our Little Bellas Sea Otter camp.  The little ladies lined up to watch the women's short track race.  This was twenty minutes of short two minute laps around a flat track with a mixture of pavement and dirt.  The nature of the course made it a really exciting and tactical race, and the Little Bellas cheered for me every lap.  There was a group of about ten ladies riding together with some attacks going off in the twenty minutes, but nothing really stuck.  I was towards the back of the group trying to recover and follow wheels.  Then, in the last three laps, I made sure I was in a better position at least in the top three of the race so I was able to respond to attacks.  I timed it right and followed an explosive last lap attack by swede Jenny Risveds.  I followed her wheel and so did Australian Bec Henderson.  I was able to hang on, and I got to stand on my first podium of the season in third.  I am thrilled to get this result in front of the Little Bellas and at such a big event as the Sea Otter Classic.

After the short track, it was time for my favorite event of the season, the Little Bellas lemonade social with the pros.  Every single year, I am completely humbled by how many pro ladies show up to answer questions from the girls and sign autographs.  Every pro rider's time is in high demand at Sea Otter Classic with each minute taken with marketing initiatives, events, or racing.  The fact that each lady carves out an hour for the Little Bellas is really moving.  I am so grateful to be surrounded by such great women and role models on the mountain bike circuit.  We answered questions about everything from our favorite food to who inspired us to start riding.  We learned that avocado was a popular favorite food.  One of our little bellas gasped in excitement when one of her favorite foods was also Chloe Woodruff's favorite.  Kaylee Blevin's brother inspired her to ride.  Kate Courtney started riding with her dad on the back of a tandem with a pancake reward at the end.  The Little Bellas got to see what a world champion jersey looks like when Catharine Pendrel showed up.

Last year, Maghalie Rochette challenged me to a rap battle at the lemonade social, and we ended up battling at the World Championships.  This year at the lemonade social, Maghalie came prepared with some amazing rhymes to officially challenge me again to another rap battle.  I was extremely impressed, and the Little Bellas loved it so much that they kept asking for more.  So, Kate and I rhymed a verse from our World Champs battle, and then Kate, my secret weapon, dropped some fresh verses right off the top of her head on the spot.  It was amazing, and, with all of the fifteen pro women and their personalities, the Little Bellas were completely entertained for an hour.  This is not an easy task with eight year olds.  I didn't think it could keep getting any better, but it does.

 The Little Bellas Lemonade Social
 Kate shows off her wounds from a tumble in the short track
 The Specialized Women Lemonade Social
 Hannah Barnes signs a jersey
 Sea Otter STXC
 Kate making it happen after I got the hole shot in the short track
Teamwork makes the dream work in the STXC.  Kate and I work together. 
I raced the XC the next day, and this race is much longer than the normal XC races that we do.  We raced two eighteen mile laps on the dusty, exposed course.  It was windy so hiding and recovering in a pack was key for the day.  My legs weren't feeling up to snuff on the first lap, and I thought it was going to be a really long day.  I got dropped from the lead pack of nine riders on two separate occasions on the first lap and then clawed my way back up to the lead group.  I was with the lead group for half of the second lap until a crash separated the pack and I was caught on the wrong side.  I started to come around  at that point in the race, and I bridged up to the chase group.  The three of us started working together to catch the lead group until I popped off the chase group in the last fifteen minutes of the race.  I rolled across the line in eighth place in a two and a half hour race.  This was a solid effort considering how I was feeling that first lap.

Now, I'm catching my breath back in Santa Cruz, and beginning a great training block in earnest until the first world cups towards the end of may in Europe.  Let the training begin!

Onwards and upwards!


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Bienvenido a Colombia!

 Pan American Championships Photo: Shimano
 Colombia is beautiful

Some of the leading ladies for team USA (L to R: Kate Courtney, me, Chloe Woodruff, Erin Huck, Mary McConnellog)

This past weekend, I ventured to South America for the first time.  I traveled to Bogota, Colombia for the Pan American Championships.  The continental championships is a race with some of the biggest UCI points to be earned, and, because the 2016 Olympics are close, points are at a premium.   The top three riders' from each nation UCI ranking (world ranking) are combined to rank the nation.  The top eight countries in this ranking are allowed to send two females to the Olympics.  If a nation is outside of the top eight, they can only send one rider to Rio.  As of recent, U.S.A was ranked ninth so we sent a full squad down to Colombia because it's paramount that we get two spots for the games.  Also, the other Olympic story thread coming into play for Pan-Ams is that whatever central or south american team placed first in this event got a guaranteed spot for the Olympics.  So, this race was the most important race of the season for countries like Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil.  While the americans spent the spring campaign at sea level racing our first big national races, many of these countries were at altitude preparing for this race at eight thousand feet.  To confirm, there is not a lot of air at eight thousand feet especially for a sea level dweller like myself.  But, since the national championships and the world championships will be at altitude, this was a great opportunity to test out how I reacted to the altitude.

To sum it up, It went pretty well.  I would call it two very solid races, and I keep making progress.  The event started with the team relay on Friday.  The team relay is when each country races an elite male (Stephan Ettinger), and elite female (myself), a U-23 male (Keegan Swenson), and a junior male (Chris Blevins).  Each person races one lap of the course and then hands off to the next.  We had a fantastic team, and we were all very pumped up.  This same event happens at the World Champs (last year, we narrowly missed the podium in 4th place in Norway) so we were all psyched to test things out this year in prep for worlds.  We had a great start with Stephan coming through in first with a slight lead, but the Colombians were absolutely on fire racing in their home country.  Chris came through in second with about a minute and a half deficit.  I didn't lose any time on my leg, but it was too much of a margin to close on the last leg.  So, we came in second and got a really shiny medal and a bag of Colombian pastries. Baked goods make the best prizes. These pastries were like frosted pretzels.  Interesting and pretty dry.

It's more rare than one would think that I actually get to experience a place outside of the venue, the hotel, and the ride to the venue.  But, luckily, there were two opportunities to really see Colombia on this trip, and I love taking advantage of these opportunities.  After the relay,  my teammate, Kate, Kate's mom, Maggie, and myself ventured into the city to take a cooking class from Dona Elsa.  The drive into the city was amazing with some of the best street art I have ever seen.  It was really beautiful.  The cooking class took place in Dona's kitchen which was the size of most american's kitchen tables.  It was straight in the middle of her house with her little grandchildren running around, and Dona only spoke spanish.  I can understand spanish, but thank goodness Kate was fresh off of a year of spanish at Stanford.  Between the two of us, we were all set.  I actually had the most fun communicating with Dona's grandson.  We figured out how to replace the batteries in his stuff animal.  The best was, in mid spanish sentence, he stopped and said, "I have a black and white ace" in perfect english.  I can't make this stuff up.  It was random.  This type of english will get this boy far.

Sunday was the keystone event of the weekend, the cross county, and the country came out in throngs to support their country.  There is quite a cycling scene in Colombia.  The race was six laps around a very challenging course.  The first half of the lap was straight up some of the steepest climbs I've ever seen.  The second half of the lap was technical single track that required a lot of handling.  The first two laps, I went out with the lead pack, and I really hit the first half of the lap hard.  I realized, at this altitude, I wasn't recovering enough for later technical part of the lap.  I went into these sections crossed eyed, and I was making mistakes and losing a lot of time.  So, I had to change my approach mid-race.  From that point on, no matter what happened around me, I climbed within myself on the first half of the lap, and then I would be recovered for the technical sections.  This allowed me to save a lot of time, and I would usually catch some of the girls that flew by me.  The entire race, I was battling with a Colombian woman, and thus, the entire country.  The cheers were so loud, and it was awesome.  I ended up squeaking by her on the final climb of the final lap.  I ended up in sixth, and the U.S ladies had a great showing with Erin Huck scoring the silver and Chloe Woodruff nabbing the bronze.  And, the U.S.A moved up to sixth in the Olympic rankings.  It was a solid effort all around indeed.

I'm currently squeezing in some training in Santa Cruz, and the racing starts up again the next two weekends in Bonelli and at the Sea Otter Classic (where one of our most popular and longest running Little Bellas camps takes place!).

Thanks for following!


 The warm up road in Colombia.  Pack of dogs not pictured. 
 Some of the amazing Bogota street art
 These boots were made for walking...

 Visiting the market with Dona Elsa

 Kate, Dona, and Maggie cooking up a storm Colombian style
 Dona showing Kate how to make a local juice.  Colombia has amazing juice
 Kate and Maggie hanging in Bogota
 This was on the street outside of Dona's house and I'm not sure the story behind it
 Bogota, Colombia
 My absolute favorite piece of street art I've ever seen
 More cycling street art
 Bean trellises right by the course
 Georgia and I had some international ping pong matches with the Brazilians
 Maggie at a local Colombian restaurant and dance hall.  It was awesome. 
Back in Santa Cruz training.  Life is good.