The Trans-Sylvania Epic went down in the history books as another solid and extremely fun race week. I ended up solidly in 5th place in a super strong women’s field. I’m sort of OK with that, sort of not. But the final parade definetly erased any negative thoughts in my head, as I reflected on the week and thought about all the laughs.
I came here hoping to be mixing it up at the top of the field. I’m just a competitive person by nature. I can’t help it and I’m a pro athlete, so I’m supposed to try to win races. However, I knew from my near-death experience with asthma here last year that what I wanted to do and what I could do might not mesh. The stage 1 time-trial started out great. I was 4th, but not far off the best times. My legs felt good after 10 days of being sick and I was happy to be racing. That’s always a good sign.
Day 2 started with sort of flat legs and promised to be technical. It’s one of the stages I had to walk my bike and nearly crawl to the finish last year. I started conservatively out of respect for my asthma and to make sure I had the power to get through the technical riding. I was on my own much of the day, but had a blast and got through so many more technical sections upright than I did last year. I did suffer from the heat about half-way through and had to slow down to manage it. The temperatures were in the 90’s, so it was the smart thing to do so early in a week-long race. I was off the winning pace, but still breathing great, riding well and feeling super good about the experience.
Day 3 was a long stage with a significant amount of dirt road. I followed a bunch of other riders off course just a few minutes into the race and that error really took the wind out of my sails. I had a decent day in the saddle, but lost the train of fast riders and spent half the stage working through the field. It was sort of boring to race alone and not really have someone to chase. I estimate the wrong turn cost me at least 10 minutes, plus the time lost of not being able to draft and hang in a pack. Chock it up to experience and pay more attention.
Day 3 is my favorite stage at Raystown. It’s 40 miles of riding a pump track. The trails are smooth, fast and flowy. There were so many places if you could coast, pump the rollers and not touch the brakes, then you’d roll right up the next hill without a pedal stroke. I finally made the podium on this day and felt like I was racing again. In comparison to the day before, it was exhilarating to feel like I had a reason to push hard and race. It’s definitely more motivating to be in the hunt and in the mix than caught in no man’s land. There was no change in the general classification, but there was a big change in my mood by feeling like I was racing with a purpose.
The mini XC stage with four Super-D type events was a great event. Each timed segment was only 10-15 minutes, but in that short time, I lost more time than in the previous four-hour stages. Half way through the first segment, the Pennsylvania Pollen Monster reared it’s ugly head, reached down my throat and squeezed the air out of my lungs. I limped my way to the finish wheezing, coughing and pinballing down the rocky trail. Other racers were concerned and so was I. Mostly I was pissed because I’d been breathing fine all week here and thought I was in the clear. Oh well.
This race was hard enough without having health issues, but there I was again slumped over my handlebars. I had vowed to myself that if this happened again, I was going to have a good attitude about it and just use the race for training and be OK with that. Those sort of lofty goals are way easier swallow in the comfort of your own home. When you’re in the middle of a race and getting smacked around by the competition, the trail and the pollen, it’s harder to be a big person and not throw a temper tantrum and feel sorry for yourself. I had my own pity party for the second mini XC stage, which lasted maybe 15 minutes, then got it out of my system.
For #3 and #4, I just went to the back of the women’s field, started slowly, going nowhere near race pace or anaerobic threshold and just rode my bike for fun. Revert to Plan B. I wasn’t fast and I lost more time in the general classification, but I rode the sweet trails, had fun and just took in the experience at a different pace.
Yesterday was another big, hard, gnarly stage that had me in tears last year. It’s also includes some of this area’s most adored single track. I had no hopes of making the podium at this point, so I rode slightly slower than race pace so I could breathe and worked on my technical riding skills on the Tussey Mountain Trail. As a pro athlete, it’s always hard to swallow your pride and admit that you just don’t have what it takes this time around. But TSE, year 2, once again, I just don’t have what it takes to be competitive. Tons of racers have already dropped out due to illness, mechanicals, or just loss of morale. For me, I’m finishing this race and will push as hard as I am able. I will squeeze all of the positive aspects I can out of this experience and give the Pennsylvania Pollen Monster the finger when I’m done.
Overall I really do love stage racing like this. It brings a new level of difficulty to bike racing, and adds new challenges that can bring down even the most seasoned of athletes. It felt good to finish today and relax. And at the end of a week of racing, what should we do? Probably have a cocktail. Cheers TS Epic, it was a fun week.