This year at Nittany Lion Cyclocross, Jalapeno Cycling Co-Founder and Main Faux Pro Rider, Kathryn Cumming, grabbed to top-ten finishes in an international field. At both days, the start of her race did not go as planned, so this week, Kate’s race report looks at coming back from the unexpected.
words by Kathryn Cumming, photos by Andrew Reimann/Jalapeno Cycling
Both days of Nittany Lion cross played out similarly for me. The short version of the weekend is that getting caught up in the chaos at the start left me chasing the lead group to get a good place at the finish.
On Saturday, while we were hammering the prologue, I heard a loud clang and hoped it was no big deal. Turns out that the fork of the rider behind me went into my rear wheel, leaving me with several broken spokes. I tried to stop a few times in hopes of suddenly becoming a race mechanic, but with no ability to fix the wheel and keep the spokes out of my brake rotor, I pedaled with loud noises to the pits. My friend Willem was waiting with my second bike and away I went, about one minute or so behind the back of the field. With nothing to lose I went all in, picking off as much of the field as I could. I made one final pass with half a lap to go to ride in for eighth. I proceeded to fall over soon after.
I enjoyed chasing so much on Saturday that I decided to let everyone pass me at the start of Sunday’s race. We hit a mud bottleneck pretty quickly in the lap and I did not battle aggressively enough for position prior to this point. Well out of the top ten, I set my sights on the lead group and started digging every chance I could get. I gradually made up spots and was sitting in 9th with 1.5 laps to go. I could hear words of encouragement all over the course and went all in on the stairs to make up ground on a group of three. I eventually caught this group during a series of tight turns that came near the end of the lap. With nowhere to pass, I recovered here and jumped the group through the start/finish chute as we heard the bell. I knew I had to go crazy in the straightaway that followed to make the pass stick. Fortunately this effort put 5th place in my field of vision.
Knowing the stairs are a strength of mine and wanting to get ahead before the tight woods section, I took the longest, most powerful strides I could to get up the stairs, telling myself that cramping would be better than not trying. This allowed me to slide into 5th. I held my position in front through the woods, then put in an attack to give myself room before the final corners. The effort was rewarded, and I held on to 5th, once again hitting the ground as soon as I rolled off course.
The cyclocross community continues to amaze me every weekend. Hearing my name around the course was a huge motivator and truly kept me going while my mouth hung open, desperately trying to grab any oxygen I could. Friends showed a contagious enthusiasm for everyone’s race efforts. And when all the competition wrapped up, post race hugs, high fives, and watermelon slices were shared amongst the field.
Nittany Lion Cross was the perfect reminder of why we race. I truly loved taking on the course and seeing how hard I could go. At one point I was so exhausted my head dropped and I almost hit a course stake on a straightaway. Fortunately, words of support from a photographer brought me back to life at the right time. This feeling of being completely depleted is something I cherish.
I would be lying if I didn’t mention that I’ve spent the last few days trying to figure out how to be more aggressive at the start of races. While I do enjoy the chase, losing 15-20 spots in the first 300 yards can pretty much remove any chance at a podium. However, I can still walk away from the weekend with complete clarity regarding the way I spend my time and energy. Regardless of the result, I will continue to dress up in bright colored lycra to ride circles in grass fields with friends.
“We definitely did NOT win, but there were snacks!” These words of wisdom came from my five year old nephew, Noel, after his first soccer game on Saturday, and pretty much reflected my race weekend. Noel told me all about how hard he worked on the soccer field, how he kept trying even though he was losing, and how he and his friends had snacks after the game. As I processed that conversation, I realized how similar our weekends were. As a 32 year old, I am lucky enough to share the same enthusiasm for my weekends as a 5 year old.