Start Line Jitters :: Bonelli, Keyesville. Joy, Pain.

Last evening’s dinner was fabulous. Quadrupel in Pasadena is by far one of my favorite restaurants. And pommes frites have everything to do with it. What is not to love about double fried potatoes with caper mayonnaise, spicy ketchup and vinegar ketchup?

My dinner companions were three fast and fit Pro mountain bike racers. Mike and Aleksandra Mooradian and Alex Boone. Discourse touched on the sad state of women’s mountain biking. With so many advocates, so many strong women behind women’s cycling, we still struggle to fill the start line- at the amateur and Pro level.  On one hand, it makes me want to race again. On the other– why bother? There is little reward to work so hard to race in front of zero spectators. Whether at the pro level or amateur, there has to be something to ride for. So for what?

Bonelli Single Speed Sisters

I have a little problem. Well a few, but we’ll start with being nervous on the start line. I have difficulty chit chatting on the start line. My stomach turns and I keep my head down in an attempt to stay focused. This time I’m ready. It’s the second ride on my singlespeed in two years. The first being Sagebursh just two weeks ago. It’s Dorothy Wong, Kathryn LaPointe, and me. Dorothy beat me at Sagebrush, but I want to win today. I’m nervous. I don’t know the course– except for the initial climb and the very last piece of singletrack. I know. Poor preparation, but in theory, I’m not a Pro. At least not today. I’m a singlespeeder. A mountain biker. A singlespeed mountain biker.

When the gun goes off, we take off with all of the expert women. Even though I haven’t lined up at a Pro level National in several years, I still have that start line instinct. The Pro start is hard, fast and a sprint to the bottom of the first hill. It’s all too soon that I realize the Expert women don’t start as fast, and the group finally swarms the breakaway at the bottom of the hill. The lead in to the hill is down hill pavement. The only way to go fast is to be in draft of geared bikes. I do that, but once we begin the climb the geared girls are slowing down. Of course on the single you can’t slow down. You are either riding or you are walking. I do not wish to walk at this time.

The singletrack is technical and unfamiliar. The speed of the geared Experts women is hard to match. I have to pass or walk the climbs, and I have to hang on the descents. After one perfectly executed pass, I slid out on a slippery root– taking one woman with me and a few more passing me as I pulled my bike out of the way. Shoot. All my momentum gone, it was time to just start running. Ack.

The next couple of climbs were steep enough and led to a nice descent that empties out on the pavement. Flat pavement is torture. I spin like crazy but all geared riders are gone ahead. It’s on the medium climb I catch up, and on the root and rock strewn singletrack I once again get caught behind the geared men and women. There is no modulation. My gear is tall. If I can’t carry momentum — click– I’m walking.

The feed zone hill was nearly impossible to ride, and at the top I practically stopped and caught my breath. Now on to the singletrack climbs. Very painful. At this point I’m thinking when is the lap over? I was greeted by one more nasty climb before taking the last section of singletrack into the field.

I was sitting in first as I came through the start finish, and was ready for my second lap. Until I find myself walking on the first climb. I suddenly realize I may not finish this race. I went out too hard. I took too many risks. Why am I doing this? I can’t do two more laps. Maybe they will cut us off after two laps.

Once I arrived at the top of the climb, I was able to regain myself. Keeping a nice pace on the descents, riding all of the technical logs and rocks and pipes and pass on the climbs. Just in front of the spot of my first lap spill, my chain fell off in a whirl of spinning. Naturally, everyone I just passed passed me back, and I was not in the mood, but had to walk. I could see Dorothy behind me. I wasn’t motivated. I hate walking.

On the flat sections I fared well. I passed again on the climbs, and was able to hold off the geared riders I had passed so I could ride the technical uphill singletrack. I was ready to die when I hit the feed zone for the second time. With everyone cheering, I new I had to stay on. Heckles from Subaru-Trek Team Manager Jon Rourke and Alex were driving me. Maybe I was just having too much fun all of a sudden.

All the whooping and hollering made me smile for a moment! Photo: Alex Boone

My mood took a swing.

Going through the start finish to begin my third and final lap, I felt a sense of relief. I knew at this point I was well enough ahead of Dorothy I could possible win the race. However, when Dorothy is your competitor, you never take a breath. You never let up. She is ruthless. She has destroyed me before. I will not slow down.

The third lap went quickly as I became familiar with the course (finally). I was able to ride all of the singletrack and only had to hike two short sections on my final lap. I rode to the finish line, and it felt great to finally win a race. My formidable competitors finished soon after me, and we enjoyed the fact that we were finished.

In the end, that was the hardest race I had ever ridden. Singlespeed is incredibly hard on your body. Your back, your abs, your arms, your legs. It hurts, and race pace on a singlespeed hurts. But I won. And winning dos wonders for mood– and pain.

Dorothy Wong (l), Tonya Bray (c) and Kathryn LaPointe (r) on the women's Singlespeed Podium at US Cup in Bonelli. Photo: Alex Boone

Cranky in Keyesville

As is the fashion, I chose to race the morning of 2011 Keyesville Classic. The drive up was quick and cold. Luckily, the embrocation was hot.

Only two Pro women would compete at Keyesville. Myself and an  expert who raced the prior year named Carol.

During warm up, I realized the weight lifting was taking its toll on my legs. I’ve been in a constant battle to regain some of the muscle mass I’ve lost over the past few years, and for me that means lifting weights. As anyone in endurance knows, lifting weights and racing don’t mix. And not being able to walk for 4 out of 7 days is even worse. The dull lead brick feel of wasted legs drags my mood down.

I stood on the line knowing full well 4 laps would be enough to kill me today. Nonetheless, I paid my money, and I was going to finish the race. All I had to do was ride 4 laps. Or walk. Or just get through. Somehow. My reward would be money.

At the gun I started hard. I like starting hard, it’s part of the excitement for me. Staying with the Pro men for the first bit, and then falling back to a snail’s pace. My legs were toast and I was a quarter of a mile into my first 8 mile lap. It’s been years since I have had such a terrible feeling just at the beginning of a race.

Carol sat on my wheel for the first part of the first lap which served to make me ride faster than I could. She finally passed me which gave me the opportunity to rest and ride as slow as possible without falling over. I allowed all of the expert men behind me to pass, I rode, I walked, I just plodded along.

After Christina Probert Turner passed me, I heard a female voice call out, “Are you racing?”

I had to laugh.

“Kind of,” I said. “Not really. I’m in the Pro class.”

It was Crank Brothers’ Amanda Schaper in a Ritte van Vlaanderen kit.

Two expert women have caught and passed me.

Alas.

At the end of the day, I had to ride only 3 laps, and my legs rejoiced but my spirit was broken. The Kern River Brewing Company would have something to mend that.

Kern River Brewing on site for some apres-race recovery. Photo: Alex Boone

The good news is I spent $50 on entry, and walked away with $100 and a cook pint glass. Not a bad ROI.

Cold, rainy podium. Carol Boland (l) and Tonya Bray (r). Photo: Alex Boone

Now What?

I’m feeling more motivated to race. It seems we need to encourage women to get out and mountain bike more. And until more women turn Pro, I’m obligated. No matter how much it hurts. One thing, however. No more lifting and racing.

namaste-

Tonya

 

 

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