On Sunday, October 4 a few of us Wild Cards went up to DeKalb, Illinois, for the second race in the Chicago Cross Cup series, Hopkins Park CX. I went into it not expecting or hoping for much, despite Kyle's guarantee that in a bigger field there would be more women with whom I had a chance at competing. Last year I won the Heart of Illinois Women's Category 4 Series just for showing up to all six races - I was last in every single race and was fully expecting to be last again.
Before the race I went to the race start area where they would open it for pre-riding and quizzed a random guy on what I would find out there. Random guy was very helpful and told me which line to take to avoid the divot followed by a big root in the single-track section (which I would just call a wooded path, but his description prepared me for the worst) and not to sweat the barely off-camber section by the tennis courts (he was right, I never slid there at all). He also said the course was very fast.
It was very fast. It was a cyclocross course which was apparently made for time trialers such as myself, with no barriers, no steep ascents, and really only one need for downshifting at all (although I think I did so in two or three places). There was only one place where I had to dismount and that was the flyover, and while I'm not yet very good at remounts that never mattered, for I can get my leg on the saddle and launch myself downhill just fine, sorting the pedaling out on the way down. I actually never left my big ring.
Despite the gloriousness of the course for my particular skill set I wasn't expecting much. USA Cycling was apparently expecting more from me, however, as I found when my name was called to line up on the strip of pavement they had painted with lanes for the start. I was expecting them to put me at the end and thus I was pretty surprised when I was stuck roughly in the middle of the group of 55 women.
I was surprised again when the race started. I was in the fourth row and somehow I and all three women in front of me had good starts. When we took off I remember peeling away from the women beside and behind me as I stuck to the wheel in front of me. I was still just sticking to that wheel when the first gal passed me, and then after I easily navigated my way around the first rider down (yes, we already had a rider down on the third corner) I realized that I didn't have to stay where I was - I could just as easily pass a woman on her bike as I rode past that woman down.
On the first few tight turns (seventh or eighth corners of the race) I tried to put power down for such a maneuver and slid out a little. This left me a little freaked out by turns for much of the rest of the race but that didn't matter - the straightaways were wide and abundant and thus it was that in the first straight after the flyover I mashed my way past two women, my first time ever passing in a cross race. The rest of the race was basically a bunch of braking before corners, cornering, and telling riders they were doing great as I accelerated past them in the straightaways. Every time there was a long enough straight and a reachable rider I did it.
That doesn't mean I wasn't ever passed again - two juniors and at least four or five women passed me at various times in the race. I traded places with one woman several times - her passing me on corners and then me passing her back on straights until at the very end when, thanks to a straight, I stood up and inched ahead over the finish line. I was mentioned by the announcer several times for passing other riders in that section so he already had my name ready when it happened at the close of the race. That doesn't mean he pronounced it correctly, but I was glad to be giving him stuff to talk about anyway.
At the end of the race I knew I hadn't been last, and that was pretty amazing. I was already jumping around excitedly when talking to my teammates and other competitors about the race; just imagine how intolerably gleeful I became when I found that I had been 26th out of 54 finishers. That's straight-up middle-of-the pack (even top 50%), a vast improvement on what I had been expecting and I hope a sign that I'm getting better at this.
My teammates did better than I did. Neil Fortner and Kyle French did well in the Men's Cat 3 field, placing 27th and 31st, respectively, out of 76 finishers, and Roy Tylinski was 24th out of 123 finishers in the Men's Cat 4/5 field on his mountain bike. Roy says he has pictures and even video of my race but has promised to edit out any of the snot I recall being too busy to wipe away before sharing.