Elorie Slater shares the story of her first bike race with the outdoorDIVAS Cycling Club!
I rolled solo into Lake Pueblo State Park Saturday morning for my first bike race ever: Rocky Mountain Endurance’s Voodoo Fire.
It was still chilly at 6:30 am when I picked up my race bib and had my leg marked, but knew that the temps would climb steadily until the 9:00 am start. I returned to my car to eat some breakfast fuel, tune my bike, and kit up. I was a little nervous….maybe more than a little. I had not pre-ridden the course, and have had no formal mtb race “coaching”. A good friend and former racer called to say “Hey El – just get to the front before you hit the single track”. Right. Got it.
Around 8:15 I made my way over to the starting area to warm up and try to figure out the “protocol”. There were a couple of other women’s teams represented with groups of 6 to 8 women, including WMBA of Colorado Springs and the Dirt Divas. Our sleeveless DIVAS kit definitely stood out in the crowd!
We rolled at 9:00 am, in a neutral pack for ½ mile until we reached the State Park guard shack where we started to race. After the timer at the shack, the front of the pack started to push. A tiny single-speeder in my category raced at least 50 yards ahead, while me and three others jockeyed for a clean opening. We began passing the back of the men’s XC pack, and they shouted out “Go get it, girls!”. I pulled away on a hill, and turned onto the dusty, broken shale single track in 2nd place.
Immediately, I learned about passing on the singletrack – it can ruin your race. I think the universe knew I had to get the nerves out of my system. On my first pass attempt, I got hung up in some cactus and went over the handlebars. I quickly jumped back into the trail, cut off a few racers, and made a push for the climb ahead. I thought to myself, “Well, you’ve gotten your first wreck out of the way, so just relax and ride”.
Twisting, turning, dusty, crowded and fast: after only a couple of miles, racers were backed up in a narrow climb over shale ledges. I was faster on my feet, so I ran up the shale with my bike on my shoulder, and got back into the chase at the top. I hung onto second place until mile 7 when I was passed by a woman in the 40-49 category.
I had decided not to wear a Camelbak because I wanted to be lighter. So I had one bottle in one cage, which I had planned to refill at the aid. I reached down to grab a drink, and the carbon cage spun around, and flew off into the sage brush. Great. Now what? Approaching a technical turn, I had two choices: pull off and put the bottle in my jersey pocket (which would have been the equivalent of turning my race into a ride) OR throw the bottle into the sage, and deal with thirst at the mile 10 Aid Station. It took a nano-second to decide to chuck the water. I was a little flustered and little thirsty, and got passed by three women in my category, figuring that I had lost my chance for a top spot. I kept pushing, and realized that my lack of technical expertise was really affecting my time. Note to self: schedule DIVAS clinics. But every time the trail opened up into a straight dirt track, I gained on the riders in front of me. At mile 9, I picked off one of the girls that had passed me. Blowing into the Aid Station, I saw the other one ahead of me in a long, gradual climb. Another nano-second decision: I blew the Aid with only a small gulp, and chased down the third place position, catching and passing her at the crest of the hill. We battled each other for the remaining 12 miles: me slightly faster, her slightly more hydrated.
The second half of the race dumps you into more technical canyons, and steep punchy climbs on the Roller Coaster trail. I hike-a-biked at least three times, took water off a couple racers resting on the side of the trail, and kept pushing. My nemesis passed me in a steep rocky climb where I ate dirt and bloodied my elbow. Around two more turns, I came up on her and she was off her bike. She had lost her saddle! Ha! Me with no water…her with no seat. We had five miles of single track left.
I popped out at the top of the last punchy climb onto a wide dirt double track, and hit the big ring for a push to the finish line. Blood running down my arm, race bib hanging on by one tie strap, drive train dirty and noisy, and mouth drier than the Pueblo desert, I rolled in for third place at 2 hours and 8 minutes.
I shook hands and guffawed with the winner who said, “Good race…I wish I had your kit”.
And so, girls, we put the DIVAS on the podium in our first mountain bike race of the season. Let’s go get it!!