On Sunday I traveled to Poinsett State Park in Wedgefield, South Carolina for the first race of the Southern Classic Series. The race is called “The Knot,” and is 24 miles of flowy singletrack with plenty of twists and turns to make it live up to its name. The conditions were great, and though sandy, the trails were dry and fast. There were 6 women racing Cat 1/Pro, and it was a surprisingly chilly morning as we lined up on the start. When the official said “go,” I pushed up to the front with another racer, Sarah Griffith. She beat me at the same course last year, so I followed her wheel onto the trail to let her set the pace. Four of us pulled away from the rest of the group, and about 4 miles in, I found an opportunity to pass the leader and make an attack. I pedaled hard to try to increase the gap between myself and Bonnie, who was the rider that followed me. Bonnie is also on my open team, JA King, so it was fun to see her and to race with a fellow teammate. After a couple miles, I couldn’t see anyone behind me but had no way of knowing how far back the rest of the racers were. Around mile 11, Sarah came back out of nowhere, and was right on my wheel. I am always impressed with her steady strength in races, and struggled to stay in the lead as we came around for the second lap.
At mile 13, barely into the second lap, I reached for some Hammer Gel in my pocket to regain some calories and keep up my energy. This took my focus away from the trail a bit, and Sarah went for the pass. I increased my cadence to keep up, but she was gaining a larger and larger gap. Though I had dropped back into second, I didn’t want to be caught and slip into third, so I pushed harder to the finish so I wouldn’t be passed again. With one mile to go, I rounded the corner and could see Sarah up the trail again. A nice single speed racer let me pass him to try to catch her, but it was a tough chase. My heart rate climbed to 200bpm as I strained to close the gap, but Sarah reached the bridge and the final sprint as I was just rounding the last corner. Though we finished less than a minute apart, she had a well deserved win and I was pleased with second place. I was excited to race with these strong women again, and thanks to my coach with CTS, I feel much faster and more prepared for this season. I’ll be interested to see how the next race will go, but it was a challenging and fun start for this year with JA King!