The 2017 Florida Cup was merged with the kick-off event of the 2017 Southeast Regional Championship series by Gone Riding. For Floridians, that meant they could win a USAC State Championship title in a one-day race, and for the rest of the racers it meant they had to fight with those chasing a title in order to obtain the most points possible for the Overall SERC Standings.
Not only did the best mountain bike racers of Florida come out to play, but we also got a chance to see some unfamiliar faces in our not-so-Flatland grounds. Haile’s Trails Mountain Bike Trails offer some of the steepest, technical, and most unconventional mountain biking trails in Florida. It features very tight switchbacks that come up when you’re just starting to catch some good speed in flowy sections, forcing us to grab a handful of brakes and have to quickly find that perfect gear to make it across rooty obstacles or punchy climbs. I don’t think I can truly achieve to explain how technical this trail is, but let’s just say 100% focus is needed to not have to put a foot down in the middle of the race, which can cost racers a significant amount of seconds to get back into the flow of the trail. To me, it meant I had to focus on making sure I cleared every climb as efficiently as possible, clear the trail obstacles as smoothly as possible, stay in the right gear at all times to avoid snapping my chain, and keep my head straight while having a very high Heart Rate for the duration of my race. All of this, while chasing, or being chased by, the fastest female elite racers in Florida racing in the Cat 1/Pro Open Women’s class. Phewwwwwwww, I think I just felt my breathing rate increase a tad bit while typing this.
Getting hooked once again!
This trail is open only a couple of times a year for events like the Florida Cup or a round of the Florida State Championship, so it is not considered anyone’s “home course”, giving no one any trail knowledge ahead of time to practice. Gone Riding also changes the layout of the race courses every time, so we are always surprised with a new direction or an entirely new section of trail unknown to everyone. In the recent past, this trail became one of my least favorites because the race courses contained so much double-track normally used by off-road motorcycles that it didn’t quite feel like a MTB race to me. I was sad it had taken that turn because when I first raced this course in 2012 in my Base/Cat 3 phase of racing, its challenging and technical appeal was what got me even more hooked on racing. Surprisingly, the course this time around was nearly all Singletrack with just a couple of open sections.
Burnin’ them matches…
After a 30 minute warm-up, I headed toward the Start Line and found my competitors. We lined up, the race promoter blew the whistle and off we go into a short, all-out 30 second sprint into the woods. It is always so important to get a good position in the trails while racing in Florida. We often have very few places to make a pass on a rival, and it’s always worth burning a few matches on that initial sprint. Though I was pleased to be the 4th rider in the woods, I was positioned directly behind a lady I have never raced against before, so I didn’t know how her handling skills would be or what her strengths were. I kept a little distance between us to make sure I wouldn’t be a victim of any yo-yo’ing, but stayed close enough because I could tell she could rip it quite nicely through the flowy singletrack.
I had just started to feel like we were settling into a nice flow, when I noticed the racer in front of me was struggling with something in her drive-train and completely slowed down. Later I found out she dropped her chain, so she pulled over to fix it and I found myself in 3rd position within minutes of the first lap. Now there was a long enough gap between the two leaders and myself that I could see them, but I would have to really have to put out a major effort to catch them. With the wind straight in my face in the open fields, and knowing that the chances of me staying with them were very slim, I quickly shifted my focus to holding on to that 3rd place with all I had to put out on this race. I had three women behind me chasing, and I know they were doing all they could to catch me, so I had to make sure I executed my plan perfectly in order to keep my place for all three laps. And I did.
I cleared every obstacle, conquered every steep climb and keep the pace high just the way I hoped to do. One of my goals was to clear everything without putting my foot down a single time, especially on that third lap. And I did, with exception of one punchy climb where I found a human taking videos of the racers on my second lap. Of course someone catches a video of me messing up. It’s my luck! However on that third lap, I was yelling and screaming and celebrating with myself because I was finally LOVING racing at Haile’s Trails again.
Huge THANK YOU to Michael for helping me dial in my racing equipment to perfection for this course, to Alex’s Bicycle Pro Shop for their continued support, and to my coach Drew Edsall/MTB Fitness for challenging me physically and mentally. To all of you who cheered me on, you are amazing!
The biggest shout out goes to my friend Shelly Allen for coming out to cheer all of the MTB Chicks on the race course today. Throughout the race I saw her in several areas of the course cheering me on and motivating me to keep pushing hard. THANK YOU!!! (FYI: Shelly has an online store for handmade jewelry made with recycled bicycle parts. She can also custom make any piece. Shop Bike Life Wear here.
What is next?
Next for me is the second round of the SERC series in Bryson City, NC at the Tsali MTB Trails on April 2nd, 2017.