Women's Pro National Championship

So I said I would elaborate a bit on the women’s pro race. The course was the same as the marathon, except they were doing three laps to our seven/eight laps. There were two feed zones. I manned the first one for Jen Wilson and Dave, her husband manned the second for Jen, Dara, and a couple of other girls. This allowed everyone to have two bottles of water or mix a lap while only having to carry one at a time. Worked really well for them.

The course started with 200 yards or so of pavement, then a sharp turn and up through the feed zone as they hit the first climb of the day. To my non-racing readers, there’s generally two groups of racers in the women’s pro races. The one’s who are just getting started (or just aren’t improving) and the top 25 or so who are really good. Going through the feed zone, someone in that back group got tangled up with another rider and three rider’s went down. Jen had started on the last row, but had made it to mid-pack so she was literally just in front of the wreck. Everyone kept moving forward from there, so I don’t think that ended anyone’s day immediately. But what a way to crash out of the national championship… 45 seconds into the race and not out of sight of the start/finish line and someone falls into you.

Nearly 40 minutes passed and the two leaders came through. Willow and Heather (both Fisher riders) had got off of the front. The course had a lot of road sections where two riders could work together to get a sizeable gap on the rest of the field. At that point, barring any issues, I figured Fisher had a one two locked up. The other rider’s started coming through. Dara came through the line in 6th I believe. As she came through, she kept looking to the pits like she was looking for something. I was thinking “wait, the feed zone is on this side”. She was looking for her wheels. In the only rock garden in the whole course, she had pinched while in an attack off of the front with Heather.

I wanted to help, but within 30 seconds of her coming through the line I heard them announce “and here’s Jennifer Wilson of El Paso, Texas”. Whoa! Jen’s riding within a minute of Dara! I almost couldn’t believe it. A quick check over the fence back at the start/finish and sure enough, it was Jen with another racer hauling. She came through the feed zone, grabbed her water and I told her she was doing awesome. She had come through in eighth place! Dara, with the help of a few of the other guy’s working the pit had got her wheel swapped out and was back out on the course in ninth.

Saying I was excited for Jen is an understatement. The previous week, she had been in Deer Valley pretty bummed about another 22nd place finish. That was her 4th 22nd finish of the year - in four straight national races. She was consistently with the faster racers, but just not toward the top part of it. She came through the feed zone smiling and looking good on the bike. If your form’s good and your smiling during an XC race, watch out. Barring bad luck, you’re going to have a breakthrough race.

I immediately called Dave on his cell to let him know the progress at our end of the course. Dave’s the kind of guy that gets stoked, and he was. Now the waiting started for him. He had about 15 minutes before he saw anyone else come through and I had over 30 before the leaders would come back through again.

The racers that do the national series are a pretty tight group. It’s just like any of the fringe thing; or band of gyspies if you will. Everybody knows everybody if you show up a few times. Knowing Dave and Jen got me a lot of introductions the past two weeks, and one of the guys I met was Dusty Labarr (Tamarack), Georgia Gould’s fiance. He was working the feed zone a few yards down from me feeding Georgia.

The second time through, one rider came into the final straight in pink and blue. Heather was out in front without a team mate now. And chasing behind her, was Georgia! At the start finish line, Georgia was about 15 seconds back. At the end of the feed zone, about a minute’s worth of riding later, Georgia was sitting on Heather’s wheel. A few more rider’s came through. Dara had pulled in 4 riders and was up to 5th at this point. And still sitting in 8th was Jen. She came through the feed zone again, still smiling. The two riders in front of her were literally, right in front of her. Maybe 15 or 20 seconds off up the climb.

I called Dave again, to update him. I knew she had it in her to reel the girls in front of her up, now it was just a matter of having luck on her side.

I went down to the start/finish line and met up with Dusty. He was reduced to nearly biting his nails. Georgia’s raced pro for three years and has consistently had good finishes all season. Her best so far had been 4th and 2nd places in the Deer Valley XC and short track the week before. I don’t think he stood still for more than 5 seconds the entire 40 minutes after she went through the feed zone the last time. He called Dave a time or two to find out the result. She and Heather had gone through the second feed zone still together, neither showing any obvious signs of fatigue. When a rider finally appeared in the final stretch, it was Georgia. Dusty went over and hugged and kissed her, let her get on to the interviews and spent the next 15 minutes with a phone glued to his ear calling everyone :D

Now it was a waiting game for me to find out how Jen had done. Heather came in in second place, Mary McConneloug a favorite for the win and the defending national champ was in third. Then rolled in Dara. She’d broken her streak of 6th place finishes for the year and at the biggest race of the year. Had luck been on her side, she probably would have won. Next up was Sue Haywood. Then Jen came rolling in… 6th place at the national championship! She was so excited she was shaking. It was her best finish of the season, and the best finish of her career.

On the final climb of the day, she could see Shonny in front of her and she had Sue with her. Jen was climbing better than Sue, but told Sue to stay on her wheel and the podium was hers. Sue stuck to her wheel, and then out descended Jen for the 5th and final spot on the podium. As the excitement of an unbelievable race started to wear off, Jen started to reget the decision to encourage Sue, but I think it was an act that shows Jen for who she is, a true competitor that wants everyone she races against to do the best that they can.

There were a few other “local” (to me) riders at nationals too. Nina Baum (Bear Naked/Cannondale) had a horrible race as far as placing goes, but had a smile on her face every time I saw her. She ran into some bad luck on the course with mechanicals I believe. The times I saw her she was flying though. Shannon Gibson (Yeti) had a solid 13th finish despite not feeling good going into the race. She just keeps getting faster the older she gets.

Anyhow, that was my two hours at the women’s national championship. A fun way to spend a late Friday afternoon. Man, you know you’ve got it bad when you watch a pro XC race and consider it good fun. :)