Monday, March 10, 2014

Specialized Southeastern Regional Championship (SERC) # 1 - Santos "Vortex" Trails - Ocala, FL

It was the most technical and demanding course on the whole race circuit.

But racing it was so much fun and if anyone would ask me to do it all over again tomorrow I would be there in a heartbeat.

I enjoyed this race greatly and had really amazing time on those insane Vortex trails.

Santos Park is just a gem that keeps on getting better. We need more places like this around the state!

Women Pro/Expert - 4th place

After a strong effort I managed to be only 40s and 1 minute back to the third and second place all of whom were Pro or former Pro riders. I'm very proud of myself on how I raced and how I managed this extremely demanding course with such a stacked field of skilled riders.

I only wish that lap count was not voted down to 3 laps from the scheduled 4, since I feel I was gaining on the podium ladies and the final lap was very detrimental on the final results.
But again, I have no regrets and had an incredible race.

Small video from the race:

Also nice video by Jane of one of the rock gardens:

Our First trip with the New Black and Chrome Kuat NV Rack.Go ahead and get yours...

Onto the story....
I love coming back to Ocala…

There is so much going on over here, vast open terrain designated purely for one purpose; riding and playing on a bike. There is a little bit of everything for anyone here, from free riding off cliff drops for the brave souls, to the BMX type jumps and tracks, to insanely technical MTB trails and also those less demanding, but fast, swooshy and so enjoyable single tracks. It’s a huge forest with nice elevation changes which we don’t find easily in the state. All of the terrain is covered with massive oak trees, moss covered boulders and wild Yellow Jessamine vines all over the place dripping beautiful bell shaped flowers on the biking path. Not sure if there can be anything better than that. Plus all of the man-made crazy features like giant wall rides or even bigger ramps like Cork Screw you can find in the park.

Now add in a weekend long Fat Tire Festival and also our SERC series race and you have more than a perfect get away surrounded by nature and bike enthusiasts.

I was very excited driving up to the park, not knowing how the course would be setup but I was certain that it was going to be fun and tough at the same time.

To make things even more exciting I had my brand new custom LG kit waiting for me in the hotel to be picked up. I couldn’t simply wait and we drove over to the hotel first before heading to the park. It was the perfect race to open my new season in my new kit. The design came out so beautiful that I could not ask for anything more than that, I’m so happy and thankful for the amazing work the LG Team put in to create this awesome outfit!

Also it was our first trip with just fresh from the factory gorgeous Black and Chrome Kuat NV Rack which not only looks stealthy but also performs as such!

Also I’m so happy to have all my sponsors and supporters featured on my outfit as well and I’m very thankful for everyone believing in me and being a part of this amazing journey with my racing.

Thank you! Now only thing I had left besides looking fast was to race fast but more about that in a second!

When we arrived at the park it was beautiful and sunny and the trails were just waiting for us. I put on my beautiful outfit and we were off. We had our friend Jonathan accompany us on the pre-ride. I found out quick that the first 2.5 miles were smooth and fast. But that was about to change quickly with the moment we had to pop a wheelie to go over a massive rock eliminator to get to the Vortex trails. This is where things got very interesting right from the start and this whole section of ultra-technical 3 miles was ran in the opposite direction to what I rode here year ago.

I loved this course but the constant sharp and steep pitches, turns, rocks, log overs and drops were extremely taxing and not for the faint hearted. It got even better on the second part of the Vortex system where rock gardens - this time massive ones - and riding on the edge of the cliffs were part of the course. This is where I really took my time to scrutinize those sections, more than I normally would.  I knew that all the little details and possible mistakes here could be strong deciding factors in the final results.

After lots of patience from my husband Pax and our company Jonathan I was able to tackle everything that was out there. I was happy but wished I had more time on those amazing trails.

After our ride we visited the expo on the other side of the park where the Fat Tire Festival and Specialized Demo was going on. But the day was heading towards the end and the sun was already low and temperatures were dropping quickly so we headed to the hotel.

Tonight we were changing time to the spring daylight savings time which I really do not like at all and it would mean one hour less sleep and getting up when it is still dark. Brrr.

And as predicted it was dark, quite cold and moist on this Sunday morning. Early dew was sitting on leaves which were covering the ground. Faint sun rays were trying to warm up the cold and sleepy terrain. Dressed in nice warm jackets we went for the warm up. I could feel the frigid air getting through my gloves to my fingers putting them in cold and a little painful state. But by the time we all conglomerated on the start line the sun was much higher now and it felt very comfortable.

While all the ladies did line up on the start we were offered to vote for 3 or 4 laps. I was hoping for 4 but had a feeling that majority would vote for less, not to my surprise by just one vote we were set to race only 3 laps which I felt would put me in a disadvantage.

I was relaxed, calm and Dave announced “10 seconds” to go, I started my GPS and was ready.
The moment we took off once again I didn’t clip in properly and was watching ladies speeding away. But just seconds later I was good and quickly gained some lost ground and was even able to make a pass before heading to the single track.

We dipped down to the funnel like swoopy and fast trail system which comes out to be very enjoyable to race on and very soon I was gaining ground and making passes when possible on the riders ahead.

We were going so fast that I had at some point teary eyes which by the way were of course dressed with my racing glasses. I felt fresh and fast and at some point I got to the max speed reaching some 19.5-21.5 mph which is pretty good in my terms for riding in the trails. I was happy and had a clear view of a few girls in front and did catch up with Amy somewhere mid-way through this fast section. I stayed with her for a long time and felt that I could go even faster and finally on a sharp right turn she worked with me and allowed me to make a safe pass. I took off and this time the trail headed slightly uphill and was a little slower than the first part but minutes later I reached the rocky eliminator; the entrance to the Vortex trails.

This part, or a whole 3 miles of those trails are the meat of the meal and true happening place where most likely today’s results will be decided. I knew than any flaws and mistakes here will mean making or breaking the race. I was set to ride fast, strong, safe and within my limits at the same time. First part was very demanding and hitting us on an instant full of sudden and sharp hills and drops with close to impossible turns in the same moment. Step ups, wooden walls, narrow tracks filled out the scenery. This is where the legs are burning, arms are tense and your heart rate goes through the roof but at the same time you are trying to go as smooth as possible and as fast as you can. All of it is not easy and after a narrow almost 180 degree turn we were spilled to the free ride area just for half a minute tops and were pulled back to even a tougher single track.

This time around however we did hit the rocks right away. Rocky climbs, turns, descents, more climbs and we climbed to the top of the cliff. This is where we got an amazing view that you really don’t want to check out during your race of the free ride area below. The path is so narrow and drop off is so tall that mistakes here would be quite costly. Also a mountain wall is right on your shoulder and big boulders stick out into an already narrow path. Here you kind of need to do the opposite to what your logic tells you and stay far left very close (inches) of the cliff in order not to hit the rock on the right. But your mind and your bike just steers you to the right and on my second lap I got clipped by the rock and had to regain balance quickly while riding right there on the complete edge. The trail opened up once more to another drop off and then we headed to the next part with another nice wall ride and numerous rock gardens. When I was approaching the first set of boulders this is where I had Duffy right in front of me trying to get through the rocks. I was right there just inches away and after the rocks I had to make a quick pass, since only 15 feet later we were heading into the longest and most intimidating rock garden.  I focused, opened my mind, took a deep breath and started riding it.

I was not fast but rock by rock I was able to get through the section while listening to the quick footsteps of Duffy right behind me who chose to run the section. Seconds later there was another set of big rocks and then another rock over and right away another one. The path did clear for a quick while but shortly I approached another set of rocks, those this time were tall boulders on both sides of my bike and had a very narrow path to maneuver the 90 degree uphill turn at the same time. Even though I had no problem with this part before this time I had to happen to be too close to one of the rocks and got stuck on it and fell to my right while still clipped in. It was nothing big really but definitely did cost me some time.  Few more technical sections and we were spilled into the open reaching the shoot. I managed to handle the second lap as good as first one and felt like I was enjoying even more the fast parts of the course.

The technical parts went well and as predicted however this time around I had two guys in front of me while reaching the grainy rock garden and first of the riders just totally flew over his handlebars doing a scorpion like a stunt and not by the first choice both of us was forced to get off the bikes and run the section. Here goes more time. The course was so technical and so bumpy in all parts of the race that on the first lap I had even no chance to reach for the bottle. After time however I figured out the best spots to drink quickly and didn’t have an issue with it any longer. But the constant focus on the terrain kept me so occupied that I never looked down at my speed, lap time, cadence, and heart rate, really nothing. I remember glimpsing only once since I felt my heart rate belt was sliding off and was certain it would not record anything any longer, but when I looked down there was a reading, so that was good and it meant also I was alive!

And here goes lap three, the final opportunity to get closer to the first three ladies. This is where I was some 40 seconds back. I had some really fast, proven and skilled ladies in front but at the same time I felt great today and quite capable of catching and passing whoever was there in my way. I felt like an eagle on the fastest parts, little more tired on the uphill ones, tackled the technical as I did on the previous laps and now I was heading through the open to the final most demanding miles.

I was now 25-30 seconds back. Problem was that this section was going to favor more experienced riders and any little burp will change everything. I kept looking out for and I’m quite certain at some point while on a berm with a wall ride I saw finally the third rider. I had mixed feelings since I was so close but so far away and I was just about to reach all the rock gardens.  I sped up even more but when I got to the biggest rock garden for the third time my pedal caught on a rock and I was simply stuck. I was standing there in between rocks and not moving forward for probably a few seconds but it felt like an eternity, I could hear seconds just going by and I yelled at myself to wake up from this delirium rock hypnotizing zone “Beata, get off this bike!”. And I did, I jumped off and ran as quickly as I could to the bottom. Still hoping that I had some chance I cleared the rest of the course and was approaching the final narrow climb. Not to my luck there was an older man right there in the middle of it simply pushing his bike up. I was upset now, there was no were to go but to unclip and follow him and wait until he gets to the top. It hurt and when I was on the final stretch I had another guy just what seemed to be sightseeing while on his bike and once more right in the middle of the trail.

Obviously it was too late now for me to catch anyone since the finish line was right there, but still I didn’t feel like going half speed for the last few hundred feet, but was forced to.  I crossed the finish and was happy with how I rode. The announcer looked at me and said here is our third female rider, I thought for a second how great that would be but I quickly corrected him.

Unfortunately I finished in fourth and was only 40 seconds back from the podium. So far I always had some amazing performances and really crazy times and efforts during my SERC races but for some unknown reasons I always had been only one spot away from the podium. So here goes another one.

But knowing how strong my competition was today, how tough the course was, how nicely I went by riders that often overtake me on the race circuit and how close I was to the top riders; I think I should not have much to complain about and hope that one day this box is just going to wait for me.

Big congrats to Shelly Allen who flew today on this amazing track and was completely untouchable and it was great to see her performing so well and ride to her full potential. Also Sarah Hill who rides for American Classic and Kimberly Flynn a seasoned Pro rider raced today hard and were not bothered by the technical terrain. I was happy to hang so close to them during this demanding race. Also awesome performance today by all the ladies that raced and were brave enough to go to the start line and tackle whatever was waiting for them out on the trails.

Great job everyone who raced and finished on this beautiful course!

Big Thanks to all my support and to my husband Pax for everything.

Of course my life is easier, my bike is faster my body is stronger and my dreams are possible because of all my amazing Sponsors:

Bike Tech Miami, Syntace, Magura, Stan’s Notubes, Schwalbe, ESI Grips, Clif, Xpedo, Trainer Road, Garden of Life, Pro Gold Lubricants, Kuat Racks, Light & Motion, KT tape, Cycleops and New for 2014 - Specialized, Louis Garneau, Selle Italia, Suunto, Huub and Rotor Bike Components!

Until next time!

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