Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Halpatiokee Park - Stuart, FL CC #6 (Feb 26th)

The moment we arrived at the park this amazing feeling of tranquility overwhelmed me.
It was so quiet, peaceful, almost serine.  You hardly could see any people around and were surrounded by vast of greenery, so pure, so untouched, like almost no human took a step on this land.

My husband Pax and our friend Wally and I were very lucky to meet up with some local bikers and were able to experience the course together. First impression was, wow, this is different, it is very flat here and twisty and the path is so small that your legs are being constantly brushed by the shrubbery. Those were wild Florida berries! Who would even know we have them! Later on those berries were ones to thank for my green socks during the race… :)

We followed the leaders and had a lovely time, weather was so perfect with a cool front coming through and a nice strong breeze which did put grasses to play and make a beautiful sound. I didn’t know the trails nor where to go, but what I knew and remembered were the turns and forks with the most amazing wildflowers waiting for me on the trail. I wanted to stop and photograph them so much, but I couldn’t as I had riders with me and the task on hand which was to pre-ride the course and get as familiar with it as possible. There was no time to spare…

The race morning was cool again and the whole sky was covered by thick layer of grey clouds. There was not one sun ray that was going to come out that day.  I think I might like that; well fine I would love it. Perfect race conditions for me. I wish that my start that day was perfect too, but this didn’t happen.

We are all in line and the race director announces 10 seconds to the start. I started timer on my bike computer and was making quick final adjustments when… Oh no the gun went off. I raised my head and the other girls started pedaling. I jumped as quickly as I could to find my right foot dangling in the air; it unclipped on me or was never properly clipped in the first place. I clipped in and jetted as fast as I could. I did catch up on the big u turn with some girls and was making the turn when my foot unclipped again! I pushed my foot in once again and started gaining speed. I was 5th while I supposed to be in the top 3 from the gate. I had a girl in front of me that I was approaching fast and needed to pass badly. I just mentioned her name with a strong voice making her aware of my presence. The pass went smoothly and I started to pedal even harder to catch up with Melissa right in front of me going into the right turn. We were still on the grass and everyone was in agony, it was 0.3 miles long with a tall grass start with a bunch of turns that was just really hard and miserable. I pushed hard and got even more momentum, we were about to go through the gate when Melissa went through a little path right next to it. I had to go the same way but I had to squeeze my brakes so I didn’t hit her while going through this tight section. This gave her a little gap and I had to catch up again. I was trying once more to get in to the sticks before her and she got in just milliseconds before me since I had no space to squeeze in. I settled behind her and all was going good, but she kept going faster and faster and gaining some distance on me.

With time I noticed Melissa catching up with Evelyn, which was currently in second position.  Very shortly, she was sitting on her wheel and I was very closely observing the situation. We all were approaching the fun section of the park that is mostly flat with a few nice climbs and descents. I heard Melissa telling Evelyn to speed up so she can make the hill and don’t affect everyone’s ride. Then they started communicating about the pass. I figured if Evelyn will let her pass now I need to be there too for it, since on the end of the race I cannot be separated from Melissa by anyone. This would be the worst case scenario for me to finish 4th with Evelin 3rd and Melissa 2nd. That would mean with this one race I would give away my chance for 1st overall in the whole series. At this point Melissa was still 3rd in overall standings. Bunch of things went through my head and after quick math I sped up as fast as I could.

After first big hill we went into the berm and approached another longer climb where you bike on the ridge with one single path with drops on both sides. This is definitely a no passing zone here and Evelyn still didn’t let Melissa pass. So it was the trio of us on the ridge one by one in same order while we approached a final super-fast decent. We all flew, Evelyn right, Melissa, right, well I’m going to the left than since there was an optional path. I took it and allowed my momentum to carry me as far as I could, than I stood up and added some fire to my pedals, I was getting closer, I stood up one more time and could see and hear helmets on the right of me in the sticks, they were right next to me. I pushed even harder and flew back to the path for the next climb right in front of Melissa and Evelyn! Oh yeah. I heard Melissa yelling from the back “Beata, such a clever pass!” with a complement in her tone. I was so energized that I just flew next sets of hills, flew like the wind and I was gone. I managed to get away very far that I could not see or hear both girls and felt quite safe with my position. But after a while on the part of the trail near all the lakes I could hear fast wheels approaching. I sped up but they got closer, I sped up again but they got even closer. I looked back to confirm and yes It was Melissa, finally she passed the other girl and caught up with me and I said “Hi Melissa” she said “Hi”. LOL. All this trouble and we were both together again. Nothing comes easy in life. I did slow down and we both relaxed for a little, we took it easy for a minute or so and exchanged some thoughts. But it was a race and we had to compete so I started gaining speed and there we went through the twisty single track battling each other once more. When we did come out on the grassy stretch in between the trails I had to stand up and push, since I could just hear Melissa switching the gears and trying to go faster. So she goes faster and I go faster, I go faster and she goes faster and we go back to the trails again. And we repeated it again and again until the last straight to the finish of the first lap when I heard once again on my right, click, click, and click. Oh she is again on me…

2nd Place CC#6
We gave each other no rest. We crossed finish and the big loop and were starting the second lap when I decided to grab nutrition. Melissa just zoomed by me, she looked just one more time to confirm what I was doing and took off. I told myself I had to do what I had to do even if it causes me to sacrifice some time. So I was playing around with my Clif Gel and trying to don’t allow a gap to widen too much. I think I managed to be some 10 seconds behind when I finally finished the gel. It was time to go again, and I started to play the catch up game once more, to find Melissa on the side of the dark rooty trail working on her bike. I asked what happened and she said that she dropped her chain. I knew she would be back on the bike in the matter of seconds and I biked away. I biked and biked and biked as hard as I could. I think I saw her at one point behind me and told myself I didn’t want to repeat scenario from the first lap when she was back on my wheel after my awesome escape. So I pushed and pushed some more. It was not an easy ride. I did not know anymore the gap nor from Melissa nor from girl in front of me. It was just me against myself at that time and it took a lot of self-talk and reasoning. I knew I wanted to win the series not by points but by deserving it, by winning the race and being faster than my rivals. At some point I heard someone yelling that I was some 30 seconds from the leading Duffy in front.
But at this time for me it was not about that since I was going as hard as I could and still was trying to get back to the finish safe. This place was not to be taken lightly with Saw Palmetto trunks crossing the path or hiding under the big sharp leaves on the corners that you could hit anytime while not paying attention. One racer crossed the finish line running with his bike in his arms and whole derailleur was hanging off the bike completely torn off. I didn't want to share this faith. I noticed the harder I went the more mistakes I was making and it stopped to feel right, so there had to be a balance implemented.
I calmed myself down and rode strong and steady and when I finally got to the last stretch before finish I was still pushing. I didn’t give myself second to spare, I gave it my all. I heard my husband yelling to me “Good Job Bebes” while I was approaching the finish, still speeding and even passing a guy from the different class before entering the gate. It was battle to the end. I was second, one minute after Duffy that took the win and a minute ahead of Melissa. The rest of the girls were some 10 minutes behind. Oh it felt so good, so good to be done, so good to ride my best.

I congratulated Duffy who was waiting for us on the finish line and Melissa when she crossed.

We all did great today and pushed each other to the limits. We battled like tigers while on the course but are great friends while off the trail and this is awesome that we better each other in such a competitive and friendly way.

Now everyone had little time to spare and relax while waiting for the whole South Florida Series presentation. I managed to bike away for a while and just explore the park in the slower pace. I found a friendly turtle (very friendly with my husband :-)) and a lonely wildflower, one of many.

One day I would love to return there when I have time to just enjoy the scenery and stop and just absorb this beautiful place. Bring my camera gear and take some nice pictures of this amazing park.

With all being said I got the 1st in overall standings. This was great reward for all the hard work that I did put in the recent months. If felt good to stand there.  Even for this short moment.

1st Place Coconut Cup Series

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