Pretty. Fast. had a little contest to have women write about their racing experiences to win a $90 tune up from Village Cycle Center. Kelly Clark from Spider Monkey Cycling is our winner, and here is her story:
Last year, I was enjoying riding my fixed gear bike around the city and beyond, but as I got faster than my more casual friends, I had no one to ride with. I wanted to ride with people who could push me to be a better cyclist, so I started looking for different group rides and racing. I had heard about cyclocross, probably on The Chainlink, and it looked like fun, so I spectated at Jackson Park. I rode up there with Annette Stahelin, who is also racing in her first season this year.
Without knowing anyone, cyclocross looked like a blast. I walked around to various parts of the course and watched in awe as cyclists moved quickly through the grassy course, sometimes falling but they kept going. My favorite part to watch was the barriers. It was interesting to see the different skill levels of people dismounting and mounting and how they moved over the wood planks secured upright with metal rods. Some seemed to lose no speed at all, and looked like they flew right back onto their saddle. Others slowed to almost a complete stop. There were a lot of different teams with colorful tents and jerseys. I wanted to ask someone questions, but was too shy.
Shortly after that, The Chainlink had a post about a Q&A event for women curious about racing. Vanessa Buccella and some girls from Spidermonkey Cycling got Kristen Meshberg (Cat 1 and awesome) to come and answer questions. I met a lot of people at that event, but I talked to Vanessa Schilling about the Spidermonkey team and started thinking about joining them.
In November I bought a cyclocross bike from Marcus at Yojimbos (With a different set of tires, this bike would also be used as my road bike), and in December I signed up with the Spidermonkeys. I rode with them indoors at Vision Quest, and when it warmed up a bit I started doing some group road rides.
I signed up for the Gapers Block criteriums at the end of March. I had heard this was a safe course to do your first race, and you could get a lot of practice if you went all five days! So that Monday, and each day after that, I hustled home from work to grab my car and get down to Calumet Park.
It was cold and windy. When I arrived, I saw girls riding up and down the streets of the park, warming up. I wouldn’t have time to do the same. I layered my wool commuter clothes under my jersey, grabbed my license and got my number. Some familiar faces were there – Kristi Hanson and Katie Isermann. I met Ellen Ryan, who was also doing her first race. We both felt pretty nervous. Right before the race, we were allowed to do a practice lap. This would serve as my warm up. The course was basically a rectangle. There were three corners. The middle of the lap ran along the lakefront, where the wind gusted hard.
At the start line I met some more ladies. One girl was having trouble getting clipped in to her pedal, so a guy came out and helped her. I was expecting the start to be blazing fast, with no time to think, and was a little surprised how it seemed slow. I guess you can’t get from 0 to 20mph in one second, right? Around the first corner, I was scared to turn near others, so I pedaled as fast as I could to get away from them. I stayed to the outside and somehow ended up towards the front, but that didn’t last for long. Around each corner I fell back a little further, until I saw the main pack pull away from me entirely. I settled into a place where I was basically chasing the pack. I was riding by myself, but I did not want to get lapped. After this first race, a girl from Half Acre who was volunteering point out that I was on the outside of the course the whole time, which was adding distance to each lap I rode. It made perfect sense, but I hadn’t thought of that in the excitement of the race. One my way home, I got a call from Vanessa Buccella to see how my first race went, she wasn’t able to make it. How awesome is that?
It was important to me to complete all five races, because I wanted the practice, and I wanted it as a benchmark to compare my improvements to next year. All five races I fell off the pack, so it was always my goal to not get lapped. My fear of riding close to people would take some time to conquer. Corners were especially scary!
Some of the girls I met that week have become good friends throughout this year – from my team and other teams. And the support was amazing. It was really cold each day, so basically only people directly involved were there, and the races were relatively quiet (especially compared to the yelling I heard at cyclocross). But some of the guys would stick around after their races and cheer everyone on. The Half Acre volunteers would yell encouraging words as you went by. Girls would talk to you during the race and give suggestions to help you out.
I went back to school and didn’t have much time for road racing this year, but I’ve been racing cyclocross pretty diligently this season. I’m not great, but I don’t think I’m awful either. (Turns out, no one is ever “awful”, and everyone gets cheered on). The community is fantastic and it’s a lot of fun to ride as fast as you can. I’m looking forward to seeing how I can do in the Half Acre/Gapers Block Crits next year!
Kelly is 30, has raced road and cyclocross, and rides for Spidermonkey Cycling. When she’s not turning down hand ups, she works as a graphic designer, studies computer programming, and enjoys baking, baseball and beer.