Fresh off her double championship weekend at the US Nationals, Chloe Woodruff lets us in on her journey towards the biggest race of the year – and how she came through with flying colors.
By : Chloe Woodruff
RACING & WINNING
While I touched on the topics of preparation, mental discipline, and how important it is to have a good coach in Part I, here’s my account of how the race played out.
There were a number of factors that played into my favor on race day, and this is what I call ‘luck’ because I don’t really have a better term to use. Those factors were primarily 1) Mammoth 2) the wind and 3) Lea having an off day.
First, I’ll talk about Mammoth Mountain. There’s a whole lot of history of the sport pedaled into this particular mountain. But personally I have history there too. In 2004, I traveled with my Boulder-based Y-Riders crew to Mammoth for my first National Championships. I learned how to lean my bike and slalom from Gene Hamilton in my first skills clinic. And I won my first Junior Expert Cross-Country (XC) title on a frame that was built (and glued together) in 1996. What made that bike really cool is that it had a pair of Sue Haywood’s old race wheels. Then I went back in 2005 for Nationals on a road trip with my twin sister. Neither of us remembers much from that particular stop of our 6,000 mile road trip together but I did double up that weekend with another Junior Expert XC title and a win in the Expert Short Track. So I have some good juju at Mammoth. And it’s up at a high elevation which seems to be good for me.
The second lucky factor on race day was the wind; we were blasted with a headwind on most of the climbing section of the course. This played into my experience as I realized the race could be pretty tactical in the end. The wind also added some dynamic to the otherwise straightforward (ride up, pedal down) race format. It was another added element that I thought made the race exciting. I liked the wind.
The third lucky factor is that most of us (I assume) considered Lea to be the rider to beat at Nationals. She’s worn the Stars & Stripes for the past two years and just came off of a career-best result. So it was definitely a surprise that she wasn’t in the mix, but it also opened the door a little bit and really changed the racing dynamics
HOW DID THE RACE PLAY OUT?
The cross-country race came down to a two-up sprint between me and Erin Huck on the last lap. While we came into the finishing straightaway with less than a second in-between us, the deciding sprint really happened before the final downhill singletrack.
Erin was on fire that day attacking the climbs like she was the rider to beat—it was awesome. She had me on the defensive through most of the race. Every time I felt like I had the legs to go, I’d second guess myself and not-go. That usually isn’t me. But that was also me thinking about how I could win the race and I knew I needed to hang with Erin up the climbs to give myself a chance. And I can honestly say I’ve never dug deeper before in a race than I did the final time up the steepest pitch of the climb. Erin attacked and it felt like she was trying to rip my lungs out and my legs off. I’m not even sure that section of climb was more than a minute, but it felt like a dozen. I kept telling myself that if I could hang on, I could win. It was like I made a deal with myself and somehow that worked. Once we crested that steep pitch, there were a few seconds of descending (and recovery) before we went up again but this time the grade was less and it was windy—that helped. Once we started descending, I knew exactly where I was going to pass: on the very last open fire road section. There was plenty of room—it’d be a drag race. And I did it. In my head, that’s where I won the race. I still had a rough descent to navigate but there weren’t any passing opportunities so it was just a matter of staying smooth and keeping-it-together. Erin stayed right on my wheel the whole way down and I led out the sprint.
The bargain worked: I won the National Championship.
PHOTO GALLERY : BILL FREEMAN