Modesto MTB Match – 02/18/2023 – Gabbie Walmsley

Photo by  Jack O’Neal

When I looked at the race schedule this year, I was glad to see that we would be racing at Modesto first. Last year, it was last, and the day had been an adventure, from the scorching heat to the wind and dust. While the course had been fun and fast, it was not the most pleasant day. This year’s earlier visit to the venue would hopefully mean good weather, and if we were lucky, less wind. 

The week before the race, call-ups were released. I saw that I was ranked as eleventh and was in call-up group A. This both gave me confidence and nerves, especially since any new riders were not ranked. That whole week leading up to it, I could not stop thinking about the race. I began overanalyzing who I could beat and who I would have to race alongside. Every time I thought about the race I felt this surge of adrenaline and anxiety. I looked at the people ranked ahead and behind me. I was expecting Kalu from Berkeley to beat me, and probably by a lot. However, Ruby, another one of my friends on the Berkeley team, worried me. Last year, I’d beat her by a lot every race, but she rode almost every day over the summer, and good rides too, with solid elevation gain and mileage. I had only just returned to the team as basketball season had just ended. She had put way more time in than I had. My time trial was still faster, but that still didn’t qualm my fears. It was still close enough to be a threat. 

It was a similar situation with some of my teammates in the same category, who had even closer time trials. I was worried about them, because they had been riding and doing spin class for a couple months now. They had made a lot of progress and were doing really well, which is great (YALL ARE KILLING IT OUT THERE!!), but I was also scared of them. The only thing I had on them was race experience and having ridden the course more, and maybe a little bit of speed. However, being ranked eleventh also gave me some confidence. I recognized riders from last year and I thought I had a decent shot at still beating the people who had been ranked lower. I also knew, and hoped, that most of the new riders from other teams probably wouldn’t be as fast. Of course, there would be some outliers, but I would have to deal with that. I spent the entire week before the race thinking about what my plan was as well as overthinking every rider around the same speed as me. 

Finally, after much anticipation, my mom and I were driving up to the race. I didn’t go to school because I knew it would not be worth it. We left a little earlier, but we ended up getting stuck in a lot of traffic at some point. We eventually arrived at the race venue. I was still a little early, and I was the first one there from our team, but some of my teammates arrived shortly. Yoann and I looked for our assigned team PitZone area, and were excited to discover that it was right next to the NorCal league tents and the start chute. After more people arrived, Meredith, Edda, and I went to the GrIT tent to look for the rumored free stuff. I didn’t get anything, but it was still a nice gesture from NorCal. 

The pre-ride began a little late, but it worked out fine. The course was the same as last year, with a few very minor changes. I was startled by the train’s horn (or honk, like a car??? I’m blanking on what it is called) and I made a mental note about that, so if I heard it during the race, I wouldn’t be startled. After the pre-ride, a group of us went back to the berm-y section at the beginning to get some extra practice in. 

Then it was time to go to the hotel. When my mom and I arrived, we brought everything upstairs, including my bike, which was a welcome adventure to fit in the elevator with all the suitcases. It was especially hard because after a certain amount of time, the elevator would just close, even if someone was standing in the way, which usually can be prevented. My mom and I actually ended up getting separated for a minute because the elevator just kept closing even though she was standing there, and she had to quickly jump back. That was interesting. Anyway, we eventually got everything up into our room, and I decided to take a quick shower before dinner. However, the water pressure was so low that it took awhile to wash my hair, and I was a little bit late to dinner. 

By the time I was dressed and got downstairs, almost all the food had been eaten. We were supposed to have another few boxes on the way, but they were still a good fifteen minutes out. I was super hungry, and luckily, Annika had an extra meatball she didn’t want, and there were a few breadsticks left to hold me over. When the second set of food arrived, I got some more meatballs and was fine. We all washed our dishes (Even Yoann, which was a pleasant surprise) and then the team meeting started. We talked about our goals. I set the goal to finish in the top ten, as I was ranked eleventh, and to beat my time from last year and therefore have a higher average speed. 

The team meeting finished around 8:30pm, leaving us around thirty minutes to mess around in the pool. I didn’t bring my swimsuit as I planned to shower before the team meeting. I had a great time goofing off and talking with my friends in the pool though. I sat on the chair thing that can be lowered into the pool. Eventually, I got cold and rolled up my jeans and dipped my feet in. We were having a great time, perhaps too great of a time, because at 9:00pm, no one wanted to get out. It was only after much urging from Edda (team captain) and myself that they got out around 9:20pm. I headed to bed. 

The next morning, I woke up at 5:45am. I knew that it would take me fifteen minutes to even convince myself to get up, and then from there, I could get ready pretty quickly. I pulled on my race gear and packed all my stuff, and was almost ready at 6:45am, the only things I needed to do being eat breakfast and put everything into the car. However, my mom had some unexpected health issues, which I won’t go into, but delayed our leaving time by a lot. We couldn’t leave until around 7:45am. While she was dealing with that, I loaded our stuff into the car. I had to wait a little longer for her to finish what she needed to do, and then we were ready to head out. I still hadn’t had breakfast, so on the way out, I grabbed a warm cinnamon roll, which was delicious. 

I arrived at the race venue at 8:00am. I don’t remember much between arrival and my race warm up, but I did cheer on the varsity boys through their laps with friends. I also went on the course a bit early to do a few laps around the turn-y and berm-y section with a group of people. 

As I began warming up, I could feel my anxiety increase. I didn’t have the strongest warm up and I didn’t feel very strong. I didn’t feel like I could truly push my body as strong as I would need to, especially since I wanted to have a sprint finish where I would totally gas myself, regardless if I was around people. In no time at all, we were lining up and the announcer was counting down. I started my Garmin and we were off. 

The first lap was stressful. I wanted to work my way up and build a lead for a bit, and maybe find someone to draft. I was going ~80% the whole time, and I was worried I would burn myself out. Meredith passed me a little over halfway through the lap, and I decided that I would keep pace with her and another girl who was near us. However, we began encroaching on the back of the JV Girls pack. Meredith and the other girl managed to pass a couple of riders who weren’t going super fast, but when I went for the pass attempt, we hit the two-way section of the trail. There were riders on the other side, and I lost a bit of time having to go a bit slower than my ideal pace since I couldn’t pass. Meredith and the other girl continued to build their lead and passed with seeming ease, while I got stuck behind some JV Girls a couple more times. I finished the lap surprisingly feeling pretty good.

The second lap was more interesting. I kept up my ~80% pace and effort, and had more fun through the beginning section as I had more space to go faster and ride the berms. Near the beginning of the Feed Zone, I saw Meredith off her bike and on the ground. I yelled to ask if she was alright, but I couldn’t hear her answer. I didn’t stop at the Feed Zone, but I saw Ally and some coaches and let them know. Later I found out that the person in front of Meredith crashed and that both of them were fine. Further into the lap, I noticed that I kept hearing people cheering for Ruby. I figured she was close behind me. I was worried because I hadn’t heard that before, but I must’ve dropped her at some point, because I ended up finishing minutes ahead. 

Towards the end of the lap, I began assessing where I wanted to, in my mind, “kick it.” In cross country I always set the goal of having a max-effort sprint finish, and I wanted that to be the same for mountain biking. After one of the last turns, which was a steep uphill and immediate downhill, I did. Using my speed from the downhill, I shifted up, hearing the familiar twang of my chain moving up the cassette. My cadence increased, only slowing for a moment when there was a short uphill. And then the finish line was in sight. Two girls were nearing the final chute, and at that moment I decided I would beat them. At this point I didn’t know if they were JV racers or sophomores, so for all I knew, they were about to take two places away. I realized too late that they were on the same side I had gone on, and were taking up much of the trail. I would have to make a narrow pass in between the finish line chute barrier and one of the girl’s handlebars to pass them. I went for it, and passed them with not too much difficulty. It looked worse than it was. I ended up beating them, but I looked later, and they were JV Girls. Still, it felt good to have competition near the finish line. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this race. I came in 11th, which was my call-up. Unfortunately, no top ten for me, but I did beat my time from last year by six minutes, which was nice. While this course is admittedly flat, it is still fun, and the trails are well made. The rest of the day was spent meandering and sometimes riding around to cheer on my teammates. I had lots of fun and I am super glad we did this venue first this year, because it was a blast.