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Our final day in Arizona was the XC. We’d had plenty of chances to pre-ride the fun, swoopy course and I was looking forward to seeing how it went down for the Expert women. We were fortunate to have our race start in the morning because as it got later, the temperatures in Fountain Hills continued to rise. During my final pre-ride of the course, I had some shifting issues in my biggest ring because I have a short-cage rear derailleur and some gear combos are simply impossible. So my plan was to just try to stick with the group and keep it in the middle ring for the start of the race.
The line-up for the XC was pretty impressive- Joy, the energetic powerhouse climber from Jose Ole who we had chatted with on Saturday, Rene from Velobella whose legs were so buff we decided she looked like a pro, my team mate Maureen (the wild card with mad technical skills from Kentucky), Heidi from Big Bear who was tearing up all of the Super D races last year, Vanessa, another strong California girl with a knack for climbing, and all the other kick ass ladies.
The start of the race was kind of crazy and I worried about falling back due to not hammering the big ring. After the first few humps, some craziness happened right in front of me! I think the girl from Colorado who did really well in the TITT ran off the trail towards a cactus and took down a couple girls who were right behind her. I slammed on my brakes and just barely managed to get around the carnage. It took me a while to bridge the gap up, but soon I was on Rene’s wheel and realized that Mo and Joy were the only other ladies ahead of me! I was in 4th place! I gave it my best effort to hang on as the pace increased. Joy was on the front and pushing the pace on the climbs. I would gap off a little bit, then catch back on. I was surprised that I was maintaining pretty well on the rocky descents, even though I was banging around on my hard tail. Coming in the start finish for the 2nd lap, I was about 45 secs off the lead trio and feeling pretty good.
Sadly, all went to hell in the 2nd lap. I could see the trio ahead of me from time to time and thought maybe I was gaining. I concentrated on eating and staying hydrated as it was getting hotter and hotter out in the desert sun. Behind me I could hear Vanessa from Backbone gradually gaining on me and I did my best to stay ahead of her. Eventually she overtook me on a slight rise and I was trailing just behind her when I came face-to-face with a Cholla catus. Briefly, what happened was that an older expert man who I had just passed on a climb decided to be all agro, and tried to pass me back on a rocky, slight descent flanked my cacti of all shapes and sizes. He flew past me without calling out and bumped against the side of my left shoulder, sending me barreling on my bike towards a Cholla! I slammed on my brakes and launched off my bike, landing somehow on my feet right next to the cactus. I threw up my hand to protect my face and a massive bundle of cholla dug its spines into my fingers. It hurt like all hell! I started screaming and crying trying to shake it off. Stupidly, I tried to knock it off with my other hand, which only dug quills into my other fingers! Finally, I knocked off the bundle on my chain ring and attempted to pull out the massive quills as I watched all of the ladies in my category ride past me :(. I was soo bummed and my fingers hurt like someone had pushed needles into them. Finally, a guy who was racing stopped and tried to help me remove the cacti. They were buried deep and even tugging at them with his teeth, a few quills would not come out. I finally managed to remove my gloves and my fingers were swollen and covered in holes from the cholla quills. The man suggested that I end my race and offered to find a marshall who could 4-wheel me in. Full of adrenaline and anger and determined not to DNF unless I was in serious harm, I politely declined and told him I would keep riding. The man, who was an Arizona native, warned me that the cacti quills are slightly poisonous and said I may feel light headed, dizzy, and numb.
I got back on my bike and the pain started to set in. I could only use about half of each one of my hands because I had quills stuck in some fingers so braking and shifting were quite hard. I saw Vanessa on the side of the trail with two flats hiking it home- bummer. When I came through the start finish, I was thinking about dropping out, but I got my feed and just kept on going. The last lap is like a vague memory. The poison was sinking in and I remember being really out of it. My head felt stuffy and I was moving slow. No matter how much water I drank, I was thirsty and my mouth was dry. I lost almost all feeling in my hands and I thought the race would never end. Finally, it did. I rolled in 7th place, but was only about 3 minutes off of 6th place and 3 ladies had dropped out. I went to the med tent for the 3rd time that weekend and had them pull out the last couple of cacti quills. Ouch! Back at the front of the race, Maureen killed it for 2nd place, just 39 seconds off Rene who won.
Tsering had a pretty good race. His race went off in the peak of the days heat and it was brutally hot sitting in the shade and spectating. A total of 71 dudes lined up the start of the semi pro race and it was an impressively group. The heat, rocks, and cacti took their toll out there though. Lots of guys dropped out, coming in with mechanicals or heat exhaustion. After a while, the race officials started pulling riders who seemed like they wouldn’t be able to finish their race before they staged the pro men and women. Tsering was glad he was able to finish up his race at just around 3 hours for 33rd place.
Post race, we waited for the final podiums and the stage race results. Maureen was 2nd overall in the stage race, I was 6th, and Tsering was 19th. We said goodbye to a few friends and embarked on the long drive home.