I said "yes!" to the opportunity to chase my dreams on a muggy Tuesday in August 2018. Committing to race for the Vanderkitten Entourage Racing (VKCX) Development team was both exhilarating and terrifying. It also meant a change in goals for the cross season; changes that ultimately pushed me to achieve more than I thought possible in my second full season as a reformed roadie who'd fallen in love with mud.
It started with adjusting my first goal of winning the Alma Grand Prix of Cyclocross women's 4/5 race to also include winning the women's 3/4/5 Sport race. I needed both wins to make sure I could upgrade to Cat 3 in time for Trek World Cup in Waterloo. I utilized the opportunity to ride the course multiple times before race day to my advantage and was able to plan out places to attack, then recover. This strategy paid dividends and on race day, I was able to land on the top step for both races.
I applied for my upgrade on the drive home, then anxiously awaited the results, which came through the day after registration closed online for Trek. My start position was a guaranteed back of the pack due my newly minted status as a Cat 3, so it wasn't a huge issue to do day of registration this time.
My approach to Trek World Cup in Waterloo, WI was twofold: enjoy this phenomenal opportunity to watch and learn from our team manager and fearless leader, Alex, as well as my first chance to try racing cross at a national level. My nerves were insane and I had no idea what to expect when I lined up in the last row that sunny morning. I had my teamie, Sarah, in the race with me, and Alex as a calming presence, which helped me focus on the task at hand. I managed to make my way through the pack to about 15th place from 40th by the first corner. With constant encouragement from Alex, I slowly picked off riders ahead of me until I ran out of time, landing in 10th place overall. I was estatic! That night, a few of my fellow Michigan riders and I rode in costumes for the legends race, a fitting celebratory way to end a great day. Day two was a bit more challenging, with a massive crash happening on the first flyover at the back of the 1-2 field, seconds before the front of our field joined the fray. I picked the wrong side and got held up in the disarray, but still placed 16th overall. While I wish I placed better on Day 2, it was an amazing weekend of racing, learning, and camraderie. I received lots of fantastic feedback, tips, and guidance from Alex before heading home and preparing for Jingle Cross the very next weekend.
Jingle Cross in Iowa City, IA is known for it's mud, and it delivered in spades. I raced three days in a row, with conditions getting progressively worse as the weekend went on. Day one I placed 6th; Day 2 I was 6th again; and Day 3 I ended the day in 9th. I made some mistakes, learned a lot about my gear and what works and doesn't in some of the weirdest mud I've ever seen, and generally revelled in the fact that I was racing courses and cheering on the super stars of our sport I had only been able to watch online the years before.
I returned to Michigan and geared up for my favorite local race, the Beer City Growler CX. I had planned on racing the Women's Sport category throughout the season, but realized after my performances at Trek and Jingle that I needed to race the Elite. My anxiety was high as all the heavy hitters in Michigan lined up around me. I had a fantastic start off the line and found myself holding steady in 3rd place until we reached the barriers, where I made a silly mistake and caught my toe on the last one. While I didn't go down, I lost my momentum and two competitors snuck around me as I fumbled. I pulled myself back together enough to maintain a 5th place overall.
I continued to race locally in our non sanctioned but seriously competitive local series, Kisscross. I consistently placed 1st in our Women's race, earning myself plenty of beer in the process. Kisscross courses tend to be pretty intense, so they were great prep for my next big race, Major Taylor Cross Cup in Indianapolis, IN.
Saturday at Major Taylor was a hard race with one of the most intensive starts I've ever been a part of. After battling it out at the start, I settled into a good place and pulled off a 4th place finish, just shy of the podium.
While Major Taylor is a two day event, I was only racing the first day so I could return to Michigan to defend my first place position in the Kisscross series finale. Standing on the top step for that series is one of my proudest moments of the season.
After the finale of Kisscross, my focus turned to the MI State Championship race, where I battled it out for a 3rd place in Women's Elite on a leg destroying course, which was fantastic prep for the insanity at CX Nationals a few weeks later.
CX Nationals was an amazing experience filled with lots of hard work, laughter, support, and fun. Getting to meet the teammates I didn't already know in person was a highlight, along with the opportunity to watch and learn from Alex and Ellie for an entire week. Seeing how they plan and prepare for races days in advance will serve me well in the 2019 season.
Our week started off with Paulette and me taking on the 23-39 non championship race on Tuesday. We decided to warm up by riding over to the course so we would be ready to hop on as soon as it was open. Due to the weather, course conditions changed rapidly hour by hour, sometimes lap by lap in certain races. We had a ton of fun exploring the many challenges the Louisville course had to offer before lining up to take it on for real. We both quickly realized the course was already completely different than when we rode it a hour prior. I had a front row start position and managed to stay in the top 5 for the entire race. I pulled my way into third at one point, but slipped on the long climb out of the bowl and made the decision to conserve my energy for the championship race on Thursday, so I ended the race in 4th. I was thrilled to be up on the podium at my first Nationals experience, even if it wasn't for a championship race!
Wednesday our focus was on Ellie, who overcame incredible odds to even get to the start line and proved why she's a hero to so many of us. Then it was time to focus on Thursday. Alex was in my race so I planned on watching and following her lines as much as I possibly could. I had a third row call up, so I knew I was going to need to be fast off the line to avoid congestion. I had a great start and picked my way through to the top ten in the first few minutes of the race. I managed to stay up in the top ten for the first half of the lap, then made a mistake on the first off camber section that dropped me a few places. I calmed myself down quicker than usual and was able to stay close to the top ten until lap 4, when I made a huge mistake at the same spot and twisted my knee in the mud, ending any hope I had of chasing down a top 10 finish. I finished the race in 16th place overall. While it wasn't quite the finish I was hoping for, I'm incredibly proud of the results I achieved, not only at Nationals but throughout the course of the season.
It has been an absolute honor and privilege to represent Vanderkitten- Entourage Racing (VKCX) this past season. I am beyond grateful for the chance to chase my dreams with the support of such an amazing crew of kick-ass, inspirational teammates and sponsors. -Sarah Williams
Sarah is one of 3 VKCX riders named Sarah living in Michigan. Sarah started out as a customer of Vanderkitten, progressing to Brand Ambassador through our VIP program and became a Team Ride in August of 2018!
PHOTO CREDITS: Sarah Williams, Jack Kunnen