This week has a different schedule and throws off my typical routine. Wednesday is a super late night.  I make the trip in the van with my teammates to the Midnight Ride of Cyclocross- this time as a spectator. I got to throw my lions mane into a ponytail on top of my head and walk around in cutoffs and a tank top, smiling, without the stress of preparing for a race.  The energy is palpable! It’s really fun to watch teammates and friends race under the lights. I need a lot of help “heckling.”

Friday’s ride happens on Thursday, and on Friday we race at dusk. I work a full day at the office and pick my bike (freshly tuned!) at Al’s. I make plans to ride Fomer with Trevor and Scott. It’s a favorite road of mine. We ride easy, and once we split off I do a small effort to open up my legs for the next day’s race.

Weeknight riding in Western Massachusetts

Even with the jumbled scheduled of the week, on Tuesday I’m already setting my intentions for the weekend. I tell myself that I’ll easily fall within the top 15 in this race, which at this race means that I’d earn UCI points. I convince myself that I have everything I need to execute. I start pumping myself up with pop tunes, thinking anything is possible.

On Friday morning the light is bright and I get to have a nice, long breakfast with Tim. He chuckles that I’m very visibly nervous while having previously proclaimed “I have this under control! I’m not nervous!” I have big goals for the night and they get the best of me.

I have a mediocre start and have to make up many, many places on Friday night. I miss the front and off they go. It’s a course suited to group racing so I try to stick the furthest group forward that my fitness will allow. Slowly I fall back, out of the group for 12th-14th. Another group catches me and we are going to have to fight for 15th place.

another photo from Dan

Teammates yell to “get that next girl” “win this group.” I don’t think I have it in me to do it. It seems impossible. I focus and stay calm, trying to gather myself until the last lap, when I give it everything I have to be first to the dusty off-camber feature. There it was: a bit of separation. I have to completely empty myself to keep that tiny gap and finish 15th.

Rod, the one who facilitated my first cyclocross race, was on the finish line. I devolve into a puddle of tears and thank him for, “well, everything.” Mike, a trusted friend from Easthampton is there, too. Tim films it all.

I did it – I earned one UCI point. The rankings updated today, Tuesday, and I’m there: #473 – Natalie Tapias – 29 years old (Well, actually I’m 28 but to the UCI I’m 29.)

Saturday is a confusing day- because typically we race Saturday-Sunday. I go on a recovery ride with Julie and I take us on an Easthampton loop that ends at the sculpture orchard. We drink warm apple cider. I spend the rest of the day in bed, waiting for Sunday.

Sunday was a C2 race. I have a good start and it’s a ripping first lap. Julie gets the hole shot! My heart rate is high and I don’t feel great. I gradually fade back and find renewed energy and determination once Regina catches me (here we go!). Instead, I fall and spend some time wrestling a stake out of my rear wheel.

Once the racing is all over, we pack up our things and gather around the van. We coordinate with Scott who’s ridden off into the sunset for a few more training miles and plan on grabbing him at some point along our drive home. Of course a phone dies and it takes a bit of triangulation/guesswork to estimate where on the dark highway he might be. We do find him, everyone breathes a sigh of relief, and we tell him to “get in the van.” We wrap up the weekend at an Easthampton noodle restaurant. Everyone’s eager for the next bit of racing.


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