Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Sammi's CX Nats Race Report

Sammi Runnels at CX Nationals, DCM Photography

Sammi Runnels offers a unique perspective on the 2015 Cyclocross National Championships. As the only Texas rider in the elite women's race this Monday, she had an advantage: she didn't have to juggle flights or book extra accommodations to compete in the race, which was moved from Sunday to Monday in a now widely publicized debacle involving the Austin Parks & Recreation department, a local tree-preservation organization, and governing body USA Cycling. (If you haven't gotten the full scoop on how spectacularly Austin dropped the ball on CX nats, click here for a thorough report from VeloNews.) Like the other racers and fans impacted by the last-minute changes, Sammi felt angry, and like most of Austin's cycling population, she felt ashamed of the city she calls home.

Compounding the political mysteries that surround Sunday's cancellation is the Lance Question. Did Lance Armstrong, as his Tweet would suggest, favorably influence Austin PARD in deciding to reschedule rather than cancel the race? On social media, some people expressed gratitude. Others found it still more disconcerting that such a controversial figure, banned from the sport of cycling for life, would have a direct line to the powers that be in city government, or they said he was just tooting his own horn about a compromise that had been hard-won by others. Every national and local news source covering the drama seems to be alluding to the Lance Question, but as of yet no reputable source has answered it.

Facebook post from Tristan Uhl, Sammi's boyfriend, who raced with the elite men:
"Are we still cool bro? ‪#‎heritageoaks‬ ‪#‎cxnats‬ ‪#‎cyclocross‬ ‪#‎treelove‬"
On a positive note, the cycling community in Austin and beyond did their best to help racers mitigate the expenses and headaches of extending their stay.

"Although the last-minute schedule change placed a huge scheduling and financial burden on the majority of affected racers, it was touching to see the huge amount of outreach and support for these riders by the cyclocross community," says Jessica Cutler, a Seattle-based pro racing for Jamis Bikes. "Austin residents offered to open their homes to riders along with transport to the airport; people outside of Austin fundraised to help riders defray some of the costs they had to incur; and even professional rider Tim Johnson reached out by sponsoring a free dinner on Sunday night for junior and U23 riders."

Southwest Airlines, whose headquarters are in Dallas, was reportedly waiving fees in the mad scramble to change flights out of town.

Only in her second season of racing cyclocross, Sammi Runnels is just getting started in the sport, but she's one of those people you can say, without a doubt, truly loves cycling. She works full time as a bike messenger (we featured her in a post on commuting tips on Jan. 2), and still summons up the energy to train and race in her free time for both the road and cross seasons. She finished 36th among the field of 46 elite women who started on Monday. Read on for her quick recap of the race.

Sammi's race report: 

Lining up this Monday with pros Katie Compton and Ellen Noble seemed like a dream. Mostly because of the Parks' Department shut down of the previous day. I seriously shed tears listening to behind the barriers hosts telling us there would be no race. I had gone out of state to UCI races to qualify for this race and suddenly it's just shut down? My heart goes out to those athletes who could not make it to the race because of the change. I'd like to thank Lance? Ha. And everyone from USA Cycling for not taking no for an answer. I can only imagine what it took to make them step down. I think I speak for most Texas cyclists when I say I'm embarrassed for my city.

I was so honored to be able to line up and race with these girls. I lined up in the second-to-last row. The call up is based on your UCI points. At the start, I moved up pretty decently on the left side. As in the elite men's and junior boys' race, there was a crash at the start of the hill on the pavement. Our crash was smaller but heavily affected racers like Emily Kachorek, who flatted immediately and had to run to the pit. Luckily I avoided that. The first lap was filled with small slide outs by me and others around me. Luckily we've had a couple of mud races this year in Texas, but I definitely need more practice in the slippery mess. Running up those stairs was definitely the hardest part of the course. The fact that they weren't evenly spaced and were mismatched heights made them especially treacherous. I really enjoyed the mudslide descent before the barriers, though I did slide out pretty hard there one lap.

I had a great time representing my city and state in the U.S. national championship. It was great having so many of my friends out there screaming at me. I definitely want to continue doing more UCI cross races next year. Cross is coming.

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