02: The Purpose of The Mid South
With everything that I had seen or heard about The Mid South, you could say I was “excited” to get the show on the road. In fact, maybe “excited” is even a bit of an understatement as I geared up to head to the State of Oklahoma. Mid South is an event that really seems to mark the start of the “official” gravel season, and is also an event that I had never been to. But, before we get into that - if you’re new here - Welcome! - check out this first post as a pre-requisite (Peeling Back the Layers) and here’s the planned schedule heading into the summer.
Race Happenings: Mid South
Beyond the actual racing, I’d heard a lot about the energy of this event. Notably, the energy and passion put forth by its race director Bobby Wintle. In 2020, this race also collided with the start of the pandemic - turning the world on its head, as cycling events became an after-thought for most of us. I’m not sure if other people feel this way, but it seems kind of ironic that the re-emergence of The Mid South, two years later, has also aligned with another major world catastrophe. I’ve felt some guilt over the past couple of weeks, finding myself wondering how I could care so much about a race like this when others are wreaking havoc halfway across the world? How is any of this important right now? But there were so many positive moments throughout the weekend that reminded me of the value of cycling, and the community and sense of belonging that it fosters.
As every racer lined up at the start, Bobby opened up the race with a speech that encapsulated the passion and meaning behind it:
Look to the sky, stop staring at your shoes. Because the sky is ready to captivate us. Just accept it. Accept the love that this entire world and all these people around you are trying to give you… I have learned a very valuable lesson throughout the process of this year. Moving throughout this world with a sense of entitlement, and living, and breathing, and interacting without humility can get you to a lot of places in this world. It can gain you certain things. But I believe those are places and things that I want absolutely nothing to do with. And are not places of true value to the heart and soul and connection to all living and moving and stable things that exist in this world. Those are places and moments that you will not find me existing. Together, we are heavy.
On Saturday night, after the race, a couple of fellow racers and I stayed out and watched the last rider cross the finish line. It was 11:30 pm. It was dark, it was cold, and she had been out there for 14.5 hours! What an incredible display of strength and perseverance. Watching this woman cross the line, with dozens of others cheering her on, was a special moment. This is why we ride. We ride to do hard things and celebrate those things together. My race may have looked a lot different than this woman’s, but there are threads of similarity in our journey. This right here is what Bobby was talking about — togetherness and community, connection and belonging.
This race was the first time in my career (I can call it a career at this point) that I truly felt like I had a target on my back. Was I nervous? Heck yeah! But more than anything I was excited. I felt fully prepared in regards to my body, but also with all the other details. My bike fit and setup, the tires, the nutrition, the plan of attack, and most importantly about getting to the place where the opportunity lay before me. At the end of the day, I knew I would come away from this weekend with new insights and lessons learned.
Noting the stacked field of women around me, I always kept tabs on their whereabouts. I’ve typically struggled with positioning at the beginning of mass-start events, so keeping an eye on everyone is important. Savilia Blunk was up there, as were Ruth Winder, Emily Newsom, and Lauren De Crescenzo. A slight fragment occurred before we hit mile 24 at the Glencoe Jeep Road - the only mile of the course that was riddled with the infamous peanut butter mud that you see in photos from prior years. I saw that Savilia was ahead of me and the other women, having narrowly escaped a slight bottleneck that we got caught in. Coming out of that section, I found myself in a group with Lauren and a handful of men. This was the first time in the race that I started to feel a bit at home. As the initial chaos had diminished, I settled into my saddle, knowing that the rest of the race would be painfully simple in the most complicated way.
Then, around mile 55, Lauren took off.
I was not expecting it. Reflecting on all the races I’ve done thus far, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a position like this and I know I still have a lot to learn in regards to tactics on the road.
Split-second decision: do I stay or do I go?
The first option seemed risky - she was flying into the wind at a pace I wasn’t sure I could sustain for another 45 miles. The second seemed like the smart, rational decision. At this moment I thought the right move would be to play it safe, to stay with the group, and not take the bait. I thought it was possible, if not unlikely, that Lauren would crack. I held back - I didn’t chase. Yet as time went on, I found myself itching to pick up the pace. Maybe the pace of my group was fading, or maybe my body started to find another gear? I started to take even more pulls into the wind, contradicting my decision to stay back and conserve energy by working with this group.
We passed the mile 80 mark, and a few miles later we caught Savilia, who had been riding alone. At this point, I knew I had made my bed. There was no chance of catching back up with Lauren, and now the race would likely come down to a sprint between Savilia and me. Rolling into town with open traffic and stop lights prevented any type of move from being made before the final straight-away. With about a quarter-mile to go, I shifted into the drops and went.
For a moment, Savilia pulled ahead. But as I built momentum, I started to creep up - passing her as we pulled into the final meters. Every fiber of my body pushed to its limit, as I poured out every last drop of energy left in me. I crossed the finish a split second ahead - what an exciting way to finish a 100-mile race!
A 2nd place result at Mid South is great – one that I am certainly proud of. I fought like hell out there. I was able to perform under some of the most pressure I’ve felt thus far in cycling – which gives me confidence as I look forward to the rest of the season.
Most importantly, I learned a valuable lesson about risk. More often than not, I think we evaluate the risk of taking some sort of action, versus the risk of not taking action. Taking action requires stepping into the unknown – which can be scary, and uncertain. But what if the risk is really more about chance? And what if the real risk lies in the lack of action when lack of action opens the door to chance? By not acting – by not chasing after Lauren – I gave up my control. I left the race open to chance. The chance that she would blow up, or not find another group of riders to work with, or any other number of variables that were outside of my control. And that lack of control – not the unknown – seems to be the biggest risk of them all. Sure, maybe I wouldn’t have been able to hold her wheel. Maybe she was the stronger rider on the day. At this point, I’ll never know. I feel a tinge of regret as I look back on this moment, but I’m trying to not be too hard on myself. There will be more opportunities to take what I learned at Mid South and apply it to other moments, both in cycling and in life.
Next time I won’t risk taking the safer option. Next time, I will go.
Christopher Stricklen captured a photo of Velonews writer Ben Delaney talking with me at the finish line. Check out the article, complete with mud-speckled photos on their website — Velonews.
Anna Greetis — SRAM Road Race Technician
I’ve curated a list of questions that I will be seeking answers to by people - athletes, race organizers, friends, etc - over the course of this season. They’re questions that I think about often and am seeking to answer myself. In each newsletter, I’ll be sharing a few answers from a new personality.
March is International Women’s month, so I thought it would be fun to catch up with a rad woman in the cycling industry. While at Mid South I met up with Anna Greetis. Anna takes care of all of SRAM’s North American drop-bar athletes. Over the past couple of months, she’s played a critical role in helping me get my bikes dialed for the season. She’ll also be providing one-site mechanical support at many events and is one of the only professional female technicians on the circuit. She grew up in Chicago, and worked as a shop mechanic before and after college, before taking her position at SRAM early on in the pandemic. Note: Check out their Break the Bias series of stories that they put together for International Women’s Day.
MO: Anna, what is your creative outlet?
AG: I love art. I’ve always enjoyed painting and photography. Lately, I’ve gotten into textiles and did a little bit of macrame during the pandemic. I’m a very visual person, so textures are something I’ve always found to be very interesting. The different play on texture in weaving, and the different materials you can use to weave, is really fascinating to me. I’m not necessarily good at it… but that’s part of it too. Everybody has their flare within art. I think a lot of people are afraid to enter the art space because they feel like they’re not good enough - that they’re not able to perfectly recreate whatever they are trying to represent. But I think that’s the beauty of it all - being able to create your own spin and flair of whatever real-world object you’re trying to recreate.
MO: In what moments of your life do you feel most part of a community?
AG: It's always been my work communities where I feel the most connected. Part of that stems from the fact that I’ve aimed to have jobs that I really enjoy. A job that I’m passionate about is a big priority for me, rather than just a job where I make a ton of money, etc. I want to do something that I enjoy - since I’m gonna be spending so much time doing it, I might as well like it. Because of that, I think my co-workers have really created that community space for me. Especially in the cycling industry, I believe that people choose this career path because it’s fun and enjoyable. Ultimately cycling is a leisure activity, which makes for a really comfortable and relaxed working environment. You can really have fun in this space, more so than just a job where you show up for the day, get your work done, and then leave.
MO: You have worked in the cycling industry your entire life, and mostly in male-dominated roles. What has this experience been like as a woman, and how do you think the cycling industry is doing in regards to creating equal opportunities for female mechanics? What advice would you give to a woman looking to enter this space?
AG: I think the bike industry, in general, does a pretty good job, compared to other industries. It’s a topic that’s addressed and brought up often, and the right steps are being taken to create more equality. But there’s still a long way to go. My experience working in a bike shop has not always been easy. Most of the time, women get put on the sales floor - that’s just the go-to. A lot of women are not given the opportunity to gain the technical knowledge to become a mechanic, and are not given the benefit of the doubt. It takes a lot of time, and someone has to be willing to invest that time in you. You have to fight for it quite a bit. I think it can be really intimidating for women who want to learn these skills to be like “no, I don’t want to be on the sales floor, I want to be a mechanic.” You have to have a lot of assurance and confidence in yourself. You have to hold your own, and sometimes get a little sassy. That would be my biggest advice to any woman who wants to enter this space. If you want it, do it - don’t let anything hold you back! Don’t be afraid to get feisty. Also, let me know how I can help you!
La Soeur Cadette - Beajolais Nouveau
This week, I’ve been drinking this bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau wine that I picked up from a local wine shop in San Francisco. It’s a natural red wine that's best served chilled. I hadn’t heard of Beaujolais wine before, and in doing a bit of research I’ve learned that it’s often described as a “hedonistic” wine. Apparently, hedonistic wines refer to wines that are pleasurable on multiple sensory levels - including smell, texture, and a long and lasting taste. This bottle did, in fact, check all those boxes for me - and one of my friends, who also thoroughly enjoyed it :)
Special thanks to everyone who helped me out over the weekend. Notably Allen Lim and the entire Skratch crew for their nutrition advice (the rice cakes saved my day and the chicken curry was curry-licious). Also, Bill Marshall from Specialized helped me with some last-minute tweaks on my bike. And, of course, Bobby and everyone from the Midsouth crew for bringing us all together after a longggg two years. You probably won’t hear from me until after Sea Otter, unless I get crazy. In the meantime, please reach out and let me know what sort of things you’d like to hear from me in the future!