It finally happened. Well, a lot of things finally happened.
- I did a mountain bike race!
- I did a UCI road race!
- I bought new shorts! (This is irrelevant but still important, because crack kills, and I felt I needed a third point.)
- Adding a new 4th point because it is literally taking me so long to get this blog post out I now have done ANOTHER RACE
Bottom line appearing at the top: I am really really really stoked for cyclocross to finally be here.
I raced the Weeping Willow mountain bike race at Willowdale state forest in Massachusetts on May 22. I entered the expert category, which was longer than sport but not as long as the elite. Not knowing what to expect from the race and seeings how it was my first mountain bike race, I felt this was sufficient. I showed up in time for a preride, though we didn’t get a full 6 mile lap in due to traffic. I was okay with that because the course was not technical.
I had no idea how staging works, and apparently it is just a free-for-all, so I had to squeeze onto the front row very last minute. I didn’t overtake Cassie Maximenko in the immediate start, but I was able to be at the front of my start group before we hit the single-track. That was my goal because I didn’t know what my pace would be compared to everyone else’s. Cassie hung close to my wheel for at least a mile before I was able to get a little gap, and then finally I put some bodies between the two of us: as I passed men from the group that started ahead of us, I knew it would be enough to slow her down and let me keep inching away. The race was 18 miles and it took around an hour and a half. I had no crashes, no embarrassing moments, and I was pretty proud of how I raced. I could have maybe done the elite category; I am just not sure if I could have finished strong because my back was feeling super cracked. I took the win in the expert category! Overall, I had fun. It was low-pressure, safe, and everyone I encountered on the course was nice. So it pretty much was the opposite of my expectations (sorry for my sour out-look, mountain bike community!)
———— Switch bikes ———–
Though I want to do some more mountain bike racing, I got an interesting offer on the road-racing stage. BrittLee Bowman of the CRCA Velo Classic p/b Stan’s NoTubes team invited me to guest ride at the Grand Prix Cycliste Gatineau, a UCI 1.1 event; meaning that I could not register alone, I had to be registered as a part of a UCI team. Stan’s NoTubes happens to be a UCI registered team. Yay! I was super nervous and hesitant, but knowing this may be my only opportunity to race at such a high level, I ended up taking up the offer. I would be racing the road race on Thursday and the individual time trial (TT) on Friday. The race was in Gatineau, Canada, northwest of Montreal. About a 6 hour drive. I headed up on Wednesday night after work and settled into the sweet dorms to get a good night’s sleep before the following day’s team presentation and road race.
My teammates for the day would be Kristen Arnold, Tate Devlin, and Clio Dinan. The team presentation was much simpler than I imagined, the festivities damped by… well, rain. Luckily, the rain was over by the 5:15PM race start! There were no team tactics planned, as the other riders had goals of finishing in the tough field and I had no idea what to expect so my goal was “survive”, in whatever way that meant. The team tactics were crucial for nerve sedation, however, with learning the ropes of how the race was run and even simply not getting lost. Safety in numbers, comfort in friendly faces.
The neutral roll-out was punchy and crashy. There was literally a crash within the first 200 meters. Needless to say, I was nervous. We had staged at the back, and I stayed there until after neutral. Then I Becca’d and went straight to the front. With 80 riders, this was the biggest race I had ever been in, and seeing so many bodies in front of me made me nervous. The riders were confident and had no problem brushing elbows. I was dry heaving with nerves. My stomach was in knots. It took quite a while to calm down, and by that point I had already established myself with my peloton name “Idiot Who Takes Wind”. (Better to take than to pass… eh? #fartjoke). I was sitting at the front, not animating, just trying not to lose my expensive lunch.
I do not have any photos or photo rights from the race, but here is the gallery from the event if you are interested in looking though. You can see how big the group is and how tight is stayed. If you are looking for me (HI MOM) I am not in my usual black, but instead have on a red, white, and black kit (but there are 2 or 3 more teams with that color scheme), white helmet, and big white glasses with clear lenses. I am the one in the tuck in Image 21/22/23, taking the left hand turn in 32/33 and some more scattered throughout. They are all pretty images, worth a gander! http://grandprixcyclistegatineau.com/en/photos-and-videos/2016-road-race/
The first half of the race had some nice rolling hills. During one climb there was a move to a break and I joined it with 8 others. We stayed away from the main group for a short while, but eventually got swallowed up again. The second half of the race was a short lap of a technical circuit with a lot of tight turns and sketchy surface. Here, I covered every single attack thinking that any one of them could stick, and knowing I didn’t want to be behind traffic in those tight turns when the pack went close to single file. None of the attacks stuck, and the effort of chasing them down started to get heavy in my legs. I took some time to sit in the group, but in doing so I did get gapped off due to some less enthusiastic pedalers and had to put in a major effort to catch back on. This is why we can’t have nice things. With one lap to go, I was not positioned well and frankly, despite the 5 or so prior laps, still had no concept of what the lap was like. The finish straight was barred from view by an overpass, so when it came, I had no idea. I was sitting in the back of the group near teammate Kristen Arnold. She said “This is it!” and I was like, oh. That sucks. I put in an effort to chase some riders down, ending up 18th. [If you’re going to sit on the front, make it at the end of the bike race, not the beginning]
In all the other races I have done, I have raced for the win. Here, I did not race for the win. I didn’t know if I should, I was nervous because of the aggressive and strong riders, and I was not inspired. Had I put myself out there, I truly think I could have been a podium contender. Of course we all know podium contender could still be 6th place in a sprint, easy. But maybe I am being naive and without team tactics I could have been blocked from the opportunity for a sprint. 18th was not a good reflection of my ability, but it was representative of my efforts and tactics. The race served its purpose: it showed me that there is a high level of women’s racing that is aggressive and fast. For 55 miles we averaged almost 23 miles per hour. Mostly though, I saw that I have the ability to be a contender. With some confidence and purpose, I could do some damage! Or better yet, have some damage done to me. (damage meaning physical beating on the bike, not crash damage. Knock on wood, for the love of god and all that is holy KNOCK ON WOOD!!) I also learned that the Stan’s tubeless set up for the road is BAAAALLLLLLERRRRRR! I hit a few potholes- one I hit so hard I bounced my freaking chain off, and I got, count it, zero flat tires.
Oh, Friday there was a TT. So, after spending the prior evening zapping my legs sitting at the front of a bike race and putting in big efforts to cover futile attacks, I had to ride a bike I had only ridden once in the past two years, and that was the Tuesday before to make sure my brakes worked. I got to wear a spiffy POC aero helmet with the integrated glasses, AND I got to ride off of the start ramp. And guess what. I didn’t fall off. Without a heart rate monitor (dead battery the day before), a power meter (I don’t have one to race with), or even a Garmin (didn’t fit on my stem) for distance, I was riding blind. I ended up 14th, around 2:30 back from the winner. Not too bad considering how some of those riders didn’t race the day before and I have only ever done one other TT. Could I have gone harder? We will never know. We live, we ride, we learn.
———- Back in Black ———-
After hanging out with the big dogs for a few days, I followed with Purgatory Road Race this past Sunday (June 12th). I won last year in a 3-up sprint with Cheryl Clark and Stephanie Wetzel after we had been in the break for over half the race; so imagine my excitement when the two of them registered again this year! Life is more fun when you can play in the break with friends! This year went almost the same as last year, except the two of them had new teams (Cheryl on team Tibco and Stephanie on SAS Mazda; I wore the exact same black kit as last year. New helmet though; I cracked the old one.) We all sat in for the first two laps. Alexa Gubinki of Sherpa tried to make a few attacks on the second lap, but they didn’t go far and Cheryl covered them. But, just as last year, coming up the climb before the finish/lap line with three laps to go, an attack was made and the break happened. Last year Stephanie attacked with Cheryl while I was at the back of the pack and had to bridge. This year, I was at the front, and I made a move to test, but it was enough to get separation and the break happened!
— Green Line Velo (@GREENLINEvelo) June 12, 2016
By the feed zone, it was just the three of us, just like last year. I told them we needed to keep the work up till we had the follow car behind us – that means we have a 1-minute gap on the field. It was super windy, and we were working really well together. At one point, I feel my right shifter was loose. Just a little loose, so I try to avoid touching it and convince myself it’s no big deal. Well, it ended up being a big deal, becoming too loose to shift without the risk of straight falling off. I tell the girls I have a problem and Stephanie tells me how the support car works: “slow down, don’t stop, tell him the problem”. I tell our SRAM Neutral support guy my issue and he said we have to stop so he can tighten it. I was secretly hoping to hold on to the side of the car while he leaned out of the window and it was gonna be SO PRO. But, instead of risking death, we stopped and he tightened the bolt and pushed me on my way. And wouldn’t you know? My friends Cheryl and Stephanie didn’t attack and leave me. I think they even sat up a bit to wait up for me. After that I felt such a sense of loyalty to them, I took a decent pull in the wind, and even though I had so much adrenaline going I could have attacked and soloed for 10 laps, I stayed with them. In that moment, I wondered what it was like to race as a member of a team. To race with people who would sacrifice for you, or that you would sacrifice for. Seriously, my heart felt gushy. It was gross.
— Green Line Velo (@GREENLINEvelo) June 12, 2016
Going in to the finish, I was worried that if it came down to a sprint I just wouldn’t have it, so I put in an effort with about 1.5km to go at the bottom of the hill. I was still in the lead, and I could hear someone just off my rear wheel. I kept the pace high, but not hard enough to empty the tank if it did come down to a sprint. But, with just under 1km to go, I turned back and realized I was alone. It would not come down to a sprint, after all. I came in first, then Stephanie trickled in, and Cheryl behind her. They said they just didn’t have the legs that day. Lucky for me! And, unlike last year, we were only 9 minutes up from the field. Last year we were 10. Helmets off to another year of a great event, Green Line Velo!
Through it all, I would like to note how lucky I am to have a coach that rolls with the punches. (okay, it’s not luck, it’s curation. So rephrased I would say: I would like to note how good I am at picking people to pay to help me run my life). Every week it seems, something comes up and I need Kyle to switch around my training schedule, and he only puts in one punishing race or workout as retribution. Sometimes it is a different work schedule, or a last minute UCI race, or maybe I am just not recovering because I decided to go on a 7-mile hike up a mountain instead of doing that easy recovery ride. Whoops.
Talking to other athletes time and time again I hear “Monday I do X Tuesday I do Y Wednesday I do X Thursday I do Z, then openers and a race. Then I do it all over again”. I have to open my Training Peaks every day because each day is different. I know there is some rhyme or reason going on behind the scenes, and I usually know what kind of workout I can expect before or after some event or other workout, but never have I accurately predicted what the week ahead will hold, and I love it. I love training, I love workouts, and I love the variety that he brings to what could otherwise be a job. So if you’re a seriously athlete in need of hitting the reset button, he might be a good fit for you! Unless you hate llamas or alpacas. http://finishfastcycling.com/