Road of Hard Knoxville – Road Nats

I did a road race. Like, a big one. It was USA PRO National Championships. For Pros. I am not a pro. I am not a roadie. I am only just becoming a pro cyclocross racer, and that is a stretch for the coming year (quit my job, not pulling a salary, so not sure when one become “pro”).

For reference, I started bike racing in 2013. I have done 26 road races in those 5 years, and 4 of those includes a 3-day stage race with a CG placing. Needless to say, I am not well practiced. Road results shows me that I have 14 wins, and most of those are from the break and or solo. I don’t have a ton of group experience or sprinting experience.  Ironically, it is actually this lack of experience that has held me back from racing more. That, and in the US all of the big races are stage races and I have never had the time to do them (I have to work and use my vacation for cross season, so I never have days off for road racing (NOT ANYMORE I QUIT YAYAYA)).

When Coach Kyle suggested I do this race, and I had just put my notice in to work and I found out the Amy D Foundation could give ground support, I decided I had nothing to lose!

Catch: Nick had planned a family vacation for that same week (starting the weekend before, ending the weekend of the race). I am very selfish during the cross season, monopolizing our schedule from September through February, and even outside of that, training dictates so much of what we do, so I despite being excited for the opportunity I was not going to sit out the family vacation. The logistics were easy and we were able to compromise on scheduling, so I won and was able to do BOTH!

Coach Kyle gave me my last workout for the morning of Saturday June 17th (for reference, the race was June 25th) and then that afternoon I hit the road with Nick and his girls for vacation in Virginia! I squeezed in one 45 minute spin on a hotel bike, one 30 minute run, and a 10 mile hike through Historic Williamsburg and then a 7 hour drive to Knoxville, TN. I pretty much nailed the taper ::sarcasm font end::.

Because of this particular choice in prep I decided to sit out of the Time Trial, though I seriously don’t hate a good TT and plan on doing it next year. And due to my experience with road racing I may be better suited for it! The Amy D Foundation is equipped with a few Scott bikes, and one of those was sent down to TN for me from Boulder by way of Short Muddy Legs; event support for the Foundation. I arrived to Knoxville on Thursday and was able to get a spin in on Friday, which is not too bad considering the race was Sunday.

TT prep
Me getting to wear normal people clothes while other people had race. SUCKERS. Photo by Jeremy Alcorn

In Knoxville the Amy D Foundation was super lucky to have the support of a local couple Brent and Jeanne Williams. Acting as host housing, mechanic, Soigneur, and bike fitter; they also run Quest Therapy Consultants. Josh Boggs was also an acting mechanic for the weekend, so between them all they got my awesome Scott Foil perfectly dialed for the weekend.

The team was a composition of riders who needed support for the weekend or otherwise could not make it. These riders included myself, Julie Emmerman, Dani Morshead and Nicole Presspich. Our ages ranged from 20 to 48. Julie was the most experienced, having ridden in the pro peloton many times in the past, however, Dani, Nicole and I were new. We didn’t know what to expect from racing on the road with the best of the best. Add to that that many of the favorites had no teams to work for them and we didn’t even know how the peloton would act. Because of this, I couldn’t form any goals or hold any real expectations. So riding Nationals just to try it out? Yea, I am pretty much awesome at playing bikes. HA

The Course

Almost crit-like at the start. A left turn on paver stones, some rough road, a series of turns through narrow city streets, cross a wide bridge, then some sweeping turns that take you to The Hill. The Hill was going to be seemingly easy for me, only 0.3 miles, averaging about 11%. 0.3 miles is a lot longer than you would think it is. I think the 11% is the equivalent to approaching light speed where length increases. After The Hill, obviously, is a downhill. A few short steep twisty pitches, then a straight shoot down across another bridge, and a left hander goes to the feed zone. Following is some boring stuff along some highway type roads, long, wide, straight, false-grades (slight uphill or downhill) before a series of blah turns that lead to: A DOWNHILL SPRINT FINISH!

The Race Itself.

Because of that crit-like start and The Hill coming within the first 2 miles or less of the race, and considering the large (for me) field size of about 70 riders, I wanted to be at the front for the start. Normally I sit on the back for a while, then go to the front when I want to go OFF the front. But, I knew especially with this field, I would get gapped off the group up the hill and burn a lot of matches catching back on. So, I stood at the start line a solid 20 minutes before the race start. My orange and blue compatriots joined me. After call-ups I was still second row.

Start-line campout
Start-line campout

Off the line I immediately started going backwards, because everyone else also wanted to be at the front. I couldn’t be complacent and had to actively work to maintain my position. I was still kind of far back for the climb. The group was so tight on the narrow road that I couldn’t climb at my own pace; I was trying to avoid chopping wheels and getting chopped, trying to pass and not get passed. On the way down I played it safe and stayed slow, not knowing what pace the corners could be taken and not knowing when one of these strange riders may decide they have spent too much time upright already. We made it down the hill and through the feed zone without incident, which was a relief.

The Hill hurt more than I thought it would. I learned at Killington that I am either not the climber I thought I was, am having a bad climbing season, or, am starting to ride with stronger people. Or all of the above. Insert my typical body-issues here and you will all settle on “you’re not a climber, gal”. I think knowing I had to do this hill 8 times with a group of unknowns made it harder.

This is me climbing. LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL
Photo by Jeremy Alcorn Photo

I did a good job of being positioned in the front third of the group, and with each lap I was getting closer and closer to the front for The Hill. I heard through the grapevine that there was a break up the road. I literally had no idea. None. When did they go? No clue. I am sad I wasn’t there in the break. I am not sure why there was no concerted chase with the group, but at some point I literally tell Coryn Rivera that I will pull her to them. I couldn’t catch everything she said in response, but she said she wasn’t concerned because they didn’t have 2 minutes yet. I really wanted Coryn to win so I would have pulled her off the front regardless of a break. But I guess the group may not have let Coryn get away. ME maybe, cause, who am I? But with Coryn? Bet they would have chased. Alas, we will never know. BUT KNOW THAT THERE IS A CHARIOT OF FIRE AND I JUST WANT TO DRIVE IT!

I have no sense of timing, but, in the first half of the race there was a crash, like, RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. It was on the highway section, quite a few riders were involved. This is how close I was: as I was braking going “oh shit oh shit oh shit” my front tire hit the cassette of a rider who went down. Somehow, I pulled right, don’t think I took out anyone behind me, and I didn’t go down. Holy crap. Almost literally.

After that my nerves were high. I could feel tension in the group. For an entire lap it was like we were cycling on eggshells and the slow speed only added to the unease. To calm my nerves, I went to the front at The Hill, didn’t keep it, but crawled back to the front through the feed zone.

I didn’t attack, I just sat there and rode, letting the openness of the road ahead clear my mind and ease my nerves.

I lasted for a few kilometers before I decided I should let someone else take some wind. A group of 4 of us started taking rotating pulls at the front: it was some Dallas DNA riders and another team, I can’t recall right now. I sat out a few pulls, put out that we were pulling the ENTIRE GROUP. Finally we had a few attacks (one by Beth Ann Orton, yay!) and I chased them all down.

So, basically, I did a lot of work. Combined with my poor preparation and nerves, the next time up the climb, I got gapped off. The good news is, a lot of us did. There was a group up the road and a lot of us stragglers looking to chase on. I did a lion’s share of the work pulling us all back to the main group, but we made it. I was afraid if I wasn’t on the front that we wouldn’t make it, because I am neurotic like that.

Is this cyclocross? Nope. It is road.
Photo by Jeremy Alcorn Photo

The same damn thing happened the next time around. I was with the main group but we split off at the climb. This time, I couldn’t chase to the group ahead, it was all we could do to scrape together the other stragglers. From then on, it was the riders off the front (there were 2 at this point I think), the chase group with Coryn, and then the group I was in.

Des of Short Muddy Legs got a screenschot of me on the front!

I should have attacked, but I was being shy, not sure if I could do an attack that would stick. Instead we all just kind of hung out, riding our race within a race. I was so happy when it was the last lap, but I didn’t have any goals going into it. With 3K to go there was crash in our group. I was shaken. My new goal was to finish unscathed. Setting up for the sprint my bars got knocked and I almost went down. This made me go to the back and bring in less of a sprint to the line and more of a diesel haul that I am more comfortable with. We were sprinting for 14th, I got 27th. Looking back, I really could have done better. But, the glory and payout for 14th could not compensate for a broken collar bone this close to cross season.

The Lessons

I was happy with how I raced: I maintained a good position throughout the race and rode aggressively. I wish I would have done something more aggressive, but, I was at a huge disadvantage having never ridden in a group like this and having no race radio. No voice in my head meant I literally didn’t know there was a break up the road until team cars started passing us. If someone had told me what to do, I would have done it, but, I was not confident enough to make any decisions on my own. Despite not being bold, I do think my being there played an actual role in the race as I did some bridging and pulling which allowed for some animation. 10/10 would race again!

I really appreciate the chance for the opportunity made possible by the Amy D Foundation. This is why the foundation exists, to help riders chase dreams in ways they may not otherwise get the chance.

I learned a lot that weekend as I balanced role of daughter (my parents came down to spectate and visit with me), team administrator (I was in charge of housing and some team transport and food gathering), teammate, and athlete. It is a little look into what cross season will be like for me, and I am glad to know that I can accomplish everything without terrible disaster.

I don’t have any specific plans for the rest of the summer, except prep for cross season. I am trying to ride offroad more, and trying to convince people they should invest in cyclocross.

As of August 4th, I will no longer be employed by Northway Bank, and will be focusing on running a cyclocross team, training, racing, and working with the Amy D Foundation as a mentor and administrator. I am very excited, as well as nervous, to take this plunge into cycling. I feel the ability to focus and recover will benefit me this year, but I think the season following will be even bigger and better for it!



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