Monday, July 30, 2012

Lakewood Criterium

Wednesday night, a couple of way-more-experienced friends came up with a race strategy for me. I asked my coach what he thought, and he said, “they are not steering you wrong, that’s a solid plan.”

Now, I have one of my biggest races coming up at the end of August, and it’s a running race, Hood to Coast in which I have to run about 16.47 miles in less than 24 hours. At some point last week, I looked at a calendar and realized it was a month away and thought, “oh F***!!!” While my coach won’t add run workouts to my schedule, he knows that I am running in the morning 3 days a week, and I even asked him if he was okay with me running the morning of this race, and he said it was fine so I did an easy 4 mile run in the morning, knowing I would have about 9 hours for my legs to recover.

I got to the race way too early, but that is nothing new. I saw some friends at registration and talked to another woman racing. I then went back to my car and ate my snack and did some general bike maintenance.

Here is why this blog is why it is called as such. In this parking lot, some older guy with his son pulls in and starts talking to me. He asked me if I am new to this stuff, and I gave the normal line about being about 2 months into the sport but that I have been doing Westlake ever week for the last 6 weeks. To which he responds, “Oh, I can’t believe I don’t remember you, my son does Westlake every week. I would think I would remember… those glasses.” HUH??? My Oakley’s are nice, I will give him that, but that’s the compliment I get, my glasses? He had to ask me at least 5 times if I needed help pumping air in my tires. I will admit I made a bit of a fumble, I safety-pinned my number to my jersey, and it was hitting my arm so I needed to take it off and re-do, and since he asked me if he could help about 10 times by then, I asked him, ‘would you help me with my bib… number?” To which he responded, “Honey, I will help you with anything you want.” I am glad he wasn’t there an hour earlier when I was lubing my chain.

I ran into lent-me-his-jersey Andy as I waited for course to open up between races. It’s always nice to see him! I then did a few warm up laps while chatting with one of the strong CAT2 women racers about our thoughts regarding the race. There was still one more race before ours, but it’s good to get as familiar with the course as possible.

While waiting for my race, I found my friend and running partner who I talked into coming to watch. I talked to him for quite a while. He kept asking me if I should be warming up, and I said I did a few laps, waiting for the current race to end before doing more. I did two more laps before our race and lined up with the 7 other women racing and wouldn’t you know who lined up right next to me: RUDE LADY from Twin Sizzler! She said hi, and I was polite, but man, if anything got my blood going, that was it. With the two best female cyclists I know in NE Ohio standing to my right in Sally and Sam and Rude Lady to my left, I knew it was time to ride hard!

Side note: I have nothing but nice things to say about Sally and Sam. I have known them for about as long as I have been riding, and while I have never been in their league, they have always been encouraging and genuinely just nice to me and everyone else. I will never forget seeing Sally out running the Tuesday before I did Ironman Louisville back in 2010. She not only remembered that I was racing (because my coach had told her), but she wished me well and gave me confidence that I was strong and was going to do awesome. Nothing but respect do I have for these women.

The race started, and I guess it was a pretty fast pace. Sally took over the front for most of the first lap, but I swept in front right before the only turn over which I had any concerns. I wasn’t concerned about the turn so much as I was more concerned about getting behind someone who was scared of the turn. I pulled through the false flat and most of the straight away, I do recall hearing one friend yelling at me not to work so hard so I pulled off the front. I was grateful that I had so many friends out there cheering for me. It’s a lot easier to suffer to stay with the field when you know people are watching.

Pure and simple, here was my strategy: Let Sally go, follow Sam. I am not saying Sam is weaker than Sally, but that Sally is likely to attack and as a good teammate, Sam will let her go and try to stall attempts to reel her back to the group. Well, one of the other women, the one I edged out at the line at the Tour of the Valley crit, refused to let Sally go, she chased down nearly every attack Sally made. I might have chased down one, but I wouldn’t quote me on that. Since Sally didn’t escape, Sam would hustle back to Sally and Jane, and I worked my a$$ off to get back to the three.

A friend told me that during the race, the announcer was making comments about all the racers because he knew most of them. He didn’t know me so I guess he referred to me as “the unknown racer who must be the smartest one out there because she is just sitting in the back letting everyone else do the work.” I am glad it looked that way, but I was fighting with everything I had to stay with those three women.

Being that it was only 30 minutes, it felt like we had prems every other lap, and the sound of that bell nearly made me cry by the end as I had no desire to go for a prem and Sam and Sally just kept upping the pace on those prem laps. As we finished a lap, I would often look down and see the speed in the high twenties to low thirties on a flat straight-away. With no hill on the course, my max speed was 32.8 mph.

Every once and a while, Sally would talk to me, encouraged me that I was doing awesome, yelling at me for riding next to her and not right behind her. She wasn’t really yelling, but telling me that I need to ride smarter, conserve my energy. Look at the photos, and the mistakes I was making were pretty clear.

The field dropped from 8 to 5 after the first lap according to the photos. One of the accelerations for a prem dropped it down to 4 as one woman just couldn’t get back with the field. I was pretty content with getting 4th figuring that on the prem laps I was getting left in the dust by the other three women. But, then, I saw some awesome teamwork by Sam and Sally. On the final lap, Sally attacked and Jane went after her and before Jane had a chance to recover, Sam counterattacked, and just like that, Jane was gone. It was down to the three of us. I knew there was no chance I was going to catch Sally, and I was about 10 yards behind Sam and felt like I was catching up to her, but I don’t think Sam was really worried I would catch her.

Getting 3rd in this race was awesome, staying with Sam and Sally was even better. As I was telling someone about the end of the race, I said something like, “Cleveland Clinic did the work for me” to get rid of Jane, but then I thought, well, they were probably trying to drop me too. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I realize that I wasn’t their concern, fine by me. Their strategy exposed the weakness to chasing down all of their attacks. I wasn’t chasing down anything except the end of the line. They were perfectly fine with letting me tag along with them.

As we coasted on a cool down, both Sam and Sally told me how awesome I had done, they even explained how they got Jane to drop. I thanked them for the kind words and for helping me get 3rd. It was an awesome race and a huge boost of confidence!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tour of the Valley - Day 3: Criterium

After Saturday’s cluster**** of a road race, I spent about 20 minutes on the phone with my coach discussing potential strategies for the crit. I had no intention of riding this course at 15 mph. We discussed the possibility of a euro start, how and when to attack…and then I got to the race and saw the GC standings. (Note: GC is the general classification, or yellow jersey race. For our race, placing in the top 10 (15 for the road race) comes with getting points towards the GC. Because I had a relatively high placing in both the time trial and the road race, I knew I was likely high on the standings.) I was tied for 3rd in the overall classification. Mark’s parents and brother had come out for the race, so I spent a few minutes talking to them, and then a father of one of the junior’s racing gave me his insights into the course.

I got there plenty early because I wanted the opportunity to pre-ride the course, I learned my lesson on that one. Looking at the schedule, it didn’t look like there was going to be time to ride it between races so I got there with enough time to ride before the men’s CAT5 race.

I did a few loops and realized the loop was pretty simple. It started with a simple left 90 degree turn, a straightaway, another 90 degree turn, then a downhill ending in a 90 degree turn but with 4 lanes of road, then a sharper 90 degree turn on a small alley road with some significant holes with a short straightaway before the climb. The climb was a short power climb, manageable in the big ring, that leveled off to a false flat to the finish. None of the turns were very technical so I was pretty certain it was going to come down to attacking on the climb, not good for the big girl in the field. I then met up with my friend Tif, and we discussed strategy. She was willing to help me if she could, but she wasn’t sure how she was going to feel. We did a few miles of warm up, and it was pretty clear I was nervous. At one point, we were stopped at a light, and I looked to see my arms quivering. She wanted to warm up some more, but I needed to clear my head a little bit so we parted ways. I talked to one of the juniors who had just finished racing and who does the Westlake Crits, and he gave me his thoughts on the course then I went down to the race start.

After the men’s CAT5 race, there was enough time to take a lap before the Women’s ¾, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I just stood there. I then talked to another woman I know from the Westlake Crits, explained my position in the GC and asked if she could help me if she could. She said she would, but like all the women who have raced hard for two days, she just didn’t know how her legs were going to respond.

Now, this race was set up to take 45 minutes. After about 3 laps, they would calculate how long we were taking to do a lap, then post how many laps we had remaining. Unlike the day before, the race pace started fast. Despite about 35-40 feet of elevation gain on the course, and a headwind on the downhill, the pace only dropped below 20 mph for the field for one lap near the end of the race. Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who didn’t want a field of 21 in the bunch sprint. So, after three laps, they posted 13 as the laps to go. Man, that number was discouraging considering how hard those first three laps felt.

In one of the first few laps, I saw Angie, who I would consider Snakebite’s team captain go for an attack. I was pretty impressed by the effort, I am not sure if she was trying to escape, so much as tire the field out for her rider Lorena who had won the road race the day before. The field had no problem chasing down Angie, but I give her props for it.

As this race proceeded, here is what I noticed. The women in field were not taking the downhill turn with any sort of speed nor was anyone taking the tight turn aggressively. By the top of the hill, I was definitely near the back of the field, but even the women in the front were tired from the push up the hill so we all used the straightaway to the turn as a chance to recovery, except after preims when the push through the finish line pushed the pace up without the recovery. It was after the preims that I tended to yo-yo off the back pretty badly. Thankfully, Mark was standing right there at the turn, and he, and a few other voices, kept cheering for me with each passing lap. It genuinely helped me suffer to get back to the group.

(Note: preims are one interesting caveat of crit racing. To keep races interesting, they have cash prizes or sometimes equipment they award to the person who wins the sprint at the end of certain laps. They call out the preim laps by ringing a bell. Our race had 3 preims: cash, tires, and cash.)

As I said, I noticed the pattern in the race pretty quickly. I think the pace was high enough that no one was contemplating attacking… except me. I knew that there was no way I was going to out sprint anyone at the finish as I was struggling about as bad or worse than any of the other 11 women still left in the field on the hill. To get any GC points, I needed at least to outsprint 2 of them, and even that would not be enough to guarantee a podium spot. So, on the last preim lap, I opted to test out my strategy and attacked on the downhill so I could take the turns aggressively and see how much of a head start I could get on the hill.

I definitely hit the hill with about a 10 yard gap, but I couldn’t sustain the lead and didn’t get the preim. Truth be told, as soon as I saw another person, I backed it off because I needed to recover as we still had 5 or 6 laps to go, and I had just put in a massive effort. I yo yoed pretty badly off the back for the next couple of laps, but I was completely determined not to drop. I was working about as hard as I have ever worked to stay with a group on those next few laps, but I absolutely refused not to score in this race. I also had a sinking suspicion that what happens at Westlake frequently would also happen here, that with about 3 laps to go, suddenly, everyone wants to save themselves for the sprint, and the pace would slow down. Sure enough, with three laps to go, the pace slowed down to below 20 mph.

With that slowed pace, I was fairly confident that my strategy would work. I am sure that at some point I will either get burned by testing my strategy in a race or will get to the point that I no longer need to test my strategy to be confident it will work, but thankfully, testing my strategy didn’t seem to have any ill effects. So, on the final lap, I attacked on the downhill, took over the front for the downhill turn, spreading out the field. I stayed in front on the tight turn and hit the hill in front.

Small problem, the field of dropped riders hit the hill at the same time so it was kind of a cluster finish, and one rider in the dropped field got in my way on the climb, but that’s just part of racing. I took the hill with everything I had and kept the speed up. I even managed to edge the woman who was tied with me for the GC at the finish by about 5 inches. When I counted, it looked like I got 7th, which I was pretty sure would be good enough to keep me on the podium for the general classification, especially since the girl in 2nd had been lapped and the woman in 1st at least finished behind me if not out of any points at all.

I was right that I got 7th, edging out the other 3rd in the GC woman at the finish. I was so proud of the way I performed in this race. I was pretty confident that if I didn’t make a strategic move, I was not going to place in the top 10 and would kick me off the podium for the GC. I kind of feel like I stole my position, expect I know as well as anyone that the strongest riders don’t always win. I did well because I examined the race and capitalized on a weakness in the field. Now, considering my size and the sheer massive size of my quads, I need to get better at the bunch sprints, but as I said, bunch sprints is not even a skill I have considered practicing before this weekend. (Look at the photos and tell me that my legs aren’t twice the size of most of my competitors!)

So, for my first stage race, I ended up getting 6th in the time trial, 7th in the road race, and 7th in the criterium, good enough for a 4th and a podium finish for the general classification. I won a box of honey stingers (strawberry) and shot bloks (citrus) so at least I won’t go hungry riding my bike anytime soon!

Tour of the Valley - Day 2: Road Race

As mentioned in the last blog post, I was kind of traveling with Mark, Eric, and Ken. Having my only, “oh man!” description of the road race course, they opted to wake up early to drive the course before the race. While I pre-rode the course the Friday before the race, I opted to head out at the same time, figuring a little refresher of the course wouldn’t be a bad thing.

After a wonderful breakfast prepared by Mark’s mom, we headed out for the road race that started at Columbiana High School. Mark opted to sleep rather than drive the course because he thought sleep was probably going to help him more than anything. I went with Eric and Ken and we drove the first few miles of the course, then cut across and did the last half of the course. It was good to see what the last roller looked like as well as a recollection of just how hilly the course was after the “rollers.”

I still had over an hour before my race, and I was starting to panic a little bit. The temperature was in the low 70’s, and it was calling for rain. I am fine with either one of those, but put them together, and I am a little nervous about what to wear. I went for a warm up wearing long sleeves to see how warm I felt, and I was definitely overheating. No long sleeves, no arm warmers, if I got cold, I would just have more of an incentive to work harder.

Because of some serious gravel at the beginning of the course, the first half mile of the race was neutral. They also started the juniors at the same time so we all kind of agreed to allow the juniors to get ahead before we started racing. Little did most of us know that the race really wouldn’t start until the bunch sprint.

Somehow, and I have no idea how, I ended up in the front. I didn’t want to be in the front, had no intention of working hard so I waited for someone to pass me… and no one did. I kept dropping the pace waiting for someone to pass me, and no one did. Finally, Gwen came up and at least started pulling with me, but when we got to the first slight uphill, I told Gwen I was going to noodle it, forcing someone else to take over the pace setting. I think I pulled the first 2-3 miles going 14 mph.

Here’s the thing: there were several teams represented in the field. They should have been setting the pace. The bunch of individuals that were scattered throughout the field had no reason to set the pace because they weren’t working for anyone other than themselves. I think a lot of people assumed that the toughness of the course would create significant attrition, but not at the embarrassingly slow pace that was set. Once some other people started setting pace, I sat in the back and couldn’t take it. It was absolutely pathetic! Trying to convince some people to go with me, I said something under my breath and attacked about 5 miles into the race. I was hoping that someone would go with me, but no such luck. I got about 20-30 yards on the field, but they quickly picked up the pace and swallowed me back up. It wasn’t really a case of wanting to escape so much as trying to tire out the field a little bit.

I cannot express how boring and frustrating it is to be in a race when no one is willing to work. No one was willing to attack. No one was willing to go with me when I attacked so it was just a very boring ride. Around mile 9, I got so tired of braking on the downhills that I just went to the right of the group. Someone called out “she’s attacking!” I screamed back, “No, I’m just tired of braking.”

At mile 11, the “rollers” started and lasted until mile 21. These ten miles were what made the course. Now, for most people, “rollers” are little hills that go up and down and that you can use the momentum from the downhill to coast nearly to the top of the next hill. These hills were not those kind of rollers. These hills were all at least a half mile long so at best, you might have been able to coast a third of the way up the hill. But, not in this race! There was no coasting up the hills, there was too much braking on the downhills. Literally, for nearly the entire 10 mile section, all I heard was the echoes of various women warning that they were “slowing” so prevent anyone from causing a crash in the field.

I think that the woman pulling for most of the race was trying to tire out the field by making everyone climb every foot of every hill. While in some ways, I agree with the strategy, the downhills were long enough that they gave most people adequate recovery. I am not lying when I say that I probably had at least 20 if not 30 pounds on nearly all of the women in the field so getting up those hills was probably harder for me than nearly anyone else, and I was hurting on the climbs, but recovering well on the downhills.

The one bit of excitement for me was that on one of the last rollers, I think there was one left, I opted to shift to the little ring a little late, and I dropped my chain. In a normal road race, that pretty much would have ended my race. I had to stop, and it took me about 20 seconds to get my chain back on before I could start again. Fortunately, the group was on a false flat, and I was able to hustle to get back to the group. I would say that I time trialed it to catch the group, but really, it wasn’t that hard of an effort to get back. When I got settled back into the group, I looked down at my hand and realized that I mashed my finger against the gears pretty badly as I was kind of gushing blood from my middle finger. It reminded me of SO who had blood all over his jersey after Calvin’s. In the middle of a race, there’s just not much you can do about it.

I think there were a few more attempts to break in front towards the end of the rollers, but they were more attempts to reduce the recovery time. The group was really good at catching someone and slowing down.

When we got to the turn, I knew we had about 5 miles with a few little rises, but nothing I would consider a hill. I tried to keep myself in the front of the pack to see how I could do at the finish. With about 2 miles left, I knew I was in a bad spot. I tried to follow others to the front, but I in the third row of the field and as desperately trying to figure out a way to get into the 2nd row. It was just about that time that I hit a hole hard. My handle bars jerked out of my hands and for a split second I thought I was done, but I must have hit the hole square because my handle bars jumped right back into my hands. Thank goodness! No flat, no crash, it was just a very close call.
I tried to follow people up through the group, but the 2nd row seemed just impenetrable. Even at 200 meters when the road opened up, it didn’t matter because everyone pretty much stayed where they were. I couldn’t start my sprint when I wanted so I couldn’t get enough speed to move up significantly, but I did manage to get 7th in the bunch sprint. Considering there were 21 women in the field, 7th isn’t so bad, but figuring out where to be in a bunch sprint is definitely not a skill I have even contemplated practicing.
I was a bit frustrated with my luck, but it was what it was. I was able to comfort myself by looking at the results and realizing that all the women who beat me in the time trial finished after me in the road race. While I didn’t stay for the postings, I knew I had a decent chance of being somewhere for the GC after the road race.

Okay, I have read this post several times, and I believe I come off as slightly hypocritical, but note the following: I did attack, I did pull, and I was probably the biggest woman in the field so the climbing was much harder for me than probably anyone else. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Tour of the Valley - Day 1: Time Trial

A time trial is a short mileage (typically) all out individual effort. Each rider has his or her own start time, typically about 30 seconds to a minute in between each rider. A time trial is different from the rest of the sport in that it’s all about what the individual can do. Typically, in big races like the Tour de France, the time trial is the difference maker in that no one can do the work for someone else. It’s all about what you, the rider, can do.

This time trial was 8.5 maybe closer to 8.75 miles long and an out and back. The entire course had about 100 feet of elevation gain so it was definitely the flattest course for the weekend. Starting times grouped the various categories of cyclists together and were then in alphabetical order. For once, having a name at the end of the alphabet was advantageous as it enabled me to have one of the last starts in my category with plenty of carrots out there in front of me.

For Friday night, a friend, Mark, allowed me to crash with him and his two teammates, Eric and Ken, at his parents’ home in Warren. Now, I knew Mark fairly well, and I read Eric’s blog, but it would be lying if I didn’t say that I didn’t know what to expect hanging out with these guys for the weekend. I ended up absolutely cracking up with these three guys Friday. I carpooled with Mark out there and despite best attempts, managed not to forget any essential equipment.

I warmed up on what I thought was the course, but I went the wrong way out of the starting area, so I ended up on some pretty sketchy roads. I came back and called a friend basically to calm myself down a little bit. He made me laugh a few times but yelled at me to get off the phone and go warm up some more so that’s what I did.

The wind was definitely blowing, and it was going to hurt. The first maybe mile was uphill with a crosswind. Then, the next three miles had a tailwind and were a slight descent. We had to turn around then come back up the false flat (slight uphill) with the wind in our faces. But, the last mile was downhill with a crosswind. I would say the wind was easily over 15 mph, definitely a bit noticeable.
I have never claimed to be a strong headwind rider, but I am starting to realize that one of my strengths is mental toughness. Is the headwind going to suck? Absolutely! Is it going to suck for everyone, probably! So, it’s a nonfactor. I wanted to win this time trial so I was going to give it everything I had.
Around 5pm, I got in line for my 5:13 start. I was right behind someone I have known for quite a while so I was curious to see if/when I would pass her on the course. I was right in front of a really strong cyclist as well so I was more than a little worried about getting passed myself. We had a little ramp where someone held us up so we could be clipped in and get a bit of momentum for the ride. I believe that I probably had about 15 lbs on most of the other women on the field so when I got to the start, I asked the guy if he could hold me, I mean, I’m a big girl. He laughed, and Eric called out, “it’s all muscle, Marie!” My response, “Yeah, I know.” If you notice, I don’t look nervous, I am just following my competition that has already started up the road.
I started and only slightly came close to veering off the ramp but got the speed up quickly. While I had thoughts of paying attention to my time and when my watch beeped to tell me my mile splits, I really just focused on catching the people in front of me.  I passed the woman ahead of me about 2.5 miles into the course, not too bad. I was cruising, but so was everyone else, I mean, the course was downhill with a tailwind. I tried to avoid looking at my speed as I was trying to focus on the effort I was putting out, not the speed.

I got to the turn around and saw that the person who started right after me was only about 10 seconds behind me. It took another mile, but low and behold, she passed me. I was dejected, but I kept pushing. At one point, I noticed she stopped gaining ground on me, but I just didn’t have the strength to haul her back. The false flat and headwind combination was brutal. A few times, I noticed my speed was in the teens, which annoyed me as I wanted my average to be over 23 mph, but I know I was giving it all I had. I eventually passed two more women before I made the final turn. After that turn, it was pain threshold riding, while downhill, I was pushing as hard as I could.

I finished with a time of 22:49, 6 seconds faster than the winning time last year, but I knew that at least one woman beat me. I could taste blood in my mouth when I finished so I know that I worked pretty hard. After finishing, I ran into Andy, who lent me the jersey at my first crit. He told me that “I should have told him I didn’t have race wheels, he would have thrown them in the van.” Duh!!!

When it’s all said and done, I ended up getting 6th, good enough for 10 points in the general classification (over all three races), 3 seconds off 5th, but about a minute from 1st. While disappointed, I set a good time and probably with an aero helmet and race wheels, I would have had a better time. Regardless, there’s room for improvement.

The race start/finish was at a winery and let’s say that Mark might have had a drink or ten. I had a lot of fun hanging out with all of the Snakebite folks and Mark’s family.  Mark's parents were so accomodating and hospitable.  It was a very fun evening!

Twin Sizzler Race Report

Honestly, I had a blast during this race! I wasn’t fresh, but I am sure most others weren’t either. I didn’t get much sleep as I stayed up a little late watching the Tour with a friend. Couple 3 hours of sleep with an intense 40 mile crit about 14 hours before this race, and yeah, saying I wasn’t race ready might be an understatement.

I was riding in the all-age group women’s expert race. There were several strong women who rode in the citizens’ race, and it would have been interesting to see how I stacked up in a field including those ladies. But like any race, you can only race the people there.

I don’t know why it’s so difficult, but I can’t help myself from jumping to the front at the beginning of a race. It’s like my way of telling everyone that I am here to race! In fact, a lady who I will just refer to as “Rude Lady” started yelling at me because I was working too hard. I tried to express to her that I was fairly confident that 27 miles is unlikely to tire me out, but then she said, “you don’t look like you know what you are doing, are you new to road racing?” I wish I had the ability to say what I think, just can’t, but I so should have said, “yes, I am, I just took the training wheels off last night!”

Oddly enough, she took over the front and pulled into the wind for the next few miles. We turned onto a country road with some pretty gentle rollers. I looked up and saw that the one and only team that had three people represented looked back at me, saw that I was kind of blocked by having someone in front of me and someone to my left, and they attacked. I almost started laughing, I mean, here I am on my own (seemingly), and the three of them have to wait until they think I am blocked to attack, who wouldn’t love that much respect as a rider! Maybe the attack had nothing to do with me, but it sure seemed that way…

Fortunately, it was no problem to get out from where I was as the women by me were pretty inexperienced and didn’t hold their lines when I went to chase. I think it took maybe 10 seconds to chase them down, which is nothing new as I am chasing down the field in the crits after nearly every turn every Tuesday night for the last five weeks. I was actually doing the math, and I think that on the average Tuesday night crit, I do about 48 chases on the turns so the three I chased down on this race were not a big deal.

We then turned onto a road called Kennard, and it had the only noticeable hill on the course, and I attacked. I took the hill hard and finally broke the field apart a little bit, including dropping Rude Lady. This attack wasn’t nearly as successful as I thought it might be, but I was told that there was about a 20 yard gap between the two other women who went with me and the rest of the field. Unfortunately, one of them women in the break was part of the represented team, and she did her job, she slowed down the break so her team could catch up. I think it would have been better to sit in on the hill and attack at the top, but I am still learning.

The turn to Vandemark from Kennard was a downhill turn. I was second in line, and the woman in front of me took the turn pretty badly. Maybe I was more prepared for it after 14 technical downhill turns from the crit a few days before, but I nearly crashed trying to follow her line. It was about here where I started cooking up a strategy for the rest of the race. This road had a few rollers, and I pulled more than I probably should have, but I could see some red in the faces of the women doing most of the work, and I didn’t want the time they had off the front to be too easy.

With about 7 miles left, the team attacked the field once again. Unlike their first attack, this attack was slightly downhill or at least flat and had a tailwind so it was no problem to catch up. They were trying to take short fast pulls, but ultimately it failed. Having grabbed poptarts from a gas station for breakfast, I was worried I would come down from the sugar rush right as we approached the finish. Figuring it was as good a time as any, I ate half a thing of shot bloks.

If there had been an attack then, I probably would have struggled, especially given how congested I have been and how hard I found it to breath, eat, and ride at the same time. But, thankfully, planning to eat after a failed attack was good timing on my part.

As we approached the turn onto Branch, I purposefully took over the front. I took the turn fast to see what kind of gap I could generate. When I turned to look, it was sizeable, maybe five to ten yards. I then realized that the best strategy for the finish was to attack right before we turned off Branch then use the two technical turns at the end to create separation before the finish line. The finish line was close to the last turn so there wouldn’t be enough time for the less technical riders to outsprint us.

I would say that during the race, it was pretty friendly, I even called out the best place to take a sketchy set of rail road tracks, I then claimed it wasn’t out of niceness, but fear that someone else crashing would take me out, also true. Can’t be nice in road racing!

It was at this point that I turned to my incognito teammate to discuss strategy for the rest of the race. Since we both do the Tuesday night crits fairly regularly, I convinced her that those skills would be sufficient to take the win over the field of less technical riders. (Note: I think at least one of the riders in the group possibly has the skills, but she doesn’t like to use them) At no time during the race did I see any of the other women take a turn with any kind of speed. I was absolutely certain that we could capitalize on this apparent weakness.

About a quarter of a mile before when I wanted to attack, the one team leader who had probably spent the most time at the back of the line attacked. It seemed as though the team was protecting her so I was a little worried by how fresh she should have been, but my friend had already clued me in that she admits she isn’t a good sprinter. Rather than just chase her down, I opted to counter her attack and just never looked back. I decided if I couldn’t sprint for a little over a mile, I didn’t deserve to win. Off Branch, we turned to Liberty and were on that for probably half a mile, then a quick right on Vine followed by a quick left to the finish line. During that final stretch on Liberty, I was hurting, there was a stop light before the turn and the stretch between the stop light and the first of the two sharp turns was where I thought I was going to lose it, but I kept telling myself the pain wouldn’t last much longer. I needed speed to take into the turn in order to win.

At the final turn, I started sprinting for the line. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my friend come around me to take over the lead. Having worked to get here together, it didn’t matter to me who won, just that we took 1st & 2nd.

She later asked me why I let her have it, and I basically said that I was trying to show that I was true to my word. But, truth be told, I thought I could, but wasn’t sure I could outsprint her, and I didn’t see a reason in this race to test it. I was just super excited with the way I played this race. I mean, I pulled a bunch, I chased down the attacks, I kept the pace up, and I still could only be outsprinted by my friend who I protected and made sure was with me at the finish, all while burping up wine and on legs that were tired from a big effort the night before.

After the race, said Rude Lady came up and asked how I did. I think she fully expected to hear that I couldn’t keep up the pace and that I dropped. So, when I told her that we took 1st and 2nd, she was kind of surprised. She then asked how old we were because she was doing a masters race and wanted to make sure neither one of us is 50. HOLD THE PHONE GRANDMA!!!! Seriously, 50? Before the race, I was chatting with some of my long distance ladies, and they made a comment about how nice I am. Let’s say that this lady didn’t see my nice side.

Aside from having to wait at least 2 hours for the results, it was a fun way to start the Independence Day holiday!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tour de Grandview Race Report

The long and short of it is that I made a big mistake: I didn’t pre-ride the course. I had plenty of time before the masters’ race to do that, but I chose not to because I am an idiot. I am not sure how much longer I would have stayed in the race, but I do know that I was unprepared and had no chance of doing well as a result. I should say that when Andy, the race coordinator, was telling me about the race, the phrase “technical descent” received a response of, “well, that’s one of my biggest weaknesses.” I am scared of descents ordinarily so trying to race sweeping turns is completely out of my comfort zone. Knowing that, why did I sign up for this race?

Here’s why… At the Canton Crit, I time trialed the whole thing, stayed out front and just went all out the entire time. Only one women in the CAT 1,2,3’s passed me, and I passed a bunch of the 3’s in that race. I was curious how I would have done had I started at the same time. Here was an opportunity to get the chance to be at the starting line with some female PROs and some 1’s and 2’s and see where I stack up.

There were nine women in the CAT4 race. I was nervous because, well, I am always nervous before races. My dad also came down to the race, and I wanted to do well to show him kind of why I am so devoted to this new racing.

I ran into a guy I know from my Long Distance group rides, and he had done the masters’ race. He had actually crashed on one of the turns, but got up, got back in the pack, and managed to get 4th. When I told him that I hadn’t pre-ridden the course, he gave me a look that confirmed that deciding not to pre-ride was a big mistake. He gave me a brief synopsis of the course, warning me that the 3rd turn was pretty technical as was the 5th. He also said that the hill was going to get to me by the end. He had it in a nutshell before the race even started, that was EXACTLY how my race was going to go.

So, before the race, the officials segregated the 4’s from the rest of the field, and then they explained the lapped and pulled feature. I spoke up and said, “so, we are starting in the back, then are going to be penalized when we get lapped?” The official agreed that it didn’t exactly seem fair so they decided not to pull people off the course. But, we were still in the back of the pack, and that’s not a good place for me on a course I don’t know.

The race started with a whistle, and I tried to keep up, but when we got to that 3rd turn, I just wasn’t prepared, and I was OTB just like that. The turn was kind of down hill and 90 degrees so there was a lot of speed going into it, and it made me nervous. As soon as I touched my brakes, it was over. I thought I had seen three 4’s manage to stay with the pace, but I wasn’t sure. At least two of them were on the same team.

At one point, someone yelled at someone riding near me not to help me at all because she had teammates ahead. Basically, I was on my own, again. I tucked in behind people for recovery at the top of the hill a few times, but for the most part, no one in my area of the race could match me on the climb so I was almost always hauling people up the hill.

The unfortunate things was because I talked the guy out of pulling people off the course, I had no idea if I was catching 4’s ahead of me or behind me. As it turns out, all the 4’s that I believe I passed in the course of the race were 4’s I was lapping, not 4’s I was passing.

I tried to get a CAT3 woman to help me, but she basically said that I needed to learn how to take a turn before anyone was going to help me. Gee, thanks, but point taken. By the end of the race, I was taking the 5th turn going about 27-28 mph, but I was still pretty timid on the 3rd.

In total, I believe I did 13-14 laps of this course without getting lapped. If the 85 feet of elevation gain I was told was correct, that’s over 1,000 feet of elevation gain in 40 minutes averaging 19.7 mph without the benefit of working in a group. I would be lying if I didn’t say I was toast after this race. It was hot, humid, and that hill was a killer. I was happy to say goodbye to it on the final lap.

I was 4th in the CAT4 women. I know that I was ahead of a few CAT3’s, maybe two or three.

Take Aways from this race:

1. I need to have confidence in my bike – I have a very very nice road bike, it’s a great machine, and I need to trust that it will do what I ask.

2. I am strong – I once again time trialed a crit and didn’t get lapped (was close) but didn’t get lapped by a group of very strong female cyclists on this course. They were gaining the benefits of riding in a pack, getting to draft off others, and they couldn’t make up a mile on me in 40 minutes.

3. I am new to the game and need to work on my technical skills. I lost not because they are better, faster cyclists, but because they are better at the game that is crit racing.