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!

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