Tuesday, July 17, 2012

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. 

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