Like many smaller races, there was only one women’s race: CAT 1,2,3,4 race. As a CAT4, I find these races are a bit unsettling, knowing you are walking into the race as an underdog. This particular race was a circuit road race with 3 laps of a 10 mile loop. The course was pretty flat with one 1-2 minute climb almost exactly in the middle of the loop.
I was actually pretty cold before the race, I contemplated putting on arm warmers, but then I remembered a conversation or a voicemail or a text that I got from a friend before the road race at Tour of the Valley where he said just to work a little harder if I got cold.
In a meeting at work on Friday, somehow this race came up, and I recall saying, “it should go well, but it really just depends on who else shows up to race.” As my coach predicted, the Cleveland Clinic squad was fully represented, and when they got to the line, you could almost see people retching from the shot in the gut seeing them at the starting line threw. Maybe because I am new to the sport and still pretty naïve, but the defeatist attitude that takes over the field at nearly every race frustrates me. I get that they are strong, and I get that they are pretty much stronger than me in every facet of cycling, but I appreciate the opportunity to learn from them and am hopeful that someday winning for them is not a simple function of showing up.
Honestly, I recall the first loop starting off at a nice and comfortable pace. After a few miles, I saw Sally head towards the front, and I opted to follow. A couple miles down the road, I chased her down when she attacked. The field was large enough that getting blocked was a significant concern so I consciously stayed near or in front. I wasn’t thrilled with how much time I was spending in the front, but I think most of the time I was in the front was in relatively easy sections of the course.
The hill caught me by surprise, not because I didn’t know it was there, but by how poorly I rode it. I suddenly found myself in the OTB having to bridge a gap to get back to the field.
Oh, with about two miles left in the loop, I overheard some women asking me to lift up my jersey because they wanted to see the rest of my tattoo on my back. I quickly pulled it down, but once again, I found myself cursing my too long torso and too short women’s jersey! I was definitely embarrassed!
I don’t think much else was eventful on this loop other than not particularly enjoying the last mile of the loop. It was an uphill finish with a headwind and there was no overhead indication of where the finish line actually was, making the eventual sprint to the finish harder to time.
The second loop definitely got a bit more exciting. Cleveland Clinic started putting on an attacking display, one attacking right after the other. We would chase one down, the next would go. We would chase her down, and another would go. I finally said to another rider to let the rider go, let her dangle out front. Thankfully, I was right that once someone was OTF, they stopped attacking. She wasn't making any ground on the field, and I was fairly confident she would get roped back into the field eventually.
Right before we approached the hill, I took the turn rather aggressively as I was front, and I found myself kind of in no man’s land. I hadn’t meant to surge ahead, but I was stuck in the middle unable to bridge up to the person off the front but significantl ahead of the field. I didn’t think it mattered because I hadn’t climbed the hill particularly well on the first time through, wasn’t likely to do much better the second time around the course. Eventually, the field swept me up, and we caught back up with the one woman out front.
I once again managed to ride the hill quite poorly. I really had to work to catch back up, but back up I did. I think it was around then that Sally attacked but she was suddenly gone, and I don’t really recall seeing it happen. I wasn’t the only one because others didn’t realize she was gone either.
Also at this point, one of the fellow riders said to me, “are you a triathlete?” I am not going to lie, it felt insulting. As a triathlete, we are well aware that we don’t “fit in” with swimmers, roadies, or runners. In cycling, we get yelled at for not holding our lines, poor handling skills, or not riding in a pace line correctly. So, even if it’s because I wasn’t wearing kit shorts and not my riding, I did not appreciate being called a triathlete.
When we finished the second loop, I heard someone tell Sam that Sally had 45 seconds on the field. I am sure it was more by the time we finished as her team did an excellent job of slowing down the pace.
At this point, I still felt very strong and was frustrated with the size of the field. I wanted to place in this race, and while the race director apparently changed how many places there were going to be, I wanted to be guaranteed to be “in the money.” In my mind, that meant top 5. There were 11 still in the field so there was a lot of work to be done, and I already felt like I had been doing more than most to keep the race together. I should say that Lorena from Snakebite, Jane from Spin, and two women from Competitive Cyclist (???) did a ton of work too, but there were plenty of others sitting in enjoying the fruits of our labor.
At that point, I talked to a couple of people about when I wanted to attack and tried to recruit them to work with me. The one sounded up for it, but the other said that she didn’t think she had enough left in the tank. While good in theory, things never work out the way they are planned.
About two miles into the third loop, there was an attack, and three went off the front. I thought that it wouldn’t survive through the hill so no one of chased it down. When we got to the hill, for the first time, I opted to stay in the big ring and grind it out. I was losing too much speed going into the little ring, and I just couldn’t afford to spin up the hill. Fortunately, one of the women that was in the break made a badly timed decision to drop to her little ring and consequently dropped her chain. She had to stop to put it back on. (Ironically, when I contemplated dropping to the little ring, I remembered dropping my chain at TOV by making a similar decision). The loss of momentum was enough to break those three apart, but the field took the hill pretty hard, and by the time we got to the top, the field was fragmented.
The field had already given up on chasing down Sally. So, first was long gone. In front of me there were three women, followed by two more who were maybe 20 yards behind them, and then me followed by a couple of stragglers. Knowing that there were only about 4-5 miles left, I let the adrenaline take over and quickly caught up with the first two women, dropping the stragglers behind me. To say I had a bit of adrenaline pumping might be an understatement, I was really trying to encourage the other two to work with me, that if we worked together, we could get past the three ahead of us. The one, Lorena, asked me to pull up and pull as I apparently had some fire in my legs. I took over pulling and was in front when we made a turn. If you have read my blog posts at all, you know that I love turns in races. Like all other races, I took this one aggressively, which gave me a quick boost to the three women ahead of us. Unfortunately, the two women behind me weren’t able to follow my line through the turn and were stranded without me. I wanted Lorena to keep up because I thought she would work with me through the finish, but when one of the women saw her approach, she picked up the pace and made sure no one else bridged up to us.
With about 2 miles left in the race, it was pretty clear that I was in the top 5. The two women behind were not catching up, only one other woman in our pack of four was willing to work, and I got stuck in the front pulling us to the finish line.
When we made the turn, it totally blew as there were a few cars right by where we knew the finish line to be. Having pulled for way too much of this race, I just didn’t have much sprint speed left in the legs, not that there is much there usually. I managed to drop one of the women, but was several bike lengths behind the 2nd and 3rd place finishers.
I was very excited with my finish, but I am slightly disappointed too. I had a fortune cookie before Tour of the Valley, and the fortune said, “We must not become complacent over any success.” Don’t get me wrong, getting 4th at this race is not a trivial accomplishment, but I am disappointed in myself for not fighting harder in the sprint. In that moment, I was complacent with placing, didn't matter where I placed.
I had several women ask if they could see my tattoo. Apparently, they couldn’t see the whole thing so were very curious what it was. I guess my ex isn’t the only person fascinated by the monkey on my back.