Race Report: Brentwood Grand Prix

I’m not sure if it is the many corners, SCNCA Elite State Criterium Championship jersey, $4000 cash purse, or the spectators cheering in the heart of Brentwood, but this race is always a heated one.

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I came to this race ready to win because I was the solo TIBCO racer and knew that taking on the challenge would only make me racer better. Now, if you are imagining a little climber Tink versus super strong sprinters in a crit, you are probably laughing. I’m not kidding. My legs felt good, I had my plan from Ron Peterson and Dotsie Bausch, and I actually believed that I had some slim shot of pulling off something along the lines of getting in a break and then at some point getting to the line solo. The solo part is key because, well, let’s just say my sprint is a work in progress. My sprint exists in my mind, but it’s a lead out to everyone that watches.

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Soon enough, it’s go time! The attacks were non-stop. Clearly Joy McCulloch, Katie Donovan, and the SC Velo ladies wanted a break. I had my mind made up that if Joy, Katie, Suzanne, Emily Georgeson, or Julie Cutts went, I was coming. I might take a while to get there, and I might bring some others (or the field) with me, but I was coming. Attack after attack, but nothing stuck.

Thank you to John Perez at TRU Cycling for the race photos.

Thank you to John Perez at TRU Cycling for the race photos.

We recall that the only way I know how to win is to get to the line solo. So, when it is all together with 1 lap to go, I try one last time to get away. I find myself leading with the pack strung out on my wheel. And, I find myself swarmed by 8 racers just before the line with Suzanne Sonye taking the title for the second year in a row. Impressive. Even more impressive if you saw her working earlier in the race, clearly with another teammate in mind.

Race Report: San Marcos Crit

I had this top-secret plan for this crit that is really a circuit race with a significant bump. I wanted to get away early with Jessica Cerra and hopefully 1-3 other strong steady wheels. Apparently this was the plan of the other aggressive racers, so the attacks were relentless from the start. But with a field full of mostly motivated solo racers, every break was brought back rather quickly. Try, try again…frustration and fatigue were mounting and hopes of a successful break were dwindling.

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With about 15 minutes to go, when we were tired of chasing attacks, a solo racer got up the road. None of us at the front knew her, so we didn’t worry too much. Unfortunately for the field, we never organized a strong chase and although a few of us tried to bring her back in the last couple laps, it was too late. In the final lap, I spent some time on Joy McCulloch’s wheel but far too much time leading. Going to the finish, I was driving the pace but realized I was setting myself up for failure if I didn’t find a wheel. I hesitated, letting up on my speed, and just before the line three racers came around me. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Jessica take a very well deserved second. Coming in 5th did not make it a stellar day for me, and honestly I was disappointed when I crossed the line.

finish

After talking with Ron Peterson, I realized it was actually a quite successful day for me because my cornering, holding wheels, and race strategy all showed improvement. My legs finally, after a week of recovery from Cascades and massage with Mark Payares, had some life in them. I keep tweaking with my race nutrition, and finding what Powerbar products have me best fueled for the type of effort I am going to put in that day. It’s a process, step one is getting out to the races and it’s great to see more women having fun doing that. Every time I racy my bike, win or lose, I come home a better racer. Many other ladies in the sport can say the same.

Race Report: Cascade Cycling Classic

The Cascade Cycling Classic was initially described to me as a “climbing race.” But when reflecting on the 6 days of racing, the climbs are not what come to mind. The team tactics and success and the many learning moments are vivid.

Prologue

I decided to take a spin around the course a few times, if for nothing more than to raise my confidence. Both the course and TT bike were brand new to me, so I wanted to get well acquainted with them. Apparently I overestimated my skills because I tried to take a tight turn at full speed in my aero bars and nearly crashed into the barricades. Let’s just say that didn’t exactly raise my confidence, but it did give me a new game plan…get through the prologue in one piece. Going with that as the primary goal, I spent most of the descent out of my aero bars and the rest of the time pedaling as hard as I could until I crossed the line in 5:32, placing 54th. Shelley had an awesome ride to place second behind Alison Powers.

Stage 1, McKenzie Pass RR

My job for this race was to set tempo on the climbs. This seemed simple enough until there were a couple attacks that I felt were my job to cover because I was in good position to do so. Apparently this was a fail because (1) it would have been better to leave that work to another team and (2) it hurt my legs pretty bad so when the climbers took off later in the climb, I didn’t have it in me to go with them to support our GC rider (Claudia Haeusler). I crested the first long climb in a small group that included my teammate Lauren Stephens and Optum’s Jade and Janel. Lauren and I had four teammates up the road and Optum did not have any, so we knew we should not work in our pack. My focus then turned to getting down more water and gels to finish the very hot stage in the best condition possible for the upcoming days. Claudia took the stage win and QOM jersey and our team moved into the lead in the team GC.

Stage 2, Prineville TT

Even though it was wicked hot and my legs were super sore, I was pretty excited for this TT because (1) it would be my first full time trail on a TT bike and (2) there was no ramp to worry about getting down. Just me and my super speedy Fuji going full power, fun! Not so much. Apparently I needed to practice TT starts more. I don’t put force on the pedals until the starter lets go of me, so when he does I kind of just fall over. So it went “3, 2, 1…ahhh fall into barricades, grab them, and yell help help help.” Apparently they can’t help you once your time starts, so I had to unclip and get started again on my own. Needless to say, I was a bit frazzled once I got rolling, but I regained focus and concentrated on the four things my coach, Ron Peterson, had told me to think about: staying aero, my line, steady power, and high cadence. Given that nobody had passed me before the first turnaround, I thought I was doing pretty well. Then I looked at this sharp U-turn and had no idea how to handle it. I decided to play it safe by coming out of my aero bars and unclipping one foot. Well, the temptation to put that foot down once it was unclipped and I felt totally unsteady was a bit too much and I ended up kind of walking it around the turn and then remounting and clipping back in…fail. Two racers soon passed me and although I yet again tried to regain focus, it was hard. Add in that my legs hurt terribly although I felt like I was hardly taxing my lungs, and let’s just say my level of frustration was pretty high. I finally crossed the line in 45th with 38:41, minutes behind the incredible Alison Powers who always crushes TTs.

Stage 3, Cascade Lakes RR

Now this one was an adventure. The race started with a very long descent full of erratic slowing. I cruised down it trying to spin my tingly legs and staying out of trouble. Then came some rollers where I went to the front to set tempo but then learned it was better to leave this to another team. When I went off the front, I soon found myself again at the very back and stuck behind a bad crash that left several racers injured and me chasing in far too heavy of a gear and unaware that I could use the draft of cars to help me get back to the pack. When I finally reached the main group, I was pretty dead and wanted to take a little recovery time. Unfortunately, I prefer to recover by myself off the back of the pack and that does not actually allow for recovery.

When we hit the long flat/rolling section, there was attack after attack and I went to the front to get my head back in the game and see how I could help. My teammate up there told me that I did not need to work on the front but could stay there if it helped me stay in the lead group. Then came yet another attack that my teammate told me I could follow, so I did. As soon as that was brought back, I followed another attack that turned into a break. The four of us rotated through and got a 20-30 second gap. Our break stayed away until Exergy chased us down to take the intermediary sprint. My memory of the rest of this race is a bit foggy, but TIBCO’s Lauren went on to take the stage win after following and then dropping Janel who was bridging up to Donovan who had dropped her breakaway partners and went on to finish 2nd.

I climbed with the final main selection of Oliviera, Powers, McGrath, Dvorak, Abbott, and my teammates Jo and Claudia. Once we had a decent gap on the next pack, I looked at Claudia to see what I could do to help her. She told me to attack, so I did but didn’t get much gap. After we made the final turn headed to the finish, I saw Claudia come flying by with several on her wheel. I ended up 8th, 5 seconds off that group and Claudia gained some time on Abbott and Dvorak but remained 2nd GC.

Stage 4, Downtown Crit

Team TIBCO made several attacks, but in the end it came down to a photo finish with Shelley second and Lauren Hall taking the win. I hung safely with the main group, looking forward to the final stage.

Stage 5, Awbrey Butte CR

Team TIBCO wanted to make this race HARD, although I think the heat and puncher climbs would make it anything but easy even without our game plan. My part in this was to press the tempo on the rollers and then stay near Claudia who would keep the pace high on the main climbs. Add in my teammates attacking and it was a race that would have all of us hurting and make a break more likely to stick.

In the final lap, Amanda Miller did get in a break and went on to take the stage win after putting in two attacks on her breakaway partners. Claudia held on to 2nd GC and the QOM jersey, Jasmin Glaesser remained the best young rider, and we also won the team competition. Add in that Jo Kiesanowski and Claudi took two jerseys in the Women’s Prestige Series, and it is safe to say that Team TIBCO had a very successful stage race. We couldn’t have done it without our incredible sponsors and staff who work so hard for us, and I couldn’t have learned and contributed half what I did without my team, family, coach, Mark Payares, and Dotsie Bausch supporting and encouraging me through the good and bad.

Manhattan Beach Grand Prix

I lined up next to my teammate, Samantha Schneider, and showed her my trembling hands. I don’t think this reassured her that our talk about racing with confidence had stayed in my head very long. I looked over and saw my coach, Ron Peterson, and Big Orange buddies Lauren and Greg. They seemed excited and confident that today would be a great race. Whistle, it’s go time. Clip in time, ugh, fail. I’ve been practicing, really, but not with nerves. Straight to the back. I smiled, relaxed, and found my way right back to the front, with confidence. Goal number one, find the front, complete.

Photo credit: Billy Cordero

Photo credit: Billy Cordero

Goal number two, stay in the top ten and maybe even be productive up there. Productive as in cover attacks and keep the pace high. Unless Sam was in a break, I didn’t want one to get more than a few seconds on the pack. It is amazing how much more fun a crit/circuit race is when you are expending energy to help a teammate rather than to chase back on after gapping yourself out from the last wheel over and over and over again as you fearfully slow through the corners. Corners are meant to be taken with confidence. As Joy McCulloch told me, “It’s all about becoming one with that machine and trusting yourself!” Every corner that I thought about grabbing my breaks I told myself, trust your bike, trust yourself, and each corner became a little less scary for me and the racer who was on my wheel. Another good friend, Chris Cook, told me “A bike is a lot easier to handle than a horse, bikes do not get skittish, stubborn, spook, get tired etc. You can absolutely be a great bike handler and being confident in that fact is the most important element in accomplishing this feat.” In the last week, I heard that word “confidence” from my teammate, coach, Michael Engleman, Joy, and so many others. And then, I tried it out.

Photo credit: Billy Cordero

Photo credit: Billy Cordero

Less than a year ago, Suzanne Sonye watched me race my first Cat 1-3 crit with way too much confidence in my skills that were next to non-existent and my sprint that was really strong only in my mind. Then she got the joy of being gapped out by me at our local practice crit that I started coming to each week to work on my weaknesses. She watched my frustration and she also saw my determination to make it in this sport. This sport that apparently is much more than climbing fast. The last thing she told me after Telo Tuesday was “you’ll get the hang of it.” Today, as she saw me start to do just that, she gave me a gentle pat on the back and some words of encouragement. She saw me riding with confidence and she also saw me working for my teammate and recognizing that this was NOT my race to win. I had learned something and was putting it to good use.

Photo credit: Billy Cordero

Photo credit: Billy Cordero

With a few laps to go, I found Sam and said, “talk to me.” She said to keep the pace high, exactly what Dotsie told me to do, and BELIEVED that I could do, on the second to last straightaway. I did that until the pack swarmed me on the final headwind stretch. All I could think was “go, Sam, go!” And wow did she go, 2nd place only to Erica Allar.

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As we cooled down, Sam continued to be the best teammate I could imagine. Sprint like the total stud she is, reinforce my confidence, and then help me learn from the race. My Team TIBCO teammates and staff have been nothing but encouraging as I make the jump to NRC/NCC level racing. Today, I begun to race with the confidence that my team and others have shown in me and with the skills that I have been working to improve because this sport is about so much more than fitness.

Race Report: Nature Valley Grand Prix Stage Race

Picking Up The Pieces

I was a bit broken after Nationals. Actually, I was crushed. My body had never worked so hard for 3 hours and accomplished so little toward the team and individual results. I was a bit worn physically, but Mark Payares could fix that. Mentally, I was beyond worn. I was in pieces, many frustrated pieces. It took a whole host of people, particularly Ron Peterson and Dotsie Bausch, to help me refocus and get to work. Slowly we pieced together my body, then it to my new Fuji, and then that unit took on crits/cornering. Although two weeks out from the Nature Valley Grand Prix I was  a bit uncertain about a TT, 3 crits and 2 long road races over 5 days, I headed off to it feeling ready.

Wednesday AM- Stage 1: 7.7 mile St. Paul TT

First time racing in the rain, fabulous. No worries, I got this, it’s just a TT. I know how to ride my bike by myself. Get to the starting platform in the relatively heavy gear that I was advised to start in and see others in the same one, excellent. The starter lets go of me, and I push down on my right pedal only to go nowhere. What? Oh no, clock is running, must go! Push down really hard on the pedal this time and launch myself straight off the side of the slick platform. I remember thinking for a split second, “maybe I’ll land on my wheels and just keep riding.” Next thought was, “I think I am about to flip over my bars.” And then I was on the ground yelling “ouch, ouch, ouch” with my bike over me and feet still clipped in. Lots of people screaming for medical, and a very kind woman picking me up off the ground and letting me know I could start at any time if I wanted. Two minutes later, my director picked me up, pretty much threw me on my bike after I said I thought I could race, and was telling me “you go now!” to which I repeatedly responded “like, right now?” until he gave me a push and I went NOW. 19 minutes after that, I crossed the line and started to actually assess the damage to my body, mind, and race result.

Wednesday PM- Stage 2: St. Paul Crit

I knew it was important to get to the line early and get clipped in right away for this technical crit. Of course, I suck at getting clipped in, so I was immediately at the back of the pack sprinting out of corners. Early in the race, I got stuck behind a crash and found myself in a chase group that worked together to get through at least 50% of the race because that was the requirement to continue to the next stage. That took about 30 minutes with my heart rate averaging the same that it did in the morning time trial. Ouch.

Thursday- Stage 3: 93 mile Cannon Falls RR

As Team TIBCO drove the course before the race, I looked at the dirt road and thought, “I’ve only rode down one of these once, and I ended up being swarmed by dogs causing me to crash and bruise ribs. I hope this goes better. Advice, team?” The team had advice, go FULL POWER.

The team had some other plans, advice, and ways to calm my nerves. The other key for this this race, and all the others, was to stay toward the front. I found my way up to the front quite a bit in the first 20-25 miles and helped a teammate up there when she needed that, but later in the race settled in at the back where I feel more comfortable when tired although I know it usually makes my life a whole lot harder. Around mile 50, the race was stopped because the break had been misdirected. Our team director, Manel Lacambra, took the opportunity to remind me to go up front NOW and stay there. Right, always easier said than done. 5 miles later, I’m back nearly last wheel and stuck behind a crash. I simply couldn’t dodge it, started to run over a girl, and then crashed.  I heard my head slam and that worried me. Within seconds, Manel was there to pick up the pieces and get me back on my bike. After all, I knew I could deal with a dirt road and bruised/cracked ribs. Somehow I made it through the rest of that stage and held myself together until I crossed the line and soon found some good friends that helped me to Team TIBCO and the medical staff who informed me that they suspected a few cracked ribs.

Friday- Stage 4: Uptown Minneapolis Crit

Once again, I could not get clipped in, so I wound up at the back, gapped out, and in a chase pack that got pulled around 8 laps to-go. Rather uneventful, and my body appreciated a day without hitting the ground

Saturday- Stage 5: 82 mile Menomonie RR

This was going to be a HARD stage. Not just because it was a road race on our fourth day with very strong teams like Optum, but also because our team was determined to make it that way. We wanted to hammer every climb, starting with the early rollers. In the first hour, Shelley helped me find the front and then I went to work pressing the pace on the rollers. After working hard for Team TIBCO and learning some about how to make that effort effective, I eventually went into hang on to the pack mode as my teammates demonstrated some awesome tactics including a beautiful attack by Amanda Miller. On the final QOM climb, Amanda and I were both pretty beat and found ourselves cresting the climb in a chase pack that eventually cruised around the wet finishing circuits. I couldn’t have cared less what place I came in individually because I knew Lauren Stephens had sealed a solo victory and I was hopeful that Shelley Olds would take the field sprint. 1-2 for team TIBCO, moving Shelley within 1 second of the yellow jersey.

Sunday- Stage 6: Stillwater Crit

I stood on the line knowing it would be a race to see who could clip in quickly and doubting that my sore ribs would let me get the deep breaths that an 18% grade climb would demand. Add in the overall fatigue that I assume every racer was feeling and the nervous energy of having Optum and TIBCO in such a close battle, and it is safe to say that I was a bit shaky at the line.

Although I took forever to clip-in, sending myself straight to the back, I was relieved to see that I could get up that climb and settle in with a group. I thought, “one lap down, that wasn’t soooo bad.” Then comes the second lap and I’m ready to take on that climb only to have it feel so much harder. Look down, big ring. I was scared that under so much force I would drop a chain trying to shift straight down to the little ring, so I focused really hard and made my way up the climb in the big gear. After that, it felt like my rib was stabbing my lung. When I was pulled along with places 36-52 with about 5 laps to go, I got the pleasure of watching Jo Kiesanowski and Claudia Haeusler got 1-2, Shelley claiming the overall GC, Claudia cinching the QOM jersey and our team taking the overall win.

team

Standing on that podium, there was no feeling of broken pieces. Rather, it was the feeling of eight women pouring everything they had into six hard races to work effectively as a team and then savor the success together.

Pro Road Nationals: A Beautiful Disaster

In the week leading up to Nationals, I had great workouts, recovery treatment with Mark Payares, and settled in nicely with Team TIBCO in Chattanooga. A couple days before the race, I got set on a Fuji bike with Di2, Reynolds wheels and a super comfortable Prologo saddle. What an awesome setup. With just four TIBCO racers, our options for team strategy were fairly limited but solid. My job was simple, but hard. Hard, but not impossible if I raced well. And it seemed that I was all set to do just that.

The race started with three circuit style laps. I didn’t trust my new bike simply because I had only a couple spins on it and had not quite matched the fit to my old one. Because I was feeling uncomfortable, my weaknesses were exaggerated, and I found myself breaking terribly through the turns leaving me gapped and chasing over and over again.

Going into the first big lap and main climb, I felt like I had just completed a 45 minute crit. Riding near my max, I watched the lead group pull away and simply could not go with them. Knowing my team really needed me in that break, I tried to bridge up. I only made it halfway before realizing I would never close the gap and then returned to the pack behind me. Humbling and painful. Next came the descent where I again was breaking hard through the turns leaving me dropped from the pack and with a small chase group.

Our chase pack rotated through on the small lap and caught the large group that we had been dropped from on the descent. Heading to the next big lap and main climb, Shelley Olds gave me some words of encouragement and backed it up with a big push up to the front. That had me in perfect position until we took the final turn going to the climb and I again threw on my breaks and lost far too many spots. The second climb, I again watched some of the top climbers pull away. Four of us then got some separation from our pack only to be caught by it on the descent.

With the climbing and descending complete, it was back to the flats for three more small laps. I had no idea what to do at this point and wasn’t sure what my legs could give. Shelley said to work and I headed up to the front of our group that was rotating through with sprinters following behind. I took pulls, made some attacks on the straightaways and tried not to get others gapped out on the turns. My feet had passed the numb state and were now in pure pain. Sure, my legs hurt, but I couldn’t have cared less about that sort of pain and had almost forgotten about it after hurting for two hours. Part of that was my fault because I only got through one bottle of water until this point in the race. I downed a bottle of mix and a gel, and that seemed to help me put in some good work in the first two short laps.

After two laps, I really had nothing left and found myself again at the back, cornering worse and worse and closing larger and larger gaps. I knew I would not be attempting to sprint anyone among the group I was in because there was a turn before the final few hundred meters where I would gap myself out. I thought about trying to take it harder to stay with the pack for the finishing straightaway, but I was so shot by that point that sprinting for 25th instead of 30th and increasing the risk for others and me seemed irrational. Much better to know Shelley would take the sprint out of our pack and I would go home to get a bike fit with Ron Peterson and practice cornering and descending on my new Fuji.

In a lot of ways, that sounds like a disaster of a race. And it was because my weaknesses meant I spent energy that I needed to save for the climb so I could be in the break with our awesome Amanda Miller who took 6th. But in a lot of ways, it was a really good experience. Racing with Team TIBCO presented new elements that I didn’t know how I would like. I loved hurting more than I have ever hurt in a race with purely the team result in mind. And, although I wish I had been able to have all that suffering used in a productive way, it felt good to have my teammates and director help me learn from my mistakes and keep moving forward with a positive mindset. I have work to do, but I am among a team that believes in me and will help me every step of the way. A team that stands behind its racers through good and bad is a beautiful thing.

I’ll create my own…

While my new teammates were giving everything they had to come out with the win at the Grand Prix Gatineau, I was resting and resting and resting. Let’s just say I was craving a bit of that effort. I knew it would feel good yet painful to climb today after a rest week. Halfway up the first climb, I decided I needed to create my own mini hard effort. NOTHING like the effort my teammates gave on race day, but something like 20 minutes of that “ouch, can I be done yet?” type of effort.

I usually do 20 minute power tests on Mandeville. They are planned, scheduled, expected to be super painful and usually with a group to help me convince myself that I really want to max out. And then every once in a while I get the desire to hammer when I start up what was planned to be a tempo-hard effort on Topanga-Old Topanga. It generally isn’t totally a max effort, but good enough to consider it a solid 20 minute benchmark. Today was one of those days: 20 minutes (5.8 miles averaging 2.9%) @ 265 watts (5.23 w/kg), HR avg. 181, max 191, 85 rpm. A pretty nice jump up from March 17 when I held 253 watts (5.07 w/kg).

Having created a bit of my own hurt with that effort, the steady tempo climbing as planned was sounding pretty good for the rest of the climbs. No more hurting, thank you. But my feet. Ummmm, ouch! Numb, regain feeling, ouch, numb, ouchhhhhh. I’ll create my own hurt, feet, please don’t create your own!