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.
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.