11 Races in 16 Days
A quick race summary & season update.
THIS SEASON IS TAKING ME ON A SERIOUS TOUR OF THE US AS I DRIVE AROUND IN MY LITTLE ‘HOME’ CONVERTED FORD TRANSIT AND RACE MY BIKE WITH TEAM WELLAND RACING DET & GUEST SPOTS WITH QCW’S COMPOSITE SQUAD. THE FULL SCHEDULE TAKES ME FROM MN -> SC -> FL -> GA -> MN -> AL -> AR -> NM -> CA -> MN -> IL -> TN -> CAN -> VA -> TN -> MN -> IL (THIS IS ALL SUBJECT TO CHANGE). IT’S DAUNTING AND AGGRESSIVE, BUT EXHILARATING AND FULL OF ADVENTURE!
I just finished the portion MN -> AL -> AR -> NM. On the road for 3 weeks now, during which over a 16 day span, I raced my bike for 11 of them. I’m tired. Everything hurts. I miss my bed. I've eaten too many sport bars, gels, bananas, cans of tuna, and hard boiled eggs. The van is a tornado of racing gear.
I started to write a race by race, play by play recap… but that’s 11 days of racing to cover and I was getting overwhelmed just writing it, so I’m sure it wouldn’t have kept your interest. Instead, I’ll give a summary (a detailed summary) of what’s occurred up to this point.
The journey started in Minnesota where a fresh 6’’ of snow motivated me to pack up and GTFO. After a cold van night in MO, I pushed on to TN for some sunny riding up Lookout Mtn before heading south to AL where I pre rode the Peidmont RR course before meeting up with my teammates at a host* house. It was awesome to have the squad together for 2 big races. I was caught behind someone else’s technical issue at the start of the crit, got a bad start, and was subsequently pulled practically immediately from the race. I shook it off and mental prepped for the next day’s RR. At staging, we discovered that the elite women would start with the masters. While I typically don’t mind the occasional mixed field as it provides some fun and different tactics, the women had a large field already, there was no need to make it larger. Also, these masters men were aggressive from the gun. One straight out shoved Starla (Hagens). First, don’t mess with Starla, that girl is scary. Second, why is an adult man physically shoving a female!? This interaction did provide a moment of entertainment for me who was on Starla’s wheel and got to watch her retaliate. Which she did enough to force an apology from the guy. But this moment sets the stage for the first ~10 miles; men shoving, stealing wheels, people crossing the yellow line, etc… it was chaos and resulted in many people getting shed from the pack. Luckily, I was able to navigate this mess and keep myself with the main pack and hang on during the rolling, sometimes steep climbs. The final mile was the sketchiest: about 40 men and women riding full throttle into a street with large gravel patches & twisty turns towards the finish. At the final corner my line was cut off by one of the masters men, forcing me to tap the brakes and hesitate as the final sprint took off. I finished 22nd which wasn’t as well as I wanted to do but not bad for the talent in the field. In any case, I wasn’t down and was ready for more!
Welland hosted a post-race celebration dinner for the team of wine, roast potatoes and grilled salmon, after which we packed up and headed towards Fayetteville AR. To limit driving miles on our legs, we made a pit stop in Little Rock for a night which was full of some easy explorer style spinning and trips to Meteor Coffee. It was a quick and busy in and out and off to Fayetteville, where Joe Martin Stage Race (JMSR) was to take place. We settled in our spacious Air BnB (unfortunately Fayetteville seems to lack host housing*) and went for an opener style ride. JMSR is a 4 day UCI stage race consisting of 2 road stages, 1 uphill TT & 1 crit. Women must be at least Domestic Elite status with a team of 5-7 riders to participate. There would be over 90 women (PRO & Elite teams) taking the start line; this was a BIG race! Welland Racing was signed up well in advance but endured some last minute stressful roster changes and ended up racing with 4 core teammates and 1 guest rider. We also had 2 support staff, our team director and performance director along, who would take care of meetings, caravan, bikes, making sure we had water, were ready, confident, able etc… basically all the crucial non-racing elements of a bike race. The plan was for me to go for GC with my teammates providing a wheel and better positioning throughout the road stages. Races rarely go to plan. Jennah saw a great opportunity to follow another team’s sprint lead and went for it. She just missed the points, but got a good confidence boost for herself. These choices are difficult ones; go when a chance presents itself and risk uprooting the plan or follow the plan and be safe. Unfortunately, the intense sprint effort cost her too much energy and she struggled in the remaining miles. Teammate Sarah ended up in the medical tent after suffering severe cramps and fatigue (later determined to be rhabdomyolysis). Teammate Jenni found the pace and climbs to be too much and was in a chase group further back. Our guest rider Allison was in it for her first UCI race and did quite well with that change in pace. Surprising myself, I easily managed the switchback descent portion and was leading heading up the next climb alongside future composite teammate Stef Sydlik until she made a big attack and I couldn’t hang. I struggled to keep up with the surge and dangled at the back of the lead group. Dumb, as Beth Ann (nicely) pointed out later and Allie would point out later on at GILA, I should work on being patient. The advice I’ve had from these two is always welcomed and completely accurate. Thanks for keeping me in check gals! Appreciate it! Anyhow, I was sprinting to reconnect with the group just as feed opened, so my team’s caravan car had a bottle dangling out the window. Without thinking I grabbed it and got back onto the group. Great right? No. Not great. We had passed the green zone and littering (ejecting a bottle) would be a $500 fine. Now I had 3 bottles. The kit pockets are small and I couldn’t fit it in while riding at effort. I tried to get the bottle into my jersey to sit in my back for later, but the jersey kept unzipping fully leaving me nowhere to place it. I held it in my teeth to try and shift as the group surged on. Unfortunately, all this silly fiddling with an extra bottle cost me the lead group. I disconnected and rode solo until a chase group caught me and we rode on to the finish. I was so upset. I cried a lot and was just kicking myself for making such a dumb mistake that cost me the stage and finishing far worse than I was capable of. I was crushed and really felt like I let myself and the team down. Sigh, not a way to start but tomorrow was a new day. Another road race, this time point to point with a tailwind and a 30 minute climb. My mood was flat but my legs felt good. All I had to do was stay with the lead group up the climb, which seemed doable for me. It was. The pace was higher at the start and cresting the hill, but otherwise it was completely manageable. Thankfully, Beth Ann had come up to me and given me some helpful advice of ‘let others do the work up the climb, be patient’ which is totally valid and solid advice. Having someone more experienced give me some words of wisdom helped me to calm down and just sit in and wait. Whenever I wanted to GO, I thought ‘well BAO will be super annoyed with me not listening to her if she sees me go to the front…’. So I sat in. Things got attacky after the feed zone, but settled down quickly after it was clear no one was getting away during the tailwind. With a few K to go, things got crazy. Attacks everywhere. The road was full of debris and racers were getting flats and pulling off while others were driving the pace and crashes were happening. It was chaos. In order to avoid going down, I missed out on hopping into another team’s lead out and ended up finishing 47th, but only 44 seconds off the leader. Not impressed with my finish but not not impressed with my fitness. Shrug, on to day 3. I hate TTs. I’m just not great (or even good) at them. This TT was a bit different as it was a 3 mile uphill stretch. This I could do! Unfortunately, my power meter was reading high which threw me off, I should have gone by feel and pushed it harder. I rode the 20 miles back to the air BnB to shake out my legs, get more miles and find some mental clarity. We all got to unwind that evening with a team sponsored dinner at a delicious pizza joint in town which helped boost morale and let loose a little. Not too loose however, as the next day was still a racing day. Starting a crit with 80+ other elite athletes isn’t my idea of a fun day. Especially when we woke up to snowflakes. Seriously. After huddling in the car for hours, drinking multiple cappuccinos and then getting on the trainer for a spin, I was feeling more in the mood to race bikes. Staging happened, and I was late. I joined others for a spin around the course instead of going straight to the line, what a mistake. We ended up getting there last which is the worst place to start a crit and I knew immediately I was screwed. I hung on for a minute, trying to move up, but the downhill section had a strong cross wind and it was shattering the strung out riders, creating big gaps. I was in a gap and managed to keep going to catch back on with a small group of riders and keep pushing it for roughly 30 minutes until we were all pulled from the race. Upon finishing I discovered Jennah had gone down in a corner, hitting her head hard and twisting her hip a bit. No one likes to see another rider down, certainly not a teammate. She is still in the recovery process and watching signs of a concussion, so positive thoughts to her to bounce back and be on the bike where we all know she wants to be! Overall, while I didn’t do nearly as well as I would’ve liked, we got to attempt to ride as a team, develop an up and coming athlete (Alison really was a pleasure to have as a guest rider) and I was still ready, both mentally and physically, to keep going. Some races have a catty, elitist vibe to them, but JMSR felt so friendly. I had a really positive experience with other teams and racers which is always so nice in such a competitive atmosphere. Seriously, after riding unattached and fending for myself for a year, I have come to appreciate every little bit of help; having teammates & race support is just amazing!! Yay Welland!!
Now the hardest part, going from JMSR in AR to Gila in NM. Just two days and 18 hours of travel separated these races. Not an easy task. I loaded the van and headed towards my destination, landing in Albuquerque for a night and 2 fun exploring style bike rides, before continuing to Silver City NM. The drive to Silver City is roughly 4 hours from Albuquerque with intensely high winds and a serious lack of anything else. Silver City itself is a strange place; a desert mixing pot of artists, retirees and wanderers. It’s like going back in time as modern commodities like WiFi are scarce. Despite being a difficult place to get to and adapt to (the ‘city’ sits at 6,000ft in addition to having a super weird vibe), the support the locals provide the race is unreal. They really rally to make the racing experience wonderful with holy water blessings at the start (I’m not religious, but I’ll take the positive vibes), lots of host housing, local drivers & volunteers, cheering audience… it’s really great to have the race town rally with the race. Okay as for the race. Well it was TOUGH. 4 international teams, 3 US PRO teams, 1 DE, 1 DE Composite and a slew of Olympians, national champs and other renowned cyclists in the mix. That’s not an easy crowd to compete with. Anyhow, this race is brutal; the elite competition, altitude, heat, dryness, long stages, high winds, technical descents, extreme climbs… it’s the real deal. Stage one started with a flat at staging. Better to have one there then once the race begins! It was fixed, but being given a different wheel moments before a race kicks off is a little stressful. I went on to struggle with the altitude as the race began. I just couldn't get a deep breath as the intensity surged to the final climb and ended up falling off pace to work up the hill at my own pace finishing around 33rd place. I was annoyed with my body. Stage two was another long road race with a sprint point followed by 2 QOM points and a technical descent all in the first 30 miles. The pace was on from the gun and racers were shed from mile 5 on. I was disconnected from the group with a few others around mile 7 and really had a moment of ‘F this, I’m going home’. It took everything, mentally and physically to keep going. And we were going hard to catch back up. Even our chase group shattered as we went full gas to regain the race. I was determined and as we saw the caravan around mile 32, I wanted to cry. We reattached and were back in the race. Things got sketchy towards the end as road construction, a car parked on the inside lane of a right turn, and severely fatigued racers made for a crash and lots of race confusion. Our composite team racer Edwige (a French Olympian) would go down in that crash only to get back up and finish 11th after having secured top points at every QOM along the route, seriously impressive. She held the QOM jersey from that day until the end. I got caught up in some of the confusion and hesitated a bit to avoid going down which cost me. I finished 26th, my best UCI finish and one that I am very proud of as I worked my ass of for it. I finished 4 seconds behind the leader, tired from the effort but happy to have made it across the line with the leaders. Day three came with severe exhaustion. I wasn’t sleeping well and the previous day’s effort had cooked me. The day was extremely windy, creating gusting cross winds that swept the 16 mile TT course. I died hard; no legs, no lungs, no ability to control my bike in the wind. I made the time cut. Am I happy about this? Barely. I would race on in the next day’s crit. Things were going fine until a Columbian rider’s pedal scraped the ground in turn two, right in front of me, and skipped her bike to the side, almost going down. I had to brake hard to avoid riding into her. I didn’t go down, but that hesitation kicked me off the group. I rode solo until being pulled 47 minutes in. I made the time cut. Yay? Day 5, I was actually feeling pretty amped to get this over with. My legs were tired, but bouncing back. The final stage is the reverse of stage 2, which means a pretty nice downhill beginning leading into the 50 mile mark where things would break up significantly as a serious climb began. I could do this. Redemption! I would not be redeemed today. Instead I would get a flat rear tire at mile 20 during a 45 mph downhill. No neutral service would be able to move that quickly to get me back in the race. With a new wheel on, I jumped on and went hard to try to get back but the caravan and race was far in the distance and there was no point on the course that the race would let up in the next 28 miles. I gave up. I stopped, debating whether to ride on or turn back. Another rider, who was also on QCW and experiencing her first UCI race (by the way, GILA is not a good first UCI race choice) had been off the back and just caught up to me. She was determined to finish so I rode on with her until the base of the last climb. Normally I love a good climb, but I with so many races left, I thought the better option was to save my legs; this isn’t my first UCI race, ‘just finishing’ is no longer an accomplishment. I hopped in a sag truck embarrassed and sad. Luckily the sag driver was a super nice local guy who chatted the entire drive so I could take my mind off my disappointment. It wasn’t until back at the host house that I completely lost it and burst into tears mourning my race mix of bad luck and bad performance. Shitty.
I left that evening and after a night spent sharing a couch with Stef in Tucson, I was up at 5am to make the 7 hour drive to Encinitas California where I’d have a home base for a week (a kitchen, a real bed, a friend for support). Today is day 1 in Encinitas. I didn’t touch my bike today except to take it out of the van. Tomorrow I will, but today I needed a day off. My body needed to recover and my soul needed a real bed and a cold margarita. This week will involve many coffee spins, some intensity, reflection and lots of sleep and salads until I get back to racing at the Dana Point PRT crit on Sunday and Redlands starting in just over a week. After that I’ll head home and then Eastward bound to another intense block of races!!
I'm not thrilled with my racing at the moment. I know my fitness is there, I just have to learn from the experiences and mishaps I’ve had in this block and refine my skill. Stop making silly mistakes. Good thing the season is still in the early phase and there are still many opportunities to come to race hard. Besides the performance aspect, I'm having a lot of fun this season. I have great sponsors, a great team, a chance to join a gang of misfits on QCWs composite team, am making more friends this year, getting to do some serious exploring and, of course, try lots of new food along the way!
*A note about host housing. We love you generous people who open up your homes to us!!! It’s not easy inviting strangers into your house. Especially a team of athletes who are up early, take over the kitchen, sprawl out on all surfaces to stretch, use up all the wifi to watch netflix post race… it goes on. It’s a great way for us to be comfortable and connect with people in the town we are racing in. It provides us with new, respectful, interesting people from all over to interact with. Most importantly, it makes racing possible for many of us. Tell your friends to host a team!!! Thank you.