Two big race weekends in the books. Two weeks on the road experiencing #vanlife. Two nights spent at home; just enough time to wash kits, take two showers, and swap out some van gear (more on that HERE). Not enough time to think ‘am I really doing this again?’.
Gatineau was amazing in many ways, but my performance was not.
Killington was a semi success. Sure, I did fine; 5th place best finish and 7th overall GC. But who wants ‘fine’?! Not me.
Third time’s a charm, eh?
I hadn’t really unpacked from my previous trip so it was pretty easy to head out again. After working and doing a ride on Thursday, I prepped some food and revved up the van for the final leg of this journey. Off to Tennessee! I wasn’t going to attempt the 6 hour drive all in one go; it was already after 6pm when I got on the road and wanted to keep my legs as fresh as possible. This meant a stop off at a West Virginia rest area for a not so restful 4.5 hours of sleep. Bleh. Not ideal. I got coffee and hit the road to finish off the remaining 3 hours of driving. As soon as I pulled into Cat Island park (road race start location), I crawled into the back of my van, drew the curtains, and fell asleep for another couple of hours. When I awoke, I was groggy. Not at all fresh and energetic like one would hope to be going into a race. Good thing I had all day to shake this fatigue. Time to ride and try to at least wake up my legs a bit. I spun around, exploring new roads for an hour. It was hot. Sweaty hot. I was able to set up my yoga mat and chair under a shady spot in the grass for some stretching and sticking. A car parks right next to mine and I look up from my shady spot with annoyance; really? There’s no one else in this lot and you have to park next to me!? My mood turns quickly as Phillipe gets out of the car. Hey Columbus friend!! Fancy seeing you here! Ha. He would be competing in the road race too, great news as Phillipe is a fast climber and since womens P1/2 was combine with W3 + Mens Open Masters, I could potentially use his wheel. After chatting a bit, he drove off to his hotel, leaving me again with Cat Island to myself. BTW, there were no actual cats here which was disappointing. Time to make food. I pulled out my utility bins of ingredients and equipment and got to cooking. I successfully made a pot of quinoa on the camp burner and stirred in a tin of sustainable tuna, some chopped up sun dried tomato, and a packet of tamari. Not exciting, but really not bad. I had a side salad (Rowdy Ranch Kale Salad Snax + Sprouted Pumpkin Seeds) as well. But I ended up just dumping my salad into the main meal and eating it all together. This is acceptable dining behavior when you’re alone in a park eating out of a van. This meal was actually quite tasty and will likely be repeated. Next task, packet pick up. This was mostly unnecessary as I was already parked at the start location and could obtain my numbers in the morning, however I was a bit bored and thought it would be nice to spin the 10 miles each way. It was nice to spin more as my legs definitely needed more waking up. The next day’s race would be hard and I didn’t want overly rested, sluggish legs. At pick up I ran into Ben, another Columbus cyclist doing the Men’s 3 race. He had very good odds in his race, as he likely shouldn’t be a 3 and is an exceptionally strong climber for living in flat Ohio. The race director handed me my packet and said, aren’t you Ohio’s State Champ? I smiled. After riding back to my van, I had a snack, prepped my race things, accomplished some writing, and got to bed.
Thankfully, I slept great and woke up early, energized and ready. Today would be a good day to ride bikes! I still had the lot to myself at 7am, but that quickly changed as cyclists starting rolling in and cars began unloading. Pretty soon it was packed. I set up my trainer and spun a little to loosen up. I’ve never been to big on warming up and knew this race wasn’t likely to start off too intensely, at least that’s how things played out last year. I focused more on food and hydrating as I wouldn’t have feed during the race, meaning 85 degrees of sun with only 2 bottles. While I wasn’t too concerned, pre-hydrating was a good strategy. While getting ready, I spotted another familiar face, Kim from Columbus’s local LGS team. Hey friend! She wasn’t race (boo!) but there to support her man who was.
Staging started. It was a large group considering so many of us were starting together. I tried to look around and pick out the women. There looked to be around 25… which was both exciting and nerve racking. I came in 4th at this RR last year when there were ~15 racer. How would I do with so many more strong women present? Eek. Focus. Just ride smart. Ride hard. You can do this. I’m a big fan of visualization and positive pep talk. Whistle was blown and off we went. As expected the group wasn’t too eager to get things moving. The men controlled the speed up at the front. Just like last year, some women went to the front to try to make something happen. Last year I was one of these women. This year, I knew better and would not waste my energy. One thing to remember is that when there is a large combine field, the women likely aren’t getting away until a course feature dictates a divide. The tricky thing with riding with the men is that they will bring the women back up to anyone who tries to get away. In my experience, its best to save energy until you really need it. So I hung in the pack, about half way back for the first ~10 miles. Last year there was a point where the men took off and left all the women behind. I was ready for this section and moved up to the top handful of riders. If there was a break here, I would be in it. There were a few small attacks, a few efforts to close gaps, but no real damage done to the pack. Halfway in and we were still altogether. Around mile 35, the route starts to go up some highway climbs. Things started to heat up and people started to drop off. I could see pain on the faces of some of my competitors. I could feel pain in my own legs. But I was with the lead group. There were 9 women with us. Still too many. I was becoming a bit concerned as the pace wasn’t letting up and there would be a 7 mile finish climb to deal with. As the group hit the false flat leading into the base of the climb, things rolled easier for a few minutes. I hydrated and ate some gummies. Still had a full bottle going into the climb, exactly what I was planning for. When we hit the base of the climb, I was mid pack. Damn. Not the best place to be. A group took off. Men and women eager to get the climb over with. I tried to squeeze through those in front of me and bridge up, but it wasn’t happening. I wasn’t sure how many women were in that initial attack. Damn. All I could do now was settle into my own climbing rhythm for the next grueling 7 miles. I was playing with new gears at this race. In the past I have ridden a compact crank, but no more! I was a little nervous that my legs wouldn’t do well with harder gearing, but things seemed to be going well. I was easily riding away from those behind me. They would not catch me. At least I hoped. I had a girl in sight and was doing everything I could to catch up to her. About 2 miles in, I caught her. She hung on to my wheel briefly, but I was determined not to let that stick. She was gone, dropped off. I was riding hard. I could tell by my power numbers. I was staying strong. No one would catch me. But who would I catch? That was the real issue. Could I catch anyone else? How many were in front of me? 4? 5? I had no idea. By mile 5 I really just wanted to finish. It was hot. I was tired. Columbus friend Ben came riding by me. Smiling. Like he wasn’t putting in an effort. I was happy for him as he was obviously dominating the climb and in first place of his race. I also wanted to push him off the mountain for making it look so easy. Bye Ben, see ya at the top, he spun away into the distance. Ugh. Okay, just keep going. There it was, the finish line! Yay! I crossed feeling satisfied, but underwhelmed. Sigh. Another bad race? I mean I guess I did okay… I figured I must have finished between 4th and 6th. They don’t post road race results at the top, you can’t see them until the TT later that day. So I had no idea how I really did. I saw first place being interviewed as I filled my water bottle and started to beg for a ride back to the start. It was a 33 mile ride back and I wasn’t in the mood for that. Luckily I found a nice cyclist and his wife from western TN who had an extra rack space and gave me a lift. It wasn’t until I was changed and back in my van that I saw the results posted on twitter. I had come in THIRD. THIRD! A podium spot! I was smiling so hard that I was almost crying.
6am came early. I had all morning to waste so I didn’t even bother getting up. 7am came and I figured that was enough time laying around. Time to get on with the day. I would do a morning spin to loosen my legs, then prep my road bike for the crit (involves swapping wheels), get some food, and head to the crit location. I found one road that seemed to go on forever. It was beautiful, I was happy and could have just ridden all morning. Instead I stuck to my 1 hour limit. I returned dripping in sweat. It was already 80 degrees and I had no shelter from the sun. I wiped off with a ‘bathing towel’ (aka large wet nap) and got to work prepping my bike. On the way to the crit location was an Earth Fare Market, so I stopped in as I was desperate from something fresh to eat. I got a few snacks for the drive home and salad ingredients for post crit. I was at the crit pretty early, got a shady spot and set up my trainer and chair. I spun for about 30 minutes easy before heading to the course and doing a few laps.
I knew this course. I was afraid of this course. It is a technical 8 turn course. Last year it was raining and there were so many crashes. I crashed and still have the scars along the left side of my body. I did not want a repeat of that. Thankfully it would not be raining today. The crit was hard and intense. There were laps I was off the back, chasing to catch on. There were laps I was on the front, controlling the turns. At the last lap I was with the group, but things got fast and strung out through the technical bit. Coming into the finish straight, I didn’t have the legs to sprint. I barely had the legs to cross the line. 16th /18 P1/2. I felt okay about this. I was with the group. I was upright and intact. I was done. Completely exhausted and at my limit. I wish I could have just laid down and gone to sleep, but I had to pack up my van, change and drive 6 hours home. Before I got on the road I checked results. 5th place overall in a Pro 1 /2 field.
I was happy. I was ready for some rest.