Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Few Race Reports

Cat's Hill Crit, May 2, 2009

I'm Adding Cat's Hill To My List
"The more technical the Crit, the better I do"...or so I tell people. I'm not really sure why though. I'm not a sprinter and I don't have the pure power that flat-land people have and so I use technical crits to my advantage because I tend to corner, descend and climb fairly well. Two of my favorite crits, and coincidentally, the two crits that I've done the best in, are extremely technical. Yuma Arizona, the end of the Earth it would seem, has an interesting stage race called the North End Classic that begins with a criterium down-town. (I'd go again just to do that crit). It has 11 corners with one very steep grade immediately followed by a very steep down-hill. It was the first time I ever placed in a crit...second place. I was out-sprinted by a girl who used to be a power-cleaner ('nuff said). My other favorite crit is in Globe Arizona, a cute little copper mining town at the Copper Valley Classic. (I would love to go back and do this race again by the way). The criterium has 6 corners with two very steep and short grades (just like Cat's Hill) one right after the other. Unfortunately, both grades are usually covered in graval which results in you out-spinning your tires each time you climb it. This was the first win of my cycling career. Cat's Hill is now number three on my list of favorite criteriums, and my best race yet to date this year. I signed up for the Pro 1/2/3's field rather than the 3/4's field for one very specific reason....4's are sketchy and this was a criterium that could very possibly create a lot of dangerous situations. The Pro field is smoother and safer, even if your lungs are burning the whole time.
However, on this not-so-special race day, as I lined up on the start line I thought to myself, 'Why, oh why did I not sign up for the 3/4's field.' One look around at who showed up and I was absolutely convinced that I had no business being there and that I would be easily dropped within the opening laps. This was a real pro field with some well known pro racers as well as mostly cat 1's and 2's.
After about 5 laps I was wishing the race was over. But then a few more laps later, I found myself still in the pack. I was surprised.....the race was fairly consistent in intensity..... I kept myself well protected and hidden knowing that I didn't have any room to waste energy. (Interestingly, in the over 120 photos of the race taken, you can only see me in 2 of them). The nice thing about a crit is that it allows one to set up tactics as you make several passes over the same course. There were a few places along the course that I found were good spots to move up in the group. On the back-side down-hill section coming into the final corner, we easily reached 30+ mph, the wind was coming from the right and so I made sure that I was squeezed between the peloton and the gutter on the left and moved up with ease nearly every lap. Also, in the slightly down-hill stretch before the jaw-dropping climb that Cat's Hill is famous for, I found that being on the right side of the field as you swung left going into the climb offered the best advantage as far as maximizing momentum going into the climb. But again, I had to squeeze between the group and the gutter on the right side. Having that momentum though, combined with my new-found climbing skills, allowed me to pass a lot of women each time we climbed. Knowing this, I used less energy on the few final laps going up the climb, allowing girls to pass me so that I could save myself for the last time up the climb....which eventually proved to be the best tactical choice that I made the whole race which secured me being in the final sprint. I gave it everything I had going up that final climb, having saved energy in the preceding laps and secured my spot in the front of the field going through the last half of the course. Coming into the final corner, I had a big smile on my face....'I'm going to be in the final sprint! I can't believe it!' Like I said earlier, I'm not a sprinter, but my coach has been working with me and I have found myself out-sprinting girls in the last few races I've done and I did just that in this sprint. I got 11/26 overall and 1st in the 3's.

Here's what one of my guy teammates had to say about Cat's Hill....

I just read your race report. Great Job!!!!! I only have one thing to say to you Believe!

(Thanks Rich)

Copperopolis, April 11, 2009

I wanted to tell my entertaining story about yesterday's race because I think it's just classic and I thought you would all enjoy it.....

So....if any of you have done Copperopolis (or Leesville gap for that matter)...then you will understand the quality of the road surface that this race has been made famous for. Furthermore, three laps of this god-forsaken circuit can end up being quite tortoruous by the time you hit the final climb and are just praying for it to be over and wondering why you even woke up that morning in the first place. Not only are you 'mountain biking' up every hill, but also down every hill. And don't forget those long stretches of flats with the wind in your face...no matter what direction you are riding. A truly classic race....

So, it was a women's 3's field...and I might add, an extremely tough 3's field. Apparently, everyone is talking about how tough the competition is for the 3's and 4's women's fields this year. I've just been blown away so far. So, we start off...on the famous uneven pavement for about 3 miles and as we're going along I start hearing a 'jingling' but am ignoring it of course because...I'm racing duh! Well, the 'jingling' continues to get louder and more difficult to ignore as I'm thinking..it's probably just my water bottle cages. Well another noise is soon added to the 'jingling' and becomes more rhythmic as the pavement continues to jar every bone and muscle in my body. About 200 meters before the first climb, I look down...and low and behold, my head tube screw is almost completely lose and my spacers are bouncing all over the place and all I can think is 'holy shit...my race is over....my handle bars are going to be going one direction while my wheel is turning another direction...this could get really ugly in a hurry!'......However...I'm also thinking ' NOOOOO this cannot be happening! I am NOT quitting! I don't care if my pedals fall off, my tires flat and it starts to pour down rain!!!!' So with my left hand on the handle bars and my now suddenly talented fingers on my right hand, I am desperately trying to screw in the bolt.....and of course.....the hammer drops. For whatever reason, the girls decided to go balls to the wall on the first climb. The previous night suddenly pops into my mind. I drove to a nearby town (oakdale) and stayed in a hotel with some other racers thinking we could get more sleep without having to get up at 3:00 am to get to the race by 7:00 am. Unfortunately, I didn't get to sleep until 2:30 in the morning and had to get up at 5:30 because the people in the room above us were totally drunk and louder than anything I've ever heard for hours on end. The excruciating pace was also something I was not expecting. I now realize that the cycling gods are on a full-out mission to make me pay for whatever sin I have commited as a rookie racer. Breaks just don't survive early in a 3's or 4's race.....not on this day my friends. These fields are getting tougher and tougher. The pace is maxed out while I'm trying just to keep on the back of the main field (we've already dropped riders at this point by the way), and still trying to figure out how to mountain bike uphill with one hand on the handle-bar while the other hand is still trying to keep the bolt from coming loose. It's not working. 'Don't panic' I think. I suddenly yell out 'does ANYONE have an allen wrench!?" Of course, we're all breathing like we're in the final sprint of a criterium and one blessed rider from SugarCRM reaches in her back jersey pocket and hands me her multi-tool. So by now, I've obviously become quite the expert at multi-tasking a race, honing my bike handling skills as well as quickly flipping through the different sized wrenches all while trying to shift, get out of the saddle and answer the incredibly difficult pace while stuffing the multi-tool in my mouth and going back to finding the right sized allen wrench. I finally find the right one and a wave of relief passes over me as I yank it to the right...several 360 degree turns I might add......and then realize that i have to manage a hard torque to the right while keeping my wheel going in a straight line. I manage.....(remember...I've become an expert at this point :))

Unfortunately, it was at this moment (about 1/3 of the way up the climb) that the main, and what will eventually become the winning break, gets away. Had I not been dealing with mechanics, knowing that I was reading the race correctly and knowing that this was a serious attack, I think I would have made my way more near the front and hopefully would have been in that front break. But whose to know.....I would like to think that I could have.......

We were all strung out. I gathered up three of us and organized a pace line. We cought two other girls...now we're 5. Two more catch up...now we're 7...and then one girl popped off the front group and we caught her. Now we're eight. We could see the front group, but our chase group was very poorly organized as no one wanted to work because we wanted to save ourselves for the final lap. There were a few attacks, which I was able to go with, but we were caught within a mile of each attack by the other girls. On the second time up that horrid climb, we got passed by the Pro men's field. At nearly the front of the peloton, Levi Leipheimer was there and as we got squeezed between the sheer cliff of the mountain and probably 80 men on the very narrow road, we managed a wee cheer 'Go Levi' as we caught probably the closest glimpse of him that anyone will ever have in the middle of a race. It was very humbling to see those guys go by as fast as they were. I thought.....that's just super-human.

On the last time up the climb....someone attacked and we got split up into singles now....I rode most of the last lap by myself...then waiting for another girl close behind and we worked together as we both tasted death before the final climb. I managed to drop her on the climb and bomb the descent for a close to middle of the pack finish.

All in all, I'm happy with the tactical decisions I made in the race, my determination to not quit and my new-found-middle-of-a-race mechanical skills.

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