Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Race Report-Spring fever ends with a crash

The racing season is well underway and I've been racing with my new team - Touchstone Climbing - for about 3 months now and it has been an interesting spring.

What I've Learned: One of my main goals for the season was to learn how to race on a team. And I think I am learning how to be a good teammate. The beginning of the season was rough. I was mostly just hanging on for dear life until I would get dropped or come in off the back. I had to keep reminding myself why I came to California - to race with the best and hopefully get on a Pro team. In NorCal, racing as a Cat 2 affords you the 'opportunity' to race EVERY race with some of the top women in the country. That was why I came here - because I knew that Northern California was where the pros would race when they weren't racing the NRC. I don't think there's been a single race I've done as a 2 where a legitimate pro didn't show up. As a result, I had been getting a 'taste' of what the jump has been like from Cat 3 to Pro/1/2....demorazling. Now, I'm able to help my team out - chasing down breaks, being in a break, attacking, blocking etc. It feels good to at least be useful!! One of my other main goals for the season was to start training my time trial, as well as continue to add more climbing. As a result of focusing on those two things, my sprint has stagnated in its' development....but you can't work on EVERYTHING at the same time, and I knew that going into this year.
One of the other more 'critical' things I've learned racing at the Elite level, is that you can BE a Cat 2 working a regular '9-5' job and hang in, and with several years, begin to be more competetitve and hang in longer and longer each race. However, it's very difficult to be really competetive with who I've been racing against - essentially the top professionals - unless you can devote more time/flexibility to training and racing. I do the best I can with the time and energy available to me. For those of you who know me, you know that I'm slowly making changes that will hopefully afford me that luxury.....I'm not giving up. My 'numbers' are good - but at this point, if I want to really push the limits in my fitness, adding more structure isn't necessarily the answer - I have that - it's going to be putting more time on the bike.

What I still believe in: I am even more in love with the sport and the bicycle. The bike and the sport have given me so much as a person and I will continue to give everything to it. Being a cyclist and bike racer is what I do and who I am. I also still believe strongly in recovery and balance. One of the things that I feel is a strength of mine is my ability to listen to my body and know when I can/should push it and when I need recovery. One of the things that I've known for a long time that I need to develop is pure power. I'm a smaller rider (and continue to get smaller) and so having a lot of pure power is difficult. Continuing to train my climbing and time trialing has helped me build power a lot. But I need more. I'm still in love with the 'dirt' - so I'd like to start sprinkling in some mountain biking and I've signed up for the women's track clinic in May (which will qualify for me being trained on the track) which I think will help me develop some power....and also just because I love the bike! I've done mountain, cyclocross, road...and I've always wanted to try the track!

With those thoughts, I thought I would give a 'spring splash' of some race reports. Most of them were written by my teammates, but I will interject my personal experiences :)

4-25-Wente Criterium- After feeling really good from previous day's Wente Road Race (thanks to a nap and lots of food :), I was really excited to put forth another good effort for my team. Unfortunately I crashed out early. I haven't crashed in a really long time. I knew my time was 'up'. Strangely, there's been a lot of 'chatter' about all the crashes in the women's races this year....WAY too many. In this race, there were 3 (I think) crashes - and mine ranked the lowest as far as damage done. The bot dots on this course caused every crash....I never thought I would say this, but I don't ever plan on doing this race again. The Pro/1/2 women's races are generally safer - a lot faster - but safer. I decided to sign up for Cat's Hill this upcoming weekend - one of my favorite crits - because I know that I have to get back in the game. If you wait too long to race a crit after a crash, it 'messes' with you mentally. I've been resting this week, still in a lot of pain and limping to be quite honest, and so I have no idea where my form will be at. But that's not the point. The main priority is to get healed and the focus for this weekend is to get MENTALLY back in the game.

The above picture is 9:00 before the crash - at the start...

The above picture is probably a few laps before the crash....

Along with some scrapes on other various part of my body, the majority of lost skin was on my hip....

4-24- Wente Road Race- This race is very difficult. The terrain is mostly rolling, with some brutal head-wind sections and it's done on a loop - ending each time with a climb that obviously becomes the deciding section. You need to be a good all-arounder to do well at this race. Again, the 'pros' showed up and again, my goal was to try to hang in as long as I could. I stayed in longer than I expected and then worked with a group to the end. I knew that the finishing climb was to my advantage amongst the other 'players' and so I attacked it going into the final corner. I was ultimately outsprinted by one of them, but I am really happy with my finishing spot, how I felt at the end and my overall tactics played.
There was a break between the weekend of Menlo park/Apple Pie and the Wente weekend. The much-anticipated Chico stage race was cancelled and then moved to a different - and somewhat problematic location on the calendar. The word amongst the knowledgable is that there have never been this many changes/cancellations made to the NCNCA calendar. It's made it difficult to plan for/peak for/prioritize for races. Most of 'us' were excited for Chico because we have very mixed (mostly negative) feelings about Sea Otter and because it was A LOT closer. Ultimately, I decided to save my days off of work for later in the year when I knew I would be in much better shape and so I spent the weekend putting in some really good training rides. I'm happy with my decision.
4/11 - Menlo Park Grand Prix - I made sure I got a good warm-up in before this crit as I didn't get a sufficient one in yesterday (I was running behind). On the start-line - just as the rain started to come down, some of the previous men's field warned us about the second turn being slippery. And what happens?? A crash on the first lap going through that turn happened right in front of me. I was sure I was going to go down. But as the two girls who went down in front of me were sliding across the pavement, a very narrow gap opened and I was able to stay upright and ride through the narrow gap. Unfortunately, the group was already away and a few of us chased together, but ended up being two of us at the end. As my twitter post read 'Race report-menlo park-rain-1st lap-2nd turn-crash -chase-pulled-Paris Roubaixin'....yep -sooooo ready for summer'. I've never raced in so much rain before! The next day, my chain was rusted. The rain had cleaned everything off.

Maybe you can't tell - but I'm covered in dirt....and still smiling ;)

4/10- Apple Pie Criterium - I had signed up to do both the women's and men's Pro/1/2/3 crits for training. Again, I did my 'job' as a teammate for the women's crit and unfortunately a skipping rear derailleur took me out of the men's race early (I'd been having issues with this rear drailleur on my race bike for quite awhile, and ironically, it was the only component on my bike after the crash that needed to be replaced - guess it took it's final 'blow). Would have been nice to get the 'training time' in though....

4/2 - Copperopolis - (Written by my Teammate Mary Maroon) - Half way through Lap 2 on the back side of the course, a sole Metromint attacked the field. Nicole, after a brief pause, went with her. After a few moments, Kelly told Mary to bridge. When Mary came to the group, Metromint began to back out of the break. Nicole and Mary worked together to establish a break off the front while Heather P. and Kelly worked to establish the break from the pack . Two other Metromint began to bridge with Third Pillar in tow. This group of 5 began rotations and remained in tact until the last climb. Molly (Metromint) spun up the last climb on lap 2 well ahead of the group. Near the crest of the hill Mary left the break to join Molly. Mary descended the hill and waited for Molly. Some field neutralizations took place and Molly was able to reconnect with Mary on the first climb on the final lap. Molly and Mary worked together through the remainder of the course until the last climb. Molly attacked at the bottom of the hill of the final climb. Mary paced the hill and crested after Molly. The uphill finish was taken by Metromint by just a few feet. The finish was completely void of the tiny tinge of disappointment that can occasionally accompany a second place. Molly and Mary had worked together at Copperopolis a few years ago, struggling together, far off the back. Molly and Mary were both thrilled with the results after a day of good, clean, positive and well mannered bike racing.

(Me) - My experience was a little different. I got dropped on the main climb and then flatted. It happens.

3/27-28 - Topsport Stage Race - I hope this stage race stays around for years to come. Not only is it a tough stage race because they cram three stages into two days, but every single one of the courses are tough. The stage race is held very near to partly on the infamous Copperopolis road race course. The pavement is known for its' poor quality and the winds are brutal if you get stuck out there alone. The time trial course is on a rolling, rough pavement and windy out and back course. At this point, I'd only been training my time trial for a month and the course was very windy. I wasn't surprised by my 'poor' time and am looking forward to better 'times' in the future. The afternoon circuit race is particularly difficult in that it goes up along some rollers into the wind and then you come back to a tight loop into the town sqaure. The road race is done on the 'bowl' of copperopolis - again, crappy pavement and lots of winds. Mostly, I was excited to be there for my team during the circuit race and road race. I was able to cover lots of attacks and was off the front myself during the circuit race for most of one lap of the 5 mile circuit. It was kind of a kick getting time splits from the motto while I was off the front....

3/20-21 - Bariani Road Race and Land Park Criterium
I'm grouping these two together because it was the same story for me both days pretty much. I was really happy about this weekend. I felt 'On-Fire' all weekend with my body really responding well. I was able to be there for my team both days. In Bariani, with one lap to go, I was sitting on Allison Starnes and Tyler's (Luna) wheel while they were drilling the pace. The word came up through the peloton from teammate to teammate that I needed to make sure they didn't get away as Marley was up the road in a break and therefore had a really good chance at the finish. I covered every single attack made by both and the pack came in together just as Marley crossed the finish line for 1st place.

Bariani Road Race Report Written by my teammate Marley Smith - You know what they say about strength in numbers. Bariani was no exception for Touchstone that day. The presence of ten riders at the start line was sure to bring excitement and aggressive riding including attacks right from the start line. Everyone on the team took a part in covering attacks and working off the front with hopes of sending a few riders in a break that would stick. After a quick first lap that saw several accelerations, Touchstone's Gina Lowe joined a group of 5 riders for the first significant break of the race. After reeling in the break, the attacks and counter attacks, Carol Irving managed to sneak away with a group of strong riders from Third Pillar, Metromint and Wells Fargo in lap three that lasted until the KOM climb. Marley Smith launched an attack on the climb reshuffling the group and escaping with the company of only two riders, Molly Van Houweling (Metromint) and Cody Graf (Wells Fargo). They managed to work together for most of lap 4 with the pack hot on their trail with the help of Touchstone's efforts from within to keep things at a safe distance for the break to survive. Marley managed to get away from the remaining two riders on her heels again at the KOM climb and gave 100% to the finish line stretch with the group in a mad dash sprint seconds behind. Wells Fargo's Emily Kachorek finished 2nd followed by Beth Newell in third. Other Touchstone riders included Elis Bradshaw (5th), Vanessa Drigo (6th), Nicole Dolney (7th), Heather Nielson, Kelly McDonald, Marian Jamison and April Hamlin.

3/5-6 Merco Credit Union Criterium and Road Race (Criterium Report Written by my teammate Carol Irving) -Good strong racing at the crit on Saturday. It was great to have the Touchstone blue constantly moving towards the front.... a lot of work in a race like Saturday's. I think it was great practice for all of us. Unfortunately, both Rita and I went down in a crunch on lap 38 of 40 so that was quite frustrating. No free lap, thus our day was finished. Sometimes even the best wheels towards the front of the pack have mishaps. Once again, glad not to be the one carried off in c-spine. That was Jerika Hutchinson of Tibco, who was later cleared and released from the hospital. The race was neutralized and stopped for about 10 minutes before restarting and wisely resetting the laps to "5 to go". Ina out sprinted Shelley Evans for the victory, while her teammate Chloe Hosking finished 3rd. Mary popped into the top ten while Elis finished 12th and Vanessa also placed coming in at 18th. Both Marissa and Lil Heather finished with the field.

(P.S. - my nickname is Lil' Heather)

(Road Race Report Written by my teammate Heather Pryor) - The team worked really well today covering attacks from Columbia, Tibco, Colavita, Webcor, Peanut Butter and many more..We only had one crash and Nicole was one of the girls who went down. Luckily she was just banged up a little but nothing serious. Oh ya, and her brand new Zipp wheels did not get harmed! The crashed happened pretty close to the finish so that really broke up the field. Luckily we got Mary up close to the front of the field so she would be in good position to have her way with the sprint. Mary got 5th place!!! I was so excited for Mary and for our team working so well together.

2/27 - Snelling Road Race - (Written by my teammate Mary Maroon) -The wispered warnings from some of the Cat 3 mens field (Brain and John) claimed that the course was riddled with potholes and spikes and sea monsters with shives. (The previous day/mornings' rain was torrential). They must have been scared off by the Masters 35+ because most of that trechery was gone by the time the 1,2 Women rolled out. There was one really fanstastic puddle that made the race pretty fun. The rest of the course was dry and clean and, to be honest, I was really greatful for it. There were still a few crashes that occured that changed the dynamic of the race. Having been sick for a couple of weeks made the prospect of racing for even just 60 miles a little daunting. The first part of the race then, was 'all systems engage'. I took a lot of pride in watching my teammates attack and counter and cover. It was a really rewarding feeling and I wanted them to feel it for me too. After the crashes, somewhere into lap 3, the pack slowed. An affilitated racer was off the front. Half of the remaining feild was made of no more than 3 riders from the same team. The other half was one team. Up until that point, the smaller teams did a fair job of helping each other cover the attacks of the "other" team. At 1 to go, rallying the non allied groups was becoming difficult. The last lap was littered with attacks that had to be covered. With the remaining women we had, we did a good job. On the backside a second brake with 3 riders took. The leadout for the final sprint started well before the last corner and was 4 deep to me. After the first girl pulled off, I rode up a few more feet and went for the line. It must have been a good spot to go from because the other 3 girls did the same thing. I crossed the line in 11th place. While I would, of course, hoped to do better for Touchstone in the rankings, I coinsider the place "not too shabby" considering the circumstances.
(Me) - My experience of this race was somewhat the same as Cherry Pie. Tibco had just gotten done with their team training camp and they were using Snelling as the 'test'. They did the same thing we did for our team camp race in Folsom. They split the team up into 'Blue' and 'White' and every (what seemed like minute) someone yelled out 'Blue!' or 'White!' and one of the Tibco riders would attack. I've never done a race that fast before. I was stunned by the speeds they were holding - 24-28 mph - even up the climbs. I hung in for almost 2/5 laps and then finally got dropped.

2/7 - Cherry Pie Criterium - (Written by my teammate Carol Irving) - April, Elis, Heather N, G-Lowe, Vanessa and myself went to Cherry Pie. Mary was sick... bummer. While we didn't get the placing we wanted, we did walk away with some lessons learned. In a nut shell:
Not so good things: Vanessa got tangled behind a little crash at the 180 going into the last lap-no skin lost, but also ruined her chances for a good finish. Carol's bike was screaming and chattering and dropping chain the whole race which presented some challenges(on the positive, Vanessa always knew where I was), G-Lowe didn't feel good and pulled out in some of the first few laps. Good things: We all walk away with our health Beautiful day-short sleeves, not the usual Cherry Pie wind. Vanessa and Carol were able to stay in fairly good position throughout the race finishing with the front pack. Everyone recognized the importance of positioning and where on the course it was critical... remember the first step is recognizing it. Good experience racing with some fast riders and teams.
(Me)- My experience was that I made a critical mistake. This crit is fairly techincal with some important-to-know-road-conditions and I didn't pervew the course. As a result, I was hesitant on the first lap, which cost me the remainder of the race. Tibco put the hammer down and as a result, myself and others got gapped on the 2nd or 3rd lap and so we chased and chased until the official eventually pulled us. Unfortunately, of the 10 or so of us chasing, there was only myself and two other girls who were willing to work....I tried to attack a few times to shed some dead weight and encourage the other stronger/more willing riders to go with me...but no one would go with me so I just drifted back to the group.

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