I’ve had my eye on the Haystack Team Time Trial since last year about this time. As one of just a few women racers on my Blue Sky Velo team, in 2012 when this race was held, I thought it would be so cool to have a Blue Sky Velo team. The road team captain started a spreadsheet to track interest and I added my name as a “maybe”. A few other gals also expressed interest, but nothing ever came of it. I was too new to the club to realize that if it was going to happen — I’d have to take a more active role in organizing and recruitment. But, in the back of my mind, I filed away the idea of fielding a team for this year’s event.
To that end, early this year I worked with my coach, Alison Powers, and arranged two team time trial clinics for the club. The first one, in mid March, was for the women of the club and the second one a couple weeks later was open to everyone. Both were well attended and some real energy was generated with the women. My friend Donna Hamilton who just joined Blue Sky Velo (BSV) earlier this year and I were the only women at the second clinic. We rode well that day and it seemed like we’d be compatible teammates. Of course, we also learned that we’d need to do some fine-tuning on our race communication and on matching our equipment. When I was on my time trial bike with my aero helmet I rode away from Donna and couldn’t hear her try to get me to back off my pace.
In the end, we decided to give it a go. We scheduled an after-work practice for the next Wednesday. I covered our practice in an earlier post — the weather on our practice day was perfect and we worked on both our communication and staying together. I rode Pogo (my road bike) and wore my normal helmet along with my hearing aids so I could hear Donna better. We both left encouraged and excited for the race.
Last Sunday, we both rode the BSV PLANK ride and afterwards spend another 45 minutes or so working on our time trialing skills. As expected, we continued to get more comfortable and got a better understanding of our strengths and our weaknesses and how to best attack the race. Even though we could count the number of times we’d ridden together on one hand, we were about as ready as we were going to be for the upcoming race. Now it was important to rest up and go into it with fresh legs.
In the week leading up to the time trials — plural, because I signed up for the individual time trial as well as our team time trial (that was the only way Donna would agree to ride with me!) — my mind was running a mile a minute trying to come up with the best preparation and race-day strategies. I wanted to do well in the individual race but I also wanted to make sure I had something left in the tank for the team effort. There were five gals signed up in the SW55+ category — Pam Leamons and Ruth Alexander who I raced against in the Frostbite TT and two new youngsters – Ellen Hart (Olympic distance runner) and Carla Flores (listed as a Cat2 racer). I was nervous about the latter cyclists. They came with pretty impressive credentials and represented a big “unknown” to me. Even though I checked the list of registered riders every day to see if anyone else signed on, my mind kept drifting to my real competition (beside myself, of course). Sue Lloyd. Sue was so dominant last year and my stated goal since I got into racing last year was to “Give Sue Lloyd a run for her money, give her a reason to look over her shoulder!” And, although Sue was signed up in the SW45++ category, comparing our time trial times would be about as close to “apples to apples” as we would get this year. My goal and my focus for the individual time trial became very clear to me — I wanted to beat Sue Lloyd’s time. Period.
My race day routine was anything but normal. Usually the SW55+ races early, like 8am. In the Individual TT, the SW55+ started off at 1:00pm and the teams went off again at close to 3:40pm. Instead of setting the alarm for 5:30am, I got up and fed the ponies with Beth as usual, had a protein drink for breakfast and leisurely packed up all my bike stuff and headed over to the course at around 10:30am. I got there without incident, got registered and organized in short order and found that I had probably arrived about an hour earlier than I really had to. I wandered through the vendor area and met up with some of the BSV SM5 riders, Nick Moore and Shunnie Chen, who had already finished. This was Shunnie’s first race! He was pretty excited and pleased with his effort. After a while, I wandered back to the car and setup my trainer. I delayed getting on until 50 minutes before my scheduled start. I figured 25-30 minutes to warm-up, a few to tear down and pack up and then 5-10 to make my way to the start line. My warm-up went well – much better than my Louisville Criterium warm-up! I had a last drink of cytomax and popped to ShotBlocks into my mouth and rode off to find the start. I had allocated 5-10 minutes to get there and it took me about 2 minutes max. This is an area where I still need to get better. The good news is most of the other women were already there when I arrived. Ellen Hart was the only one who really timed her arrival well. She came to the start with about 2 minutes to spare. The rest of us had cooled down some, but I still felt ready. Nervous too!
Carla took off first, then me, then Ellen Hart, followed by Pam and finally Ruth. I watched as Carla rode away and waited 20 seconds before I was allowed to take off after her. I was nervous right up until the official released me with the final 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 countdown but then, as soon as I shot off the line I felt better. I stayed out of the saddle so I could power up to my cruising speed — something I learned on the track last summer — and then I lowered myself to the saddle and settled in for the long haul. I did not plan on getting out of the saddle again and other than cornering, I did not plan to take my hands off the aero bars. The bike felt great, I felt good and my body seemed to be OK with the idea of working hard. Carla seemed to stay in front of me by the same amount during the first few minutes. It was difficult to gauge whether I was gaining on her or whether she was pulling away. As with the Frostbite TT, during the first few minutes of the race, I had to keep myself in check. My tendency was to go harder than I should be at this point in the race. Going too hard, too early leads to a build up of lactic acid that can’t be cleared fast enough and in the later stages of the race could be a serious limiting factor. My target was to keep my watts around 190-200 during this phase of the race. Several times I looked down and there was a 240 or a 25o staring back at me from my Garmin. There was a little wind from the west and a couple of gusts caught me on the first leg as I headed towards Nelson Rd. I felt this was actually to my advantage. I’ve come to believe that several of the riders in my category get spooked by the wind – and a couple are very petite and probably get blown around quite a bit more than I do. But, whatever the reason, the wind messes with them — well, it generally doesn’t mess with me. As I approached the hill at Left Hand Canyon I noticed that Carla was getting bigger, I was slowly, but surely reeling her in. I allowed myself to blow through my self-imposed watt-limit on that long, extended incline. I hoped I did not end up paying for it later, but I felt it was one of the places that I at least needed to hold my position and if possible, gain on my competition. Besides, I knew that Sue Lloyd would be pushing up this hill…
Carla was still ahead of me when we took the turn onto Nelson Rd. I was pleased with my turn – I went into it fast, applied the brakes late and hard then powered out as soon as I passed the apex of the turn. Carla had slowed down into the turn and as a result, I made up half the distance between us by the time I was on the straight away. The top part of Nelson is pretty flat with a few slight undulations. I rode it hard, but did not over exert. I kept Carla in my sights and started to wonder whether or not I’d see Ellen Hart coming along side any time soon. I do not like not knowing, or seeing, who is behind me and exactly how far back they are. Since I started second, I could not race a strategic race like I did at the Frostbite TT. I had no way of knowing how fast the three riders behind me were. All I could do was ride as fast as possible and hope it was fast enough. There is a short, steep downhill where I knew my weight would carry me faster than Carla could go — even if she were pedaling. I took advantage of that and passed her on that downhill. I powered up the far side and cruised along the next stretch to the long downhill section where I hoped to increase my lead on Carla. It is generally difficult for me to keep pressure on the pedals while going downhill. It is just my nature, probably from so many years of endurance riding and touring, to let up and recover during downhills. This is NOT a good strategy while racing though. I had to focus intently on pushing myself on the downhills. I conjured up Sue Lloyd’s image several times as motivation. That was all I needed.
There were several non-racers out riding too. I navigated around at least a half dozen riders in the first half of the race. It made things a little more interesting. I passed a couple right at the bottom of the Nelson Rd downhill before the short rise back up to the private pond on the north side of the road. I worked extra hard not to lose my speed on that incline. It was tough. I knew that efforts like this could be the difference between winning and not even getting onto the podium. As I approached the N75th and Nelson corner I knew I was taking it a little too fast. And, I was right. I couldn’t stay within the last couple cones and I slalomed the last one — luckily I didn’t clip it or worse! I found out later that I could have been penalized or disqualified for going outside the cones but either the race official that was on the corner didn’t see it or he felt it was not worthy of a penalty. Whew! Anyway, the next stretch is a series of rollers or swells. I had taken a quick glance back after I took the corner and I did not see Carla or Ellen — or anyone else, for that matter. I did see a few racers in front of me though. These would be SW45+ racers who were in the group ahead of ours. It was nice to have some rabbits — I always do better when there is something to chase down. I set my mind to picking off these riders and keeping my speed as high as I possibly could. I put my effort into the front side of the rollers and allowed myself to back of slightly and recover once I crested the top. I misjudged the very first roller and started to back off before I had actually crested. There was a bit of a false summit to that swell. I learned my lesson on that one and was more careful on the others. I passed two of the SW45+ riders on the stretch between the cones and Amy Bowman’s farm. When I think of Haystack, I think of the hill by Amy’s farm. It isn’t that long, but it is long enough and steep enough and it comes late enough in the race to be a real nasty climb. I was ready for it and I dug deep into my reserves and again told myself that Sue Lloyd would be doing the same, so DON’T LET UP NOW!!! At the top of that rise the course turns west and a bit south. In this case, it turned into a head wind. I expected it and took a certain pleasure in leaning into it. I felt fast, I still felt strong. Yes, I was tired but I saw a couple more SW4 riders ahead of me who were clearly struggling. That just fueled my fire and cemented my determination. From Jim Cargill’s farm to the corner at Neva Rd I amped it up and accelerated past the first SW45+ racer — I think this one might have been Darcy Tiglas – and I sped through the corner and headed for the finish. There was still one SW45+ racer ahead of me. It looked like she was going to stay away but I gave it everything I had and nipped her about 30 yards from the finish. That felt great! Now I had to wait to see how my competitors did. Donna was there to cheer me across the finish! She caught up with me and we rode back to the finish line after recovering for a few seconds and waited to see if any of the SW55+ were right on my tail. It didn’t seem like they were — not sure how much time passed, but it was at least 20 seconds. This meant that neither Carla (who I passed) nor Ellen who had to finish within 20 seconds of me had beat me. There was no way to know if Pam or Ruth had so I’d just have to go back to the McGuckin’s Warehouse and see the posted results. Donna and I rode to get her car which was parked near IBM and then I rode back along Neva to cool down. It took me another 20 minutes to get back to the race headquarters! My legs felt recovered by then and I was ready to start preparing for the team time trial.
I consumed 1/2 of a recovery drink and a few fig newtons. That seemed to do the trick. I checked the race results, and my performance was enough to earn me first place. We did the podium thing and Donna even got a picture of me with my winnings.
Then, I went back to the car and I sat with my feet up for about 15 minutes. Then it was time to start getting ready again. My number had to be switched, my pedals had to be moved from Darth to Pogo as did my rear, PowerTap wheel. Donna headed out to warm up about 40 minutes before the start. She came to fetch me right as I was returning from the Porta-potty. Last minute check – gloves, helmet, wheels — oh, crap, I’ve got my reading glasses on instead of my sunglasses. Luckily, we were still in the parking lot. I turned around and raced back to the car to get the right glasses. Then I headed out again. One more time through the checklist….gloves, helmet, wheels, glasses, computer — oh crap, I don’t have my hearing aids in! I might have just kept going except that these were critical to our team communication. So, back I went to my car for a second time. Precious seconds ticking by. I pulled the case out of my bag and stuffed it in my back jersey pocket. There wasn’t time to mess with them here at the car — I had to get to the start line! There were still 4 groups of riders ahead of us when I got to the line which gave me time to get my aids in properly and adjust my gearing so that it was correct for the start.
For the second time today I heard the …. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 countdown. Donna led out since she was the fresher rider. And, I should have known when she got clipped in ahead of me that we were off to a good race! Donna led smoothly and with speed. Before we started, we both shared our goals and expectations for the race. We were one of a few 2-woman teams and the only team where both of us were on road bikes. Given that, we felt that our chances against the other teams was not great. Both of us felt that our success should be measured against our previous efforts and what we felt our potential was. We were still going to do our best against the other racers in the SW45+ group — we just weren’t going to live or die by the race results. I was surprised by how good I felt. I was expecting to have “lead legs” for at least the first 5-10 minutes of the race. From the get-go, my legs were fine. When it was my turn to take the front, it was not a struggle to hold the pace. I was able to take the same length pull as I was in our practice. I can’t tell you how relieved I was by this! My biggest fear of the day was that Donna and I would be racing along and I would not be able to hang on and that our speed would drop to a crawl and we’d still be out there limping in as the sun set over the foothills. Inside, I was joyous. Working together, switching leads and flying along as one was the most awesome feeling in the world. Our communication was spot-on. We used it to determine the hardest we could push without blowing up. Donna led on all the climbs and into the first two corners and I led on all the big downhills (so we could take advantage of my weight and the pull of gravity). It worked real well. There were only a couple of times where there was any gap between us and I don’t think it was ever more than a bike length or so. After we took the turn at the bottom of Nelson Rd we both bore down hard. Donna pushed to get us up the first rollie then turned it over to me for the downhill segment. I stayed on the front until to bottom of the hill at Amy Bowman’s farm where Donna once again came along side and took us to the top. I pulled on the next stretch into the headwind and over the hill to Pat Kokora’s farm. We switched again by Jim Cargill’s place. Just after we passed his place, Sue Lloyd’s SW55+ team passed us. Bummer. Donna and I had hoped to keep ahead of them — we almost did. I led our little team of two into the final corner and up the first part of the finish stretch. We rode side by side across the line — having left it all out there. We were glad to be done and very pleased with our efforts! Donna’s husband, Jim, met us at the finish line with cheers and praise. So cool to be part of a family of riders who are so supportive and fun!
Donna and I finished last in our group — but as much fun as we had, and as positive as we are about our race, you’d think we won the damn thing! Now we’re looking for our next team time trial. Look for us to be competing together again sometime in May!