Only Sue Lloyd and I were pre-registered. Turns out, Carla Flores and Kris Johnson were the only other gals to sign-up. To me, this was a short list of top competitors — none of whom I had beaten in a crit yet. I lost to Kris at Wheels of Thunder, and more recently to Carla by less than a second at the Coal Miner’s Classic. And, Sue hasn’t been racing SW55+ until the championships, but she’s been tearing up the SW45+ category! Then — Carla and Krsi show up in their jersey’s with “National Champion” stars ‘n stripes on their sleeves.. For those of you who are not familiar with this — a racer may add stars and stripes to their team jersey and wear it in the event in which they are a ational champion. I have one that I can wear if I compete on the track. Let’s just say, I went into this thinking I very likely could be the ‘old maid’, and be the only one off the podium.
My morning went well. Beth and I got up early enough that I helped feed the ponies before I got my stuff ready and left. I didn’t have to rush as I had everything packed and all I had to do was carry it out to the car. Last night I did some minor maintenance on Pogo and made a slight adjustment to the rear derailleur. I still need to post a photo of Pogo all ‘tricked out’ with the new carbon wheels.
I arrived and found an awesome parking space — I took that as a positive sign. Registration was only a couple blocks away and I had my number in a matter of moments. I pinned that on my jersey before my warm-up so I wouldn’t be rushed later. I debated briefly on whether to use the trainer or warm-up on the streets. I opted for the streets for a couple of reasons. I didn’t want to mess with switching wheels and taping my brakes (so if I used them by mistake on the trainer, the brake pads wouldn’t pick up any aluminum filings.) and I was a little concerned about overheating. On the streets, since I would be moving thru the air, it would likely be cooler. The roads around the race were fine for warming up. I took Pine St west then Via Appia north and around. I hooked up with Kris for part of the warm-up. We got to visit a little as we rode. I took my time warming up. Twice I had to go back to my car. The first time, I realized I forgot to put my saddle bag (spare tube etc) on Pogo and the second time I went back to take a couple of Ibuprofen. (Duh!). Since I don’t usually take anything I had totally forgotten that I planned to take something in case my rotator cuff started to act up. I felt good about my warm-up. I got a couple of moderate length exertions in and right before I stopped I went around the block (4 corners) and got out of the saddle and sprinted after each turn. My left rotator cuff was not an issue and my right inner thigh (which had been tight the last couple of training rides) did not ‘bark’ at all during the warm-up.
At the line, the 35+ group got to start first and the rest of us got the start whistle after the 35+ group made the first turn (maybe 2-3 blocks). Sue Lloyd was up front and got a good jump — her focus was clearly catching the 35+ group! That was not in my game plan — I do not think I could’ve hung with them had I caught them. My plan was to not worry about Sue Lloyd and focus on Kris and Carla — who were right with me at the start. Kris was always more of a concern today than Carla. I’m not sure why I felt that way, but that’s the way I played it. Carla stayed behind both of us — but was on our wheel and probably not doing that much ‘extra’ work. Kris and I were jockeying with a handful of slower 35+ and 45+ gals. The course was nice — as you know, but there was some soft crack-filer asphalt sorta stuff that made the only right hand turn a bit sketchy. At first, I thought it was my new wheels, but then I realized that they were just slipping on this crack-sealant. After the race, many of the other racers were saying the same thing.
I found the pace the first few laps to be pretty fast. In my head, I heard my coach, Alison Powers, saying “Just suffer through the first 3-4 laps and then things generally settle down.” Admittedly, there were 0.65 mile laps, so maybe I should’ve expected it to take a little longer to settle. We were a full 10-15 minutes in and I was still suffering quite a bit. About this time, I developed a stitch in my right side. I know I had this happen in one of the other crits too. It was difficult to breathe and at one point I thought – “Crap, I’m gonna end up finishing DFL or being a DNF at this rate!” I looked back at that same moment and Carla was about 15 meters off our little group. I sternly told myself – “Hang in there — you only need to suffer a little bit more than Carla to stay in the race, and get a podium spot!!!” HANG IN THERE!” The stitch continued for the next couple of laps and I had to work very hard to not lose contact with Kris and my little race-within-a-race group. But,I can’t say when the stitch left, but all of a sudden I realized that it was gone…and I looked behind me again and Carla had fallen significantly off the back. And, I felt like I was settling. in – FINALLY! This was probably 20-25 minutes into the race. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but around this same time, I found myself being shot off the front and into no-woman’s land for a little over a lap. I think I took a corner much faster than everyone else and voila – I was (unwittingly) in the lead of our little race. UGH! But, when I realized there was no chance of bridging up to the next group, I drifted back and took a wheel in “my” group.
Now that I was ‘settled in’ though, instead of focusing on just staying in contact, I started being strategic and taking up positions that were to my benefit. Mostly I took Kris’s wheel, but if one of the other gals picked up the pace, I switched and stayed one or two off the front. There was quite a bit of switching going on — and I didn’t want to be on a slower wheel that became a gap. I think I might’ve taken the lead once or twice at this point but only for a short time. At this point I told myself that this is a RACE — and that I didn’t need to be a ‘team player’ and take a turn at the front. This was NOT a group ride!!! The other thing I kept telling myself was to be patient. There was at least one time when the thought of trying to make a break for it and create a gap crossed my mind. Internally, I immediately shot back at myself — and WHY?? Are you going to catch Sue? If not, your race is right here. You are on the wheel you want to watch and she’s working a lot harder than you are right now. STAY PUT!!!
Luckily, I listened to myself. I stuck to Kris’s wheel like glue. About 5 laps to go Kris got out of the saddle as we turned onto Main St. and started the uphill climb. She stayed out driving hard the entire length of Main St trying to lose me. I stayed in the saddle and just increased my effort. It was an amazing feeling — now that I was ‘settled in’ and riding in her draft, I felt strong, confident and I KNEW that I could match anything she threw at me. And, I wsan’t going to allow the roles to be reversed. She was either going to create a gap (NOT!) or take me to the line! On that same lap, she continued to push all the way up the incline. I just stayed on her wheel — at this point, I did not feel anywhere close to my limit. I was intentionally conserving every ounce of energy for my finish.
Time was running out. I could sense that Kris knew she needed to shake me — and I knew I needed to stay put. It was a very interesting battle. My track riding definitely helped because I was extremely comfortable riding just off her wheel. I remember hearing ‘3-laps to go’, the ‘2-laps to go’. On that one, Kris dug deep and tried to pull away. Fortunately for me, she just increased the pace. There was no gap-creating sprint. I just matched her increases every time and never lost an inch to her. It was the coolest damn feeling! I started to think about the finish. Now, I knew the race was mine to lose. I reminded myself to be PATIENT and I did some quick math in my head. My move would most definitely be on the downhill — but where? I decided that I would start my sprint 1/2 way down the final ‘L’ before we turned onto Main. But, just as I was making that decision, Kris let up a little. Instinct took over — I started cursing myself a little — what happened to “PATIENCE?” Too late, I had made my move. It was right after the right-hand turn. I know Kris wasn’t expecting it. I blew by her and headed into the left-turn at top speed. It was not a pretty corner. I was clearly ahead of Kris and there was one rider ahead of me that was mostly thru the corner already and riding down the far edge of the road. My corner went wide — and I shouted to the gal ahead of me that I was to her ‘inside’ — just so she’d know and in case I got too close for comfort. That didn’t happen but apparently my line was not what Kris 1) was expecting me to take or 2) wanted me to take because she had to alter her line — and she yelled out at me something to the order of “What the hell are you doing?”. UGH! I’m not sure what line she was taking — but it seems to me that since I was the first one thru the corner (I did not come up from behind her to take that line — which I recently discussed with Alison on the ALP Athletes ride) that I can take the line I want. How can I know what line she is on/wants when clearly she is behind me.???? UGH! UGH!
Anyway, I continued sprinting down that last stretch to Main St., got a fast clean turn onto Main St. and out sprinted Kris to the line. I think the main pack (who had lapped us previously) finished right about the same time!
That controversial corner aside, I would not have changed much about the race strategy. I am soooo glad we chatted beforehand so I had your words in my head about haning tough early on. I rode the race I wanted to race and I am extremely happy with the result!
My wonderful coach, Alison is a huge reason why I did so well today. She has helped me train to be physically ready to race and has provided insightful guidance for my racing strategies. Thanks Coach!