That’s the amount I lost the Coal Miner’s Classic circuit race in Louisville by today. I was, quite literally, beat at the line by a much more experienced racer, Carla Flores (cat 1). But, as I put on my Facebook page, what she doesn’t know is that I learn from my mistakes…and today, I learned A LOT!!!
The way I felt before the race, I am actually amazed that I competed, that I finished and that I did so well. I couldn’t stand the thought of warming up on my trainer today, and Valerie Eipper was getting ready to warm-up when I was, so we both headed out and hit the side roads around the route. It was fun riding with someone else. I do so much of my race-day stuff by myself as the lone Blue Sky Velo woman racer. Valerie shared that she’s been getting dropped on surges and on the corners so I shared what I know about it, and reinforced what my coach, Alison Powers, had done with the “Rocky Mounts” team during clinics — and we repeated tight corners by riding circles between the curbs. It was pretty interesting to me that a skill I pretty much take for granted is, apparently, not universal. I lean my bike WAAAAY over under me all the time and kinda toss it back and forth and all around and never think twice about it. Valerie on the other hand, is ALWAYS centered over her bike — which makes tight turns impossible! So, we worked some on that as we warmed up. We got to pre-ride the course once around once the previous race finished up. I was glad that I pre-rode it yesterday as I felt like I knew where I wanted to expend my energy and where I thought I could make up time if I fell off the back.
I headed to the line with about 5 minutes to go and even then I was feeling so-so. I wasn’t sure I even wanted to be on the start line, and thoughts of having to abandon did go through my mind as I waited for the start whistle. But, as soon as Tim Madden blew the whistle and we were underway, things started to feel more “normal”. Now this yucky feeling, it wasn’t a case of nerves. I know what that feels like as that is more my norm. I can get pretty nervous before a start. It is not uncommon for me to have to make a last minute pee-stop at the port-a-potty because of nerves. Whatever it was, today though – it started to fade into the background and I started to feel better. I got a good stat and was able to get the position I wanted going into the long straightaway heading north (and into a headwind). I was about the 5th or 6th rider and was sheltered from the headwind but had plenty of elbow room and could handle the pace without any problems. I stayed in the front like that the entire first circuit. There was some jostling, but I was not more than 3 rows deep in the peloton and as we came around to the 0.2 mi incline I was still in with everyone. As we crested, I let my momentum carry and found myself off the front! Something I had not expected — but I had a tail wind and I wasn’t really exerting all that hard, so I stayed on the front until we headed down the start/finish straight away. At this point, I literally sat up until a couple of riders took the lead. I did NOT want to head back north into the headwind with “my nose sticking out.” I tucked back in behind a few riders. This time around, it was more of a long line of riders than a group and I was maybe 8th or 10th back at the most. I kept thinking that the pace was slow — especially if I could stay with this lead group so easily. Then I reminded myself that I was being careful not to battle the headwind. The poor sucker that was out front WAS doing a lot of work. I think the wind conditions really helped me today. So, I probably could have ridden a little harder if the pace demanded that of me, but since it didn’t, I was more than happy to just sit in. On every corner I jumped out of the saddle to stay in contact and on every incline I was able to push the prevailing pace and stay in the group. I tried to look around a few times to see where Carla was. There was enough erratic riding that I couldn’t look around very much! I didn’t see her at all on the first three laps. My guess is that she was staying just behind me so that I wouldn’t see her and probably riding a smart race as well. There were at least a half dozen times where something bad “almost” happened in front of or to the side of me. I’d hear myself yell out a “Hey! Watch your line” or “Hey, I’m on your left” — it was out before I even realized I had the thought. Would you call that survival instincts? I hear a fair number of other riders “chirping” too. On the final lap, as someone decided to make it a race on the northern most part of the course, a gal from “Rocky Mounts” came flying out of nowhere — totally out of control and just barreled into me from the right. I was on the left side of the group and riding “predictably” — she bumped me pretty hard, sent me 3-4 ft to the left of my line (luckily there was no one to MY left!) I leaned back into the contact and stayed up right. OMG! That could’ve been NASTY!!!! Then I had to hustle to get back into the pack and regain my focus. We were about 1.5 miles from the finish at this point. But, when I was turning right to deal with this whole ordeal, I caught a glimpse of Carla!! She was almost directly across from me (since I had lost speed I probably drifted back to her hiding spot!) on the right side of the group. We both took the corner at the bottom of the next hill cleanly and came shooting out with her on my right, slightly ahead of me. All I could think was, “Oh crap – I can’t take her to the line, she’s a cat 1 racer — she knows all the end-of-race tricks there are! WTH am I going to do now?” My answer was to try to create a gap and see if I could hold her off. We had three elements left –the 0.2 mi incline, a short one block fairly flat “connector” and then the final 0.2-0.3 mi straight-away. I had ridden the incline as well as anyone — and better than most on the first three passes. So I took off and started to give it everything I had left. I figured I might be able to recover a little on the “connector” but then I’d have to empty the tank on the way to the finish line. Well, as I shared with my coach on the phone after the race — it “almost” worked. Carla caught me JUST before the line. I willed myself to accelerate — but it there was no response. I was done. There was not even a drop of energy left in the tank. I was totally spent. As soon as I crossed the finish I was re-thinking my end-game strategy. Not sure it would’ve come out any differently, but as I discussed with Alison… th next time I’m in a similar situation with Carla, I’m going to bide my time and try to win in a <= 500m sprint to the finish. I wonder when I’ll get this chance again?
Bottom line, I did learn a lot today. About myself and about how to race smarter. Thanks to Alison for her time and advise after the race. It was nice to discuss the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” scenarios with someone who has clearly “been there, done that!”. I’ve already learned so much from her, she is an AWESOME coach. Clearly, there is still SO MUCH more out there to learn !!!