Monthly Archives: April 2014

Weld County Road Race – In the Pack

I didn’t fall asleep easily last night – probably pre-race jitters – my mind kept going back to the race, tactics, preparation, the course, the competition, etc.etc. I eventually dozed off and when I woke up I felt a little foggy, but not bad. Beth and I fed the ponies, the Beth headed off (with two ponies and our ‘big rig’) to a Berthoud church to give a Rose Parade presentation at a pancake breakfast. So, I had the whole house to myself for prep and packing up. Sweet!
I had exchanged emails with Anna and we both planned to get to the venue about 2 hours ahead of our race start. Neither of us like to feel rushed, and we both tend to get a little scatter-brained as we get closer to start-time so the extra minutes usually come in handy. As I drove thru the neighborhood looking for a place to park, I spotted Anna — so I parked next to her. Got myself registered, asked the dude at the table whether there was any SAG support (or if I flatted, was I on my own to walk the 5-7 miles back). Was relieved to hear that they would ‘eventually’ pick me up if I flatted so I took the little seat bag off Pogo (every ounce was gonna count today!) Once I took care of the ‘gotta do’ stuff ‘, including pinning my numbers on my kit, Anna and I went to check out the finish line. Nothing too surprising, but glad I got to see it. The finish would be a slight downhill for the last 1/4 mile or so — but before that there would be some pain thanks to a long climb complete with a short ‘kicker’. I filed that away and headed back to warm-up.
IMHO, Anna starts her warm-up a bit early, but since we were set up together, I got on my bike too. I didn’t start my warm-up though. I took that opportunity to spin and get my right knee as loose as I could. It was kinda stuck initially, but wasn’t painful so I kept spinning until it moved smoothly and I didn’t even notice it. Then, with about 45 minutes to start time I started my warm-up. My thought was, I wanted to give myself 30 minutes on the bike and still have time for a last pit stop and an early arrival to the start line so I could position myself up front. I upped the watts just a bit from my spin for a couple of minutes. I was off and on my bike a couple of times taking care of little things (I do this EVERY race — no matter how prepared I think I am – today it was trying to get the right clothing on. It was chilly out and about, but nice and toasty if/when you could get out of the breeze) Then I did a ‘step’ warm-up. I picked a gear that gave me about 125 watts at 85-90rpm. I stayed there for 1 minute, then shifted up one gear. I think this put me in the 140 watt range. Another minute here. Then I left the gearing along and increased the cadence to 95rpm. Stayed here for 30-60 sec, then increased the cadence to > 100 rpm. Stayed here for 30-60sec (I just don’t remember what I chose….). Then I dropped back down to the initial gear and rpms and repeated the sequence. By the end of the second set, I was sweating… A LOT.  I picked a few other effort levels and rode just a bit more. Then I tried to do a couple of short FG (full gas) efforts (mimicking yesterday’s Openers efforts) but my trainer kept slipping so I did what I could, but they were not FG.
Then shortly after that, I packed up my stuff and headed for the start line. I made at least 5 false starts to the line — thankfully, I had allocated a little extra time and I never got too far from my car before turning around. I kept second guessing my clothing choices and would go back to the car and adjust. I ended up with my “go-to” outfit — my GoLite super-light base layer under my short sleeve jersey. I briefly toyed with wearing tights, but that idea died before I got thru my warm-up. I also decided to push the ‘shorts’ envelope today too. I wore a single pair of Panache bit shorts. Da da. 🙂  During my quick wardrobe changes I did have my Blue Sky Velo vest under my jersey, I had some thermal arm warmers “almost” on, I had my GoLite base layer on and off at least twice….and I picked up my long fingered gloves, but decided to go with short fingered ones in the end. My final outfit was PERFECT.  I was neither cold nor hot — as a matter of fact, I never even noticed whether I was cold or hot. It was a total non-issue for me. Even riding in the ‘single’ bib shorts worked out fine. I’m pretty happy about that. I think I’m going to start a small database with my wardrobe choices based on temperature and other conditions. OK, maybe not a database, but a MSWord document.
Finally, I’m at the start line and I’m up with the first 10 or so women in my race. Cool. Normally, I line up towards the back of the SW4, and often the MW55+ all line up together off the back. But, there really isn’t any reason for that — especially since we can all work together. I held my position as the group grew and as we moved up towards the official line (there were 3-4 groups starting at approximately the same time as us and we were the last ones). I noticed that Kristine Johnson and Ceil Murphy were also up near the front. I never did see Ruth Alexander or Pam Lemmons so I’m guessing they started off the back of the group. Many of the gals were relieved when the race official announced a neutral start all the way thru the gravel/dirt section. Our race would begin once we hit the north->south section of pavement. I would have been OK racing thru that, but I was definitely in the minority!!!
OK, now for the race.
On the whistle, we all rolled out. I was on the right edge of the pack and once we left the school parking area and spread across the road, I guess I was probably in the 3rd row of riders. There must’ve been over 40 of us in total so I knew there were a lot of rider behind me. I stayed on the right side as we bounced along the dirt road. Everyone was supposed to stay to the right of middle — or get DQed (and I did hear of several DQs today) — but apparently some gals don’t know what that means (including Kristine Johnson – she crossed the center line several times during the race!). That’s OK, I liked my position as we hit the pavement. I was on the west side of the group and the breeze was coming from the E and ESE. To avoid crumbly stuff at the edge of the road, and pot holes and rough pavement near the center-line, I pretty quickly moved to the middle of the pack about 4-5 rows off the front. It was a GREAT place to ride. It surprises me how comfortable I am in a pack — and how uncomfortable other gals are in a pack.  I was loose, relaxed and used my ‘soft-focus’ to keep an eye on what was going on around me. I did have to feather my brakes occasionally or pick up my pace to stay with the pack when it surged, but mostly I altered my pace by adjusting “pedal pressure”  (including  soft pedaling). I adjusted my position in the pack based on the bike handling skills of all the riders around me. I dropped back once to avoid a couple of “squirrels” and got away from some gals who were ‘jumpy’ and freaking out about the pot holes — and they would BRAKE!!! I kept thinking — JUST RIDE YOUR F******* BIKE !!!!!
It was very surreal . Here it was 20 minutes into the race and I had not been spit out the back yet. Of course, the first half of the course is mostly downhill and flat. The second half is mostly uphill. period. But, I felt good — real good. I was not digging deep to stay with the pack and I did not feel like I was wasting any energy and everything seemed a bit in slow motion. At the bottom of the descent, Kristine Johnson soloed off the front. WTF? First lap, no help, … again, IMHO, no hope. But, it did make things a bit more interesting and maybe that was the whole point. No one individual chased her down, but we all chased her down. I had been watching her since the start and knew that I’d have to keep an eye on her as we got closer to the finish. First I had to get myself up the climb once before I could worry about what I’d do on the second ascent. I was still with the lead group as we turned the corner and headed north up the hill. The hill was broken into two climbs with a short downhill ‘joiner’. The first climb was relatively gentle, probably all under 4% grade. The second climb was about the same length, but was overall a little steeper and towards the top had a 5-6% kicker. As a group, we flew up that hill. I remember thinking about whether or not I should get out of the saddle, but we were moving too fast (and I was able to hang with everyone — actually, I found that I was moving up in the pack without exerting more as some of the other gals drifted back a few spots). As soon as we crested the hill, I went into ‘recovery’ mode as much as possible.
Although I made it up the hill with the group and felt OK, I KNEW that I had burned a match or two in order to do it. I tucked into the pack on the downhill towards the dirt section and drank and ate a shot block.( I forgot to mention that I also drank on the downhill section relatively early on). That stretch seemed longer than I remembered it being when I drove the route.  I was ready for the attack as we turned onto the dirt/gravel. No problem. I matched the acceleration and kept my spot. Again, I seemed more comfortable than many of the other gals — I glanced to my left and saw one gal with a death grip on her handlebars. Yikes! For me the dirt/gravel was a non-issue and I was out of the saddle sprinting to stay with the lead group as soon as we hit the pavement again. I thought for sure someone would start to take control of the race at this point. No one did (and I sure as hell wasn’t going to!). So, we just kept riding along at what I have to believe is a slow race pace. I still had not gotten spit out of the back or even been pushed to the point where I was worried about that happening.
As we started the north->south section (right after the dirt/gravel) for a second time, I found myself riding elbow to elbow with Anna!!! OMG — I was STILL with the lead group and still feeling good. The pace on the second lap was a bit higher. The first half was rather unremarkable except for having to pass a racer who fell off the back of the men’s race. He was riding on the right edge of the road and our group had to squeeeeeze together a bit as we passed him. I heard a few “chirps” from nervous racers as we made room. The pack was tight the entire lap. Even as we started up the double climbs towards the finish. I thought, “Now, someone will make a move…”. And, there might have been a few small moves but nothing serious – but the overall pace ratchetted up a couple more notches. I had my eye on Kristine. She didn’t appear to be fatigued and I assumed she knew I was right there with her because I was very vocal about calling out hazards (like railroad crossings, rumble strips and sharp turns) and my voice is both loud and distinctive. I worked my gears and kept my cadence as high as I could without losing power. It was obvious to me now that I WAS WORKING.  I also felt like I would make it — and that I might even be able to give Kristine a run for her money. I could hardly believe that I was now in a position where I could think about possibly winning the race. Kristine was the only thing between me an victory….or at least that’s what I was thinking. I used up a lot of energy getting up the first climb and knew I’d have to dig really deep for the last one. My focus went inward for just a few moments — I was willing my legs to go around and willing them to push harder.
The pack started to stretch out and I found myself unable to accelerate and catch up. Some riders came up from the back on the far right and left edges of the group. A few gals drifted back and got spit out. But there were some gals who were in the same boat as I was and we watched the ‘elite’ of our group pull away. Kristine was also unable to bridge up. She was directly in front of me. I was basically on her wheel — and I was sucking air mightily. She looked back at me on her wheel as we came to the top of the hill. I’d have to say, she was probably having flash-backs to Salida and probably called me a few choice names under her breath. However, today was a totally different story. In Salida, I was waiting to pounce. Today, I was struggling to survive. I did everything I could to stay with her and I tried to find an extra gear to pass her. I didn’t want us to go to the line together. I think I made a mistake shortly after we got over the hill. I found just a little extra and tried to sprint around her and create a gap. I had enough to get around her, but miscalculated and didn’t have enough to create the gap. I looked back and she was right on my wheel. I didn’t want that, so I swerved left (it was just the two of us out there now…) to get away from her and then tapped my brakes. As I hoped, she came by me on the right and I took her wheel again. I didn’t have the gas to pull her to the finish. Once on her wheel, I tried to recover for another sprint effort, but she (smartly) picked up the pace, put pressure on me and that’s how we went across the line. I was inches off the back of her wheel — but honestly, barely hanging on. She was the stronger rider today and she beat me fair and square.
Once we crossed the line, I noticed that another gal from the MW55+ , Diane Granger,  was already done. Hmmmm, I don’t know when/how Diane got in front of us. I do remember her early on in the race being at my right side for a while. I’m guessing she passed us on the hill (while I was kinda internally focused…). So, when I thought I was racing for first/second, I was really racing for second/third. No matter — I’m still THRILLED.
Pam, Ceil and Ruth were all off the back for a good part of the race. Ruth finished last and said she had a horrible race. Bummer. Pam finished behind me which surprised me a little as I thought Ceil was a stronger rider. Not sure what happened there.
Thanks to my coach, Alison Powers, for her advice about positioning made a huge difference today. Starting at the front of the pack  set the tone for my entire race and was probably the biggest single reason I was able to claw my way onto the podium today! Thanks, Coach.