Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Memorial Day races
I had a lot of fun down in Iowa last weekend for three days of great racing. Womens racing in the Midwest is thriving right now. The level of talent was impressive and the field sizes were some of the largest these races have ever seen. It's so cool to see multiple teams strongly represented and it makes the racing fast and furious.
I have to say I was a little nervous going into Saturday's Snake Alley race. After winning the past two years numerous riders were chomping at the bit for this event and I was definitely a marked rider. With the Snake it's all about attrition so I was hoping my fitness was good enough to keep me in the mix of all the strong riders in the field. For those unfamiliar with Snake Alley it is this ridiculously crooked, cobbled alley that has about 7 switchbacks in it with gradients of about 14-18%. It's a great race for spectators and it is definitely not your typical criterium.
I traveled down to Iowa this weekend with my friend Jill and we got to the Snake early to meet up with our awesome team mechanic Mike and see him ride up the Cobble Climb on his mountain bike. My KENDA teammates Mo and Catherine were also racing and Mike, his wife Mary, and daughter Danielle helped support us throughout the weekend. Thanks guys - you're all amazing!
There were 42 starters on the line and several teams were well represented - Team Revolution, Mesa Cycles, and Mercy just to name a few. From the gun Amanda Miller put the hammer down and had an instant 10 second gap. I was alone in second place for a lap before a group of 5 came up to me and we began to try to pull Amanda back. A few laps later she dropped her chain at the base of the Snake and her 30 second gap was down to about 5. The next time around the same thing happened and now we were a group of 6 - Sam and Amanda from Mesa, Katie and Syd from Revolution, and Devon from Get a Grip. We would more or less ride together for the next 5 or so laps.
It was tough getting around lapped riders and I got pinched off several times going up the Snake. Luckily I managed to keep it together and stick with the group. With about 3 laps to go I picked up the pace on the climb and only Sam was able to stick with me. We had a small gap on the other 4 and I knew I had to keep the pace high if we were to stay away. I rode hard up the Snake the final lap but Sam stuck to my wheel like glue. I knew she would likely beat me in the sprint and I was too concerned with maintaining our lead over the chasers to play any games. She came around me in the finishing straight to take the win. Gary Hadenfeldt from the Iowa Hawkeye wrote up a really nice article here
I was a little disappointed that I couldn't pull off the third consecutive victory but with such a tough field I knew it wouldn't be easy. Sam is a phenomenal rider and at only 17 years of age you can bet we'll be seeing a lot more of her in the years to come. This is such a tough, unique, and fun race - I love it and you can bet that I'll be back for more in the future.
After cleaning up Jill and I grabbed a cold bottle of recovery drink and sat up on the Snake to spectate the mens race. It's so much fun to watch the suffering as riders twist and turn their way up the cobbles. Some of those guys hardly appear to be suffering though - very impressive!
Sunday's race is the Melon City crit in Muscatine and is a 1 mile circuit through a park. Towards the end of the lap there's a small hill followed by a wicked hairpin turn leading to the downhill finish sprint. Another huge field with 52 women. I had a decent race and was involved in some of the break attempts but I got swarmed at the top of the hill and finished 19th. Sam took her second win of the weekend. Congrats to Catherine on her 4th place finish.
Monday brought the Quad Cities Crit in Rock Island, Illinois. This race is often called a "cage match" because of all the fencing surrounding the figure 8 course. It is also notorious for crashes. There's a lot of money on the line so riders are sometimes willing to take more risks. I think that aspect can be overhyped sometime and the local paper wrote an article exclusively on the subject. I try not to worry about it :)
This year the awesome promoters Donnie Miller and Terry Burke actually added a third womens race to the lineup. A Cat 2/3 race allowed many women to do two events and an amazing 35 women lined up for the race. Jill and Monique were both out there and it was great to be cheering on the very fast race. Mo's boyfriend Greg raced the 50+ event and from the gun he attacked and held off the chasing field the ENTIRE race! Greg is an amazing athlete (and a really nice guy!) and it was great to watch him out there. Oh . . . and he happened to win the Snake Alley 50+ race also - great weekend Greg!
The women's race actually had a smaller field than the 2/3 race with only 31 racers. I was a bit surprised but some folks didn't want to stick around for the late start and opted to begin the long drive home. Still a fiercely talented field though. It was fast from the start and there were numerous attacks by riders from Mesa, Revolution, and other teams. About 10 laps in Bri and Amanda were off the front. Myself and Devon worked to bridge up and Sam, Katie, and Catherine came with. This put two riders from Mesa, Revolution, and Kenda in the 7 person break. After some initial disorganization we began to work well together and before we knew it we were 30 seconds from lapping the field. We reintegrated into the group with 7 laps to go. It got a little sketchy here and we were all trying to jockey for position up front. Revolution and Mesa kept the pace high and the last lap was blistering. I was near the front of the race but coming around the last corner was sitting about 8th wheel. Sam once again took the win completing her hat trick on the weekend. Catherine snagged 3rd place behind Bri and I managed 5th coming in behind Devon. It was a fantastic race and the first time a break lapped the field in the race. It generally comes down to a field sprint so it was nice to change it up. This was a fast race too - I was pretty astounded to see that we averaged just a hair under 25mph!
What a fun weekend. Thanks to everyone involved in putting on the races. I have to give a shout out to my pal Jay Baumeister who helped out this weekend and is putting on a fantastic weekend of racing in Columbus, Ohio on June 28/29. The Grandview races are great for so many reasons. The community support and host housing is top notch, the courses are fun, and the mens and womens prize purses are equal and large ($3K Saturday, $6K Sunday). I encourage everyone near the Midwest to come out for these great events.
Huge thanks to Mike, Mary, and Danielle for all of their help throughout the weekend. From changing out tires, taking pictures, standing in the wheel pit, cheering, and feeding us Oreo cookies after the races - they did it all and it was really fun to hang out with them. Thank you so much - your generosity inspires us! Here's Mike warming up.
So unfortunately I caught a bit of a head cold after the weekend so I've taken this week pretty light and will likely skip the Wisconsin State TT tomorrow. Not really my thing anyway ;) I'll try to get out to Milwaukee for the crit on Sunday though.
Only three more days of school left for me as I get ready for the State Road Race next weekend and Nature Valley after that. With 130 women currently signed up for NV it's sure to be one of the premier stage races in the States for women this season. Can't wait!