Monday, June 16, 2008

Mankato and Stillwater

The last two days of the Nature Valley Grand Prix are always the hardest. The Mankato Road Race is 91 miles - the last 8 of which are 4 laps of a brutal circuit that includes a fairly long steep climb. It was a pretty hot and windy day out so staying hydrated and out of the cross winds were important. The race alternated between being fast and strung out and slow and conversational. There were various attempts at getting a break off the front and one rider, Katheryn Mattis from Webcor, was away solo for almost 100K. I found myself in one very short lived break about halfway through the race when a group got up the road and a girl leading the chase pulled off and caused a TIBCO rider to veer off and ride in the ditch. The chase was disrupted and I took the opportunity to bridge solo up to the break of 7 riders. I just sat on as no one seemed willing to work and soon enough the field swallowed us up. Fun to at least be up there!

So it all came down to the circuits. The first time up the climb I was hurting and not looking forward to three more trips up the dreaded hill. I watched frustrated as a group of about 25 girls pulled away. I found myself in a group of about 7 riders and we sort of worked together to minimize our losses.
Thanks Ryan for all the great pictures!!

The climb definitely took it's toll. I ended up 34th, just over 2 minutes behind Kristin Armstrong who won the race solo by almost 40 seconds. Very impressive. Jackie finished in the group just behind me and unfortunately Debbie dropped out halfway through the race due to foot issues. All of us were having problems with our feet - maybe heat related? As soon as the race was over we all sat there with ice on our throbbing feet.

Sunday is the infamous Stillwater Crit. With the 22% climb up Chillikoot hill every lap it's hardly a crit and the GC always gets pretty shaken up on this final stage of the race. My quads were pretty stiff and sore in the morning and I was just trying to psych myself up for a final 50 minutes of suffering. Finish strong. Call me crazy but I do love this race. I like races that really test the physical and mental fitness of riders and this definitely fits that criteria. Plus I have lots of family and friends come out for this one so I'm always motivated to put on a good show. It was also father's day and having my parents out there watching was great.

We had perfect weather - clear blue skies and low 70s. Jackie and I lined up early but not early enough and were both near the back. I clipped in and held onto the barrier for the start and my line up the hill was poorly chosen. I took the far right side and I couldn't squeeze through. Luckily there was a large group over the top and the next two times up the hill I powered around numerous riders to get in a group. There were about 10 girls off the front and I was in a chase group of maybe 8.

Kristin Armstrong later attacked the lead group and we were the third group on the road. I was getting worked over on the climb and I struggled near the back every time up and would catch the group through the descent. Finally with three laps to go a couple of us popped off as the pace lifted. I knew there were more riders behind me and I just tried to keep the hammer down and stay away from them. The tunnel of noise up the hill was motivating and so many people were cheering me on - it was unreal. The last time up the climb I gave everything I had left and finished mere seconds ahead of chasing riders. It was good enough for 17th place and moved me up to 24th in the GC. I later found out the group I was in bridged up to the first chase group - too bad I couldn't have dug a little deeper to hang on! . . . next year ;)

Here's a photo from Cyclingnews and Frank Rowe. Frank rode in our car in Cannon Falls and included some great shots of us online. Thanks Frank!!

It was great to hang out with my parents and aunt and uncle afterward to watch the men race and then grab some food. Nothing like a burger for some post stage race recovery protein! :)

Thanks so much to Paul, Mike, and Brooke for all of your help and keeping our bikes in tip top shape! Ryan, Rachael, Jess, Lori, and Ed for all helping out in the feed zones and before/after the race! Also thanks to all of the host families that helped house Team Kenda Tire - Mike and Karla, Robbie and Linda, and Jeff and Nancy. You all rock and your help is so appreciated! :)

Lots more racing in the weeks to come with big $$ crits in Grafton and Sheboygan this weekend, Grandview the following weekend and perhaps an NRC stage race in Fitchburg, MA over the 4th of July!
Thanks for reading!

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