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!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Arkansas Recap

Yeah - well my updating didn't last very long. Once we left Fayetteville our internet access (and cell phone reception) become pretty limited so I didn't get a chance to post. Here's a quick recap.

Joe Martin - Stage 2 was a 65 mile road race and Team Kenda had riders in numerous break attempts. Finally near the top of the climb a group of 18 separated from the rest of the field including Anne and Andrea. Debbie, Lee, and I were in the second group of about 15 riders. We kept three of us in the top 20 GC with Anne in 10th place, Andrea moving up to 17th, and I slipped to 19th. Stage 3 was a 70 mile road race and when Cheerwine rider Robin Farina went off the front solo no one expected it to stick. After some disorganized chasing with only Colavita and Team Revolution helping us out she slipped further and further away. A few unfortunate neutralizations added to her lead and coming back into town we were racing for second. Debbie knows how to position herself and she snagged an impressive 5th place finish. I managed an 8th place and Anne took 10th.

Final stage was the fun downtown crit. An 8 corner course it is fairly technical with a short but tough climb to the finish every lap. As is normally the case in bike racing position is key as the pace was sure to be high with riders getting gapped off the back. Our goal was to keep our three top 20 GC riders in the main group to hold onto both our individual GCs and our 3rd place team GC over Advil. The race started hard and after several laps Anne and I remained in the lead group of 16. Andrea helped position me up front for the final lap and unfortunately I lost the lead wheels going into the last corner. I held on for 8th again and we maintained our team GC and our 3 top 20 finishes. All in all it was a great race for us and we learned a lot as a team.

We had a great time in Fayetteville in big part due to our fantastic hosts. Marion and Carolyn cooked up delicious meals and did so much to help us out throughout the week. Thank you both so much for your kindness and generosity - you inspire us!!

We left for Dardanelle, AR on Tuesday to settle into some new homes for a few days before the Tour of Arkansas started. Unfortunately the womens race was shortened from last year and instead of the epic 4 day race of the past we were only going to have 2 days this year. We met up with the owners of Highlander Cycling - Bryon and his wife Michelle - and they welcomed us to town with some tasty food cooked by their friend Zach. Thanks guys! We split up into pairs and stayed with some gracious hosts in the area. Our time between races included previewing the road and TT course, going for an epic ride to Petit Jean, and doing some shopping at the local Wal-Mart - not something most of us normally do. When in Rome . . . er, Arkansas!

Here we are on top of Petit Jean trying to be at one with nature.

We also went and watched the men race up the infamous Mt. Nebo - something like 20 switchbacks over 2.5 miles. It's ridiculous and I wish the women got the chance to do it again this year! We didn't actually ride up it but rather my teammate Mary flagged down a pick up truck and we stuffed 6 bikes and 6 riders in the back! It was awesome - we had to leave the gate open to fit everyone and I don't know how Kat didn't fall out going up some of those switchbacks! Unfortunately we all forgot our cameras which was too bad since the views from the top were spectacular.

Saturday's 8:30AM start meant a 4:30AM wake up time - ouch! We knew it was going to be a VERY long day with our 65 mile road race in the morning and a 22 mile TT in the afternoon. In the future I might suggest the TT the day before the road race. This was a points race also which made strategy a bit tougher to plan out. Time meant absolutely nothing in the race - it's all about how you finish in relation to the other riders. There were 7 other women signed up for the womens open event and the organizers decided to combine our field with the master's men. This would certainly make for a more interesting and perhaps fast paced race but it complicated our tactics.

Team Kenda Tire raced really well together. We had numerous riders attacking and being involved in breaks. The men let us dictate much of the race but eventually they wanted to race themselves (rightfully so) and the breaks were always chased back. Frustrating for us all. At the base of the 8 mile climb the pace was pushed and I couldn't match the effort of 3 of the other girls. I tried to just find a rhythm and not let any other competitors pass me. When I crossed the line I figured I was 4th and only later found out I had gotten 2nd due to two of the girls taking a wrong turn. The result was nice but I know it wasn't quite earned. Andrea and Anne were 3rd and 4th, respectively, putting the pressure on for a good TT result later.

After a quick shower at the lodge (thanks for letting us crash your room Andrea and Ryan!) we ate and rested for maybe an hour. What a view!

Then it was down to Paris for the start of our TT. We all wondered how our legs and bodies would respond to such a long intense effort after the morning race. Brutal! Everyone went out and raced their hardest. My teammate Mary and her husband Jay have these two great hound dogs who love to chase things. So as I started the TT I tried to channel my inner "red dog" and chase down all those "rabbits" in front of me. I ended up catching 5 of them and logged the route in just under 53 minutes. We didn't stick around for official results but from our own computers knew that Debbie was around 50 and Andrea close to my time. We just hoped that was better than most of the competition!

We drove our ragged bodies to Van Buren for some Mexican food and to our hotels. They gave us these humongous glasses of water at the restaurant and Debbie offered up $5 to the first of us to finish. Always up for a challenge I sucked down the icy water and earned myself a crisp Abe Lincoln.

The next morning we arrived to the crit and results were still not posted. Now I'm never one to criticize officials and I know the long hours and how hard they work. But it just seemed to me that they could have figured out the TT results of 16 women a little more quickly. It meant we didn't know our overall positions until about an hour before the race start. Debbie had smoked the TT for 1st, beating Shannon from Metro by over a minute. Andrea was a minute behind her and I was 12 seconds back for 4th. Anne's time rounded out the top 5. This meant that Andrea and I were tied for 1st place with Shannon 1 point behind us. The crit didn't go exactly as we hoped but Shannon and I ended up lapping the field. Big thanks to my teammates for helping keep in position for the sprint. I was on Debbie's wheel and we were forced to take a line we didn't want around the last corner. Shannon has a fast jump and I just couldn't match her acceleration. Thus we were both tied in the omnium points but the organizers used the TT as a tie breaker putting me in second overall. Andrea's gutsy and strong performances impressed us all and she finished 3rd overall followed by Debbie in 4th.

All in all it was a great race for us to do as a team. I am really proud of how aggressive we were in the road race and how riders gave their all to try to protect our GC spots. I think we all learned a lot and our experiences will help us improve our strategy and tactics in future races.

Thanks to all of our great sponsors, host families, Paul, Mike, and Jay for helping us all out throughout our time in Arkansas!

Whew! That was a long update. I'm back teaching - it's fetal pig dissection time! - but I've only got 8 days left before I get ready for Nature Valley Grand Prix up in Minneapolis. But first this weekend brings the Iowa Memorial Day races. I'm going back to the Snake to see if I can pull it off for a third time. I know Team Revolution is going to put up a good fight :)
Should be lotsa fun!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Welcome to Razorback Country!

So we're down in Fayetteville, AR for the Joe Martin Stage Race. After driving through non stop rain on Wednesday we were very happy to have things dry up for yesterday's short 2.5 mile uphill time trial. We've got a strong team put together for the race and everyone put in some great efforts in the first stage. Anne finished 9th followed closely by Lee in 11th. I ended up 15th, 52 seconds behind the leader. Today's road race has the potential of shaking up the GC so now we have to work to keep our riders up front for some good finishes.

Here are some photos of the team prerace.





We've been having a lot of fun thus far. Our hosts, Marion and Carolyn Smith are absolutely amazing! They even welcomed us with T shirts and hats from the University of Arkansas - we're officially Razorback fans now! Thanks guys! Carolyn went to Texas A&M so the schools have to get equal wall space :)

They've both been unbelievable hosts and have fed us lots of great food and they have two cute daschunds too! They cooked up a wonderful fajita dinner for the whole team last night and there were lots of laughs! The food was so good and Kat kept us doubled over with her stories. Here's a photo of her with some of her props.

We finish pretty late today and have an early morning road race tomorrow so I probably won't get a chance to update until after that. Looking forward to some good racing!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

42 degrees, raining, and windy

Doesn't that sound nice? That was what the weather decided to dish up for Saturday's road race just north of Madison. I must admit I was a little frustrated but I certainly wasn't going to let it get the best of me. I pride myself on my overly optimistic attitude and there could have been a thunderstorm . . . or it could have been snowing. The weather this year has been moody so it wouldn't be out of the question :)

I was impressed with the number of women who showed up despite the conditions. There were just over 20 riders at the line and it was good to chat with the hardy gals. A relatively short road race - 2 laps of a 15 mile course with two pretty good climbs per lap. Julie F from Planet Bike went hard from the gun and we were strung out on the cross wind section. She got a gap at the base of the climb and my teammate Mo helped to bring her back. Over the top of the climb there were 7 of us together with some distance on the main field. Working together in an organized fashion proved a little difficult but we finally managed to put more distance on the field. In the cross wind section our group splintered and 3 were left - myself, Julie, and Trek-VW rider Jill. We worked well through the rest of the race and soon the dropped riders were out of sight. Coming into the finishing head wind straight I stayed sheltered and both my breakmates admitted they didn't realize this was the finish until we were about 200m from the line. At this point the drag race began and my positioning helped me to take the win. It was a great race and fun to be in the break with such strong riders.

It was nice to get a win in my last local race before heading down to Arkansas for Joe Martin this week. I'm really excited to head back to Fayetteville for my third edition of this stage race. We've got a really good team put together and I'm hopeful that we can animate the race and execute some good team tactics. It'll be great to be back racing an NRC event and I'm looking forward to seeing my teammates!

Today was beautiful out and I went for a nice 4.5 hour group ride. Lots of good climbing west of town and it was fun to ride in a strong group. It's nice to get to ride with Dave and the guys - plus Jill (who recently moved here from FL) who rode awesome. People are always surprised that we have climbs like Blue Mounds around here - a sustained (and steep!) 15-20 minute climb. Nice way to spend a Sunday.

School has been pretty chaotic as I'm trying to prepare sub plans for my two week absence and get caught up on grading. With just 6 weeks of school left the kids are getting antsy and a bit lazy - especially my seniors. I'm amazed how many students are "sick" on Friday afternoons! They're great kids though and it's been fun seeing them go through all of the college acceptance drama and nervousness.

I'll try to update when I'm in Ar-kansas - first big racing adventure this year! Should be a blast!