Thursday, June 11, 2009

Nature Valley - Day 1

Up in Minnesota for the Nature Valley Stage Race. This is my favorite race of the year - 6 stages over 5 days with two brutal courses on Saturday and Sunday. Lots of family and friends up in the Cities so it's great to have such a prestigious stage race so close to home. We have a really great team put together for this race with Ally, Ashley, Christy, Jackie, Jo, Kat, Silke, and myself all representing Team Kenda. Manager Paul and Mechanic Mike are here to make sure everything is running smoothly. We drove up on Monday night so that we could take care of airport pickups, corse previews, and other logistics on Tuesday. On the drive up we stopped at a Dairy Queen to get Ally a little birthday treat! Happy Birthday Ally :)

We're staying with three wonderful host families in Oakdale, MN (just east of St. Paul). Thanks so much Angela and Kirk, Robbie and Linda, and Jeff and Nancy!!! All the homes are within 2 blocks of each other so it's an absolutely perfect setup.

Wedensday was the first day of the Nature Valley Stage Race in Minneapolis, MN. The only 2 stage day of the event, we started off bright and early in the morning with the first riders going off at 8:30. A 6 mile course with a 2.5 mile flat out and back section before you take a final turn and go up a winding half mile climb to the finish. A cool course that follows the river but also some busted up concrete that zaps your speed in a few spots.

This is the first year I've got a TT bike and I was stoked to race it. I've been doing our local time trial series in Madison and had been feeling good with the position. Here's Paul with my sweet bike.

I was the sixth rider off and tried to get up to speed quickly without going out too hard. I was in a rhythm and feeling good and after the turn around caught the rider in front of me. As I went past the start I caught another rider and pushed through to the beginning of the climb. It's fairly steep and long so I tried to stay seated and keep my cadence high. It hurt!! As I took the final corner I was out of the saddle and fighting for seconds. I crossed the line and soon after I heard the announcer say I was the new leader with a time of 15'32" . . . for about two minutes!! That's an advantage to being one of the first to go off - there's a good shot you can be the race leader for a little while anyway! By the time I turned around to go down the hill my time had been beaten :)

I was still super happy with how things went and beat last year's time by 36 seconds. There are some very fast women here including arguably the fastest woman - Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong - and I ended up 1'44" behind her. I was Kenda's top finisher on the day in 46th place. All of my teammates had strong performances though. Poor Jo missed her start but rode well enough to avoid the time cut.

Once we were all finished it was back home and time to rest up for the 6pm criterium in St. Paul. We napped and got some food before loading the cars back up and heading downtown. This crit was changed to a 4 corner course which we hoped would make it safer but still a 1 KM course with 120 women is kind of ridiculous. We knew the lap times would be fast.

The usual race to the start line started extra early this year and pretty much the whole field was parked on the line 25 minutes before the race. So we stood and waited. What a cool atmosphere though. Lots of spectators, good music and announcers made for an energetic vibe. 60 minutes of pain - we were ready.

The first 30 minutes of the race were incredibly fast. We averaged nearly 28 miles an hour before things finally settled down just slightly for a lap or two. Armstrong was drilling it at the front keeping the pace high and breakaway attempts at a minimum. My positioning was decent and I felt good - although there were a few times I thought I might pop! Once we got to the halfway point I told myself to just hang on and finish this race off.

With about 10 laps to go I see a rider bump into my teammate Ally. They were both fine but then the rider overcorrected and hit Ally again . . . hard. There was nothing she could do and I cringed as I saw her hit the ground solidly on her left side. Luckily only one other rider went down and no one was seriously hurt. But Ally's bike was jacked and after getting pushed back in she was pulled and given a prorated time. Bad luck!! :(

The laps ticked down and I wanted only to finish with the main pack. Perhaps I should set my sights higher but in this race it's all about time and I'm more concerend with the weekend races. Jackie, Silke, Kat, and I all made the main group and Ally, Christy, and Ashley all made the time cut. Jo gave it a great effort but unfortunately didn't make the time cut. This was a tough race though and our final average speed was just over 26mph.

Thanks so much to my future sister in law Rachael for coming out to spectate as well as my Aunt Terese and Uncle Kim. I heard my name from some other friends out there as well - it was awesome.

HUGE thanks to our mechanic Mike for taking such good care of us and helping us all day with our bikes and everything else. He is such a calm, sweet guy and it's so great to have him around. Paul is also super helpful in keeping us organized and prepared. Thanks guys - you rock!

Off to Cannon Falls for today's 67 mile road race! Look for another update tomorrow!

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