Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Masters Nationals Road Race has been one of my big target races for this year. I've been building up to it, trying to peak -- and while I feel like I haven't quite gotten there, I've been delighted at the leaps in fitness I made by riding Blue Mounds. It was such great training: since then my climbing has improved and I finished the Fitness Check TT in a time that still makes me giddy with glee.

I drove down to Louisville, KY on Saturday. I picked up my registration packet and then went to the race course, stopping only for a couple liters of water. It was hot and humid but also bright and clear and the park the race is in was gorgeous. I rode the course a couple times, trying to get the turns down -- as much as possible with the roads open to cars. It is a GREAT course - winding and rolling with a couple longish climbs.

My race was at 10:30 am on Sunday. I got there early, before the first races went off at 8 am, to ride the course one more time - this time closed to traffic. There were two sharp turns that worried me, both downhill. I've come a long way since the crashes last year sent me into a blind panic in the corners, but I'm still not 100%. I wanted to be as prepared as possible.

It was hot. I warmed up and tried to stay hydrated. The 40-44 age group had the largest field with 25 women starting [or as the announcer claimed at the line: "almost 30!"] It was fast from the whistle - so many talented, tough women. And as I'd feared, the cornering was a huge weakness for me. I would get just a little gapped and have to work extra hard to catch back on, then we'd hit another and I'd get a little gapped again. I wasn't the only one - and I wasn't the worst one - but when someone put in a big uphill attack on the third lap, the elastic broke.

At first there were four of us, but we kept picking up other shelled riders and by the second to last lap, there were eight or so in our group. A Priority Health girl and I ended up doing the bulk of the work in the last laps. By then, I knew who could climb, who NOT to get behind in the corners, and whose wheel to grab on the descents. A very tall woman attacked off the front mid-way through the last lap and we let her go - we knew we'd catch her at the twisty hill, and we did. I put in a big dig on that hill and hurt a couple women in our group. Priority Health and I let the tall girl take us down the hill and onto the flat. Glancing behind, I could see another rider chasing hard. We started up the final climb into the finish and dropped tall girl. I sat behind Priority Health, and the unattached chaser sat behind me. At 200 meters, I attacked and while I felt like I was pedaling through molasses, I picked up speed and Priority Health could not respond. The unattached rider, however, could. She came around me at 50 meters and I had nothing left. She 'won' our group and I crossed the line next in 13th place. I felt good that despite working super hard for the entire race, I had enough left to contend for the finish.

It was such a fun race - and so hard. If I can improve my cornering and descending skills, I'll finish with the front group next year. A good goal.

Stray thoughts:
- oh my god my HED stingers are AWESOME!!! They take five pounds off my bike and they practically float. Another rider asked me if I liked them and for a moment all I could do was cackle.

- can't blame the other riders for thinking me a bit odd for wearing cool weather knickers in the 85+ degree heat. I didn't really think about it until I got a number of comments. The knickers make me feel more comfortable and that's one less thing to worry about in a race. And its no worse than Tati sporting wool year-round.

- driving for hours after a hard race is its own challenge.

- this race was so well-run. So many people putting so much time and effort and it really paid off. Thank you!

- the announcer mentioned that there was a film crew there making a commercial for USA Cycling that will play on Versus during le tour. There's a miniscule chance that I will be in it! Wooo!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Fitness Check Time Trial #3 was held this morning. My team gathers at the lakefront and rides a set course while our coach times us. We can compare our results with the last FCTT and the FCTT last year at this time.

Last year in late June I rode the course in 26:45 -- and that was my PR. Today I rode it in 26:00.

So, while I feel slow, I AM improving. I still have a long way to go before I can stick with the big girls in the P-1-2-3 field, but seeing some actual progress helps.

The new fork certainly didn't hurt either. Still marveling at the wonderful stiffness. [Yes, yes, that's what she said. Whatever.]

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

This Alpha-Q fork feels amazing! Very stiff. So much better than the mushy ride on the cracked steering tube of my old fork. Yay.

Friday, June 19, 2009

This is why so few cat 3 women race: racing with the Pro 1-2 women is demoralizing. The few cat 3 women who CAN compete in that field continue, and most of the rest struggle for a while and then move on to something else. Too many women enter cat 3 limbo and disappear.

Blue Mounds Race of the Future is an excellent race. A lavish production with scores of volunteers, an announcer, a big stage, SRAM neutral support, rolling closures, tons of marshalls, and an interesting, challenging and beautiful course. And by challenging I mean two laps equalling 44 miles with 2200 feet of climbing --climbs that last for miles -- and a mile + uphill kicker added onto the end.

My bike was suffering lingering effects from crashing two weeks ago. Turns out my derailleur, not just my derailleur hangar, was bent up a bit. And the crack in my steering tube, while not dangerous to ride, makes my bike about as stiff as a sponge. Which feels . . . alarming -- especially while climbing out of the saddle. To warmup, I rode to the bottom of the final climb and started up -- and my bent derailleur wouldn't stay in gear. Any climbing pressure on the 23, 21 or 19 and the chain popped back and forth between cogs [and yes, I should have swapped the 23/11 for a 27/12 before leaving for Wisconsin]. So my warmup was spent at the SRAM neutral support cars where the mechanics struggled to salvage my beat-up derailleur.

And they prevailed! I was able to shift without incident throughout the race, and the chain stayed where it was supposed to. Thank you SRAM mechanics!

25-30 women started the race [the results only show the women who finished, not sure how many DNFed but I saw a couple at the side of the road]. We had a neutral roll-out downhill -- the thought of which turned my stomach. I'm a nervous descender and was not looking forward to speeding downhill en masse. So I let myself get a little gapped right off. I caught on quickly, but on the back. And then we were on the first climb and I was off the back again. I think I should have been able to stay with the pack longer, despite the amazing talent in that group. Something to think about.

Another woman popped off the back ahead of me. I chased her for a while -- she noticed me and sat up a little. I thought, great, someone to work with! But soon I was waiting for her at the top of every hill, so after a while I dropped her. And continued on my grueling 44 mile training ride.

The cat 4/5 men caught up to me on one of the big climbs that shattered their field. I rode in-between several groups and individuals off the back of their pack. It was nice to have company, even if we couldn't work together.

The 22 mile circuit ends with several miles of unrelenting up that made me REALLY regret not having the 27/12 cassette. The first time up was sorta fun. The lead was out of my legs by then and I could try to close the gaps to the guys up ahead. But starting the second lap, knowing what lay ahead, was daunting. I thought about the gels and blox in my pockets, the water and electrolyte drink left in my bottles, and how to ration them most effectively.

The cat 4/5 stragglers got together and disappeared. I was alone. I was tiring - but frankly, I would rather die than quit. I gutted it out to the last climb, swallowed my last gel, and then tried to remember to make circles instead of squares. Groups of [mostly junior] riders from another field started to come by. Suffering and cowbells and suffering. Finally I made it to the feed zone where it flattened, and then made the turn for the last mile and a half to the finish line. Uphill. I fought all the way up, my cracked steering tube, a spongy accordian, and as I crossed the line, I heard the announcer say "triple X racing!"

And I was done in. I desperately needed water, but the though of food made me sick. The other women were all recovering -- eating, stretching, cooling down. I was the last woman to finish the race. And while finishing IS an accomplishment, it didn't feel so awesome to have people who had killed that course congratulate me.

But I'm very glad to have the experience. I have 2200 feet of climbing in my legs that I didn't have on Wednesday, and I have valuable knowledge for next year. And oh yes, I will be there next year if at all possible. Hopefully with my teammate Heidi -- who would be a real force in this race. Cat 3 limbo will not defeat me.

I was delighted to see my teammate Jacques had taken second in the men's cat 3 race -- yay, Jacques!

Monday, June 15, 2009

It was rainy and cold at Sherman Park, but the cat 4/masters women's race was fast and interesting. There was a huge crash in the race before ours, so we circled the course in the rain until the ambulance left. By the time our race started, we were all soaked.

There were about 15 women, including four cat 3 masters racers. Lots of attacks -- two Wild Card women that raced cross kept trading attacks. I chased a lot down and so did Dana. It was a strong enough field that no one could ride away from the group -- although the masters women tried over and over.

There was a prime on the second to last lap. I went for it, but lost to a cat 3 from New Zealand. We had a little gap after the prime sprint and she started sitting up -- I shouted "GO! GO!" and she went. We traded pulls for almost half a lap, then she sat back and waited for the bunch that was bearing down on us. I can't sprint anyway, so I sat on the front and just pulled as hard as I could. It was tough -- for a moment I quailed, but I wanted to give it everything I had, Jens-style. I told myself to just HTFU and keep pushing. I tried to keep the pace high enough that no one would attack early. And it worked -- I found out later I actually dropped several women.

Coming into the final turn, Gigi was on my wheel and yelling at me to go faster, to lead her out. I was pretty much at my limit already, but I tried. I stood up and kept barreling to the line. My teammate Natalie and the New Zealand woman came around me -- Natalie WON! -- and I came in third, second in the masters. A result I'm very happy with.

It was really fun to be in an animated and difficult race. I attacked, I chased, I won a prime [SOCKS!]. I worked really hard.

Big huge thanks to all my teammates and everyone else that made this race happen. Stocky, Jeff Holland, Chris MacFarland, Brian Morrissey, Nikki Cyp, Jonathan Dugas, Get a Grip, everyone who set up, tore down, marshalled, worked registration, donated time or merchandise -- everyone who came out and raced. Thank you!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

My team - xXx Racing - AthletiCo - is putting on our annual race this Saturday and I hope you will all come.

Sherman Park has a lot to offer:
- its a good, non-technical course for people new to racing.
- its a good, non-technical course with wind, perfect for attacking and great for solo breakaways.
- it has a 40 minute women's cat 4 race.
- cat 4 women can race in the 60 minute Beth Kobeszka Memorial Women's Open - women don't get the opportunity to race twice in one day very often!
- its IN Chicago - you can ride to your race.
- there are lots of great primes.
- Its in a lovely park, perfect for a picnic with your family.
- deejayed music all day long.
- food and homemade pop available from Goose Island.

And much, much more. Come and have a good time with xXx.


Monday, June 8, 2009

I had a lot of time on the bike this weekend and really, really enjoyed it.

On Saturday, I participated in part of the Erik Sprattling 3 State Memorial Ride -- Erik was one of the founders of xXx. He would regularly ride from Chicago to Wisconsin, back down through Chicago to Indiana and then home. As I was planning to race on Sunday, I didn't think I should do the entire 150 miles, but I rode up to the Wisconsin state border and back, which ended up being approximately 115 miles.

What was really cool about it was that it wasn't a big deal. I didn't suffer during the ride, I wasn't exhausted when I got home. My legs weren't destroyed. The pace wasn't blistering -- no one wanted to burn their matches attacking on St. Mary's with 90 miles in front of them -- but it wasn't sedate either. It was just really fun.

Sunday, I drove to Wisconsin for their State Road Championship race in lovely Spring Prairie. This was my third year in this race, and every year I'm impressed by how great the race is -- its a good course, well marshalled, well organized. A big thanks to all the organizers and volunteers.

There were about 20 women in the combined cat 4/masters women field. And it was a strong group including Janette from *mostly black bulldog*, a couple Tati girls, Kim the strong newbie from the Memorial Day masters race, and a bunch of tough Wisconsin women. Two new xXx teammates, Dana and Natalie in their first road race, were also in the pack. There were a number of attacks in the first couple laps that could not get free from this group. It was a hard, interesting, animated race. I felt comfortable in the pack, able to move around reasonably well, able to follow the moves. My new HED stingers rode like a dream -- I was cornering more confidently and my bike just felt lighter and more responsive. Those wheels just eat up the pavement.

I don't know if Saturday's miles were to blame, or if I'm just not climbing as well as last year, but when Natalie launched a blistering attack up the big hill at the end of the third lap, I got gapped. The pack let Natalie dangle off the front almost to turn two. Finally it caught her, spit her out the back and slowed down. She and I caught back on and tried to recover.

I knew at this point that I wasn't going up that hill fast enough to contend. So I tried to get Natalie and Dana in good positions. I wanted to get on the front and drill it, but everyone was trying to get up front and I got blocked in. And then we were at the hill. Dana took 5th in the cat 4s and Natalie took 11th -- awesome, especially in their first road race. I finished at the back of the pack.

It was a good race, and good training for me. I have a lot of work to do, but I'm enjoying the process.

Afterwards, Dana and I stayed to cheer Heidi on in the women's open. She stuck with the front group -- that included the tough cat 1 racers from team BH -- for the entire race and finished strong in sixth or seventh place. SO cool to see.

You can't tell, but here she is cresting the hill on their fourth lap.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Raced track at Northbrook for the first time this year. SO MUCH FUN! I got there early to practice as I haven't been on a track bike since last August, so I got a good hour of warmup. There was a comparatively large womens' cat 4 field this week, with eight in the first race. It was a Danish win-and-out and not knowing any of the other womens' strengths, I attacked hard to win the first lap -- and gave a really great lead-out to a first time track racer who's a strong cat 3 on the road. Unfortunately, if you don't win the first sprint, its almost impossible to win the second, and I got nipped at the line. But I managed to hang on for a third full-on lap, this time winning the sprint by centimeters. So third place in the first race.

My pal Robin came out to watch -- I haven't seen her in forever. Hopefully she'll be RACING the next time I see her at Northbrook. I also got to catch up with Francine, Val and Kristen a bit. Yay.

The second women's race was a 24 lap points race, sprints every 3 laps and the 4s were combined with the tree cat 1&2 women -- so fast and hard. I found standing up to sprint on the track bike awkward, so I concentrated on spinning as hard as I could while sitting. I got a little gapped on a couple of the sprints, but caught on quickly afterwards. I attacked and won a $5 prime, then held on for second place in the next sprint lap. But I had nothing for the final sprint and came in last, losing my battle for fifth place overall to a new Cuttin' Crew girl.

It was chilly -- so Matt Moran brought his Snuggie. While he was racing, Dave Moyer [who after handily winning the first cat 4 race of the evening, was upgraded to cat 3 on the spot] snagged it to stay warm. Team Pegasus coveted the Snuggie.

Third race was an unknown distance, and the cat 4 women were on our own again. Seven of us had a really fun, animated race, with lots of attacks. I was finally getting the hang of sprinting standing, and when the bell finally rang, I was third wheel. I came around the first two, but the cat 3 roadie on my wheel came around me for the win. I got second, my best result of the evening. I think with more practice, I'll be able to stick with the sprints without getting gapped and even win a sprint against strong women. All in all, my first night of track racing this year was better than my best night of track racing last year.

And I won $17!!

Most of which I handed over in exchange for some awesome [if I say so myself] new xXx socks. They came out great, I think.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Had a little crash yesterday. I was training with three teammates on the Lakefront Path, when the person beside me hit a rut and fell into me. I thought we were going to keep it upright for several long seconds, but then our balance shifted and I hit the sidewalk pretty hard. Arg.

Happily it was cold. I was wearing a long sleeved jersey and base layer -- I hate to think what my elbow would look like right now without them. Let alone my collarbone. As it is I have an alarming and tender red spot where my clavicle and shoulder meet. The layers of cloth moving against each other and the sidewalk may have saved me a world of pain. My base layer has quite the hole in it.

But I'm fine. My bike wasn't so lucky. The derailleur hanger is seriously bent and my derailleur is stuck in my spokes. I ended up carrying it to work. Its at the shop now, I'm waiting to hear if anything else is broken.

On the bright side, I'm heading out to Northbrook to race track tonight. With the road bike out of commission for now, the track bike steps up!