October 14, 2009

Back in the Mix

Another big race weekend has come and gone. I’m left with the race weekend hangover, exhaustion and tired legs. Luckily I’m staying with my parents this week – their house is the perfect place to recuperate and prepare for the next set of races. Here’s a look back at last week.

Tuesday — Spent the day running around like crazy trying to get everything done before leaving. Packed both bikes, five wheels and lots of clothing. I spent extra time petting the kitty and assuring her that I will be back. Also managed to cleaned the house so it isn’t a disaster when we return.

Wednesday — We caught an early shuttle to the airport, spent the entire day on airplanes or in airports and used lots of hand sanitizer. I bought an extra bottle of hand sanitizer just to be safe. Arrived in Louisville, Kentucky and met up with my father, who had driven up from Florida. After dinner at Waffle House (not the healthiest choice, but there were no other places open at that time of night. Plus, I love their pecan waffles), we spent the night on the banks of the Ohio River in Vevay, Indiana. We were literally 200 feet from the river.

Thursday — Woke up much earlier than I wanted to, and after eating some waffles in the hotel breakfast room, we drove to the site of Friday’s race in a light sprinkle. After assembling the bikes in a picnic shelter and kitting up, the sprinkle turned into a downpour. Tim and I had a short ride – as we got colder and wetter, riding became less and less fun. We had a great dinner with our hosts, Scot, Julie and Julie’s kids Conner and Ben. I then spent an hour cleaning and lubing the bikes and making sure everything had survived the airplane journey.

Friday — I spent most of the night listening to wind and rain and wondering how the day’s course was going to shape up. I usually try to arrive at the venue one-and-a-half to two hours before the start of the race – this allows plenty of time to socialize, pin my number, make last minute adjustments to the bikes, mess with tire pressure, pre-ride and warm up. We got everything packed in the van and then… nothing. The van wouldn’t start. The battery had died overnight and we were left sitting in the driveway. I remained calm by repeating the mantra, “Don’t freak out, there’s plenty of time, you’ll make it to the race.” The battery guy from AAA arrived in twenty minutes, and then spent forty-five minutes installing a new battery. His excruciating attention to detail and fastidiously slow work had me shorten the mantra to, “Don’t freak out, don’t freak out.” Couldn’t the guy just slap the battery in the van and be done with it?! Fortunately, we made it to the race in time. My warm up consisted of running up to registration, getting my number and running back to the van. Without the help of Tim and my Father, I never would have been at the start line on time. The race itself was awesome – it was the first time this season I’ve been confronted by an entire course of slippery, sloppy mud. I’ve never seen people hit the ground so much. The off-camber sections were like an ice skating rink tilted on its side, and the uphills were virtually unrideable. My running legs were repeatedly tested in thick slop and my bike switching skills were honed with a new bike every lap. I started well enough, but was a bit too cautious in the corners and slippery pavement, and eventually drifted back to sixth place. A few hours of bike maintenance and huge meal finished the evening off.

Saturday — I woke up feeling old and creaky. There wasn’t much to do before leaving for the race, since most of the work was done the night before. The van started thanks to the new battery, and we headed out guided by the soothing voice of the GPS voice. Everything went smoothly and we approached the venue with plenty of time to spare. Except that we were at the WRONG venue! Someone (who shall remain nameless) put the wrong destination into the GPS. (“Don’t freak out, don’t freak out!”) We redirected the GPS and made it to the correct venue at one hour to start time. Warm ups and pre-riding are overrated – I had one of my best races to date without either. At the start I jumped onto Dede Winfield’s wheels, survived the early sand pit, and came out the other side in a group of three. I spent the race battling Dede and Laura Van Gilder: two formidable opponents. None of us were strong enough to straight-up drop the others. I feared a sprint with Laura and tried on several occasions to drop her in the corners. The three of us stuck together like glue and on the last lap Laura put in a massive acceleration that shelled me and Dede. Dede gapped me in the sand pit and I wasn’t able to close it before the finish. I was happy with my 5th place finish – it’s the first time in three years that I’ve been in the running for a podium spot.

Sunday — Sunday’s goal was to make it to the venue in time to socialize, warm up and pre-ride. We successfully entered the correct location into the GPS and arrived with plenty of time to spare. I even was able to complete two full laps on the course! Sunday I was determined to be on the front of the race and finish better than yesterday. A minute into the race I even popped ahead of Katie Compton and Sue Butler for a moment. I can’t even remember the last time I showed my face at the front of a UCI race. I glued myself to Sue’s wheel and watched Katie ride away. It would have been nice to follow Katie, but I probably would have blown up very quickly. Laura Van Gilder caught on, and once again I was in a group of three – and I felt frisky! The pain of the third day of racing dissipated as we headed up the hill. Sue and I traded off in the front – I was hoping someone would make a mistake and whittle the group down to two. I preferred leading in the corners to avoid the braking and accelerating that comes when you are further back in line. The uphill sand pit run was brutal, and it was by far the hardest section of the course. Each lap the sand got deeper and it took a little bit longer to recover. On the last lap, we came into the barriers super hot and all I could hope for was not to trip and end up of my face. Sue and Laura turned up the gas on the finishing straight. They were too much for me and managed a sizable gap in the last few hundred yards. It was the hardest sprint I’ve ever done. I’ve never before “sprinted” in my easiest gear and considered getting off and walking through the finish line. I was super happy with my 4th place finish, and the ability to once again battle at the front of the race. As soon as the men’s race finished, we turned the van east and headed out for the long drive to Pittsburgh.

I’d like to thank: Mitch of BioWheels for putting together a great race weekend and upping the ante on women’s prize money; Scot and Julie for allowing us to take over their house, feeding me ice cream, and for cheering for me (I heard you loud and clear every lap); my Father for coming all the way from Florida only to be relegated to the pit – without him I might not have finished Friday’s race; and Tim for helping me every step of the way and taking great photographs.

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