Friday, March 16, 2012

Ides of March

This Thursday, March 15th was our 3rd anniversary and the first Driveway crit of the season.

The women's 4 race was fast and furious, mostly due to some very athletic juniors who kept jumping off of the front. By the end of the race, most of the women weren't chasing, because none of them would hold a breakaway. I was just trying to hang on and stay away from the front (although I was tricked into it a few times by the juniors). Teammate Allison F was on top of her game, and won both of the primes. She picked up mad sprinting skills since the last time we raced together. Allison A (Velossimo) pulled a lot in the front. I knew she'd finish strong so I got right on her wheel on the last lap in order to hang on. She was leading the group and after the last turn, I got up to sprint, just hoping to finish close to her. Miraculously, I barely passed her at the finish (with another tunnel vision moment), and Allison F sprinted past us to win first... Seton Brain and Spine got 1st and 2nd finishes!

Driveway W3/4 results
Courtesy of Driveway Series

2nd place prize: a Rogue Running tech shirt

I really should have saved my legs for the upcoming Fayetteville race, but since it was our anniversary, I just had to ride the men's 4/5 race with Henri. We stayed with the group the whole time, which was a first for both of us. I was in front of Henri a lot, helping him choose lines, and encouraging him to work his way towards the front of the pack. There was a crash on the 2nd to last turn of the last lap, but we were far enough behind it to navigate our way through safely. I sprinted some men at the pack finish with Henri close behind me. We were happily packfill.

Driveway crit... or leisurely Thursday stroll 
Photo courtesy of JA Hicks

Henri had just gotten a bike fit Tuesday with Tad Hughes. I think this was largely responsible for his sudden increase in ability. He actually felt good during the race - like he could have been at the front a little bit, which has never happened. Tad added an extremely long stem to change his position so that his chest could open up more. Henri said he could tell that he could breathe way easier with the comparable heart rates. Also, Henri has had knee pain from day 1 of cycling. Typically, after a hard effort like the driveway, his right knee would hurt. This time, it did not. I am amazed time and time again by how Tad can change a rider's total cycling experience with just a bike fit.

Seton Brain and Spine lookin good
Photo courtesy of JA Hicks

Racing resumes for me this weekend at the Fayetteville Stage Race, with Henri serving the most important job of soigneur.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

University of Oklahoma: Land Ronde Omnium

See the brief conference write up on the USA Cycling and Collegiate Cycling News websites. 

At the last minute, I decided to travel to OU with the Texas A&M Cycling Team for the first collegiate race held in Oklahoma in 15 years. It was entitled "Land Ronde" and promised winner's jerseys for every category.

With the weekly Willard case and packing, I only got 3 hours of sleep on Thursday night. We arrived at our homestay just before midnight on Friday, and ended up getting 4 hours of sleep. I was dubious concerning my performance the next day. However, we had the most fabulous hosts ever and awoke to an amazing breakfast of fruit, oatmeal, and homemade cake shaped like a rose. Our accommodations were pretty much in a mansion decorated like a 5 star hotel. We headed to the road race Saturday morning exhausted, yet refreshed.

Sunrise as we arrived at the RR course
photo courtesy of Kim A

This is the face of a honey badger awakened too early.
photo courtesy of Kim A

The women's B course was 2 laps of a 13 mile loop. The first lap was pretty calm, and I took mental note of good places to attack.

Women's B/C field during the RR
photo courtesy of A Stevens

About halfway through the second lap, Ashley (UT) and I managed a breakaway. My teammates Nicole and Kim refrained from pulling hard at the front of the main pack to maintain my breakaway. Sarah (Rice) kept going to the front and pushing the pace to bridge the gap, resting, then going to the front of the pack again. Ashley and I worked amazingly together to keep them just out of sight, until we ran out of hills to slow them down on. I saw our gap decreasing and voiced my concerns to Ashley, who replied "It'll be okay. They'll catch us right at the finish but it'll be too late." I didn't want it to be that close, but I was afraid I wouldn't be able to hold a TT to the end on my own, so I stayed with her. About 400 meters from the finish, I looked back and Bailey (MSU) was almost in my draft with the rest of the pack surrounding her. I turned back around and put all I had into the pedals. I could only see Ashley to my left. About 100 meters to go I stood up and sprinted with all my might. Tunnel vision formed, and all I could see was a tiny spot just beyond the finish line. I got first! Despite the finish being a slight uphill, I managed to get to 29 mph right at the end.

After the RR we watched the other fields finish. Bobby Ehrmann (A&M) and Marc Granberry (UT) had a close sprint for 1st in the men's Cs. Bobby took first with Marc a close second. In addition to the Women's Bs and Men's Cs, Texas A&M took 1st in the Men's Bs and Women's Cs!

Bobby Ehrmann takes 1st in the men's C RR

Marc Granberry takes 2nd in the men's C RR

Saturday afternoon was the team time trial. C rider Cynthia held on for as long as she could and then followed the course in case we needed help. Nicole, Kim and I worked beautifully as a team. At one point, we passed over a bridge and all I could see for miles was red clay, water and grass. We felt like we were in a different country for a while. We turned around and quickly notice the OU girls hot on our trail. We didn't like how close they were, so we picked up the pace. We finished first with two minutes in between us and the 2nd place team and averaged 20.6 mph despite the wind. We put our 1st place medal in the jar from our 1st place TTT at Tunis.

Medal from OU and jar full of rocks from Tunis Roubaix
photo courtesy of Kim A

Saturday night our host cooked us a wonderful feast consisting of penne pasta with squash topped with walnuts, corn bread, herb lemon chicken, and a dessert that tasted like light crème brûlée topped with balsamic vinegar strawberries.

Om nom nom

The rainy and cold weather that was supposed to happen Saturday actually happened on Sunday. Ben and M2 helped set my pink tent adjoining to the A&M trailer so we looked super pro.

Texas A&M Cycling Team setup
photo courtesy of Kim A

I knew the race was going to be a competition of skill rather than athleticism, and I had the advantage of having little regard for my own safety. Sarah (Rice) and I ended up in a breakaway with Ashley and Nicole close behind. Sarah and I worked together to increase the distance slowly. With 3 laps to go, Sarah slid into one of the corners. I was drafting behind her but stopped quickly and missed her by a few inches. I kept going. I saw Nicole catch up with Ashley, and then it was the two of them along with Sarah chasing me. Nicole was working the team tactics and not pulling for the chase group. At this point, I was worried that I wouldn't have the legs to keep Sarah and Ashley at bay for 3 laps. I didn't go all out but I put myself at about 9/10. Half a lap later, I realized they weren't gaining on me, so I went 10/10. I was in a groove. I had moved past the point of pain into numbness. I felt like I was flying. I kept the gap for the remainder of the race and finished 1st without having to fight for it. Thank FSM for bike handling skills!

The results of my first place finishes at OU, along with Tunis results, put me at first place in the conference out of 40 B women.

SCCCC Women's B standings
photo courtesy of Kim A

Despite my success, the golden moment of the OU race was the long overdue addition of a Women's C category. Texas A&M rider Cynthia was the only C in this race, but the numbers will grow throughout the season. I am glad to be a part of this step forward for collegiate women's cycling! I am thankful for Jacque, Matt, Jeff, Kim, Cynthia, and everyone else who helped make this happen. And the promoter of the OU race, James, for being accommodating with last minute changes and providing AWESOME winner's jerseys for the race.

Cynthia, the first ever Women's C rider for the SCCCC!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tunis-Roubaix at William Penn Omnium

It's been a year since I somewhat seriously started road biking, and I was interested to see how the first collegiate race would go. I have avoided Tunis for years because the idea of a road bike on rocks always sounded blasphemous, but this year racing Tunis was inescapable. I was also excited because we had 12 Aggie women coming out to race, which must be a record.

The 2012 Texas A&M Women's Cycling Team
Photo courtesy of Henri Kjellberg

Saturday morning was the infamous road race, and our Road VP M2 had no reserves on creating one of the most hellacious Tunis courses ever. Race laps were 12-15 miles, differing by category, and each lap contained 3-5 miles of strada blanca (Spanish), strada bianca (Italian), or BIG WHITE ROCKS (Aggielandian). The result was total carnage - approximately half of each field DNFed due to crashes and popped tires, tubes, and derailleur hangers. We kept the EMT on site busy, but luckily no ambulances were required that day.

The support vehicles were also kept busy, transporting riders.
Photo courtesy of Brian Hare

An MSU rider climbs the strada blanca
Photo courtesy of Josh Robertson

The women's 4s started out with a field of 40... and had 17 finishers. It was only a mile or two from the start that strada blanca began beating us up. Apparently at the beginning of that rocky 3 mile stretch, a crash occurred in the back. I was near the front because I am pretty comfortable off-road and did not want to be behind those that weren't. I felt pretty good navigating the gravel and rocks, and trusted that I could be behind one of the Aggie alums in the race. Unfortunately she went down towards the end of the 3 mile stretch. It all happened in slow motion, and I just kept my upper body relaxed and squeezed the brakes while bracing myself for someone else to hit me. Magically, I did a stoppie, but did not fall down or endo. I found out after the fact that when her bike went sideways, my front carbon wheel rammed into her large chainring, tearing gashes (not structural) in my wheel and bending her big chainring. I clipped back in and put everything I had into catching back up with the people in front of me, which was only about 5 at this point. I had a good distance to catch up but could still see them. I knew that if I didn't bridge by the end of strada blanca, they'd hit the road and I wouldn't be able to catch up. I had to use my off road skills to stay in the race. My legs were hesitant but responsive, and I caught back up. At some point shortly thereafter, my teammate Nicole's back wheel came off and she was dropped, which left me, my teammate Jenn, and 3 other girls from Baylor, UT and MSU. 

Teammate Jenn leading the women's B breakaway
Photo courtesy of Dana Johnson

It was obvious that Baylor and MSU were riding stronger than the rest of us, but we took short pulls and hung on. I encouraged everyone to work together to keep the break. Teammate Jenn kept trying to fall off the back, but I told her to just hang on. After the few rides I have done with her, I knew that she was strong enough - her legs just probably weren't warmed up enough. We finished the first lap with our breakaway of 5, but about a mile after we passed the lap line, I felt too much play in my cleat. I thought I had come unclipped, but as I looked down my left crank arm became unattached. I dropped out of the group and walked the mile back to the start finish. While dejected, I was also entertained that the last time I was in a group of 5 - at the 2011 Baylor Omnium - I also had a mechanical. Fortunately, my teammates made up for my misfortune. Jenn even got 2nd place! 

Women's B RR results. The people without numbers at the bottom didn't finish.

As always, there wasn't enough time until our next event - the team time trial. I spent the time getting food for the officials and managing to find a GXP bottom bracket in College Station, which Henri and Ben worked judiciously to put on my bike. We frankenbiked the parts from the old bottom bracket and the new, and my cranks were attached again, this time with much less resistance in the bottom bracket than I was used to riding with. I was to race with Nicole (injured), Kim (tired), and Jenn (didn't feel good). Fortunately, I hadn't done but 13 miles of the road course, so I knew I could help out a good deal. The TTT course was beautiful and gravel free, but the wind started to pick up when we started, and changed directions so there was no "downwind." Nicole's injuries forced her to drop about a quarter of the way through, but only after she contributed a few good pulls for the team.

Nicole leads team Cero Pelotas into the wind, despite missing a chunk of her leg.
Photo courtesy of Dana Johnson

 I was doing a bad job by surging at the hills and Jenn and Kim had to keep reigning me in. After we turned around - about 3/4 of the way through - Kim's chain dropped and she yelled at me and Jenn to keep going. Jenn and I traded off pulls smoothly for a little while until my tiger blood took over and pulled us to the end, where we sprinted. We won the Women's B TTT and beat the second place team (MSU) by 90 seconds!

Saturday night, we enjoyed a delicious meal at Rosie's Pho with friends and family, and then swiftly passed out in preparation for the crit. I awoke Sunday to find the temperature was 37. But this is Texas, so it was in the 50s by the time our race started at 10. I had one goal - to wear out MSU. I started off the race fast and about half of the field was quickly dropped. I felt like I was on fire - in a good way. I attacked and attacked again, and several times left a good gap between myself and the pack. There were some fast racers out there from MSU, Rice, UT, and LSU. 

Beginning of the Women's B crit
Photo courtesy of Dana Johnson

On the first prime, I sprinted at the last turn and won it by a long shot. MSU sprinted and narrowly beat me for the second prime. I was so focused on keeping our 8-10 person breakaway and controlling the pace that I was not paying any attention to what time it was or the lap cards. As it turned out, the second prime was a gambler's prime, and 2 laps later, Rice attacked at the last corner. I was confused but started sprinting too. UT started to pass me as I realized everyone at the finish line was yelling really loud. It dawned on me that it was the finish... as I passed over the finish line. I hadn't even gotten a good final sprint in. I was (insert favorite 4 letter word here)ed... I could have put so much more into that. 
Heart rate data from the crit. Notice the lack of increase at the end.

I felt so good that day, but I was a little too in lala land, and missed my opportunity to shine. Oh well, second place isn't so bad! I learned to pay better attention next time, and match the mind to the legs. I think Henri and I should purchase a huge Belgian flag so he can wave it for me on the last lap!

Women's B Crit Results

The highlight of the crit race was that I did accomplish my goal - wearing out MSU - and earning a solid second place finish. The highlight of the weekend? Seeing my mom.

Highlight of the weekend: getting to see my mom. Isn't she cute?
Photo courtesy of Josh Robertson

By the way, for the first time, my mom was the follow vehicle for the women's B RR. She did an amazing job and I am very proud of her. She's becoming more Euro by the day.