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.

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