September 2-5, Cynthia and I raced the Green Mountain Stage Race in the beautiful and temperate Vermont. After training and racing in 85degrees+ with high humidity (basically the rainforest in Cincinnati Ohio) for the past few months, Vermont felt like a heavenly sanctuary of crisp mountain air. I could go outside and feel my skin without wiping off a thick layer of sweat first.
Stage 1: 5.7 mile Warren State Individual Time Trial
This stage is mostly Merckx style and did not allow Time Trial equipment (other than a TT helmet and a disc wheel). Seeing as I've ridden a TT bike all of 3 times (which didn't even fit me) this is a welcomed restriction.
Time Trials, not my most favorite event in cycling nor my most skilled. Let's go onto the next stage, shall we?
Stage 2: 57.5 mile Bridges Resort Circuit Race
On the start line, contemplating wearing a vest. And no, not a vest so I can stuff ice socks down the back. I Love Vermont in September!
Going into this stage, we have our GC leader (single woman triathlete with no teammates), one rider for Amy D. Foundation and 3 TIBCO girls all in spots 3-5 with less than 1 minute back.
The course is rolling with 1 QOM hill and 3 chances for sprint points on the finish line. Attacks attempted and brought back, and nothing stays away. We're 5k to the finish and the pack is still together. #CXFever (aka Maghalie Rochette from Luna Pro Team) throws out a little punchy attack up a short climb and strings out the pack, I put in a counter attack now less than 5k from the finish but TIBCO strings me back to the pack. Engines are revving, gears clicking, just 1k from the finish and it's a long totally flat straight drag race into the finish. I'm sitting on Cynthia's wheel and she comes in 4th with the pack also having gained 3rd spot for sprint points mid-race.
Stage 3: 64.7mile Champion System Mad River Road Race
MOUNTAINS TODAY. An early start, bright blue skies, crisp air filled with sunshine, and a downhill neutral start. This is the day I find out if my training in the mountains of Idaho pay off.
The course includes 1 sprint spot 20miles in, and 4 QOMs. 4 (including the finish)!! Strategy for the day? Get in a breakaway, make it up the climbs, and slay the dirt/gravel section.
Having a lovely day on my bike I chit chat with Lauren Hall from TIBCO along the fist 10miles or so. She complements me on my new life mantra 'NAMASLAY' scribed on my top tube and we discuss peeing strategies during bike races. We both agree that pulling the chamois to the side and popping a squat to be the most efficient and comfortable method. Some ladies prefer less modest methods with less risk of peeing on oneself, but we both agree this is not our preference. While Lauren is not chit chatting, she spends her time waving ferociously to anyone on a tractor along the course having enough body awareness and bike handling skills to not knock any of her competitors on the ground.
Rolling into the sprint spot, I weave Cynthia through the pack and plant her on Gretchen Stumphofer's wheel (riding for Amy D. Foundation). With TIBCO charging at the front and me leading out Cynthia without rolling all of my marbles (knowing the first QOM hill is just up ahead), Cynthia busts out a 3rd place in the sprint!
Now for the first QOM. steady, steady, steady, steady hard, steady hard, steady harder, steady harder, really hard, find wheels, find more wheels, get to the top. Descend descend descend, rotate, rotate, rotate, weave, weave, weave. I make it to the top with Gretchen, Miriam Brouwer from The Cyclery Opus, and Katherine Oullettee (Kath) from Rally Cycling. We descend for the next 20km trading pulls. As we approach the bottom of the descent a group of 10+ girls attach themselves to our group. I rail a sharp corner on the bottom of the climb and catapult myself up to the lead group from the pack with a respectable 5-10 seconds separation, only to find the leaders are sitting up :/. The group is now back together. Another 10km go by and we stop for a collective wiz.
We approach the 2nd QOM, the pack obliterates in a single line of riders to the top and I am with the leaders. Just past the crest is a sharp left and the beginning of THE DIRT/GRAVEL! A short 100m section of packed dirt followed by pavement followed by a 1-2km section of packed dirt/gravel. Alizee Brien from TIBCO attacks on the gravel and I follow. We drop more than half of our group and now create a separation with ~10 riders working together down the descent to maintain our separation.
Several riders from various teams are represented. Attacks are thrown out and brought back. Eyes all on each other, attempting to relax and also ready to pounce. The 3rd QOM approaches and this one is steep and then long and then steep. The climbers roll away with grace while myself and a few other riders hold on to each other to make it the rest of the way. Gretchen, Kath and I make it up to the QOM together and descend down to the base of App Gap, the final climb. Relax, spin, smooth, shoulders, core, head, breath, relax, push. I notice Kath has some kind of monster cassette which allows her to spin at like 100rpm on a 10% grade while I chug away at a stiff 65-70rpm at the same speed. Envious I am. Legs burn, grade steapens, legs dark grey not quite black feeling, grade steapens, breath heavy. In light of the pain and focus on the top, I allow myself a few brief acknowledgements of how shady, dry, and temperate this climb is. Thank you, Vermont.
An Amy D. Rider is just 100m ahead while I am at the 200m mark. I need to catch her. I begin paperboying (weaving back and forth to gain momentum and cadence) and pass her with 50m left, roll to the top in 7th. A volunteer stands at the top pushing all of the crippled riders over the very top to prevent a traffic jam of shriveled up cramping stage racers.
A good day with solid tactics, ripping descents, and hard climbs.
Day 4: ~45 minute Burlington Criterium
LAST RACE OF THE SEASON. This was my 56th race this season.
The course is flowy with a short steep power climb into the finish and 6 corners. A call-up for 7th in GC gains me a front row spot on the start line. Feeling confident and ready to rumble.
Miriam from The Cyclery Opus takes the hole shot and rides off the front for a few laps. A few other little attacks are made but nothing decisive, nothing worth fretting about. It seems the teams are all happy with their GC positions and waiting for the final sprint. No one made any decisive moves other than powering up the climb to keep the pace up. Once the riders on the front roll up to the top of the climb, they sit up into the first corner. This is the spot.
10 laps to go and a few riders start picking up the pace at the front but not actually making separation. 8 laps to go and I am in the top 5 wheels. The front riders sit up near the top of the climb and I attack hard into the first corner. LET'S DO THIS! Not knowing if anyone is with me or chasing, I hold the pace for the next lap. I cross the finish line and the announcer informs me that I now have a 20second gap in just 1 lap. "Sizeable" he says.
"I can do this, I can do this, I can do this." I find a fine line between pushing as hard as I can and riding off the course and smashing into a haybale or metal barricade. Riding smooth and flowing through corners gains me more speed and time than powering through everything and using my breaks. The crowd is ecstatic and cheering for me all across the finish line and through corner 2. The announcer too encourages spectators to join him in helping me maintain the gap for the glory of rolling into the finish solo off the front. This is incredibly motivating and fun. My legs burning, head hazy, and heart full.
4 laps to go and my gap is decreasing. The crowd is as loud as ever. 3 laps to go and the pack approaches, the crowd dulled. 2 laps to go and they catch me. I look back to find the GC leader? The GC leader has not been present for the entire crit, dangling off the back. Now I find her pulling the entire field up to me and later find out that she was one of the main instigators and helpers to bring me back. I was 7th in GC and no where near her in time, so I was quite perplexed why she worked so hard to catch me.
I drift back into the pack and sit in the top 5-10 positions for the final 2 laps, heartbroken but still motivated for the finish. Legs burning but my mind is on the same flow of the course drifting from corner to corner. I give it everything I have up the final climb and roll in 11th for the day and 7th in GC.
Pedal in squares off the course, stagger off my bike and plop my quivering muscles on a bench heaving. For a few moments there are no racers to to pat me on the back, no friends to take my bike for me, just me and my flat-lined brain and whirlpool of emotions. I later enjoy claps and cheers for making a valiant effort from spectators enjoying their lunch at restaurants along the course. Touched.
As my last race of this season, I feel this is an appropriate showcase for my progression to this point and also from this point. The courage and whits to make decisive moves are within me but I still have a mountain of work to improve. I am properly motivated for what is to come with this privilege of a pursuit, bike racing.