by Sarah Rice
The Gateway Cup races are a set of 4 fast crits, attended by regional and national racers in St. Louis. They’re some of KMesh’s favorite races ever. While we drove down, she told me that Joe Berenyi won gold and set a new world record on the track. That gave us great positive energy.
Day 1: Lafayette Park
This was a nighttime crit in the remnants of Hurricane Isaac. Deep rivers of rainfall were running in the corners of the course toward the sewers. We could barely see. I was racing my brand new Psimet carbon tubulars and this time as a new cat 2, I lined up with household name pro riders from at least 12 different states. I wasn’t intimidated (yo, my teammate is a household name too!) and all the gals were super-nice. I was proud to see a Spidermonkey team presence in a real pro race- YEAH! I lined up right next to Laura Van Gilder. I tried to stay calm and focused, but I was shaking so hard at the start line, I could barely stay up.
At the whistle my first thought was “Get Van Gilder’s wheel NOW.” And I did! In a smallish field of strong riders, everyone attacks the start and we all did, in a furious mob. I tried to maintain decent position toward the front and was a bit surprised to find that I could do that. Mesh threw in a little attack and others did too here and there, but everything was getting reabsorbed. Then she threw in a big one. I went hard to get towards the front few spots, and heard a voice “Don’t chase down your own teammate!” – from Laura Van Gilder. I was trying to get in a good position and went too hard, too early. I should have waited about 10 seconds and let Mesh get more distance before going toward the front, because others saw me positioning and immediately shut Mesh down. I rode the group up to Mesh, embarrassed at my mistake. Then I did the right thing and countered hard, but no one countered my counter and the field was on my butt. Boo.
I was barely hanging on for the last several laps. On the final lap (THANK…GOD…) I had lost a lot of spots and was looking for a way up and not finding it. Then there was a crash right in front of me on the inside of corner 3. I instinctively went hard inside, heading straight for the corner. There was maybe a 4-inch gap between the crash and the curb, and I threaded the needle, pitched the bike back out of the corner toward the course, and took off in a full sprint toward the front group of riders. My chest felt like it was going to explode. I only caught one rider in that group and finished 17th. Mesh flatted with 3 to go. Tough luck.
After the race Laura Van Gilder talked to me about strategy between two teammates and timing for getting in position when your teammate attacks, etc. I was thrilled to get an indepth, on the fly lesson on strategy from her, and told myself I’d get better at this. To give you an idea of how poor the conditions were out there- Mesh won a prime on that first little attack, and she had no idea till we went to get my 17th place payout. Surprise $$ was a great way to end the day
Day 2: Francis Park
It was drying up as Kristen and I warmed up, but while we were on the start line listening to the instructions, the torrential rain hit again, very suddenly. The start was a little uphill and as we took off I could actually see rain water flowing in a little river down the hill, right underneath my tire. Yikes. There was a real opportunity there if someone had had the guts to do a hard start-line attack, but no one did.
This was a difficult race for Mesh, as she lost a tooth in a crash there last year. She said nothing about it- champions don’t whine- and she rode with more and more confidence and ease as the race progressed. I felt fantastic. The new wheels stuck the corners and I was 100% confident despite the rain. They called a $100 prime and I wasn’t quite in position for it, but Lindsay Durst from IScorp was. Another strong rider or two went with her to fight it out. A break with them could stick, so I attacked right after the prime. Lindsay caught my wheel and took a pull. I rested for a corner, then went on the front again, hard. Took a peek back and… I was all alone, with the field right there behind me. Damn, what happened? Oh well. I tucked back in and rested for a few laps. KMesh took a long pull off the front and I wanted others to give her a break, so I attacked a little just to make them work, and once other people were on the front I backed off. Tucked back in. I still felt good, and the laps were going by quickly.
Carrie Cash went off the front solo with around 8 to go, and the field was letting her dangle. I realized we’d catch her on the leg before the uphill with about 2 to go. When the pack absorbs a strong rider like that off the front, things can slow up. So when we caught her and the pace slowed, I took a good, fast line into the uphill section and blasted it, all out attack with 1.5 to go. No one chased. I had a gap and maintained it through the start-finish line. The announcer said my name! I rounded turn 1 on the final lap and peered back to see a wall of mellow mushrooms and vanderkittens bearing down on me. Stood up to try to hold them off, but I was getting tunnel vision. This move wasn’t going to work. I got swallowed up and found a wheel, very tired. At the end of the race I saw Kristen go by, and I briefly caught her wheel and rode it up past a couple other riders for 20th. Last. Spot. In. The. Money. KMesh was 18th. Not the best result for us, but in a way it was—KMesh exorcised a demon by racing confidently on that course again, and I had clearly found my nerve. My attacks weren’t smart, but they were smart. Kelly Clarke told me one Gapers Block race that she needed to feel what it was like being on the front, and what it was like being off the front. I did that at St. Francis. I probably could have done better if I had sat in, but I wouldn’t trade anything for the experience.
Day 3: Giro della Montagna
This was the signature crit of the series. It was in a little Italian neighborhood with tons of fans watching and cheering. There were narrow streets and a little grinder of a hill. It was dry at the start, and there was a little sprinkle of rain as we raced, but nothing like the previous two days. Because of the narrow roads, positioning yourself within the pack was key. This is something I definitely want to work on next year. I drifted backwards, then attacked up, then drifted back, and it used a lot of energy. I couldn’t find a rhythm, and the little critic inside my head was buzzing. “Seriously, are you a cat4 still?/Look I WAS cat4 a year ago, cut me some slack/GEEZ the cornering in cat4 wasn’t this bad/if you don’t like it get up front/I don’t think I can/You were yesterday! GET UP THERE!” Etc. There was dialogue with my tummy too. With double-digit laps left I was starting to heave and throw up. This was ugly.
Mesh attacked the field hard and got a gap! But just after she blazed across the start-finish line, they rang the bell for a $200 prime. She went even harder, with Jannette Rho on her wheel. Then EVEN HARDER, and Kristen LaSasso bridged to her (YES! She could take the prime AND the race!). I sat in, heeding Laura Van Gilder’s advice. LaSasso took a pull! This was awesome! But then the field unleashed a furious counter, Diana Ferrera pipped Mesh at the line for the prime, and I saw Mesh going backwards as I crossed the start-finish line mid-pack. She was done.
A couple laps later, Vanessa Drigo and Laura Van Gilder took off together and gapped the field hard. Everyone was pretty resigned to let them go. Boo. I wanted to attack and get people fired up to go get them, but I was nauseous. I found wheels, moved up, up, up, little by little, and was around 6th or 7th wheel from about 6 to go till about 2 to go. I seriously wanted to drop out and couldn’t because my position was too good. On the final lap I ran over a water bottle in the street, and lost spots on the hill. But I did sprint, and got 3 riders at the very end to finish 17th again.
Day 4: Benton Park
This would be our last crit of the season. KMesh said nonchalantly, “I’m gonna win today”. The weather was drying up, but there were still occasional annoying spots of rain. The course was a twisty figure-8 with a few windy straightaways, the kind of course where Mesh and I tended to do well. Jason Meshberg advised us to sit in. Laura Van Gilder, Kristen LaSasso, and the other fasties were here for the money and weren’t going to let anything get away. The advice was to sit in, then fight for position the last few laps, then win it.
We rolled around. I was still getting pinched, bumped, and squeezed backward and then fighting forward. For the first time I saw someone hook someone else’s bars in a crit, right in front of me. Fortunately it was Carrie Cash, who managed to un-hook herself with only the slightest waver. I wanna be able to do that!
They called a $200 prime. KMesh got in position behind me and I blasted it. So thrilling to hear all those pros yell frantically “Left! Left!” as we streaked by. They shut us down 2 turns later. KMesh pulled in front to give me a break. I wasn’t gonna let her pull if I could help it, so I got back in front. Everyone was being lazy, and we were ½ lap from a $200 prime! I briefly went for it again, but this time KMesh was wise and didn’t go. The fasties were all there. They sprinted past me, and a couple of them went up the road for the prime.
A little later KMesh attacked and got up the road again. Kristen LaSasso was with her! Yes!!! LaSasso took a pull for KMesh, and it was looking like the two of them were going to get away. I sat in right next to Laura Van Gilder. I told her, “I listened to you.” She smiled and nodded. KMesh was back in front. Then two things happened simultaneously- LaSasso attacked and gapped KMesh, and Van Gilder took off hard to bridge up to LaSasso. KMesh was returning to the pack. The best thing would be to make a “negative” move- bring it back together, tuck KMesh in the pack to rest and shut down LaSasso and Van Gilder before they got together. When you have to make a “negative” move, everyone is your teammate, which makes it a bit easier to execute. I chased about halfway, then Carrie Cash took over. Diana Carrerra and Vanessa Drigo finished it off. I think that sacrificing myself and chasing very hard was the right thing to do to avoid a repeat of the previous day. I was also looking to earn some respect. I was awed by that beautiful coordinated move, and psyched that I led the charge to shut it down.
After that chase I was gassed. There was no way I could sit in and recover for a decent sprint. I was inadvertently letting gaps open up, nearly falling off the back, then working my way up slowly through the pack, riding tired. Mesh looked great though, and was weaving up in the top 6 wheels consistently. The only reason why I found anything at the end was to watch her sprint for a podium finish (3rd!!!). 4 people got me at the line and I finished 22nd, 2 spots out of the money. My worst result of the series, OUR best result ever. I was really proud of Kristen for saying she was gonna win and then just doing it.
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Later on, Sarah noted, One awesome thing about Gateway was that Matt James photographed and featured the women as much as the men: