by Monica Freiband
Hustlin up the storied and steep Fox River Grove hill.
Photo by Amy Melling
Bumper to bumper traffic. Frantic texting to teammates. Checking the clock every minute. Swear words flying left and right. Anger. Acceptance. We missed the race.
Finally, after 2.5 hours stuck in traffic, we arrived in East Dundee, just in time to watch the last few laps of what would have been our race go around the course. Anger set it, as we saw the field lap around and wished that we have left just 30 minutes earlier and could have raced. Luckily, we were allowed to transfer bib numbers to the womens elite/ open race.
Then, thud. We hear a crash around the first corner of the course. Looking over there is a girl on the ground, teeth sprawled across the course, who had taken the tight corner a little too rough. Next thing, sirens. Ambulances, fire trucks, police. Having just watched a crash, and been involved in one the week before, the nerves began to set in.
Once the nerves had already set in, I realized, I would be racing with cat 1, 2 and 3 racers. This did not help. The thought that this was my first open race began flying around my head. I had never raced with such fast and experienced women before! In an attempt to calm myself, I went on a warm up ride and tried to spin out my nerves. Failed attempt.
We lined up, and I was sitting off the back line, in a complete panic that I was in a race with women who had so much more experience than me. “What was I doing on the line with women who have been racing for 10 years when I have 2 months of racing under my belt?!”
The whistle blows, I clip in and, and we are off. It started faster than I had anticipated, but I was determined to hang on for at least 4 laps before being dropped. Lap after lap, I remained on the edge of the pack, as the speed fluctuated, I kept up. For a brief moment, I fell off the back with 3 other girls. Courtney from xXx turned to me and said “Follow my wheel around the corners” to help me learn which line to follow, and to catch up. The four of us, by some miracle, catch up to the pack again.
Next thing I knew I was riding mid pack next to Daphne, a Cat 1 racer from Chicago Cuttin Crew. I had watched her race before, and know how talented, and speedy, she is. My mind started racing. “Oh my god! I’m next to Daphne! Don’t freak out! Wait, Ahh Im next to a cat 1 racer! Ahh what am I doing in this race??”
As the speed fluctuated, I maintained my place in the group. While my goal was to not get pulled for at least 4 laps, I shocked myself and managed to stay with, and finish, with the pack!
To top off a great night of learning, we were fortunate to have USA National Champion Allison Powers give us some pointers on how to become stronger racers, both individually and as a team.
What started as a day of frustration for missing my own race turned into one of the best races, and an incredible learning experience. Sure, I missed my chance to vie for the Womens 4 onmium, but I got something even better. I had the opportunity to ride with Category 1, 2 and 3 racers, and spend 40 minutes learning from their incredible technique and tactics, something I probably never would have done had I made my Cat 4 race.
So thank you Chicago traffic, for giving me an opportunity to become a better racer.
Hangin in the open field with all cats
Photo by Katie Isermann
Left with more than enough time to spare, and arrived just in time to go to a Vision clinic, which meant focusing my energy on race tactics and not just strength. What can I do to visualize going around corners, strengthen my techniques, and become a better racer. It was all very helpful information, not only in that I learned a lot, but also in that it distracted me from the upcoming race.
I really wanted to gain omnium points, but having missed the first day, didn’t forsee that happening. Lining up at the start, I knew there were a few technical corners and hills that could be difficult with a large field.
The whistle blew, and I started off near the back. Not mad to be situated in the back of the group, but mad that I couldn’t break off and get sprint points from that position. I tried to move forward, but every time I tried, it seemed nearly impossible. There were some great blocking tactics going on by the other teams. Just as I was starting to move up, going down a hill and around a corner, someone crashed out, and I began to get nervous. That hill was technical, and you did not want to be situated the wrong way on that. I hung to the back, and slowly moved up, one rider at a time. Just as the race was coming to an end, with one or two laps to go, my teammate Carin, knowing I wanted to podium in the race, came up and said “ Do you want the podium or the prime.” Without hesitation, I said podium, and she said “Can I tire them out and take the prime?” and again, without hestitation, I said get up there! She went on a sprint and tired the pack out, taking a prime prize for herself. The real race began the last lap, the group was a bit tired from the prime sprint, and I worked my way up. I was positioned perfectly for the whole last lap, and it came down to a final sprint, which sadly I lost by half a wheel. I continued my streak as a perpetual 4th place rider.
I wanted the podium. That’s all that was going through my mind. I knew it was a tough course, with a massive hill, and had no idea how people would handle climbing (since we live in Chicago, a flat land, and never do any climbing). I nervously walked up to Allison Powers, US National Champion, and asked her, if you were in 4th place for the omnium, and wanted to try to podium, what would you do? Her advice, which will always stick with me, was “Well, first of all, don’t forget to have fun… Don’t stress out about it. Take it easy, if someone sprints off the front, don’t feel you need to chase them down. Play to your own strengths, and don’t feel like you need to take off going up that hill.” (Nicest. Person. Ever.)
Allison Powers talks to the Womens Category 4 feild. Carin Nelson listens from the front row.
Photo by Amy Melling
Luckily for me, I had not one but TWO teammates with me for this race, Kelly and Carin, and knowing that I wasn’t a solo rider helped immensely.
Standing at the start, I was so nervous I felt ill. I yet again started in the very back row, and didn’t know if I could make any moves from back there.
The whistle blew and the first thought In my head was “oh Shit there is a massive hill in about 10 seconds, SHIFT DAMNIT!)
There was a breakaway of 3 lead girls after lap 1, and then there were two of us directly behind them. I looked to the girl I was with, and said “if we work together, we can catch them.” So we tried. We worked together, and almost caught them, until another sprint point, and they took off again. I realized my podium dreams were gone at that point, and focused on fourth.
Going up that horrific hill, standing along the side were people cheering. Of those people were Maria (My Chicago idol) and Allison Powers. They were screaming at me to catch up to the girl in front of me, and if Maria and Allison are telling me to do something, Im damn sure going to do it.
Next lap around I had caught and passed her by about 4 seconds, and started up on the climb. As Im going up I hear Maria screaming at me that I had a gap and needed to widen it. I tried but she ended up catching me. We worked together again, until about half a lap to the end when she turned to me and said “Are you in the running for the omnium?” I told her I was, and she looked at me and said “we could sprint to the finish and make it a challenge, but you would probably take the sprint, so go for it, get out there.”
Such a nice gesture, which makes me love the world of cycling even more than I already did. I took off and sprinted all the way through to the end, claiming, yet again, my forever spot in 4th place (and 5th overall which, despite not having placed as well as Allison Powers told me to, I was content with knowing I didn’t race all 3 days).
Fifth in the omnium overall, despite missing a day of racing.
Photo by Carin Nelson
It was an amazing weekend, despite having missed day 1 of the omnium points. I left knowing that I gained experience, friends, and skills. Thank you to everyone who taught me over the course of this weekend, be it on or off the bike. I learned so much from the helpful tips, cheering, and of course the riding with such incredibly talented ladies!