by Kelly Clarke
Guys, I never knew you could have so much fun. It’s mostly because of my awesome teamies*, but also LaX was a really great series, a fun town to visit, and those Wisco/Minnie gals COME TO RACE, no pussyfooting about it.
*La Crosse Teammates:
Kelsey ‘All City’ Phillips
Lindsey ‘Feels’ Fahey
Lauren ‘BP**’ Wissman
Sarah ‘The Whip’ Rice
Eric ‘Soigneur’ Landhal
Kurt ‘Long Legs’ Breitenbucher (wait, it’s possible to have a name more complicated than Diffenderfer?)
Pete ‘Personal Poops’ Monko
And our favorite ray of sunshine, Zark.
We decided to drive the course when we got into town. This was a very good idea. You should drive the course when you can. Sarah spoke for us all when she said, ‘I would have shit myself if the first time I saw this was during the time trial.’ It was a lot steeper than we expected, but there was a beautiful view at the top.
We stopped to talk about the course – not even the whole way to the finish.
Later, when we arrived for the race, Pete and I decided to ride the course once. On the way up, it started drizzling. By the time we reached the top, it was pouring cold rain. I tried to warm up on rollers, but my feet were so cold they hurt, so I just jogged around for a half hour til my start.
I was not comfortable with dude holding my seat, so I took a standing start. I kept asking him to move so I wasn’t crooked and he wasn’t, so I chose to not be pro and go for comfort. The course is steep from the get go. People were cheering from underneath umbrellas. Water was flowing down the street in a stream as we pressed upward. I’ve done few time trials, but in all of them you get so inside your head. I seem to start out hating myself, and then end up in fight mode. I tried to go at ‘hard, but don’t blow up’ pace. I passed one girl and heaved out a ‘Sorry. Keep it up.’ I passed a few juniors. I wanted to catch the girl in front of me. I kind of just wanted to be at the top of the hill so I could focus on getting dry clothes and being warm again – my chamois probably weighed ten pounds and there were buckets of water in my shoes. But everyone else was dealing with the same conditions. The course flattened out at the top, and it felt good to go from a grinding 8-12mph to 20+. I didn’t catch the girl in front of me, but I did get closer.
There was little room at the top, so as soon as I caught my breath, I thanked the officials and started to head back down. I stopped 200 meters down to wait for Lindsey and Kelsey but also because there was an incredible double rainbow. The sky was opening and it was the brightest rainbow I’ve ever seen. A super friendly Brone’s Bikes girl stopped to chat and check out this awesome scene. Kelsey and Lindsey finished shortly after me and we all headed down the hill. The Brone girl stopped at the turn to meet her boyfriend and adorable puppy. So this terribly cold and rainy uphill time trial ended with puppies and rainbows. And I did well enough for second place, missed first by 3 seconds.
With every race, but especially time trials, it’s natural to think ‘I could have gone harder.’ You always could have done better, and you always could have done worse. It’s a mental game when you’re redlining and your body is telling you to stop, but you want to go harder. I did the best I could for that moment.
Hella fast, right from the start. Hella fun. Attacks all over the place, constant moving around and fluctuation of speed – everyone was focused, reacting and making moves. The pack rarely settled down. I was trying to stay in good position and not kill myself. I felt pretty good taking the corners at speed with the group – better than last year (this was the first crit I’ve done this year with actual corners). Ten minutes in I thought, “This is the most fun I have ever had.” Lindsey did awesome – she attacked a few times, bridged me back up to the group once without knowing it. She was pretty pro – right there with all these other top notch ladies. Something I noticed is that I was in the drops the entire race. I usually come up to the hoods if things get boring or slow, but it was ‘go time’ the entire race. There was a crash in the last turn. I went inside, so I was able to avoid the shrapnel and loud screeches, but there was tons of brakes. The top gals were way in front of me by the time I jumped for the sprint. I ended up 7th. Wish I could have had a little better position into the second to last corner, but I was still pretty happy with the finish – it could have been worse.
Our other teammates all raced extremely well. Kelsey worked in a chase group with a gal from Minneapolis that we became friends with that day. Pete and Zark raced twice in blazing fast races. Monko took fifth in one! Lauren attacked like crazy and Sarah was nothing short of fierce in their crit. It was a fun day at the park racing, watching races and making new friends.
Pretty sure Wiss and Slice had as much fun racing as I did.
Sunday’s road race started out great. I was sitting second in the omnium, I knew the gal I needed to beat, and the three that I couldn’t let beat me. I had great positioning. Then there was a massive downhill. I tucked into the drops, squeezed the top tube with my knees and decided to go for it no matter how scared I was. My bike started shaking like crazy, waving back and forth frenetically. I was sure I had a flat or some kind of mechanical. I feathered the brakes – no change. I took my hands completely off the brakes – still shaking like crazy. Not like the normal downhill chatter, but like frantically waving back and forth. I scrubbed speed, swearing wildly in my head, ‘Just fucking stay upright. Don’t crash. Stay upright!!’ Ladies whizzed past me. I stopped at the bottom and looked at my bike. Checked the tires, checked the headset – nothing wrong. What the fuck. The official pulled over and asked if I was OK. ‘Yeah.’ I checked the bike for a second longer, then looked up to see the pack no longer in my sight. Took a deep breath and dug in. I would have to go really hard to catch them, but the race was over if I didn’t. It was do or die in the next few miles. The course started going up. Good. I can usually catch people on the climbs. Around the corner I could see the car maybe 500 meters out. But it was early enough in the race that no one was attacking and the pace was still fairly conservative. I chipped away. Girls were getting knocked out on the climb. I couldn’t work with them, because they were seemingly going backwards. Got so close the pace car moved over so I could merge back with the group. But I was breathing so hard, snot and spit running down my face. The pack was maybe 200 meters to the top of the big climb, I was maybe 10 meters from them, and I completely blew up. Well, I didn’t fall over and lay on the ground. But I couldn’t keep up my chasing speed. I slowed way down. They disappeared over the top of the climb. My heart was beating out of my chest. I got over the top and tried to kick it in – my last hope. There was an IsCorp girl that looked like she had some power left. I asked her to do 30 second pulls and work to get back. She said sure, I took a pull, counting to 40 and popped over. She said, ‘Sorry, I don’t have what you need.’ I started to dig in again, but they were gaining distance and I was spent.
My foot was killing me – pretty sure I broke a toe at some point before the race. It had been hurting the whole time, but now the pain was front and center. I wanted to stop, but I thought about how Dean says finishing is important. I decided I had to finish. My Garmin was broke, so I didn’t even have numbers to distract me. I decided this long solo ride would be punishment for not descending well and losing the group. Except it’s not really punishment, because the course was beautiful, the roads were perfect, and I was on my bike! And I had decided just this weekend that racing a bike is the most fun that could possibly be had. It’s just better when you’re in the main group or have someone to work with. I saw Eric. He was yelling to go catch the group. I yelled back, ‘Sorry!’ He was such an amazing support all weekend, that disappointing him weighed much heavier than my own disappointment – not that such a nice guy would actually be disappointed. I was not trying to make the other spectators think he was angry and a jerk, but they might have looked at him weird.
I was trying to psych myself up to bomb the descent the second time around, but my bike still felt kind of weird, like the front and rear wheel were not in sync. Even though I couldn’t decipher a problem with the bike, I decided to Granny it down the hill. What if the uncontrollable shaking happened again and I crashed this time? In the turn before the descent I looked back and saw Kelsey and the IsCorp girl waving. They passed me on the way down. Then Lindsey passed me and said, ‘I’ll help you after this!!’ I took my sweet time down the descent, then booked it at the bottom to catch up with my teammates.
When I came to Lindsey, she started pedaling really fast, ‘I’m going to bridge you back up to the group!’ I tried to get her to take turns pulling.
She said, ‘No, let me do all the work!.’
‘Don’t be a hero, this race is over. Just take turns pulling with me.’
We did. We also saw a colorful rooster. Then the incline came and the pulling fell apart. I felt bad about it, but I left Lindsey behind. I wasn’t sure how many women were ahead of me, and I at least wanted to get in front of the IsCorp girl. I was able to pass a few more people before the end. I finished 16th and not near any of the other racers.
I know it’s good to hang back and work with people, but I always feel like I end up going slower than I want. Maybe I need to get over that. Last year at the Michigan State Road Race, I worked with Chelsea Strate after we got popped off the back. The speed was good and it was great to work with someone. I don’t know at what point you sacrifice speed to work with people. And if my race is over, I want to still get a good workout by working hard. Maybe I am doing it wrong by always time trialing after getting popped off. My goal is to NOT get popped off, though, and stay competitive in the field next time.
It was a great weekend of racing and hanging out with my teammates. I was disappointed I did so poorly in the road race, but as it turns out, my rear hub was really loose, and that is what caused the shaking – NOT user error as I assumed. I still need to practice descending A LOT. I love omniums and I love my teammates. The end.
Making friends at the crit. Photo cred: Anna Schwinn