Category: Road Race (page 1 of 2)

Spidermonkey Spotlight – Monica Freiband

I wish I could say I was one of those people who found cycling at an early age and fell in love with it. However, aside from my favorite tricycle when I was 3 years old, I don’t hold  too many early memories of biking.

First bike

First bike

I began commuting via bicycle my senior year of high school on an old Cannondale road bike I had found while dumpster diving in Minneapolis. This bike became my sole means of transportation, and I was quick to pack it up with me when I moved to Chicago for college.

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I knew a few people in the cycling community from commuting over the years, and slowly became a regular at Johnny Sprockets due to the wear and tear Chicago weather takes on a bike. However, before long, I experienced what every bike commuter fears: being hit by a car. I had been in a few minor incidents before this, but nothing to scare me off of commuting before. This time was different. I was rear ended and sent flying into an intersection, resulting in road rash, 3 broken ribs, and a no-longer-rideable bike. This was enough to scare me off of a bike (not to mention at this point I didn’t have a working bike anymore anyways).

A few months later, I decided to run the 2014 Chicago Marathon, which was rather inevitable having come from a family of marathon runners. I had been having some knee pain, and was told that cycling was a great way to relieve some of the stress on the body. This was a scary thought, but I went over to BFF bikes, and Annie Byrne introduced me to my new bicycle, Walter, a Giant Liv Avail, and it was love at first sight. I also started to take spin classes at the YMCA, and met Roxanne Bowens. She turned into my “fairy bike godmother” as I call her, and introduced me to the Spidermonkeys (and just as important, she introduced me to Fireball).

I began to enjoy cycling more and more with all the Spidermonkey spins.  Before long, I met Michelle Moore and Kelly Clarke. They convinced me to try racing. I will never forget my first race. To give an idea of what a great team the Spidermonkeys are, a whole group of girls came out to Gapers Block the first night to encourage me. I was visibly nervous and hyperventilating…this all resulted in the patented “deer in the headlights” start line photo.

First race!

First race!

The whistle blew, and I quickly heard a girl from Half Acre say “Monica, get on my wheel and don’t let go!” So I did. I managed to stay in the entire race without getting dropped, which was more than I had anticipated. I got off my bike, turned to Michelle and Kelly, and said “THAT WAS SO FUN LET’S DO IT AGAIN!” I was hooked.

Monsters at the Midway 2015

Monsters at the Midway 2015

That first season of racing, I spent every single weekend racing, and every single week preparing to race. I quickly found myself wanting to spend every waking moment on my bike racing with my teammates.

I had never been so passionate about anything before. After living in Chicago for 7 years, I can safely say that becoming a Spidermonkey and learning how to race has been the highlight of my time in Chicago. It gave me new confidence, new energy, a new breath of life. For two years now I have worn a Spidermonkey kit with pride. No matter where in the world I am, I know that there is an amazing group of people who changed my outlook on cycling, a group of people who became my second family.

First WIN!

First WIN!

Snake Alley, my favorite race!

Snake Alley, my favorite race!

 

Michelle Does LaCrosse

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La Crosse Omnium
by Michelle Moore

I’m still smiling from this event. Things I discovered:
1. I am not a good Road Racer
2. I suck at climbing
3. I LOVE crit racing
4. My sprint has gotten really strong
5. A proper warm up and cool down is everything

Saturday/Road Race
I’ve never done this omnium before, but I’ve heard it’s legendary. I was a little bummed that I couldn’t do the time trial on Friday given this was a significant part of the overall series, but then I saw the mountain to climb for 2.5 miles and was no longer sad I didn’t get to compete. My buddy Ashely from HAC and our new teammie Anna and I all road tripped up to WI late Friday night. We didn’t get too much sleep Friday night since we rolled into La Crosse around 12:30am, and wanted to be out of the house by 6am to drive the course before the race. After driving the 13 mile loop we were to do twice, we went to register and warm up. After a 30-35 min warm up I felt ready. I started on the front line with Ashley (HAC) and two other women for the neutral rollout. As the whistle below and the race started I was still on the front with Ashley and Jody (ISCorp who I’d raced with, and beat in Menomonee Falls a few weeks prior). The three of us hung up there for several miles. Ashley and I were discussing how to get off the front so we didn’t tire out too much in the first few miles – cuz it was WINDY! Since we couldn’t, we started to just trade places and take turns pulling each other so that neither of us went out too hard at the start. This certainly confused the pack… :-)

As we made the first turn, about 3.5 miles in, I knew the giant descent was coming up. I also knew I wanted to be on the front of it since I’m a good descender and a terrible climber. I wanted to make people pass me. I was the first down the descent, first into the turn, and on the front, again, as the climb started. I was fine with it, but I foolishly turned to Ashely and said “this is where I’ll get dropped.” I knew I would, but I wish I hadn’t put that negative energy out there; it definitely affected me. I just couldn’t grab a wheel enough to stay on up with the pack on the long climb. Bummer. As we came over the top of the climb, the wind was in our face. I got on a wheel after a few minutes, and just tried to stay low out of the wind. The pack wasn’t that far in front of me, maybe 20 seconds. But, since I had another loop, I didn’t want to burn my matches.

After some serious determination and sucking a wheel for a bit, I was able to get back together with the group just before the final turn into the long stretch up to the start/finish. It was quite an effort…even the moto ref made a comment about it :) I decided to hang at the back of the pack for the next several miles to recover and conserve some energy. If I got dropped that early on the climb in lap 1, I wasn’t sure how lap 2 was going to go.

As we go closer to the first turn, I made my move up the right side of the pack to get toward the front for the descent. It was aggressive, and I’m pretty sure I irritated some people, but I didn’t care. I wanted to be toward the front of that large group. Unfortunately, I didn’t get far enough to the front before the downhill, but I was able to take the descent at a fast speed (actually I was surprised how fast these ladies were flying down the hill…guess I’m not the only one with no fear). As we turned into the climb, I was right where I wanted to be (for the most part). I was with the pack, on the left side, but I was on a strong-ish wheel. I would have liked to be IN the pack to protect me a bit more. I stayed with the group for at least half the hill, maybe a tiny bit more, then got dropped. As I came to the top of the hill the pack seemed farther away then lap 1…I wasn’t sure I could bridge up to them. Meanwhile, one woman (Erin, a 4x Ironman) took a flyer off the front on the downhill, and ended up staying away for the next 10 miles to win the race (WUT?!). I just kept my head down and pedalled until I caught up to a Northstar woman whose wheel I rode for a bit after the top of the hill. It was certainly winder this loop than the previous one. I tried to work with her, but every time I came around to offer a pull, she’d come back around me again. Fine, she can pull me through the wind all she wants!

We eventually bridged up to a Trek woman, whose wheel I switched to. Again, I offered to do my part and pull, she made a comment to me that I looked like I had a good sprint. I said “we’ll see, it’s real windy out here.” She came around me and as she was getting back on the front said that she has no fast twitch fibers/muscles, so it seemed like she wanted to pull me. Um, ok! I rode her wheel through the final turn, then for a few more minutes until I could see the finish. I got out of my saddle and gave a nice big effort to cross the finish line. I placed 9th, just a few min behind the pack. I rode another 5 min out with Ashley (who got 8th and was SO strong in the race), then back to the car where I hopped on my trainer for another 15-20. Overall, I probably cooled down for 25-30 min. I’ve learned over the past few years that “a good athlete does a proper warm up and cool down” (quote by Jason Meshberg). It was going to be really important for me with the crit the next day.

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Sunday/Crit
I woke up for this race feeling mentally ready. A great night sleep, a proper cool down, time on the Mississippi on the dock in the sun with my friends…all prepared me for the day.

We rode to the race from our house (only 2 miles away) and did a quick recon of the course. After 3/4 of a loop, Ashley and I went off on our own to warm up. I was nervous, the legs felt really heavy. Heavier than I thought they’d feel. I did a solid 30ish min warm up, including some tempo time and 3-5 sprints…all I could do was mentally stay engaged and at the front of the pack for the entire race. Not ON the front, but toward the front.

I lined up on the front line, and it was one of longest wait times I’ve had sitting on the line. This is the only part of the race that gets to me…the longer we sit, the more nervous/anxious/etc. I feel. So, this was torture. I also had new teammie, Anna, to my left who mentioned how nervous she was. So I fixated on getting her to calm down and just go with her instincts (b/c she has excellent race instincts)…which in turn got me to refocus.

After sitting on the line for nearly 10 min, the whistle blew and we were off. I had one of my best race starts…ever! Even though I wasn’t clipped in, I was out in the front leading through 90% of the first lap. I knew the race would start fast; it’s a very short course w/four turns. I wanted to be the first into the turns for the first lap in case people grabbed breaks. Success! There was a tiny patch of cobbles just before turn 4, and these ladies would break as they rode over them. This was odd to me, but I also knew this is where I could have an advantage on the final lap.

I focused on staying at the front, never further back than 5th wheel. A variety of women took turns pulling/attacking. About halfway through the race, they announced a $40 cash prime. So, naturally the pace increased and I went with the attackers. Erin (the 4x Ironwoman) and the ISCorp junior went for it…it was close, and I thought they’d stay away, but this was a strong group of women that were fierce and aggressive. I continued to tell myself to not lose one of the fast wheels. I knew the ISCorp junior had a killer sprint, as I had raced with her a few weeks prior.

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Ashely attacked with about 5 laps to go, and it was really strong. As she got sucked back into the group, I countered, but barely. I was tired and I decided that I wanted to save something for the sprint finish. Then, out of nowhere, Carin attacked with 3 to go. She held it for at least a half lap, as we came across the start/finish, I saw 2 to go. I wanted to counter attack, but knew that would be the end for me. So Erin (the 4x Ironwoman) got out toward the front. She’s clearly strong, but is also new to racing and hasn’t done many crits at all. So, I let her stay out there; the ISCorp junior was right on her.

As we started the final lap, we were strung out. The ISCorp junior went for it with half a lap to go. I was too far back to go with her, so I sat about 4th wheel through turn 3, accelerated over the cobbles through turn 4. I came out of the final turn probably 3rd wheel. I swung far to the left as I got out of the saddle in my drops and sprinted with every ounce of my being. I nearly saw blood in my eyes, but I could feel everything falling into place. I was gaining ground very quickly. Another rider (Rachel) was just on my right, we touched hands, but I kept my focus on winning the field sprint. I wanted it so badly (which would mean 2nd place for me). I outsprinted the field, and knew I locked up 2nd, if not first (couldn’t remember if the ISCorp junior was registered as a junior or a cat4). I took a few cool down laps, had some friends there from xXx that came over to congratulate me, as well as some teammates parents/families. I was proud of Ashley and my teammates for attacking and having 2-3 solid days of racing. I was also really proud of myself for being more conservative, reading the race well, knowing where to be and when, and saving my efforts for that last sprint. I’ve been putting a lot into my sprints on the trainer, and on group rides, and it most definitely paid off in this race. In checking the overall omnium results, I was surprised to see I placed 7th (and that was without the TT on Friday). I’m so close to that top step I can taste it…hoping for that place next weekend at Elgin!

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La Crosse Road Race 2016

La Crosse Road Race, Women’s 4
by Monica Freiband

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At the beginning of every race, officials break down rules for the day. I hate to admit that this has become slightly like the airline safety procedure where I tend to zone out. While previously this has not been an issue, the day of the Lacrosse road race proved different.

The neutral roll out was filled with chatter from cat 4 women who were attempting to stay warm on a cold morning. We started up the main road, and the official blew the whistle. Everyone began to fight for the perfect spot out of the strong head wind. We got settled and I found my comfy 3rd wheel spot. Not one minute later, the wheel I so comfily sat behind, had a mechanical.

As a beginner racer, I am still figuring out the “expect the unexpected” mentality, as I am focused on not getting dropped. As I watched the wheel in front of me come to a halt and the pedals on the bike stop turning, I had to think quickly. Do I attempt to go right, and risk getting to close to the woman next to me? Do I hit the brakes and hope the woman behind me does the same? Or do I go left and cross the yellow line?

I chose to go to the left, cross the yellow line, and go around the stalled bike in front of me. Not 5 seconds later, I heard a whistle.

The official rode up next to me on his moto and pulled me out of the pack. I was told I crossed the yellow line and that was means for disqualification. I began to argue, and tried to explain the situation. The official was less than pleased with me, using the “if that line were a ditch would you still have gone to the left?” argument.

I watched the pack get farther and farther from me, and felt the headwind get stronger and stronger as I became completely exposed. After arguing, I was told I could attempt to chase the pack (now having about a minute gap).

Not even one mile into the 27.3 mile race, I had been dropped off the back, and it didn’t take long to realize I would be riding the race solo. My blood was boiling, I was determined to catch the pack, but I just couldn’t close such a large gap by myself. My legs bonked after lap one, my torn meniscus in my knee began to swell, and admittedly I thought about just hopping in the next car I saw drive by and giving in. But I came around the last corner to hear my wonderful teammates cheering me on, and through the pain and tears (yes, there were tears), I rode through the finish.

It was not one of my finest races, both in how I finished and the way I handled myself. I was in my own head, I was angry and hurting, and I let it get the best of me. However, I did it, I finished, and it became a great learning experience for me: when your mind gives up, keep going, and ALWAYS follow the yellow line rule.

La Crosse Omnium

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.

**Bitches Popped

TT

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.

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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.

Crit

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.

Rad Race

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.

Conclusion

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

Joe Martin Stage Race

by Katie Kolon

Naiveté
Some of the best things I’ve done in life, I’ve done out of a healthy lack of fear: traveling alone throughout Guatemala immediately after they signed peace accords to end civil war (which wasn’t really over anyway), moving to California after college with no money and no job, and crit racing, to name a few. JMSR was no exception.

Sarah Rice (Slice) wanted someone to go to the race with and my thoughts were that I would visit my friend who lives in Fayetteville, take a road trip, get out of the cold, and race a criterium. I didn’t even know what a stage race was. I quickly found out that in order to race the crit, I had to race the time trial and the road race. I later found out that I not only had to race all the races, but I had to finish each one in order to advance to the next “stage.” That’s why it’s called a stage race, dummy. Even later, I came to understand that people didn’t race for standings as much as time. This changes the game significantly, and especially in terms of team tactics as Slice thoroughly explained.

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Devil’s Den State Park, Time Trial location

Time Trial
I had no interest in doing a time trial. I heard it was straight up hill with an average grade of 6.8%, so I went to pre-ride the 2.5 mile course and get a feel for it. I didn’t have time to do any warm up and I just tried to go as hard as I could make myself do something that seemed pointless. I almost threw up. I figured this boded well and that I would likely do better in the real thing since it would have at least one point, which would be to not be last.

warmUp

TT warm up, photo credit to John Kline

My time trial was at 9:25am. I woke up early enough to eat and get there with time for a warm up. I did a nice long Kristen Meshberg (Kmesh) PWP-style warm up of 40 minutes including one hard threshold effort and a long block of tempo. Through PWP I’ve learned I don’t need long warm-ups, but I also didn’t think I could warm up too much for such a short and intense ride. I almost missed my start for no good reason other than my clock was probably a little different than their clock. I took off sprinting as fast as I could on the flat section before reaching the hill, and then slowly climbed the next 2+ miles. And my time was 3 seconds slower than my practice run with no warm up! Huh? Everyone said I was in my head too much. This is almost always true, but I actually thought my warm up was too long. I came in second to last, so I guess I met my goal, though in truth I expected to do better.

Road Race
Immediately after the TT, I had to cram some food in my mouth and book it to the start of the road race, which was starting only two hours after I finished the TT. (Side Note: all the races were in different locations and only the crit was in Fayetteville) There were so many logistics to figure out in preparation for the road race beyond just where the heck it started. Slice helped me with a lot of this. She taped the number on my seat post, told me I needed to find out if there was a wheel truck, and figure out if there were going to be neutral people in the feed zone or if I could have someone from PSIMET to hand me a bottle. It was only a 40-mile course, but it was also going to be 80 degrees and I didn’t want to run out of water.

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Start of the road race

The race start was very casual and stayed slow way long past when the motos told us we were done with the neutral roll-out. The course consisted of a gradual climb with rollers for 20 miles, and then 20 miles back down. I was near the front, but not in the wind, holding a good position. Slowly people started to try to move up and one woman was vying for my wheel. She kept bumping shoulders with me, and I held my position, unfazed. Eventually the person next to me dropped back and I moved over into her spot. I noticed that although these women were very strong, they weren’t all very confident at riding close together, positioning, or holding a line.

I started to move to the very front at mile 8. Cathy Frampton of PSIMET had advised me to tape important mileage markers to my stem. The first one was “the wall,” a major hill at 8.5 miles, where teams would attack. My plan was to go to the front before the hill and try to hang on as long as I could. But where was this wall? The course map was incorrect. At about mile 10, the strong riders took off up “the wall” and I was instantly dropped. Slice had emphasized that this was the point in the race where I had to burn all my matches to stay on, but I was burning everything just to get up the hill, so that was that.

As the main pack dropped me, I saw not everyone was able to go with them and I had the hope of forming a little chase group. However, we were all climbing and descending at different speeds and everyone seemed to eventually pass me. I thought maybe I could catch them on the decent in the second half of the race. I kept trying to talk myself into going faster as it seemed my heart rate was not that high, but my body started to hurt in ways I have never hurt before and I just couldn’t push myself hard enough to catch anyone. I have learned that I’m really unmotivated to ride hard when I have no one to ride or compete with.

Once I passed the halfway point, my goal became increasing my average speed by going as fast and hard as I could downhill. I got up to 46 mph at one point and got to practice taking a 90-degree corner at 34 mph. When I hit the feed zone with 10 miles to go I noticed that I instantly picked up the pace. I’ve also learned I am much more motivated to perform when people are watching and especially if they are cheering. In the last three miles I actually passed one person who must have bonked because I was going so much faster than her I couldn’t understand how I hadn’t caught her before. Again, I came in second to last.

Criterium
Finally, I got to do the thing I love. I woke up early again because my race was at 7:45am, making it the third race I would complete in a 24-hour period. My body was beat. I got on the trainer and felt terrible. I was worrying about riding with a bunch of women that I didn’t know and who didn’t seem to be super-comfortable riding in a pack. And the crit was very technical with a narrow chicane and some hills, including a steep uphill to the finish. Fun stuff. I just kept telling myself it would all be over in a mere 25 minutes.

crit

Deep in thought at the start line, photo credit to John Kline

I started at the front of the line and maintained a good position as the race took off. I hung on to the main group for the first lap and got dropped on the steep uphill before the finish line. No surprise. But for the first time at JMSR I was having fun. I forgot that I was tired; I forgot that I was coming in last; I just had fun going fast and cornering.

crit2

Chicane around the town square, photo credit to John Kline

The course was about a mile long, so we weren’t going to do many laps in 25 minutes. There was a long decent followed by a wide 90-degree turn on the back half of the course. I was going over 30mph and taking it faster each lap. On about my 5th or 6th lap, on the long downhill, my chain got jammed between the cassette and the chain stay—derailleur fail or it jumped out hitting the cobbles at high speeds. Neutral support was half a lap away and uphill, so I tried to coast as long as I could. I pulled over, figuring I was out of the race because it would take me the rest of the time to get back to the support tent. A course marshal ran over, quick-fixed my bike, and gave me a push while telling me I can still do it. Thanks, dude!

By the time I got back in, the remainder of the field had passed me. I felt proud that there had been 5-6 people behind me given the competition in my field. I knew people weren’t taking the corners or the downhill as fast as I was, but I had no idea I was that far ahead of people until they passed me. I was lapped at the finish line and got the bell lap. I worked hard to make up time in my remaining lap and managed to pass one woman within seconds of the finish line. Second to last again, but a proud second to last.

Take Aways
My goals for the race were to complete it and to not come in DFL. It was my first time trial and my first road race. In all honesty, I was hoping to do better than that, but with the top women in my field holding times that would have been competitive in the pro race, I realized the competition was stiff. I got DFL overall based on time, but there were five out of 32 women who did not finish all three races, so completing it was more of an accomplishment than I first thought.

I used to think I would never “cat up.” If I continued to do races with competition as hard as this one, it would be a long time before I would be able to. But doing JMSR made me remember that the point is not to always be on top, the point is to put yourself in situations where you are no where near the top of the competition in order to learn and grow stronger as a rider. More importantly, these experiences allow you to value the times you are on top because they allow you to measure how far you’ve come. “Difficult and easy complete one another; long and short measure one another.”

Epilogue: The Curse of JMSR
Weeks before, amidst freaking out about what I had committed myself to, Slice and Kmesh handed me some sage advice. These goals seemed well within reach and I recommend them to anyone considering racing the JMSR.
1. Don’t get arrested
2. Don’t break your ass in a crash on the start line
3. Don’t blow your transmission

Check, check, and check. Based on my recent experience, I am adding two other real and potential dangers of the JMSR:
4. Don’t step on a nest of baby copperheads
5. Don’t get caught up in a wide-track tornado

We narrowly escaped both. It was biblical.

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Cloth numbers=classy

Prairie State Cycling Series

by Kristen Meshberg

The Meshberg Family hanging out with our good friend Sarah Demerly, who came in from Michigan to race the series

SO so so excited to have a race series IN MY HOMETOWN. Yes we have cool individual races in Chicago, and sometimes even two days in a row, but this is the first time I’ve had a whole series so close to home!

The series consisted of 7 races total, 6 crits and 1 road race. The first 3 days were not NCC, and the last 4 were. What does that mean? NCC is our National Criterium Calendar so they would be heavily attended and highly contested. The first 3 days would be mostly local riders with maybe a couple of out of towners. Hopefully this will change in the future when word gets out about how awesome this series is and we can have big fields for the whole thing. But for this year we weren’t expecting the huge fields until the NCC races.

I’ve been targeting this series ever since I found out about it and I wanted to win the overall. Given the weird year I’ve been having I really did not know what to expect going into it. My focus was to do the best I could and treat each day individually. Sarah had committed to coming to as many of the races as she could, so finally we’d get some racing together.

Kenosha
I love this race! I’ve done this course many times when it was part of Superweek, and I love it. My oldest friend lives and works very near to the course, so she always comes and watches, and we get to hang out afterwards, so a good time is always associated with this race. Being the first race in the series and not NCC, we had a very small field. Sarah was sidelined with the stomach flu so I went solo. Our field consisted of a bunch of individual riders going against the Schneider sisters, local riders who ride for Tibco, one on the pro team, and one on the devo team. After an early break of three which included 15 year old Skylar Schneider (who ended up winning) lapped the field, Vanderkitten attacked and no one chased. Then I attacked and no one chased. I finished off the front in 5th place. Given the circumstances, I was ok with that.

Going against Sam Schneider for a Prime

Crystal Lake
Same small field, though today I had my teammate Sarah. The race started just fine but soon I started to struggle. Turns out I had broken a spoke and my wheel had gone out of true and was smashing against my brake. I never heard a popping noise so I had no idea what was happening. I finally went to the pit because I just couldn’t ride any more, I didn’t think I would get a free lap, but I didn’t know what else to do. When they saw the shape of my wheel I was given the ok to be put back in the field. Unfortunately while all this was going on a break had gotten away. I tried to talk my way into being put back into the break, but since it had been established while I was out of commission, it was back to the field for me. The first lap back in they called a prime. I went for it, got it, and then was done. I’m not sure how much energy I expended riding around for the first half of the race on a broken wheel, and I don’t think going all out for a prime was the smartest move. I was majorly bummed. Sarah rode well in the field and finished strong.

Sharon RR
The drive to Sharon, which is just across the WI border very near Lake Geneva, was beautiful. The course was flat and we were supposed to do 4 laps but was shortened to 3, for a total of about 33 miles. It was very hot, and I felt pretty good. Mostly local gals, we had a couple strong new to the series riders, including our National Criterium Champion Theresa Cliff-Ryan. Sarah said later she was affected by the heat, but she rode well and I couldn’t tell. The race had a couple of attacks, but nothing stuck, and we entered the final 3k altogether. I found myself in good position at 3k to go, and was planning on going for it, at the clearly marked 1k to go sign. But then the follow moto ref pulled up next to me. He had done this several times during the race and had actually mingled with the field during several corners and at one point caused a separation that had to be chased down. I asked him to please give me some space, and he said no, and I let myself get distracted. He made me very nervous and I had no idea what he was going to do so I slowed down. He finally backed off at 500 meters. Then when I finally sprinted I heard terrible crunching noises coming from my bike! I finished 5th and Sarah was 6th. I was not happy with this result. I did make an official complaint regarding the ref and as far as my bike, I had no idea what was going on.

Beverly (Chicago)
Very excited to race this course which has always been a part of the now defunct Superweek series in the past, but only for the men. Thanks Prairie State for having women there for the first time ever. This was the first of the NCC races, so there would be a bigger field with lots of strong teams there. On the way to the race, my car thermometer said 100 degrees. The hottest race of the year. Warming up, whenever I put any pressure on the pedals, I heard the terrible noises coming from my bike. So I went to Sram NRS and asked Jose to take a look. Sure enough my wheel was trashed. So he lent me a Sram wheel and I was good to go. The course is in the beautiful south side Beverly neighborhood and we got to ride by gorgeous homes and beautiful streets. Sarah’s husband Eric grew up very near the course and family friends had a party on the course. They cheered for us every lap. My friend (and PWP participant) Cathy was also racing and had a huge family contingent out cheering for her and I swear they cheered just as loudly for me too. There were also tons of other friends and PWP participants scattered throughout the course. It was really fun. When we got into the race, I could tell that the heat was having an effect on people, but I felt great! I was able to move around easily and go wherever I wanted. On the third lap I heard a crash, looked back and was so bummed to see it was Sarah. She got back in the race but ended up dropping out due to the heat. There were lots of primes in this race, including one donated by PWP’s Jen Welch, who grew up on the course and is a big supporter of the race. Thanks Jen!! The course was super cool with a slight up hill and then two semi sharp, fast downhill corners into the finish. I knew the winner needed to be first into the downhill. At one to go I was in perfect position, about 4th wheel. Kelly Fisher-Goodwin from Fearless Femme had gone for a late prime, gotten a gap and held it. The field was content to race for second. On the back stretch I attacked and got a gap. I’m sure part of it was not having the strength, but I think mostly it was lack of guts but I chickened out and slowed so I got passed right before the first sharp downhill corner. I’m not sure how many riders got in front of me before I was able to get in line, but I was still in good position when in the final corner the two riders ahead of me crashed! I had to dramatically slow, but stayed upright and was able to finish in 14th place. I was very happy! Teresa Cliff-Ryan won the field sprint so the Fearless Femme team went 1-2.

Elmhurst
Another 100 degree day, I was nervous about bringing the kids, but this was the only option for the day. My good friend and PWP participant Mary Roe had offered to watch them for me during the race. This is not the first time Mary has hung out with the kids while I raced. They have a lot of fun with her, and there is usually ice cream involved, and racing would simply not be possible without help like this. So a great big thank you to Mary! Sarah wasn’t able to get to this race, so once again I was solo. I wasn’t going to be able to get new wheels before the end of the series so Sram let me use theirs for the rest of the series, which made the difference between racing or not racing so another big thank you to Sram. I felt great the whole race where once again I could tell the heat was really getting to people. It came down to a field sprint and I was a little hesitant to fight for position, (as I write this I’m sensing a theme here…) but I sprinted for 14th and felt good about it. Laura Van Gilder won today.

My two kids hanging out with our good friends the Kittle’s who live in Elmhurst and came out to watch the racing

Lake Bluff
After two positive races in a row with no mechanicals or weird issues, I was looking forward to Lake Bluff. Sarah would be there, and I had raced this course last year and finished well. I knew that it was a tough course. It’s a great break away course because it’s very narrow with tight corners with the only wide part being the very long start/finish stretch which was slightly uphill. Every time through that long section felt like the finishing sprint to me, and I never felt like I was in good position. Also a factor, after the last couple 100 degree races today it was a chilly 86. All those people who had been affected by the heat were feeling much better so I think that was a factor for me. Not sure when it happened but I sadly found myself off the back. Sarah was there too and we started taking hard pulls and after a couple of laps we actually caught back on. Sarah was able to stay connected but I was almost immediately dropped, and stayed dropped this time. My only solace was that I wasn’t the first to go and I finished 23rd on the day though it really didn’t make me feel much better, and I earned no points. Erica Allar took the win out of a break of 6.

St. Charles
I was determined to end this series on a positive note. The race was also our state championship race, which meant that the title and a championship jersey would be awarded to the first rider from Illinois across the line. It’s always a fun thing to win, so I was going for it. The course was 4 corners of wide open road. The race seemed very slow, for which I was grateful. There were a couple of attacks, including a good one by Sarah. I was in front and could block, and she held it for almost two laps. When they caught her, it was on a prime lap, and she saw that I was near so after being solo for two laps she led me out for it! Unfortunately Pepper Palace was on my wheel and it turned out to be a better lead out for her. While I didn’t get the prime, it did establish a break of four. Unfortunately we did not have Pepper Palace’s sprinter with us, so we weren’t cohesive. It got exciting for a moment when the race leaders bridged up, and we had our original four along with Theresa Cliff-Ryan, Erica Allar, and Laura Van Gilder. But it didn’t stick, and soon we were reabsorbed. In the final lap I was in great position and got around the final corner with the leaders. I was able to avoid some mayhem and I didn’t stick around to find out, but I believe a rider may have gone down. Due to the mayhem, I didn’t have a good wheel to the line but I sprinted and finished 10th! Sarah finished right behind me in 12th, and I was the second Illinois rider to cross the line. My former teammate Jessi Prinner finished ahead of me. Jessi’s still an Illinois resident and a great sprinter in her own right, but she’s now a professional who rides in support of Erica Allar, the current NCC leader. Jessi got ahead of me while working for Erica, who won the race. For the series, I ended up 6th overall and though not the result I was hoping for I was very happy to end the series on a positive note, and that the series got great feedback and looks like it will be back next year bigger and better.

Illinois State Criterium Champion Podium l-r Me & Jessi Prinner

Nature Valley Pro Chase

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Nature Valley Pro Chase/Grand Prix race report
by Sarah Rice

I set my sights on Nature Valley as my season goal at the end of last season. It started on my 40th birthday. I wanted simply to complete it without getting cut, but nothing about my training or my racing performance indicated that I would qualify, much less do well. I said I wasn’t ready, and my coach agreed. But then I lucked out. I got the Nature Valley Pro Chase spot in the Quad Cities crit for a mediocre 13th place finish. There was only one other racer signed up for the Pro Chase and I beat her, so I was in. I remember feeling like I didn’t deserve it, but my little head-voice screamed: “You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you TAKE! Take the spot.” The Pro Chase team is special. Nature Valley doesn’t sponsor the best team, they sponsor amateurs who are likely to go pro. This is a really forward-thinking move for a sponsor, as sponsors usually like to see their teams out front. We went to training camp for 4 days before the race, all expenses paid. We rode with our teammates, met team manager Jenn Reither (captain of Vanderkitten), and learned everyone’s strengths on the bike. We learned how to take a “sticky bottle” from a car and how to talk to media and we discussed everything from saddle sores to sponsorship. Yes, I was encouraged to contact Frito-Lay and I probably will.

That was the end of the easy part. Nature Valley starts with a time trial where you have to hit 22 miles per hour… or you go home. That is followed by an NRC-level crit the same day, and you have to finish at least half of it without getting pulled… or you go home. Then there is a 93-mile road race, then another crit, an 84-mile hilly road race, and lastly a “crit” that starts 25 meters before a 22% grade hill. This is where amateurs go pro, where American pros get picked up to race in Europe, and where former Olympians go to see if they’ve still got it. Olympians.

Stage 1: St. Paul TT. I’d been TTing like a 40-year old professor, and it was not apparent from my Cal Park practice times that I would make the cut. The Nature Valley TT had a hairpin turn and it was hilly and rainy. I shook, thinking I’d have to ride my guts out. A TIBCO rider fell off the ramp and crashed 2 riders before me. Jenn told me to stay calm and went to help her. I took a few deep breaths, rode gingerly on the ramp, and then simply pushed as hard and fast as I could. 23.5 MPH, 49th place! Better than I or anyone else could have guessed. Kelli Richter, once frenemy now teammate was 3rd out of all cat2 racers, a stellar performance. Emily Georgeson was super-pro, she had a flat in the TT, flagged a moto to get it changed, and still made the time cut. We all made it.

Stage 2: St Paul crit. I was also scared of getting cut in the St. Paul crit, but I had the responsibility of protecting Kelli, my GC contender teammate. This was a job that I loved. It also really fired me up when the announcer gave me a 40th birthday shout-out on the start line! This is a pretty badass way to turn 40- at the start line of an NRC pro crit race! I loved it. I burned my matches up and didn’t worry about the cut- I just raced my bike, protecting my GC rider. There were 2 early crashes and I held up for Kelli to make sure she got around, then chased her back to the pack. I positioned to give her extra room in the turns. We made it through more than half the race, and I was having fun but felt like my legs were flat. I told Kelli I was popped and began to drop back. WOW it was hard to push my bike?! The front wheel crunched across the bad pavement in a weird way… what was going on? By the time I realized that I had a slow flat, free laps were over. I was pulled with 6 to go, and the 3:00 time penalty I received for being pulled ensured that I’d be mediocre in the GC all week. Darn, stupid mistake. I should have noticed it and gone to the pit. But at least Kelli and Anna were both still in there, and Emily had a stellar 13th place performance!

Stage 3: Cannon Falls Road Race. I was pleased to find that the pace in the 93-mile road race was sustainable. Our plan was to hide in the pack for most of it, then get Kelli on Anna’s wheel before the gravel section. Anna is a fast, confident gravel rider. The key was to eat and drink enough early on, and we took feeds from the car and Eric helped by handing up bottles in the feed zones. I had told the gals that my hubby was my secret weapon and they got to see him in action, giving me a very quick hand-up during a feed zone attack! About 40 miles in, there were 3 women off the front. The comm vehicle pulled us aside and told us that the motos had taken the leaders on a wrong turn, so they were going to stop us for a couple minutes, get the 3 leaders back on track 45 seconds in front, and then re-start us. What do you do when you’re stopped for 2 minutes during a 93-mile race? You pee. 70 women laid down their bikes and peed on the side of the road, in front of motos and cars full of cameras and judges and coaches and managers and god and everybody. We didn’t go into the grass—we had only 2 minutes and it was tick season. I broke my zipper putting my jersey back on and briefly panicked. A few gals gave me a safety pin off their numbers, I pinned my shirt together with 3 pins, and rode the whole rest of the race like that. The pace picked up before the gravel, and I was squeezing the field along with Kerrin and Emily, trying to make a lane for Kelli to get to Anna’s wheel. It was frustrating, we just couldn’t get her up there. The pace continued to pick up. I saw the gravel coming, looked back for Kelli, and couldn’t see where she was. I’d just have to get the best wheel I could. I found Kim Wells, the Aussie national champ. She was big and confident, and I predicted correctly that she’d be a great gravel rider. We tore through that section at a speed I never knew I could sustain. The finishing circuit was ridiculously fast, and I was outgunned. I burned everything I had trying to move up to block, because Anna was drilling it off the front! I never made it up there, and slipped back to finish at the back of the main pack in 43rd place. It was a thrill to be there just to see Anna’s gutsy move, even if I couldn’t protect her or counter it. After the race, my neighbor growing up, Dick Cooley, was near our tent. He made me a sculpture of a cyclist for my birthday. It was completely random and great to see him, and at the end of that crazy 93-mile road race I wondered if this was some sort of Dada-ist dream I was having? But no- he was in town for an art show, got stuck in race traffic, called Eric to see if this was my race, found out it was, and met me at the end. That was cool.

Stage 4: Minneapolis crit. Minneapolis would be the “easy” day. Big teams would protect their GC contenders and shut down strong moves to keep them fresh for Menomonie. Here we were told to be opportunistic if the opportunities came but first and foremost to make sure that Anna (now our GC leader) was comfortably in there. There were a lot of people cheering around all parts of the course, media coverage, etc. We zipped up our jerseys and paraded two-by-two to sign in, cameras everywhere. Gave pre-race interviews. Lined up for more photos. I heard someone yelling from inside an apartment “Sarah RICE! Sarah RICE!” What? It was Gant Luxton, the first grad student who I worked with at Northwestern. He saw me getting my picture taken and ran out and chatted with me during warm-up. Jenn told me to FOCUS (she’s right that I have an issue with this), but it was hard. I got excited and over-warmed up for the heat that day and for the miles I had in my legs. For the race I had my brother and sister-in-law Paul and Anaya near the start, Dick Cooley on turn 1, Gant on turn 2, and Lynn Keillor, the Directeur Sportif of Kristen Meshberg/Sarah Rice at Speed Week, on turn 3. Normally I don’t hear people cheering but I did in Minneapolis and it was great- Anaya’s “gosh!” followed by Cooley’s Wisconsin accent “Gooooh Syaraaahh”, Gant giggling “she’s doing WELL!”, and Lynnie’s “KINKYLINKER!” every lap. I concentrated on good corners and saving energy as my legs felt a little dead. In one corner I was going a little outside to inside while Mia Loquai of ISCORP was going a little inside to outside, and we locked up in the middle- full contact, handlebars, shoulders, hips all touching. While we took the corner like that I told her, “We’re OK, you’re a good rider, I’m a good rider, we’ll keep it up, see, GREAT!!” and we separated. WHEW. Close one. Later in the race, TIBCO had Shelley Olds off the front and the others were pinching the field in the final corner every lap to block. When I saw Carmen Small fail to break through their blockers, I thought this might not be the day to try to make something of it. Anna could win the amateur jersey if I helped in Menomonie, and she didn’t need help here. So every lap I positioned well mid-pack, lost a few wheels as the pace picked up before the last corner, and drove right back in there when TIBCO pinched. It was lame, but very easy. I was disappointed with my mid-pack 35th place finish, telling my coach and Jenn “but I didn’t race my bike!” as they insisted that I’d been smart. In retrospect, they were right. I rolled around with Mia a little after the race, apologizing for the lock-up. She said that was as much on her as me, and that my encouragement instead of the usual panicked cussing one gets helped her to keep it upright. The incident was a mistake, no doubt- we both took a bad corner. But with the right attitude you can make a friend while making a mistake. Good to know.

Stage 5: Menomonie Road Race. The Menomonie Road Race was 84 miles, windy for the first half and hilly for the second half. Jenn told me sternly, index finger out: “You’re the best draft. Keep Anna out of the wind. I don’t care- YOU don’t care- if you finish or not. Understand?” I nodded, happy to be good for something. Early on in the race I sat in and hid, and when Anna got pushed in the crosswind I got on her left side and shielded her. I communicated back to the others if she needed anything, and Emily and Kerrin and Caroline brought feeds and helped protect her too. Anna was energetic, which psyched all of us up. I’d tell her, “Save it. My nose in the wind, not yours, strong lady!”, while she thanked and encouraged me. Anna was really low-maintenance, a GREAT GC rider to work for! Being out in the wind was exhilarating. At one point I was left of Anna, then the TIBCO train was to my right protecting Shelley Olds, and Optum was echeloning to their right protecting Jade Wilcoxson and Bri Walle. Olympians and Olympic contenders. When the pace was chill I teased them that I wanted an autograph. Having worked a bit, I felt tired when we hit the hills and in this field I was a terrible climber. Many of these racers train in the mountains, so there was little question that I’d be very lucky just to hang on. I got gapped bad on the first big hill, along with teammates Kerrin Strevell, Kelli, Caroline Moakley, and a few other riders. Damn, I was supposed to protect Anna in the wind and now was gapped. Motos passed us. I had to get us back in there. For several miles I traded pulls with a couple strong riders in the wind, briefly drafting the motos where I could. Kerrin took strong pulls and a steady, fast lead on the downhills. Finally we managed to reattach to the pack. I sat in to regain energy. On the second big climb I managed not to get gapped off nearly as badly and reattached right away. Good. I was out of fluid and did not have energy to go back to the car. Emily gave me a bottle that probably saved my life. On the last few climbs I just hung on, feeling my legs, my heart and lungs, and my brain all giving out at once. There was satisfaction knowing that this was the absolute best I could do. Anna was just fine, in the lead pack. Just before the circuit they picked up the pace and I couldn’t hang on. I got split off with teammates Emily Georgeson and Caroline Moakley, a few other riders, and Mia Loquai. Mia was in the green amateur jersey and Anna was up in the front group, so we sat up and made Mia pull. Rest. But then Mia went down in the first corner of the finishing circuit. We picked up the pace again a little, just to make sure she was left alone. Anna would be in green! Emily and I finished the circuit by practicing a strong lead-out/finish- I led her out and she sprinted, and we did it perfectly. I ended up 44th.

Stage 6: Stillwater. After Menomonie I rolled out my legs for hours and drank lots of fluids (Recovery drink followed by chia and beet juice, these worked wonders). I felt OK, even though it was the day after the toughest race I’d ever done. Jenn commended us on Menomonie. Anna was in green. At Stillwater we wouldn’t be able to help her, so the goal would be to go for a decent finish. I was sitting at a respectable 38th overall. The start of Stillwater was about 25 meters from the base of a 22% grade hill. As I put my weight on my right side to get clipped in, the rider just in front of me on my left moved to her right a little. We overlapped wheels, my weight was awkward, and I went straight down on my butt. As I quickly got back on the bike to chase, I heard “3 Nature Valley down!” from the announcer and realized that teammates had gone down with me. I looked back, found one, pulled her through the false flat section and she took the next hill. We’d work together to survive. My bike was clicking on the uphills and I thought the derailleur hanger was bent, but it was shifting. On lap 3 just after the 22% grade I upshifted and the bike crunched. I thought I had dropped my chain and went to re-thread it, but my rear derailleur was in pieces. I shouldered the bike and ran down the hill to the pit. The official granted me a free lap and the pit guys asked my bike size and saddle to bottom bracket measurement. 51, 71. Jenn helped me stay calm, and they pushed me out on the pit bike. It was fine- a standard instead of a compact, bars were too wide, brakes were loose, but it was rideable and I felt comfortable being aggressive on it. I did only one lap before they pulled us. The group I got pulled with made 4 laps, the minimum for placement in the GC. I was officially listed as DNF and did not receive a GC placing for the entire series because of my free lap. I returned the pit bike and thanked the pit guys. They were silent. One of them pointed to Charlie’s cracked seat stay. They gave me a moment to cry and hold Charlie in the pit, and then zip-tied the broken derailleur to the broken seatstay. I limped out of the pit, crying and shouldering the bike. I wouldn’t have believed all this was real, but the searing pain of my tailbone bruise was FAR too real. I ran into the gal whose wheel I overlapped at the start and she gave me a hug and told me we’d be out there again soon. When I returned to the tent, I apologized to my teammates who I crashed out. They would not speak to me. It was certainly just temporary frustration on their part, but I had finally had more than I could take. I quickly packed up and left.

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There were two very big things that I would have done differently if I could repeat Nature Valley. First, after any crash, even a start line crash, you go to the pit right away. I am very lucky that in Stillwater my derailleur broke on the uphill and not the downhill where it would have sucked the chain at 40 MPH. I should have gone at St. Paul too, and from a technical perspective not going to the pit those 2 times is what cost me a respectable GC finish. Both times I wasn’t sure if I’d be granted a free lap, so I didn’t go. That’s the wrong way to think about it. If you are unsure about the pit, DO go. The point is to keep you safe. Second big mistake: I missed being on the podium with my team for Anna’s green jersey. I didn’t realize that they would do one and after being hurt, losing my GC placement, breaking my bike, and angering my teammates, I doubt that I would have been emotionally strong enough to stay for it. Perhaps given the state I was in it was the right thing not to cast shadows on Anna’s limelight, but I should have focused more on the series and less on the day.

Getting over Stillwater has been a process. For 3 days I couldn’t sleep and had no appetite because of the pain. Fixing Charlie may cost more than a new frame, and it will take a while. I’m grateful to Manuel and my coach for genuine advice and help with that. Being knocked out of the GC bothered me at first, but there’s no finisher’s medal in cycling. Our goal was to get Anna in green and we did that. The placing doesn’t matter. What matters is that I carried myself well and was useful throughout the series, at least until Stillwater.

The point of the Nature Valley Pro Chase is to teach you how to be a pro. I learned that anyone can do it, because the difference between an amateur and a pro is simply that a pro acts like a pro. Strength and smarts don’t matter as much as resiliency, guts, and positive attitude towards yourself and towards others. In that respect, I’m proud to be a pro on a VERY pro team. Go Spidermonkey! Caw-caaaw!

Cherry-Roubaix

Kristen on the podium
by Sarah Rice
Saturday’s Crit Race
Cherry-Roubaix, Michigan’s state road race championship series, is in Traverse City, 6 hours from Chicago. Kristen and I decided to go for it and everything fell into place for us to race together for the first time since May. I knew I’d be rusty. I hadn’t raced at all since late June. I took some rest time in early July, then split my workouts between swimming, TT biking, running, road biking, track, and yoga/weightlifting. Aside from the lack of focus, my hips were nagging me with aches.
When you don’t race, you don’t fight for wheels and you don’t take screaming hard corners (it’s kinda frowned upon during group rides, and a bad idea when cars are around). This left me way out of practice. I was actually sipping my water bottle when the whistle blew, it was THAT bad. Crappy start. Lost 5 wheels on the first turn, 5 more on the second turn. Kristen was out front, it was time to counter but I was way back. I panicked on the turn off the brick section and lost more spots. No one would let me in. Disaster. Throwing up in my mouth. Trying to regain position from the very back of the pack- fighting for a couple spots. Oh no- a move up front. Gotta get up there!!! Another move! The pack split a few wheels in front of me on lap 3. Gun it, get up there!!! But two more moves, and they rode away.
I looked up, looked back. About half of us were left back here. I rested in a bit, gunned it again, trying to draw up anyone strong that hadn’t thrown in the towel to try to catch the front group. No one took the bait. We had a 60-mile road race the next day, and it was on everyone’s mind. This was frustrating, 3 laps and I was shelled out, stuck towing weak, negative riders around the course. They called a merch prime for our field. I took it, no contest. A t-shirt and socks. 25 minutes left, so what else could I do? Practice. Scream through the corners. Sit up. Pick a wheel, DEMAND that wheel. Get that wheel. Sit on it for a minute, then attack the crap out of it. Ride safe, ride steady, but ride like a total jerk. Race my bike.
I was hoping to keep the pace hot enough that we wouldn’t get lapped, since the only thing I could do to screw up worse would be to interfere with Mesh’s sprint. The officials should have pulled us a lap early but they didn’t, and we got caught on the final sprint, in the final turn. It was chaos. A rider from the front pack sprinted around on the right, others, including Mesh, on the left. I froze in the middle, looked over my shoulder, got to the far right when it was safe, and grannied it in. People from both the front pack and my pack passed me in a mob. I didn’t care, my race ended ages ago. I was terrified of crashing out in this mess. So I crossed the finish line at a crawl, doing the slit-throat hand signal to let the officials know I wasn’t with the front group. Worst. Crit. Ever.
Kristen got 3rd and a prime, which was awesome in that field. The results were contested for a long time and I have no idea why or how I ended up in the money. Then in the P/1/2 mens race one of two guys in a break got hit by the pace car?! Ugh, maybe our race wasn’t so terrible.
I spent half the night crucifying myself for being such a sissy those first 3 laps. The thoughts went: “I should be writing an R01 grant/my bike handling isn’t good enough/I’m too old to race/maybe I’d be a better scientist if that’s all I did/but wait I tried that and went crazy/maybe I am just crazy and that’s my problem and this is my “drug”/it’s better than real drugs/not when I race like shit/but I don’t always race like shit/but maybe now that I am a cat 2 I do race like shit, it’s a curse/Have I given up without even realizing it?” It was bad. Real bad.
[[[Added note: I was jacked up on hormones and bugs– it was PMS + the beginning of a case of strep throat. Those thoughts are kind of funny to me now.]]]
Sunday’s Road Race
 
We woke up the next day and drove to the road race start. 4 porta-potties were not enough. People passed around tissue, paper towels, etc. making the best of a difficult situation. One thing I like about bike racers is that they are good at that.
The race started at a solid pace. Mesh and I sat in for the first 10 miles or so, on hilly rolling terrain. There was a crash on the first lap, an Einstein rider. Her teammates shut things down up front till she rejoined, and no one attacked. I thought about it, but they were not the team to piss off 10 miles into a 60-mile race.
A couple hills later, the Einstein riders grouped at the front. Oh-oh. I was chilling mid-pack, Kristen was back further. I started to move up, but not soon enough. They did a beautiful attack-counter-counter-counter move, perfectly orchestrated and just pounded it up a steep hill. I was gapped, but not too bad, most of the pack behind. Kristen wasn’t feeling it, and had told me just to go. I blasted it, TTing downhill, then into the wind to catch them. They were just out of reach… and remained just out of reach for a frustrating 6 miles or so before I decided I needed help. Three riders were in sight behind me. I sat up, hoping they’d be motivated to catch the break.
Not so. They were Liz So and Jannette Rho from LPV, and Alisha from Michigan. Cady Chintis (also LPV) was in the break. Liz and Jannette were half-blocking, half trying to catch on when I joined them. I wanted to keep the pace animated so that we could catch on, but I was really dead. I should have sat up sooner on that solo effort, then maybe I could have done something. But I sat on Liz’s wheel gasping for breath, hoping that they wouldn’t leave me behind. One coordinated attack from the two LPV gals would easily have finished me off. Fortunately, Liz and Jannette were great. They let me skip 2 pulls and encouraged me to stay on, saying they could use me. They were right. After they towed me up the hills, there were wicked headwinds. I can barrel through those, and took my pulls to earn my keep, secretly in my head begging them not to drop me. We hit the hills again, and Alisha dropped her chain. She wasn’t working, so we left her. I was sure to take my pulls. We found a rhythm, working together, no one else in sight. Jannette was taking fewer pulls than me and Liz, but that was to be expected. Eventually, I was sure that Liz would lead her out against me. Eventually the coordinated attack would come. I wanted to stave it off as long as possible by being useful.
About 10 miles into the last lap, Jannette took off. It was the attack I’d been dreading, but she was headed solo into a very windy section. I found some energy out of nowhere, motivated by the opportunity this presented. I’d get rid of Liz and make Jannette work. First, I let Jannette go and slid behind Liz’s wheel, till we were about 100 meters back from Jannette. Liz knew better than to go hard against her own teammate. I went back about 10 feet from Liz and played dead. Liz looked back, then looked forward, keeping a steady (but tired!) pace. Then I shot the 10-foot gap, accelerated into and around Liz’s draft, and went hard so that she couldn’t jump on my wheel. I closed about 70 meters of the gap to Jannette. Liz was going backwards. We were still headed into the wind, where Jannette and Liz were working much harder than I was. I eased up and let Jannette take the pain alone for several minutes before fully closing the gap. Liz was almost out of sight. I caught Jannette on an uphill after the wind, stayed on her wheel till the downhill, then blasted it down, up, and down the next hill in front just to make sure Liz was gone.
Jannette and I rode and worked together after that like the attack had never happened. We encouraged each other, as both of us were cramping up and wanted the race to end. A muscle I didn’t know I had in my pelvic floor cramped badly with about 4 miles to go. I broke down crying with the pain. Jannette was in rough shape too. We worked it up the final hill and then I tried the same trick I did with Liz, about 400 yards from the finish. Slide back 10 feet, shoot the gap. I gapped Jannette hard, then looked for the finish. Where was it?! Pain like I had never had before. Turns out I was about 800 yards out, not 400. I stood up, trying to sprint, then crashed back onto the saddle, screaming and crying. My pelvis felt like it was going to split in half. I had to use my hands to hold my line because my hips were useless. Jannette was right there at the finish. I thought she got me at the line, but the results said she didn’t. Neither of us could see straight to tell, but we were both pretty happy with how we did, all things considered. We got 7th and 8th.
I really loved having a weekend when I could finally race with Kristen, and ended up riding strong with old teammates and friends from LPV. I also love to see teams like Einstein that are 5 and 7 deep in the P/1/2 womens field and can throw down tactics like they did. Racing-wise, it was an ugly weekend but it left me confident.

The Ghost Of O’Fallon

All photos by Brian Keller

by Sarah Rice

Like everyone else who raced the Tour of Galena, I came away thinking it was a terrific, tough, and humbling race series. I enumerated my mistakes to Kristen Meshberg: “Corners are a touch tentative. I still think about the facial fractures… On the TT I was just sloppy. At the crit… I got demoralized and made more mental mistakes… Ugh.” Those Galena mistakes haunted me like ghosts. But in bike racing you can always line up and try again next week, and depend on the camaraderie and hospitality of others to get you to the next start line. Sue Wellinghoff’s parents offered us a place to stay, so I packed up the car with two xXx riders, Bill Barnes and Sandra Samman, and headed down to the O’Fallon Grand Prix.

First stop: Time trial. The keys to success are precision and pacing. I dialed in the new TT bike till it was perfect, looked up the course, the wind, and the heat, and figured it should take me about 35 minutes. But even after the 5 ½ hour drive that day, I came in 34:06, very fast, very smooth. I blew up and threw up right at the end. Well done! Galena ghost #1 exorcised.

After having stomach cramps and vomiting at Galena and at the O’Fallon time trial, I thought maybe I had a problem with HEED. So I decided to try out a home-brew race beverage. Here’s the recipe:

3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon agave nectar
2 teaspoons salt
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon lite salt

Makes 1 gallon.

This is approximately the World Health Organization’s rehydration beverage for adults with cholera. Be aware of 2 things. #1, it tastes crappy and #2, you must NOT overdo the baking soda. Baking soda is a laxative in slightly larger amounts than is in this beverage. Try it on a group ride first, and I don’t mean Judson.

I made a gallon of home-brew, and froze two bottles of water solid for my back. The next day Bill and I were driving to the races and the car got a flat tire. Bill put the little donut tire on the car and we drove 50 miles to the race at 45 MPH with our hazard lights on, just missing the conclusion of the W4’s race. I admit, I was surprised to see a smiling Vanessa Bucella wearing the State Champion jersey. She and Half Acre teammates Annie Byrne and Erica Gaddy worked extremely well as a team, and they were smart and let others pull for most of the race. I took mental notes: one can take advantage of being underestimated. Go Lil V!

I was also pleased to see a lot of day-of registrants in the Womens Open race! We had about 12 riders, including a very strong Cat1 (Jenna) from California! It was 95° at high noon for the start of our 60-mile, 3-lap road race. Right before the race, I got my jersey and hair soaking wet. I put one of the ice bottles in my rear pocket, and had two bottles of home-brew on the bike. Lap 1 was chill. I ate half a clif bar, wet my head and mouth with ice water, and downed a bottle of home-brew. No tummy issues, and despite the heat I was sitting in and feeling great! THANKS, xXx riders Sue Wellinghoff and Sandra Samman for feeding me. On the first hill of Lap 2, Jeannie Kuhajek threw down a good attack. I countered into the wind. Cali Cat 1 Jenna followed suit. It split off all but 5 riders, me, Jeannie, Jenna, and two others. We worked to create a gap. I looked back, and two other riders were a pull away from us. I yelled up to tell the others. We had a snippy little gal on the front taking a very weak pull—her first. As she rotated to the back, she said “you can’t yell at people to go harder from the back!” So I said I’d do it from the front then, pulled out of line, and attacked. Not super-hard, just enough to punish Snippy and intensify the pace to make sure those riders didn’t catch on. By the second hill of Lap 2, I was sick of Snippy and this squirrely triathlete, so I mimicked Jeannie’s attack. Jeannie countered into the wind this time. Jenna went, then I went again. The three of us formed a tight paceline and said goodbye. It stayed like that for most of lap 3. About 5 miles from the finish, Jeannie and Jenna fell off a bit. I had maybe a 5-second gap, so I punched it a little. 10 seconds. Harder! I settled into a fast TT pace. I looked back, they were sitting up a bit. I COULD WIN THIS THING! But they were just baiting me. They caught back on and both of them attacked at the next (last) hill. I fried my legs to close the gap. Jeannie had been smarter than me. She had only attacked twice. I hate when out-of-staters win our state championships. So I whispered to Jeannie that I’d lead her out. I really would have, and I think I could have led her to a win. But Jeannie jumped early with 1200 yards to go and then Jenna jumped. We were too far out, and way out of position for a 2 on 1 Illinois leadout, so I sat up. Jenna won, then Jeannie, then me. Boo. A disappointing finish, but I was pleased that my attacks were effective. I was also pleased that I had fared very well in the heat. Galena Ghost #2 exorcised.


The final sprint of the O’Fallon crit

The heat on the road race had been so intense, it melted tar on the road. My tires were really screwed up by it- in fact, there was a gash in my rear tire that I did not notice till the crit on the next day. Dave from Chicago Velo Campus fixed it with Shoe Goo. I practiced cornering on my shoe goo tire a little ways from the course, round and round, smooth, in the drops, at speed. I didn’t feel the repair. In fact, the cornering felt PERFECT. Too bad only a few riders were signed up for the crit…

But when I got back to the course I saw lots of strong gals warming up! Jenna was still in town, Jeannie was there, several Missouri riders, I was counting, 10, 11, 12… and then I saw a woman in red, riding a bike while carrying another bike on her shoulder. Wow, it was Carrie Cash! The race did not disappoint. It was a white-knuckle, foaming-at-the-mouth, attack fest on a technical course with 10 turns. It felt like a roller coaster ride. I’ve never cornered that fast, and only had about 3 bad ones the whole race (for me this is kind of incredible). Galena Ghost #3 exorcised!

I tried to maintain good position, 5-ish wheels back, while Carrie, Jeannie, and Jenna beat each other up at the front. I remembered Lil’ V’s win and and devised a strategy. On the last lap, I’d go early and hard, take my own path FAST through the last few sketchy turns, then just blast it and try to hang on. Someone would have to ruin her sprint to catch me, no one would want to. Maybe no one would. I punched it, hard. No one followed. Gunned through the sketchy turns. All out sprint! I COULD WIN THIS THING! But no. I got caught, it turned into a huge bunch sprint, and 5 of us crossed the line within a bike length of each other, 3 others just behind. 5th place. It was a good move, but the timing was not quite perfect. Last night I kept playing it over and over in my head, thinking if I had gone a second earlier and a touch harder… haunted by the ghost of O’Fallon.

Hillsboro-Roubiax Race Report

Photo by Elizabeth Rangel

by PJ Cavoto

Hillsboro-Roubiax; Though far, worth the trip.  Being the only Spidermonkey in the Cat 5 race I decided to work with our old teammate Paul Halupka (Team Tati).  The conditions were rough with thunder storms all night and morning long.  The fields were not full and even rumors that entire teams turned around and went home (Iowa team left hotel for home).  It rained during much of the race and combined with the puddles on the road more spray was going up then down.  Potholes that were marked with paint were hard to spot being overfilled with water which caused quite a few flats for folks.

My race went well, I stayed near the front and maintained positioning in the top ten.  Around mile 13, a downhill with a sweeping left presented me an opportunity to attack the Vision Quest Team who had been trying to control the race.  It worked so well that my distance off the front was huge and in hindsight I should have tried to of made it stick.  But my limited knowledge told me I have 15 miles left in the race and a huge climb into town with more then a mile finish on cobbles.  After two miles of hammering I decided to sit up and let the pack come back to me.  It took another two miles for them to reach me at my super conservative pace.  Again the rain might had favored my break, but I knew Paul was in the pack and wouldn’t have let me get away. 

The course was narrow and had many rolling hills and turns that made for exciting racing.  Coming into town we got caught by the Cat 123 racers and confusion was created as to what we were allowed to do.  Our pace car tried to tell us we couldn’t follow that pack, but several guys tried to latch on and everyone just had to go for it.  The other race was only on lap one and later pulled over to allow our race to finish.  Note to future racers, the hill coming into town is a big grade with a screaming downhill that transitions you right onto the cobbles at almost 35mph.  You have to complete two turns on the cobbles before transitioning off and sprinting on asphalt for the line.  You will need to reserve some energy for these finishing stretches.  With my break and working too much on the front of the pack, I didn’t leave enough in the tank to finish hard.  Just as well, Paul and two other guys tangled and crashed right in front of the finish line resulting in three other guys racing by for podium positions.  I ended up placing very well, 14th.  I would certainly like to go back and do it again as a Cat 4 (two 28.75 mile laps)!
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