Category: Crit (page 2 of 4)

Nature Valley Pro Chase


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.


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!

Glencoe Grand Prix

Photo by our own Mark Zalewski
See another awesome photo here

by Sarah Rice

Where to begin?

At the start line. The women 3/4 s race was cancelled and we were delayed a long time due to a horrendous crash. The news from my friend Debra Sunderland who went down was not good. I said prayers for her while the local high school band played the star spangled banner against a cacophony of pro women letting air out of their tires. The sky grew darker and darker.

On the course. The rain was so heavy we could not see. I could hear raucous cheering from my Spidermonkey teammates and local racers, and it really fired me up to keep moving up and race well. I memorized the locations of the manhole covers, the best lines, and the places where the water was deep. When I rode through the “lake” at the bottom of the course, I’d downshift 3 gears and stand up out of it to regain lost momentum. With 8 to go, I saw Starla Teddergreen from Vanderkitten taking a hot outside line, thinking, hey that looks like a good move! The crunch as her helmet hit the curb made me vomit on my thigh, and I inadvertently let a gap open up. A gal yelled at me to close it. I did.

Neutralized. I knew it would happen after Starla’s crash. I was about 10 wheels back, in decent position. I blew my nose and spat on my glasses to defog them- an old swimmer trick-while we waited. We’d have only a 3 lap race after the restart, so my start would be critical. Clipped in-BAM- YES! But then Christina Gokey-Smith mis-clipped and ran into me, forcing me to clip out and lose my awesome start. I cussed, then said let’s chase back on together. We did. I laughed at myself a little for cussing out one of the best female bike racers in history.

Shoulda gambled. I spent the first 2 laps after the restart gunning it to gain position. They called a $200 second last lap “gambler prime”, and I had a good shot. I decided to tuck in ~4th wheel instead of burning all my matches to take it. I went through corner 1 in great position, then ran out of gas. Lost ~15 spots to finish 20th.

WHY. Why do I do this? Why do I risk losing everything I have, and everything I am, for this? I stared at the ceiling in the middle of the night after Glencoe asking why, as did every woman who raced it this year (except one…). I held my husband Eric and my cat Annie on either side. Eric felt warm and he smelled good. He was snoring a little. I stroked Annie’s fur. She purred. I do this because days like Saturday make me grateful for all that I have and all that I am.

Thank you. To Eric, to Annie, to my wonderful Spidermonkey teammates (especially Kristen Meshberg, who was in the same race, and who has taught me how to be brave and optimistic time and again), to the- no- to MY Chicago bike racing community, to my lab members, colleagues, family, and friends. I love my insane, intense life and I am grateful that you are part of it.

My Glencoe Grand Prix trading card. This is my “naughty face”—When I was a kid I’d make that face before I cut loose and misbehaved without fear of repercussion (see below).


Word is that all ladies who had crashes during Saturday’s races are healing well. Debra is making good progress toward recovery. Please keep her in your thoughts as I am.

Race report: Lincoln Park, Cobb Park

by Ann Marie Martens

Lincoln Park Crit

It was the night before my first crit and my nerves were on fire. Sleep was restless and my cat was no help as she decided to work on her sprints at 1am, by the way her cornering was top notch. The following day Lindsey Fahey picked me up from work and we headed to Montrose Harbor for the Lincoln Park Crit, the one with the dreaded/intimidating hairpin turn. All I could think was “$#!T, I can do this turn fine on my own but in a pack yikes!” and “why did I pick this race to be my first?”

Lincoln Ladies: Start of the Women’s 4 Race at Lincoln Park

Needless to say I got dropped from the front group early on in the race, though I knew Kelly Clarke and Lauren Wissman were representing us well in main pack. Soon after being dropped I found another teammate Katie Kolon and we started working together and picked up a couple more ladies including our other teammate Michelle Moore.

Around and around we went and eventually our group was given a prime lap. Thinking to myself “riding with this group is great but come on we are not going to catch the main pack so I might as well see what my sprint is like and try for the prime.” Well it needs improvement, as I was around three feet shy from getting the prime and I was also on my hoods.

Worn out from that attempt I worried that I might have spent my energy but soon discovered there was more left so I hopped on a wheel and kept peddling away. As we were nearing the start/finish line for what I thought would be the start of our last lap the main group was coming up sprinting for the finish line swallowing us whole. Not realizing that being swallowed up meant that the group I was riding with was also done; I just kept riding the extra lap as though I was still in the race.

Haha, newbie mistake and believe me I am full of those but how else are you gonna learn. After we stopped pedaling and found our other teammates, the best cheering squad, I was asked what do you think of crit racing? My immediate response was “I LOVE IT!!! And I can’t wait for the next one.”

Ann Marie sprinting with Annette Stahelin for a prime

FYI, we had 8 ladies representing us at Lincoln Park in the Women’s Cat 4, including two of our newest members Emily Beswick and Kirsten Swanson. As Katie Isermann would say, and I agree, “I’m soo EXCITED!”


A couple of weeks later, Katie Kolon and I headed down to Kankakee, IL with Peter Monko for the Cobb Park Crit. When we arrived we found a few other teammates and chatted with them while trying to collect our nerves. We found out that Lucas Seibel took 2nd in the Men’s Cat 5. Way to go Lucas!

So I’m at the starting line of my second race thinking to my self that I need to try and stay with the main pack. Soon the whistle was blown and DAMN! the girl directly in front of me couldn’t get clipped in and cut me off so I found myself towards the back of the pack, not where I wanted to be.

As I was trying to get closer to the main group, the girl in front of me was being really squirrelly and not keeping a decent pace. Each time I tried to get around her to get away she would whip back around and cut me off again. This yoyo effect is what eventually got me cut off from the main pack and I was not happy about it.

Soon I found Katie again and we started working together. We eventually formed a group of about five members including Niki Nation from the Proctor Cycling Team, a XXX lady, and one from PSIMET. We definitely did not work all that well with one another, as there was a lack of communication. Katie, Niki, and I did the majority of the pulling.

Towards the end of the race Niki decided to speak up and give some much needed pointers to our group as a whole. With about 2-3 laps left our group was caught by the main pack so we all jumped onto the backend of them. Now with many more riders amongst us I knew I needed to keep track of where my original group members were, especially when it came down to the last lap. Knowing that three of the ladies were behind me, I could see Niki ahead of me so I made it my goal to get on her wheel, which I eventually did.

As we were taking our very last turn I could hear her changing her gears and decided to mimic what she was doing. Once we were on more of a straightaway I swung out from behind her and started my sprint, this time in my drops. She had me by a hair but it was definitely fun going for it. I ended up placing 16/22 for my second race. This course was an absolute blast and I look forward to racing it again.

Race intensity captured by Ed White

With two races down with so much more to learn, I figure the only way I can get any better at this racing thing is just to do more. This is gonna be fun!

Post-race story swapping with Lauren Wissman

Gapers Block

by Lindsey Fahey

Gapers Block – Day 2

It was FINALLY here, Gapers Block, the newby race, my EPIC CRIT RACING DEBUT!!!!  I was so excited……….until I woke up Sunday night with a fever. Monday I was coughing, felt off and tired so after a few hours spent agonizing over what to do I decided not to race.   I tucked in early Monday and woke up promptly at 4:30 am, all ready to go and unable to go back to sleep.  No fever this time though, so I packed my bike carefully in my car, quadruple checked my bag of stuff (I had everything FOR SURE) and drove down to work early and counted down until 4:45 PM. I finally bolted from my desk and changed into my kit at work………only to discover I had forgotten a major article of clothing.  NO SPORTS BRA??!?!? You moron, I told myself.  WHAT WILL YOU DO????   YOU CAN’T RACE YOUR EPIC FIRST RACE WITHOUT A SPORTS BRA!??!?!   Relax I told myself, sure you can, you have 18 layers on and bib shorts, get your ass down there.

Starting Line

I made my way down to Calumet Park sports braless and a bundle of nerves and reviewed my goals, in descending order of importance:

1.  Don’t break bike

2.  Don’t kill self

3.  Don’t do anything horribly embarrassing

4. Stay upright, if possible

5. Stay with pack for 1 lap

6. Do whatever Kelly Clarke does (but let’s be real,  you should probably just focus on goals 1 & 2)

Ok, I could do this.   I picked up my number and went to the bathroom in the field house and pinned it on next to a radiator. Great idea, I warmed up my jersey and my gloves!  All toasty I headed to warm up with Katie.  After a while we went to take our practice laps, Kristen Meshberg was there and was nice enough to take my laps with me (THANK YOU SO MUCH!!)  She gave me a few pointers and basically made me feel at ease since at this point I was thinking I was a little crazy to try this and maybe I should spectate a girls crit first.   We came around and people were lining up.  Here goes nothing, I thought, 1 lap you can do it!!!   I parked behind someone who looked like they wouldn’t set me up for failing at Goals 1 and/or 2 (see above) and waited to go.  Soon we were off………I somehow clipped in ok, and  then settled on the wheel in front of me, waiting for the blazing pace to set in………….and waited.  Before I knew it we were around the course.  Ummmmm what was this???? I was in the middle of the pack with Goals 1,2,3,4 AND 5 so far accomplished, in fact I could surge to the front if I wanted.  Ok self, that was pretty baller, I thought, one more time around, you can do it!!!!

I kept going around and around, still not falling off (or over!).  This is odd I kept telling myself, what is happening??? How am I not dropped??  Kelly kept saying great job Lindsey, way to go as she came near me at times (I seemed to be accomplishing Goal 6 as well!)  This is fun, I thought, I don’t know what the hell is going on, but I can swoop in and out of these corners and hang just fine.  Bring it race!!!!  Lets DO THIS!  I remember coming out of the last corner before the line with Katie and Kelly at once point and thinking how badass we looked coming around all together, oh yeah Spidermonkey ladies, look at us!!!!  I was on the inside zipping along having a grand old time.  Kelly rolled back and was like LINDSEY GET ON A WHEEL!   I was like huh??? OH I guess I’m all alone out here………Focus on Goal 6 self! (and don’t forget 1 & 2!!) ……..  I grabbed Kelly’s wheel and kept going.

Three laps to go, I realized the error in my ways.  It seems Crit racing is really easy until it got really hard.  I struggled along until the last lap, head down, holding on with all my might.  In the back stretch I got distracted for a moment, thinking about what a mess the girl’s hair in front of me was..…how it was kind of funny how I wasn’t sure if I was shifting up or down since my hands were so numb……ooopsies wrong way, silly hands……and bam, the pack surged, fluffy hair didn’t and I was gapped off………so fast!!! I tried to sprint back on but couldn’t get back to the pack.  I zipped through the final corner for good measure and finished 18th.   I was quite pleased with myself for hanging on the entire time until the very end but pissed it was all for naught when I got gapped off the back when it counted.   I took my cool out lap and the one girl told me she was glad there were not as many squirrely new people out there.  I smiled and was glad she thought I was NOT a squirrely new person.  I got off my bike and changed and then went to congratulate everyone, getting distracted by some cute dogs in the process, and didn’t check the results.  Fearsome competitor right here, I actually didn’t find out where I finished until the next day (no dog petting next time). My impending sickness took me down the rest of the week, but I am excited to get out there a few more times this season!

Overall trying racing was a great experience and I’d recommend it to anyone (as long as you aren’t squirrely).  Thank you for all the support, Spidermonkeys, and thank you for going out there with me Kelly, Katie, Lauren (and Michelle on Thursday!).  Great job ladies!!!

The Gateway Cup

by Sarah Rice
The Gateway Cup races are a set of 4 fast crits, attended by regional and national racers in St. Louis. They’re some of KMesh’s favorite races ever. While we drove down, she told me that Joe Berenyi won gold and set a new world record on the track. That gave us great positive energy.

Day 1: Lafayette Park

This was a nighttime crit in the remnants of Hurricane Isaac. Deep rivers of rainfall were running in the corners of the course toward the sewers. We could barely see. I was racing my brand new Psimet carbon tubulars and this time as a new cat 2, I lined up with household name pro riders from at least 12 different states. I wasn’t intimidated (yo, my teammate is a household name too!) and all the gals were super-nice. I was proud to see a Spidermonkey team presence in a real pro race- YEAH! I lined up right next to Laura Van Gilder. I tried to stay calm and focused, but I was shaking so hard at the start line, I could barely stay up.

At the whistle my first thought was “Get Van Gilder’s wheel NOW.” And I did! In a smallish field of strong riders, everyone attacks the start and we all did, in a furious mob. I tried to maintain decent position toward the front and was a bit surprised to find that I could do that. Mesh threw in a little attack and others did too here and there, but everything was getting reabsorbed. Then she threw in a big one. I went hard to get towards the front few spots, and heard a voice “Don’t chase down your own teammate!” – from Laura Van Gilder. I was trying to get in a good position and went too hard, too early. I should have waited about 10 seconds and let Mesh get more distance before going toward the front, because others saw me positioning and immediately shut Mesh down. I rode the group up to Mesh, embarrassed at my mistake. Then I did the right thing and countered hard, but no one countered my counter and the field was on my butt. Boo.

I was barely hanging on for the last several laps. On the final lap (THANK…GOD…) I had lost a lot of spots and was looking for a way up and not finding it. Then there was a crash right in front of me on the inside of corner 3. I instinctively went hard inside, heading straight for the corner. There was maybe a 4-inch gap between the crash and the curb, and I threaded the needle, pitched the bike back out of the corner toward the course, and took off in a full sprint toward the front group of riders. My chest felt like it was going to explode. I only caught one rider in that group and finished 17th. Mesh flatted with 3 to go. Tough luck.

After the race Laura Van Gilder talked to me about strategy between two teammates and timing for getting in position when your teammate attacks, etc. I was thrilled to get an indepth, on the fly lesson on strategy from her, and told myself I’d get better at this. To give you an idea of how poor the conditions were out there- Mesh won a prime on that first little attack, and she had no idea till we went to get my 17th place payout. Surprise $$ was a great way to end the day

Day 2: Francis Park

It was drying up as Kristen and I warmed up, but while we were on the start line listening to the instructions, the torrential rain hit again, very suddenly. The start was a little uphill and as we took off I could actually see rain water flowing in a little river down the hill, right underneath my tire. Yikes. There was a real opportunity there if someone had had the guts to do a hard start-line attack, but no one did.

This was a difficult race for Mesh, as she lost a tooth in a crash there last year. She said nothing about it- champions don’t whine- and she rode with more and more confidence and ease as the race progressed. I felt fantastic. The new wheels stuck the corners and I was 100% confident despite the rain. They called a $100 prime and I wasn’t quite in position for it, but Lindsay Durst from IScorp was. Another strong rider or two went with her to fight it out. A break with them could stick, so I attacked right after the prime. Lindsay caught my wheel and took a pull. I rested for a corner, then went on the front again, hard. Took a peek back and… I was all alone, with the field right there behind me. Damn, what happened? Oh well. I tucked back in and rested for a few laps. KMesh took a long pull off the front and I wanted others to give her a break, so I attacked a little just to make them work, and once other people were on the front I backed off. Tucked back in. I still felt good, and the laps were going by quickly.

Carrie Cash went off the front solo with around 8 to go, and the field was letting her dangle. I realized we’d catch her on the leg before the uphill with about 2 to go. When the pack absorbs a strong rider like that off the front, things can slow up. So when we caught her and the pace slowed, I took a good, fast line into the uphill section and blasted it, all out attack with 1.5 to go. No one chased. I had a gap and maintained it through the start-finish line. The announcer said my name! I rounded turn 1 on the final lap and peered back to see a wall of mellow mushrooms and vanderkittens bearing down on me. Stood up to try to hold them off, but I was getting tunnel vision. This move wasn’t going to work. I got swallowed up and found a wheel, very tired. At the end of the race I saw Kristen go by, and I briefly caught her wheel and rode it up past a couple other riders for 20th. Last. Spot. In. The. Money. KMesh was 18th. Not the best result for us, but in a way it was—KMesh exorcised a demon by racing confidently on that course again, and I had clearly found my nerve. My attacks weren’t smart, but they were smart. Kelly Clarke told me one Gapers Block race that she needed to feel what it was like being on the front, and what it was like being off the front. I did that at St. Francis. I probably could have done better if I had sat in, but I wouldn’t trade anything for the experience.

Day 3: Giro della Montagna

This was the signature crit of the series. It was in a little Italian neighborhood with tons of fans watching and cheering. There were narrow streets and a little grinder of a hill. It was dry at the start, and there was a little sprinkle of rain as we raced, but nothing like the previous two days. Because of the narrow roads, positioning yourself within the pack was key. This is something I definitely want to work on next year. I drifted backwards, then attacked up, then drifted back, and it used a lot of energy. I couldn’t find a rhythm, and the little critic inside my head was buzzing. “Seriously, are you a cat4 still?/Look I WAS cat4 a year ago, cut me some slack/GEEZ the cornering in cat4 wasn’t this bad/if you don’t like it get up front/I don’t think I can/You were yesterday! GET UP THERE!” Etc. There was dialogue with my tummy too. With double-digit laps left I was starting to heave and throw up. This was ugly.

Mesh attacked the field hard and got a gap! But just after she blazed across the start-finish line, they rang the bell for a $200 prime. She went even harder, with Jannette Rho on her wheel. Then EVEN HARDER, and Kristen LaSasso bridged to her (YES! She could take the prime AND the race!). I sat in, heeding Laura Van Gilder’s advice. LaSasso took a pull! This was awesome! But then the field unleashed a furious counter, Diana Ferrera pipped Mesh at the line for the prime, and I saw Mesh going backwards as I crossed the start-finish line mid-pack. She was done.

A couple laps later, Vanessa Drigo and Laura Van Gilder took off together and gapped the field hard. Everyone was pretty resigned to let them go. Boo. I wanted to attack and get people fired up to go get them, but I was nauseous. I found wheels, moved up, up, up, little by little, and was around 6th or 7th wheel from about 6 to go till about 2 to go. I seriously wanted to drop out and couldn’t because my position was too good. On the final lap I ran over a water bottle in the street, and lost spots on the hill. But I did sprint, and got 3 riders at the very end to finish 17th again.

Day 4: Benton Park

This would be our last crit of the season. KMesh said nonchalantly, “I’m gonna win today”. The weather was drying up, but there were still occasional annoying spots of rain. The course was a twisty figure-8 with a few windy straightaways, the kind of course where Mesh and I tended to do well. Jason Meshberg advised us to sit in. Laura Van Gilder, Kristen LaSasso, and the other fasties were here for the money and weren’t going to let anything get away. The advice was to sit in, then fight for position the last few laps, then win it.

We rolled around. I was still getting pinched, bumped, and squeezed backward and then fighting forward. For the first time I saw someone hook someone else’s bars in a crit, right in front of me. Fortunately it was Carrie Cash, who managed to un-hook herself with only the slightest waver. I wanna be able to do that!

They called a $200 prime. KMesh got in position behind me and I blasted it. So thrilling to hear all those pros yell frantically “Left! Left!” as we streaked by. They shut us down 2 turns later. KMesh pulled in front to give me a break. I wasn’t gonna let her pull if I could help it, so I got back in front. Everyone was being lazy, and we were ½ lap from a $200 prime! I briefly went for it again, but this time KMesh was wise and didn’t go. The fasties were all there. They sprinted past me, and a couple of them went up the road for the prime.

A little later KMesh attacked and got up the road again. Kristen LaSasso was with her! Yes!!! LaSasso took a pull for KMesh, and it was looking like the two of them were going to get away. I sat in right next to Laura Van Gilder. I told her, “I listened to you.” She smiled and nodded. KMesh was back in front. Then two things happened simultaneously- LaSasso attacked and gapped KMesh, and Van Gilder took off hard to bridge up to LaSasso. KMesh was returning to the pack. The best thing would be to make a “negative” move- bring it back together, tuck KMesh in the pack to rest and shut down LaSasso and Van Gilder before they got together. When you have to make a “negative” move, everyone is your teammate, which makes it a bit easier to execute. I chased about halfway, then Carrie Cash took over. Diana Carrerra and Vanessa Drigo finished it off. I think that sacrificing myself and chasing very hard was the right thing to do to avoid a repeat of the previous day. I was also looking to earn some respect. I was awed by that beautiful coordinated move, and psyched that I led the charge to shut it down.

After that chase I was gassed. There was no way I could sit in and recover for a decent sprint. I was inadvertently letting gaps open up, nearly falling off the back, then working my way up slowly through the pack, riding tired. Mesh looked great though, and was weaving up in the top 6 wheels consistently. The only reason why I found anything at the end was to watch her sprint for a podium finish (3rd!!!). 4 people got me at the line and I finished 22nd, 2 spots out of the money. My worst result of the series, OUR best result ever. I was really proud of Kristen for saying she was gonna win and then just doing it.

++++++++  NOTES  ++++++++
Later on, Sarah noted, One awesome thing about Gateway was that Matt James photographed and featured the women as much as the men:

Tour of Lawrence Criterium

Photo by LanterneRougeici
by  Michelle Moore
When I got talked into doing my first Crit race back in March 2012 (Gapers Block), I thought I’d be “one and done.”  While my amazing Spider Monkey teammates taught me about crits, and even rode the course with me, I wasn’t really a fan. It was cold, I popped off the back quickly and worked much harder than necessary since I was ALONE for 28.5 of the 30 min race. Not one to give up easily, I went out the next night and tried again. For the record, crits are a LOT more fun when you stay with the pack, not to mention a HELL of a lot easier!
When I learned about Le Tour de Lawrence, I was all in. Not necessarily because I was eager to “race” three different events, in three different days, in three digit temps. No, it’s because Lawrence is my alma mater. I have fond memories of the campus and my “glory days” there, and I knew the community would fully support this event. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!!
So, after an evening of street sprints so colorfully painted by Mark, I took on my first circuit race (see Mikey and Hayes’ report – if they ever write them :).  It wasn’t great, but it was my first so I’ll always remember it – especially getting to ride on the campus I walked for four years (Dean was fortunate enough to get an extra year). J  I will not miss the hill by the Library though, she was a real bitch!
Sunday’s Criterium race is something I was actually looking forward to throughout the weekend. It was an event that I knew something about, and felt that I actually stood a chance at not being DFL (reference #1).   As I lined up at the start line with 28 other women, including my fellow crit racer, Kelly Clarke, we were showered with cheers and screams from our teammates:  Mark, Dean, Vanessa, Mikey, Rebecca, Scott , Roxanne and Hayes.  Such supportive Monkeys!
I’ve always had a fear during racing, and if I’m being honest – even during group rides – of being able to clip into my pedals in an appropriate amount of time, without causing a crash or looking like a complete fool. To my surprise, and after Mark making me practice over and over and over again, I got my foot on my pedal, kept pedaling and without looking down, smoothly clipped in. Nailed it!
I’d had a chance to ride the course a few times before the race started, so I felt comfortable the first lap knowing where the turns and hills were located. If there is one thing that most Americans have a misconception of, it’s that Kansas is flat. It is, in fact, NOT flat – at least not in Lawrence, KS.  It was a great course, forming a sort of Figure 8 around all the “hot spots” of the downtown area.
The first lap of the race I was just trying to figure out my positioning in the pack, how the pack would respond to the turns, how they would jump out of the turns, etc.  The difficult thing about crits is that it feels like you are constantly turning, and have very few straights to move up in the group. Oh, and that you’re heart rate is near 199 for 30-40 straight minutes. This race featured eight different turns, one right after the next.  After the eighth turn, the road straightened out, and sloped slightly downhill to the finish. This is where I turned my body inside out to jump on a wheel and/or move up in the group. It felt amazing!
Often I found myself along the gates on the far right side, which initially freaked me out because I was slightly terrified of crashing. However, once I figured out how to stay calm and carry on, I just stayed focused on the wheel in front of me. 
As I came around the eighth turn each lap, and sprinted down the straight away, I was rewarded with roars from my teammates.  It gave me the fuel I needed to keep pushing on. I wanted them to be proud of me, and it was really fun still be part of the peloton.
As they announced we had five laps to go, I think I threw up a little in my mouth.  Not only did it feel like we’d already been racing for an hour, it was ridiculously hot out – at 10AM!!  I’ve never had to drink during a race, and I wasn’t sure how to do it going so fast and turning so much. So, I kept an eye on the group and when they drank, I drank. With the temps being so hot, I tried to drink every lap where I could. I got real tired of trying to lick the back of my throat since it felt like I had a cotton ball in my mouth the entire race. Anyway, I told myself that I could hang on for 10 more minutes.
Photo by LanterneRougeici
So, the laps melted away, and all of a sudden we had two to go. I knew the next time we came across the start line, these women would be moving into position for a strong attack and sprint to the finish.  I was already happy with my performance since I was still with the group, but it sure would be nice to “place” in the race too.  So, as we started the final lap, I gave it everything I had. I felt myself gapping the group a bit, and I heard the words of Mark Zalewski in my ear “you do everything you have to in order to grab a wheel. Even if you have to puke.”  So, I dug in and gave every last bit of myself I had left. 
I wasn’t in a great position with a half lap to go. Coming into the final turn, a girl in the group took herself out on the fence (the very thing I was worried about earlier). I was far enough back that I was able to maneuver around her, jump out of the final turn and sprint my ass off.  I had no idea where I was in the pack, but I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face
My teammates celebrated with me, and I was once again hooked on racing. I love my bike, even if I ride 650s Oh, and I got 12th. So, not quite a top 10 finish, but it was my best race to-date.  When’s the next one?

Glencoe Grand Prix Race Report

Sabin on the podium!
by Sabin West

Glencoe was the first race of the season for me and I wanted to see where my legs stood. Seeing that I’ve only managed one ride with the Monkeys this year I had moderate expectations for myself. I met up with fellow Monkey and lifelong friend, Aaron Byrnes, and we did some warm up laps. It was Aaron’s first Crit, and only my second after placing 5th in last years Tour of Elk Grove.
The weather was absolutely perfect. PJ and other fellow Monkeys joined the starting line where we all kind of lined up in the back. I thought to myself, being in the back is a bad idea, but I am in good company, 5 Monkeys deep.
We’re off! I slide to the left and make my way up to the first corner and find myself in 8th or so position. Aaron holds my wheel, PJ, David, Geoff all together… second corner, Spidermonkeys deep, we form 2 x 2, a pyramid… Turn number three, things get sketchy, we hold our line… Turn four, two Team Tati and 2 other teams up front, the sprint line, Spidermonkeys paving the way!
We were looking good. I would hold 3rd-5th wheel for the next few laps with teammates moving in and out and then by lap 4 felt good enough to lead a round and pick up the pace. I learned from last year at Elk Grove that pulling to long resulted in a poor sprint, so I let off the gas and shifted to tactics.
The bell rings! Final lap and we’re all in good position. The guys off the front start to move. I respond and give chase. Turn one, turn two, turn three… I’m in 6th position. Last turn, here we go! I motor up the runway, 6th position, 5th position, 4th, 3rd… and call it like I see it flashing three fingers at the line.
My second crit race ever. My first podium finish. The Spidermonkeys did great, 2 top ten finishes and Aaron just shy at 11th place. Great job everyone. I can’t wait for the next race.

Official Spidermonkey Participant List:
Aaron Byrnes
PJ Cavoto
Kelly Clarke
Brandon Diffenderfer
Tim Driver
Kristi Hanson
Drew Kushnick
Stephanie Kushnick
David Loring

Kristen Meshberg

Peter Monko
Geoff Pomerantz
Sarah Rice
Hayes Sanborn
Masayuki Tsuchiya
Sabin West

Lake Bluff and Glencoe Crits Race Report

Photo by Ali Engin

Kristen Meshberg has been having a phenomenal season, and we’re very glad she’s rockin’ the 312 Spidermonkey jersey this year. Race reports are new to Spidermonkey as a team, but Kristen writes one for every race she does. They’re a great way to gauge your improvement, make goals, and learn from every race.

From early June’s Lake Bluff and Glencoe races:

When the gun went off I was thrilled to get a great start!  When I hit the first twisty section in great position I knew things were going to be ok!  I was so happy I yelled “F Yeah!”  Sometimes I crack myself up in races.  I settled in and rode the best I could.

Read the rest at Kristen’s blog.

Quad Cities Race Report

K.Mesh is all smiles before the race.
Photo by Cathy Frampton

by Sarah Rice

Kristen and I were both jazzed up for Quad Cities. The course and conditions favored us- a long fast crit, lots of turns, 15+ MPH winds. YES. And Kristen knew what it took- she had won it before. I was doubling again, so we got to Rock Island early for the Cat2/3 race. I warmed up on Kristen’s trainer and watched the Juniors race before ours. Bad weather rolled in and it started to rain. 6 separate crashes happened on corner 7 within about 10 minutes. I got nervous, knowing I was still at a point where a hit to the eye would mean likely surgery and the end of my season. But I could not chicken out. Not again. Not today. It was pouring rain and I was dry-heaving at the start. My legs felt horrible as I hung on to the back of the pack for dear life. I could taste rubber and tri-flow from the wheel in front of me as the grit and rain sprayed in my face. I really thought about pulling out. But somehow, and I wish I remember how, I found my nerve. The voice in my head said, “Wait for the crashes, then attack like crazy”. On cue, BAM!! An ISCorp rider went down at corner 7, a few wheels in front of me. I took a hard inside line, avoided it, and sprinted up to a group of about 8 riders in front. Out of breath, I said “Crash behind, time to go!” And they took off. I held on. We didn’t split too many off the pack, but clearly the strategy worked and now I was riding in the front 8-ish wheels, out of the fray. Bam, bam, more crashes behind us. 6 to go, 5, 4. My legs were coming back. I was riding strong with the front group. I had Jeannie Kuhajek marked and we were 5th and 6th wheels on the final lap. Perfect! If she sprinted from the hotel about 600 yards from the finish, I would stay on her wheel, pass the others, and take her on the final turn and sprint. If she didn’t go I’d try to take them down myself—but option 1 was surer. She started to sprint from the hotel (Yes!) but slid out and crashed right in front of me. I cut inside to avoid her and stood up to sprint. The adjustment and my crappy sprinting kept me in 5th, but I was happy that I’d found my nerve in that messy race.

Before the afternoon P1/2/3 race, Kristen still didn’t feel good and almost didn’t want to race. It’s a lot tougher to be the ace—the one who’s won it before, who everyone expects to do well ALL THE TIME, than to be the forgettable scrap who’s trying to earn a little respect. I gave her a hug and told her that she didn’t have to win every damn race she does.

ASIDE: That is not true. Kristen knows it, and I know it — you don’t become a champion thinking that you don’t have to win.

I didn’t expect to see her at the start. But she rolled up. I was thrilled. Debbie Milne was the wheel to mark after her performance at Melon City. Kristen was off the front with her very early in the race. I thought that they might take off and started blocking, but they sat up. The front of the pack took turns attacking. I chased a few down to keep position for Debbie’s inevitable launch off the front. It was kind of frustrating, because that’s what everyone was doing. This crit was very predictable…. but maybe not! With about 12 laps to go, Kelli Richter took off and got a nice big gap of about 8 seconds. I thought maybe I could bridge and we’d be gone, just because no one would take us seriously and she had 3 Psimet teammates in the pack to block. But I got about halfway up to her and it just didn’t feel like it was going to work. In retrospect, I think Kelli had the stuff to slip away and win it, and I am still second-guessing my decision not to go get her. I got caught, but stayed toward the front. Debbie attacked with 6 to go. We chased, and caught Kelli. Then with 4 to go, the real move came. Jessie Prinner took the inside line and took off to Debbie. I got her wheel! I had it! This was the move! This was the race! My head screamed at me to hold on and I gave it everything I had, but after a half lap I was losing it. Cramps rocked my body up and down. I watched them ride off, the moment burned in my brain. That is what I will think about when I ride the trainer this winter. Other riders surrounded me. Kristen was there! She took off at the hotel! I wanted to go too but couldn’t. I was done. My hips were too wobbly to stand and I was in a lot of pain, but I smiled and watched Kristen blow past the pack like they were sitting still and win the field sprint for 4th place. I wound up very disappointed with 18th.

That WAS the move. Jessie Prinner won, and Debbie came in second to her monster sprint. Following Jessie’s move was costly, but I am proud that I tried. Debbie is about to go pro. Jessie is an Olympic hopeful. I am a 38-year old medical school professor, a new cat3, with one year of racing experience and two facial fractures. But when the moment came, I was there and I chased them with everything I had, and learned where the bar is set for P1/2/3 racing. It is high- for now.

Melon City Race Report

by Sarah Rice

The next day’s race was Melon City, in Muscatine, IA, where my brother and sister-in-law and favorite niece live. Steve and Karen put us up and fed us and about 10 of our hungry bike racer friends. One of the things I like best about this sport is that we are constantly surrounded by awesome camaraderie and hospitality.

Kristen pulled out of Snake Alley because her lungs weren’t feeling good. She decided to sit out Melon City, a wise decision. These weren’t the right races for someone who was feeling less than 100%. Melon city was in a beautiful  park, with hills and turns. Karen and Analise, my niece, and Eric and Kristen and Jason were all there to cheer me on, and I planned to “double”- race Cat2/3, then race P1/2/3 later. I was well in control of the Cat2/3 race and in good position, except for the infamous speed bump at the bottom of the hill. I landed on my front wheel and felt like I would fall forward onto my face every time. After 6 laps, for the first time ever in a crit, I lost my nerve. For the first time ever in my entire life, I pulled out of a race. There aren’t words to express the fear and disappointment that I felt. I felt my broken face too, and I wasn’t happy about that. After a lot of drama and excuses, I went back with Kristen to watch the P1/2/3 race. My excuses vanished. Debbie Milne demolished the field, landing the speed bump the same way I did, on her front wheel every time. The difference was that after she landed, she took off fast. Noted.

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