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.