Wow, what a roller coaster. I competed at the Chico Stage Race as a Cat 4 cyclist in the Cat 3/4/5 races and got to work with and strategize with 7 of my amazing JLVELO team mates. When we did our team call the Wednesday evening before and discussed personal and team goals, I had little understanding of what to actually expect. Being my first stage race, even with the preparation and discussions with team mates, many aspects of each race were surprising. Each day held some excitement and accomplishment as well as opportunities for learning and growth.
The Road Race
On Saturday, we rose bright and early and drove an hour from our hotel to arrive at the Paskenta Road Race. The first 36 miles was comprised of 13 mph mellow coffee-ride cruising, Vo2 max attacks, a crash that caused three riders to go down, and a mixture of chatting with team mates and other riders as well as hollering at sketchy riders! Finally, at about mile 37 of the race we hit the pot-hole section, affectionately deemed the ‘lunar surface’ for its crater like, unavoidable holes scattered all over the road. It was during this time that the group began to fall a part and I watched as my team mates and fellow competitors danced around the road.
Immediately following the pothole section was the much anticipated 4 miles of gravel. By the time we hit the gravel the women in the front group were launching attacks again. Without thinking twice I put my head down and sprinted to stay with the women that were pulling further forward. There were about 8 of us up front and I imagined my teammates and other races were close behind us; I was doing my best stay protected and stay with the group.
Soon it dawned on me that I couldn’t see any other bright yellow JLVELO kits out of the corner of my eye, so I turn my head to look behind me. To my surprise no one was there. We had broken away from the main group. And I was the sole JLVELO rider in the breakaway. I chuckle to myself now thinking that that I was in a breakaway without realizing it. I’m glad that I didn’t hesitate to go with them considering there had been several attacks earlier on that I chased down (and burned matches) only to be caught up by the main group shortly after.
Eventually we were back on pavement, only a few miles until the finish, and still no other riders had caught on. With someone cheering on the side pointing at the finish line and the ‘200 meter to go sign’ in sight I knew it was about that time. One rider quickly passed by me on my right side and I immediately got on her wheel. With 100 meters left I pulled around her, started my snap, and buried myself with gritted teeth to sprint ahead toward the line. I crossed the finish line and whispered aloud to myself, “I can’t believe I just won.” Not in my wildest dreams did I think that I would not only survive the gravel, but even pull out a win on the first day.
Following the road race, my teammates began to trickle in, many of whom did not know that I had made it into the breakaway group. As they rolled over they asked me how I did, I simply grinned and held up one finger (still a little in disbelief). Watching my teammates react with excitement and pride was an even better feeling than crossing the line. That’s the thing about racing with the team. You work to support them and they work to support you. A victory for one truly is a victory for all. I enjoyed standing on the podium sporting my first ever yellow, “race leader” jersey and soaked in the feeling of post-race-victory-bliss.
Unfortunately, In spite of my efforts to prioritize nutrition and take my medication on time, within an hour or so after the race a migraine set in. Pounding head pain, numb and tingling, dizzy, and nauseated. It was difficult to focus on homework back at the hotel room when I just wanted to rest. The pain lasted throughout the night and it was a challenge to keep nourishment down. Upon waking the next morning I was exhausted and dehydrated, but eager to push through.
When I saw my teammates my spirits were lifted and I knew that, regardless of the rough night I’d had, I was going to leave everything I had out on the course.
To my surprise, at the start of the race the race organizer began with a ‘call up’ where, as the race leader, I was invited to the start line first.
As the race started I had my eyes glued to my teammates knowing that if any break away plan were to work, I would need to be close by. While we did not successfully make a break away stick, several JLVELO team mates effectively tired-out the stronger riders by launching multiple attacks that others were compelled to chase down.
As it came down to the final lap I worked my way up towards the front of the group with the help of team mates. I could see one JLVELO, Andrea, on the front. I was concerned that she was unprotected, but hoping she would have enough left in the tank to hold out for the final sprint. Rounding the last quarter, I got out of the saddle and pushed forward. Now or never. I could see Andrea and I was amazed that she had not only maintained pace through the final lap, but still was putting down an inspiring finish sprinting alongside another rider.
As I rounded another teammate, Serenity, who had led me out, she cheered me on. My competition was closing in and I was giving it everything I had. Crossing the line I wasn’t sure if I successfully cinched 3rd. When the results were posted I discovered I had done it and was even still the race leader by a few seconds. The small margin that separated the riders in the top group made it evident that the final GC results were going to come down to the time trial.
We gathered as a team after the criterium, shared our own personal experiences and again I found myself reflecting on how many teammates had supported me in various ways throughout the race. I was absolutely thrilled for Andrea that she had not only displayed and astounding measure of fitness that day, but also had redeemed herself from the challenge of being so close (yet so far!) to the front group the day before.
A few hours later it was time to shake off the fatigue and my body’s signals saying it was time to rest. My head was pounding, but I had come this far and wasn’t going to give in.
The Time Trial
Unlike the races leading up to it, the time trial would not allow me to rely on my teammates nor those around me to stay protected or pull ahead. This would be an individual effort. Upon review of last year’s TT times, I found that finishing under 26 minutes would have earned a podium spot. I decided 26 minutes would be my goal and I would do everything I could to maintain 105-110+% of my FTP throughout the time trial to reach that goal. To stay focused I planned to mentally break up the 10 mile race into 4x 6.5 minute intervals. This would keep me focused on one portion at a time.
As the race leader, I was sent out on the course last to go and each rider went off 30 seconds apart until it was my turn. We lined up in a row, received a few instructions and some encouragement from the clerk of the course, and were on our way. As I rolled up, the course clerk complimented my name (the same as his niece) and sent me off with an enthusiastic “Andiamo!” (Let’s go! in Italian).
I started out strong, but not too hard. I was on pace from the start. After the first interval, I was out of my comfort zone, but I could hold it. As each minute slowly ticked by, I stayed focused on my power numbers, staying tucked into an aero position (as best I could!), and pictured a podium finish. It was difficult, mentally, especially through the third interval of the race when I wanted to let up and the wind was pushing back. I knew that’s when it would count, where others might falter, and I had to dig deep. Finally the finish line was in sight. There was not enough left to get into a sprint, but I pushed with everything that I had left in my body. I crossed the line at 25 minutes and 45 seconds. I had hit my time goal and maintained the pace I expected of myself.
As I rolled over to my teammates one of them called out to ask how I did and I shared my time. I didn’t know where it ranked compared to others, I just knew that it was what I had wanted to achieve for myself. A couple of team mates exclaimed in excitement and approval of my time. They too had reviewed last year’s results and knew that a time like that, last year, would have finished in the top group for the TT. It was a momentary high as I imagined that, just maybe… I might podium in all three races. But alas, moments later someone pulled up the live results and shared 5th place was earned by a 25 minute effort (my amazing teammate, Andrea). It quickly dawned on me that, not only did I not finish in a podium spot for the TT, I was well behind that group. 10th. I was certainly proud of Andrea in that moment, but I was also filled with a roller coaster of confusion and frustration; wondering ‘could I have done more’ and ‘could I have pushed harder’. Now, a few days after the race, I am resolved in the fact that I gave everything I had that day. I put everything I had, physically and mentally, out there and it just so happened that the girls that I was competing against had more (and perhaps faster equipment too).
I changed into comfortable clothes glad to be out of race gear for the rest of the weekend and drove over to the site of the criterium to see Eric in his last race and check on the final rankings for the overall contenders for the GC.
I found I had finished in sixth. Just a few seconds behind the 5th place, podium spot for the overall position. I had so many conflicting feelings. One was that I had performed well beyond what I ever imagined going into the weekend and another that I had let down the team that had done so much, on and off the course, to support me. Again, now I can reflect with pride and know that I did everything I could this past weekend and most importantly I learned so much to prepare me for future stage races.
I am so grateful most of all for the team camaraderie and spirit that surrounded me throughout the weekend. They were what made my first stage race such a wonderful and enriching experience. And though I didn’t come out on top of the podium, I did manage to earn myself enough podium points to upgrade and as of today I am now a Category 3 Road Cyclist!