Friday, June 29, 2007

My Favorite Bike Race

Fitchburg is here again! I've raced Fitchburg every year since 1998, and I love it because it is THE New England stage race, a race where I feel surrounded by friends. This year as a non-NRC race, the women's field is small and without the pro representation of the past (but don't get me wrong, there are a lot of good riders here!). Next year I hope the race can be back to full glory, but for now, game on! The time trial this year was up up up. I measured the effort pretty well, and managed to win. I thought it was possible, wanted it a LOT. My team was crazy strong; we finished 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th. I'm ready to have fun and suffer bigtime to do the best I can.

Where have I been?

Did I abandon the blog? Well, not exactly. The blog needs to be honest, but I also want it to be fun and positive. So what do you do when you’ve been struggling, finding yourself in challenging situations, experiencing some times when racing the bike is not so fun? You try to make things better, and this doesn’t always involve documentation. I will say this: team racing at its best is so much more rewarding than racing for yourself – you open up possibilities, race for other people beyond what you perceived possible, and communally create and experience success and failure. At its worst, other aspects of team racing stand out: lack of control of your schedule, the patience required for the inherent inefficiency of group endeavors, the degree to which you are defined by a group that may not always represent your values, the vast quantities of time you spend with associates who are friends but likely not best friends, all while you are so busy in the rest of your life that you barely have time to see your family and dearest friends. And apathy and frustration and wanting to go home do not exactly fuel good bike racing. But here’s a quick recap:

Joy in Minnesota

I think we had hoped this would be a breakthrough for team racing, given our strong roster of Mandy, Kathleen, Andrea, Rebecca, and new riders Arielle Filiberti and Yarden Gollan. It turned out a bit differently – Mandy couldn’t race, Yarden crashed out on the first day, and Arielle and Kathleen crashed into each other on day two, badly bruising four knees and breaking one fork and resulting in Kathleen dropping out of the race on the last day. The race turned out to be rather negative, with the strongest teams preferring to wait for selective terrain rather than go on the attack. It was largely determined on the basis of a time trial, time bonuses, and extremely steep uphills. A small team like ours wasn’t in a position to dictate the course of the race. And so we followed. It was the first time in a while I’ve ridden for gc, because on the big teams you get used to valuing podiums above all else, of not caring about top 10 or top 20. It was probably a good experience for me, forcing patience. And you know, it was pretty fun! I dug deep up those steep hills and did ok. Exacted some revenge on the Stillwater course, the only bike race I’ve ever dropped out of, as I finished just off the main (whittled) group. I would up 16th on gc, Robin 19th. Rebecca and Arielle are improving to past form quickly, in that tricky stage where one needs to be patient and just believe that the fitness will return, and it will. Andrea finished the race, a major accomplishment after Montreal WC, Montreal Stage Race, and PEI. She needs a rest! Next up, Fitchburg!

Smelling Cheesesteak on Manyunk Wall

This was the easiest Philly yet, a pretty negative race which surprised me given some teams lacking pure sprinters (Webcor and Lipton). The race still sketches me out in the beginning, but I did better with positioning than ever. I attacked on the final straightaway into Lemon and Strawberry Hills. Maybe this wasn’t the smartest, a kind of self-defeatest move that reflects my lack of confidence in my own ability to finish this bunch sprint well. My guest rider teammate Ally Brandt had told me she wanted to attack on Lemon Hill, so I brought her up, and that was it – I blew. But surprisingly I chased down the group after getting dropped, which makes me think I should have raced for the finish myself. But Ally got 16th and I’m glad to have contributed. Here's a picture of my friend and former teammate Rebecca Wellons, but you can see me in the background.

Montreal Stage Race - fast fast

Welcome to nighttime racing. Most stages started at 5:30 or 6:00pm -100k stages! The race started with a 32-corner 14k circuit that we did 9 times or so. It was faster than any race I’ve done all year. Positioning was the key and was majorly challenging for me. Hiroko was riding super well, hung in there. I got dropped, weary from too much sprinting out of corners. I chased for a whole lap through the caravan and caught back on, but came off soon after. Kathleen was dropped and in a group about 2 seconds ahead of me that she drove back onto the group, unaware I was right behind even though I radioed (she had evidently taken the radio out of her ear). I found this quite frustrating, a missed opportunity for teammates to help each other out. I was pretty mad to have been dropped so the next day I went on a suicide break about 2 miles into a 110k race. My gc was over and I just needed to assert I was there to race. Nobody really cared – the big German teams could pull anything back at will. I was hoping the lightning and torrential rain would work in my favor, but the course wasn’t technical enough. I stayed out there for 30k, then got caught and finished in the group. The race went on, short tt and crit in Little Italy, during both of which I suffered from apathy. The final day was pretty fun – I really wanted a break but nobody would have it, but considered the race a good training effort and did some quality caravan chasing as a result of wasting energy attacking. Judith Arndt of T-Mobile won to overall, rock star that she is.

Montreal World Cup – May 28 or so

This is an epic race of survival – 11 laps of a crit course with a hard 1-mile climb and the best riders in the world. Made it about halfway through until the climbers lit it up and that was that. A race like this emphasizes the need to be clear on goals, and if racing with the best for experience and challenge is a goal, don’t miss this one.