Monday, April 28, 2014

What a difference a year makes...

Well! Things have been crazy here. And by that I mean my 2014 racing season has finally started! I know I should have posted last week-- I try to at least post once per week-- but I was traveling for Easter and then sick so there was chaos all around. Despite being sick, I've already gotten 3 races under my belt for the season. The first was the Farmersville RR in Pennsylvania near my parents house. This was a short, rather flat race through the rolling Pennsylvania countryside. The day was beautiful, but there was not enough hill to suit me and the thing came down to a sprint finish... I ended up 9th among an average W3/4 field. Since I hide my lack of skills and sprinting behind hills for most of my races, I wasn't terribly pleased, but couldn't dwell on it too long, since I had to get back home and to church. If you were wondering, yes, I did go to church on Holy Saturday in my racing kit because I did not have time to change. Another wonderful thing about Pennsylvania, besides the year-round farmers markets and rolling hills (which were completely under utilized during this race), is that you can find these signs on the highway.

It is normal to me to see a sign warning of horse-and-buggies, but I know people who aren't from around Amish Country get a kick out of seeing them. Probably less of a kick when they get stuck behind one for miles, but I enjoy this unique ambiance found around my hometown.

Last week was a blur of sickness, but getting out-sprinted at Farmersville motivated me. I had signed up for Farmersville because I wanted to get better at pack riding, but on top of that I decided that I also wanted to get better at sprinting and cornering. I had signed up for Quabbin RR which was on Saturday, but then decided to add a crit to my Sunday. So this past weekend turned out to be a double-header!

Quabbin RR is my kind of race. It's long (65 miles), hilly (7+ climbs of significance on the course), and finishes on an uphill stretch. Last year at Quabbin RR, it was a beautiful sunny day and I was in the W4 race, during which I got so nervous on the neutral roll-out that my bike started shaking. I thought it was a mechanical (since it was a new-to-me used bike) and spent 5+ minutes trying to figure out what was wrong before concluding that the only thing wrong was that the water bottle was loose. I then spent 65 miles time-trialing, catching many of the girls in my race, but never back on to the lead pack. During the whole 3+ hours, I only ate (or rather, choked down) 1 bar and drank about half a bottle of water. Maybe I had 1 honey stinger in there too. Maybe. I was in a world of hurt by the end.

This year at Quabbin, everything was different. I was in the W123 field and we were blessed with a typical New England "spring" day of 40 degree rain. Fortunately, since this weather happens all winter and is in the "pleasant" and "ridable" category (in contrast to the days we get several feet of ice and snow) I knew exactly how to dress. The one variable that I had to mess with was my gloves, since my winter gloves do not offer enough dexterity to allow me to eat. And I learned that lack of nutrition = death so I went with a layered approach of lab gloves- fleece gloves- dishwashing gloves. By the end, the water had gotten into the gloves and I had no feeling left anywhere between my fingers and my forearms, but it was ok. I managed to make the break when it happened and earned myself a 3rd place finish! Not bad for a cat 3 riding with the 1 and 2s! The biggest difference this year (beside, oh, the whole year of training...) was nutrition. I had 6 gels (bars just can't happen for me during a race), bottle of Hammer Heed (unflavored, i.e. the best flavor!) and a bottle of Hammer Perpetuem (actually half a bottle, oops) during the race, and also prepped myself with a bottle of UCAN before the race and a bottle of Vega Recovery Accelerator after. Tomorrow, I'll follow up this post with my preferences and observations on sports drinks and gels.

dish gloves = almost invincible

Sunday was another exciting and very different day. Crits are short and fast, and you rely on technical ability and raw power to win the race. So basically, crits are won by being everything that I am not! However, I am riding for the Pedal Power Team this year, and two of the other girls are great sprinters and technicians and have been doing quite well in crits this spring by working together. And I want to be the best bike racer that I can be and that means working on my weaknesses. So I told my teammates that I would try to stay on their wheels and watch them during the race, and if that got me into a good position as we neared the end, I would happily lead them out to victory. The race started fine and I was actually doing ok getting through corners and staying near the front. And then the crash happened. Far enough ahead that I had plenty of time to react, but the only reaction that could definitively keep me safe was stopping. I came to a complete stop and had to walk around the crash before getting back on my bike and chasing back on to the pack, which was now two corners away. I did in fact catch back on, but then couldn't figure out how to move up. Every time I tried, it resulted in someone squeezing me out (I almost got pushed into a curb) or me having to apply the brakes heavily. From my frustrated position, I watched my teammate get away and then a lightbulb went on. No one else wanted to take the slow line around the outside of the corners! If I took that one, I wouldn't have to use the brakes and it would be easy to come around. So I did just that and went all the way up to the front of the pack, where I successfully blocked for my teammate who was away and also led out my other teammate for second. So my teammates ended up 1-2 and I ended up 7th, which is my highest placement ever for a crit. Not a bad way to end the weekend! Also, the rain finally stopped and this was Sunday's sunset.

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