Wow. What a weekend. I didn’t really know what I was getting into with the Tour of Galena.
It’s my first year racing road (or any bike discipline for that matter) and I’ve pretty much been following the lead of my teammates (who are the most awesome people in the world by the way) in terms of signing up for races – with this one it was “we’re all renting a house, it’s an awesome weekend, so let us know if you’re in or not” and I was “in” and didn’t think too much about the details…
After a long week at work and having been out of town both of the two weekends prior, I was almost considering bailing on the weekend and staying home to sleep. I’m glad I didn’t. I could have done without the road race on Saturday (me and hills don’t get along – at least, not the going up part of them – I love going DOWN them!), but the Sunday W4 Crit was the most fun I’ve had in maybe EVER.
Here’s the run down (and yes, this is long – it was a long weekend with three races! If you’ve got ADD, just skip to the crit!)
5am Saturday: Alarms go off. Way too early, but our Time Trial start times started at 7:20am. I’ve never done a straight up time trial before (just triathlons prior to starting to do crits this year), so was curious to see how this all worked. After getting checked in, I did a short warm up ride of the course to check it out and discovered it was a straight out and back with what I might call rolling hills (at least relative to the rest of the terrain in Galena) and a total distance of ~3 miles. Ok, that would be manageable – maybe only 10 minutes of hurt? That’s only half of a 20 minute FTP test I told myself… I rode around a little bit more while I waited for my start time to come around (people started every 30 seconds and I’d be the second W4 to head out). When my time came, I lined up and was at the start tent at the appointed time. There was someone there to hold you on your bike so that you could fully clip in and in theory “go” right as you were told to, but I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how to get my left foot clipped in without moving forward so just told him to forget it and rode off like usual when I was given the signal.
The TT itself was pretty much a blur – just put your head down and go. I was gaining on the girl ahead of me, but didn’t quite catch her (and thankfully the girl who started 30 seconds behind me didn’t catch me). Crossed the line breathing hard and got to see my other team mates start as they were later in the group of W4s. When results were finally posted, I was 9th out of 30! Even better, we had 4 Spidermonkeys in the top 10!
After everyone cooled down, we headed back to the house to go back to bed – our Road Race wasn’t until 1 something, so plenty of time to get some more sleep and eat something…
I had lots of questions for my teammates as we were getting organized again to head out for the road race – I’d never done a road race and also hadn’t ever ridden this course as I wasn’t able to go on our Galena training weekend. I got the low down on how the “neutral roll out” worked and also the heads up to watch out for the train tracks on the one decent. (“Carin, we know how you love to bomb it down hills, but watch out for this…”) I figured I’d just follow everyone else’s lead from there and just hope the hills didn’t hurt too bad…
The road race in a nutshell: It sucked. As I noted earlier, I’m much better at going down hills than I am going up them and pretty much dropped off the group as soon as we hit the first big one. I caught them again on the downhill (and would have blown past them had I had more road to work with – watch that center line!), but couldn’t hang on as the hills got progressively worse. Ended up riding most of the “race” solo and was just happy when it was over and was thankful that we only had to do one lap (I couldn’t even imagine having to do 2, much less 3 like the W123s had to do – not to mention that they also had a Circuit race on Friday!) I rolled to the finish to discover that my teammate Kelly Clarke had finished 7th, and Monica Freiband 9th. After finishing 4th and 5th respectively in the TT, they were in contention for the Omnium podium!
I spent the remainder of the afternoon course marshalling at what turned out to be a high action spot – a right turn at the bottom of the hill that was maybe a mile after the feed zone (Buckhill/Dewey/Council Hill for those who know the roads). I almost went down on this turn in our race when I thought I had plenty of room on the inside but made contact with the rider on my left when she changed her line and I caught some of the gravel on edge of the road. It was definitely a moment of “Crap! Crap! Crap!” and then a very thankful and surprised “Oh. We’re ok!” and on we continued. A rider slid out in the first group of men to come by after I started marshalling and was thankfully ok. A few other close calls took place throughout the afternoon, but everyone else stayed upright. Keeping cars out of the way when riders were coming through was the most difficult part. The sheriff who was posted out there was super cool and we chatted quite a bit about how events like this are tough because they bring a lot of extra people to the area (which is good) but those people often don’t know where they’re going (the winding rural roads further complicate things) and the extra traffic makes it tougher to manage the course. Apparently the road race is also much more difficult to host than the triathlon because the road race just takes so much longer and they aren’t able to totally close the road like they are for the triathlon. A huge thank you to Galena and the surrounding communities for allowing this event to take place!!
That evening it was back to the house to relax, refuel, and turn the attention to Sunday’s race: the crit. I kept looking for assurance that the course was flat (between this weekend and the Memorial Day races in Iowa, I really wanted a break from hills) and it was (phew). With 5 teammates in the W4 race, and two people in contention for the Omnium podium, we worked out who needed to score what (and who needed to be kept from scoring) in order to at least keep Kelly and Monica top 5 and hopefully get them both Top 3. The weather forecast for Sunday didn’t look great, so we crossed our fingers as we went to bed – while we’d all prefer to race in dry conditions, we knew we could race in rain if we had to and it might actually give us an advantage as we knew some of the other girls in our cat are less comfortable in the rain.
Sunday morning: None of us were moving that fast – achy bodies and a huge storm that morning made us all want to stay in bed. Luckily we all made it to the start line on time (and the course was dry!). There would be mid-race sprint points and also 2 primes. Those sprint points could end up being important – if Kelly or Monica couldn’t get them, I needed to try to in order to keep others in omnium podium contention from getting them. So we had our loose plan, off the whistle went, and off we went…
Kelly Clarke took the early front of pack position while everyone else felt one another out and got a feel for the course and worked to stay in position. After a few laps in, everyone seemed like they were just content to hang out in a group. I didn’t want to fall too far back in the pack, so I started making my way forward and then had an idea. I rolled up next to Kelly who was now mid-pack and asked if I should attack coming out of the next turn. She gave me a nod so I positioned myself for the corner and gave it some extra juice coming out of it. Whee!! I opened up a pretty good lead and was still out front when we came around to the start again and heard them call a prime. I wasn’t sure at this point if I should just keep going or slow up at all, but was too far ahead to hear any of the girls, so just kept going. I easily took the prime, and then they rang the bell signifying that the next lap would be for the sprint points. Crap! Could I push it hard enough for another full lap that the other girls wouldn’t beat me? Nope. I wound up getting caught by Jenny Kosatka (BFF) who took first in the sprint, Kelly (2nd), and a few other girls who crossed the line in front of me.
It’s hard to tell what’s going on behind you in a race, but I think this is where the field split into two – 11 of us in a lead pack and the rest trailing behind. Good news was that in addition to Kelly, Monica was also in the lead pack. Teammates Michelle and Lindsay were in the chase pack, but this was good too. They could control the speed of the chase pack and keep them from bridging the gap. Not the most fun job in the world, but an important one (thank you Michelle and Lindsay for not getting antsy!)
Up in the lead pack, we took a lap or two as a group which was good – it allowed me to catch my breath and just focus on hanging with everyone and not dropping off. With around 4 laps left I started feeling pretty good again and I rolled up next to Kelly at the same place I had before and with a huge devilish grin on my face asked her “should we make things a little more interesting here?” I was ready to sacrifice my race to tire the other girls out so that Kelly and Monica could finish strong. With a smile, she nodded and I think that moment right there will forever be etched in my memory… THIS. WAS. SO. MUCH. FUN!
I started to accelerate going into the corner and then took off coming out of it. I opened up a pretty good gap and was wondering if any girls were going to chase me – they might make the decision to let me go and just hang with the group so as not to tire themselves out – it was probably hard to say what the right decision there was. I’ve discovered that this is all a part a crit racing – strategy and decisions like that can determine a race. Things are a little blurry at this point as I’d been effectively going full-tilt for over 20 minutes now and the adrenaline was pumping, but I think I was out on my own for almost a full lap before Ronee Hartl (Great Dane Velo Club and the girl who dominated all 3 weekend races) made a move to come join me. As she hopped on my wheel, she commented that we had a good gap on the pack. Hmm. Interesting. With only a few laps left in the race, I hadn’t expected to be in this position! I let her know that I probably couldn’t keep up this pace for the rest of the race… Sure enough, she started to take off and I couldn’t hang with her. At this point, I wasn’t sure what to do. With a lap and a half left, I yelled at my teammates who were watching on the last corner to ask them – was I supposed to try to hang on to second place or did I need to drop back? I didn’t want to mess up the points and inadvertently keep one of my teammates from making it on the omnium podium! They weren’t sure either, so I kept on going as best I could.
On the back half of the last lap, Jenny from BFF all of a sudden FLEW past me! Crap. Could I catch her? I was so tired… we took the final corner together and headed into the sprint. Jenny had a better line on the corner so got a jump on me coming out of it and opened up a good lead on me. I could hear my teammates yelling behind me to GO! GO! GO! so I put my head down and gave it the last that I had. The gap between us started to shrink (or at least in my head it did) and I swear if I had another 100 meters I might have caught her but I ended up crossing the line in 3rd which would mark my best individual finish ever!
It turned out Kelly and Monica crossed 6th and 7th respectively which was good – they’d get Omnium points for that – we’d just have to wait and see how all of the math worked out with Sprint points etc.
Everyone was all smiles as we waited for things to become official and we were chattering away about how much fun that race was, how proud we all were of everyone working together and how happy we all were to have one another as teammates. I for one am so glad I found out about this team and decided to start racing on a whim this spring – I don’t think I’ve ever had this much fun in my life! I said it yesterday and here I’ll put it in writing – after this weekend, I think I’m officially retired from triathlons. Bike racing is where it’s at!
Omnium results came out – Kelly was 2nd and Monica 5th!!! Whohoo!!!
After podium photos and a change of clothes, we headed down to the Mexican place on the corner to celebrate with margaritas and watch the W123 race (another awesome race!) from the deck before heading back to Chicago to get back in time for the annual Spidermonkey BBQ (did I mention that I love this team??)
Successful race and weekend all around!!