My First World Championships; An Unexpected Adventure

Worlds TTT Ponferrada (11)

Last week was the highlight of the season and of my athletic career thus far: the 2014 UCI Road World Championships in Ponferrada, Spain. I was beyond excited to have the opportunity to test my legs against the World’s best and honoured to have been selected for TIBCO’s Team Time Trial squad. The course was perfect for me – just shy of 40km, smooth roads, lots of flat or slightly downhill sections, only a couple technical corners, and just a short climb in the finishing kilometres. It was the kind of course where my love of a huge gear and low cadence would work to the team’s advantage. The plan was to use my power on the flats and downhills over the first 30km to buy the team some speed and time, and then to use the sprinters and climbers on the squad for the climb, descent and finishing kilometeres. I was planning on riding my big ring (54T) for the whole course, but had changed my small chainring from a 39T to a 42T just in case I couldn’t make it over the hills in a 54.

You know you're #livingthedream when you see signs to Madrid on your training ride

You know you’re #livingthedream when you see signs to Madrid on your training ride

We arrived in Ponferrada a couple days before the race and had some time to settle in, preview the course, and experience the local culture. While I have been to southern Spain numerous times, this was my first time in northern Spain. It was beautiful! Driving into Leon from the Santander airport, we saw huge fields of golden sunflowers, red cliffs, rolling hills and herds of the glistening black bulls and elegant Andalusian horses that Spain is famous for. When we went to pre-ride the course, the magnitude of the event really started to sink in: the roads were barricaded, we had a police escort, and media was everywhere. Only 24 hours until the real race and time was flying by. I woke up the next morning feeling nervous but excited; I had slept well, eaten well, my legs were feeling fresh and I was feeling confident and ready to race. Today was going to be a good day.

 

Waiting to get on the closed course for a second round

Waiting to get on the closed course for a second round

Before I knew it, I was on my Kurt Kinetic trainer rocking through my warmup. I had made a new playlist that started with a motivational mp3 titled “Why We Fall”, all about chasing success and overcoming adversity, before getting into my usual mix of Tiesto and gangsta rap. Little did I know how relevant that mp3 would be.

Almost an hour later I was ready to race, got off my trainer and went to get my helmet, caffeine power gel, and aero booties. It was 13minutes to the start and time to head over for bike check. I grabbed my bike, saw the severed shift cable and panicked. Somehow the cable for the rear shifting had been cut and I barely had enough time to get to bike check, let alone re-cable my bike. $h!t.

Panicking was obviously not helping the situation and so I forced myself to take a deep breath and fought to keep my emotions under control. The worst thing I could do would be to panic and distract my team mates mere minutes before the start. I called our director, Ed Beamon, over and showed him the problem. The panic must have been written all over my face and the first thing he did was to give me a big hug while I fought to hold back the tears of anger and disappointment that were threatening to spill over. With Ed taking control of the situation I was able to breathe, refocus and get it together. He gave me the spare bike and sent me over to the start. At that point I was convinced I would be doing the race on the spare bike. There were less than ten minutes before the gun.

30 seconds before the start, lined up on the spare road bike

30 seconds before the start, lined up on the spare road bike

With three minutes to start we stepped onto the start ramp, lined up and focused. With 30 seconds to go I was clipped in, focused on my breathing and the opening meters of the race. 15 seconds to go and I closed my eyes waiting for the beeping of the timer to start the final countdown. Jo’s yell yanked me out of my trance – 11 seconds to go and our mechanic was throwing my TT bike over the barricade about 10m from the bottom of the start ramp. I looked at Jo and she kept yelling at me to go get my bike! Screw the timer, get the bike!

The sprint for the bike, less than 10 seconds before the start

The sprint for the bike, less than 10 seconds before the start

So I jumped off the spare bike, sprinted down the ramp as quickly as one can sprint in bike cleats, grabbed my Fuji TT bike and sprinted back up the ramp……cyclocross season is starting so it was probably good training for that. I made it behind the start line just as the rest of the team started and threw my leg over my bike getting one foot clipped in without too much fumbling around. The adrenaline had me shaking and was fogging my mind; all I could think of was that I need to get rolling and catch onto the back of the train. One foot clipped in I rolled down the ramp and started chasing my team, immediately realizing that my bike was in the small ring, the 42, and shortly after that realizing that it would not shift into the big ring: big problem. The start of the course is fast, on a bit of a downhill and for a minute or two I did not think I would be able to catch the team with such a small gear. It’s a good thing I started doing cadence pyramids in training because it took about 200rpm to generate enough speed to finally catch onto the back of the team. The overwhelming wave of adrenaline was definitely helping things as well.

FInally on the back of the train (I'm #126)

FInally on the back of the train (I’m #126)

Finally in the draft of my team mates, I took a second to breathe and evaluate the situation. There was absolutely no shifting on the front indicating that a cable had been cut, come loose or been disconnected. There wasn’t really anything I could do to fix that. Running through the course profile in my head, I decided the best thing I could do would be to try to take long pulls on sections with wind or slight uphills where I would be able to generate some speed and power despite the small chainring. In the downhill sections and through the technical sections I had no option but to fight to stay on the back of the train. If I let a gap open I was fairly certain my chances of chasing back on were slim to none. By the time I had settled down, come up with a plan and informed the rest of the team of my mechanical problems we were already 10km into the course and I barely remembered any of it.

My body, saturated with adrenaline, was feeling no pain and I was able to pull on the front repeatedly and at a ridiculously high cadence until about 25km into the course when I finally hit the wall. Hard. Suddenly the acid was stronger than the adrenaline and my legs screamed in protest. Forced to spin, I was unable to give them any real reprieve without risking being dropped from the team and so all I could do was to HTFU and do my best to recover a bit in the team’s draft. The pain made the next 10km seem to drag on for hours and, by the time I saw the finishing climb ahead of us, I had resigned myself to being dropped from the train before we reached the top. There was just no way I could push through more pain. Just as I was starting to allow myself to look forward to the physical relief of sitting up and dropping off, one of my team mates yelled out that she was done as she dropped from the train. We were now down to five riders, four needed to make it to the finish. Halfway up the climb another one of my team mates was dropped and we were down to four. I panicked.

It’s a good thing my computer was still on the spare bike as I’m pretty sure my heart rate at that point in the race had gone from the “this hurts” zone to “stop or you’re heart is going to explode and you’ll drop dead off your bike” zone. My three remaining team mates did everything they could to get me up that hill and, with their help, pedal stroke for pedal stroke, through wheezing, desperate gasps for air, I somehow made it to the crest. On the descent we reached over 70kph and my legs just about spun right off but the finish was now so close I could taste it. Another wave of adrenaline brought a second wind and the final kilometre flew by. In what seemed like mere seconds we were at the final corner, sprinting for the finish line 500m away and then, just as quickly as the race had started, it was all over.

Last corner - 500m to go

Last corner – 500m to go

Of course we were all disappointed with how the race went, but that is the way that sport goes. Nothing is ever perfect. At the end of the day, it’s how you react to the cards you’re dealt that matters. In the grand scheme of things, what happened to us was not so bad. No one was hurt, it brought us together as a team, it forced us to really fight. Next year we will come back stronger. Personally, I am still making the most of this amazing opportunity – absorbing the experience of competing at that level, learning all that I can, and taking the disappointment and frustration and using it as a burning source of motivation and focus in the training building up to next year’s World Championships.

Thank you Fuji, Reynolds, Arundel, Defeet, Voler, Lake Cycling, Shimano and all of our other sponsors for making this season possible

Thank you Fuji, Reynolds, Arundel, Defeet, Voler, Lake Cycling, Shimano and all of our other sponsors for making this season possible

I get knocked down, but I get up again

Photo credit: Hung Mai Photography

So I had a bit of a mishap at the Tour de White Rock road race this past Sunday and, at the request of my friends in the peloton, I promised I would share the story. After 10 days of fast, technical, scary crit racing without incident, I somehow managed to get myself run over by a car two laps into the very last race of BC Superweek…….because clearly my life was lacking excitement, challenge and adversity.

 

The race started off without incident. Everyone was tired from a long block of racing, the big teams had left to prepare for Cascade, and the scorching heat combined with soul crushing climbs was definitely making the peloton think twice about lighting it up. It was going to be a long and hard enough race without throwing punches in the opening kilometers. We were coming along the coast on lap two when the excitement started. The bunch was all together coming down a bit of a roller when suddenly a car pulled out in front of us.

Now, crisis may have been avoided but it was one of those times where everything that could have possibly gone wrong went wrong. First problem: rather than accelerating, the driver stopped when he saw us, approximately 40 women, flying towards him at race speed. Second problem: the driver, best intentions I’m sure, tried to get out of our way by turning left…..directly into the path of our evasive maneuver around the vehicle. Third problem: I was second or third wheel on the right outside of the peloton. You know that saying “between a rock and a hard place”? Well, I was between a peloton and a car.

There was no where to go and not enough time or space to stop. I got the familiar you’re-about-to-almost-die metallic taste in my mouth and everything slowed down. Evolutionary theory suggests that this perceived slow motion is a survival tactic where the mind slows the processing of sensory information to give the body time to prepare and protect itself. How cool is that? The whole thing was probably over in seconds, but it seemed like an eternity. Trying to protect my chest and face, I twisted to the left to take the impact with my right shoulder and hip. I heard the thud of my thigh hitting metal and for a moment was stupidly optimistic.

This isn’t so bad! I am totally not going to go down! I’m just gonna lean into the car, slow down and put my foot down. No problem!

Haha….riiiiiiight. Wrong. At this point my right hip had also made contact with the side of the car and I had reached the side view mirror, which just happened to be perfectly aligned with the front of my bicep. Another thump, the sound of glass shattering and next thing I know I’m flat on my back on the road in front of the car.

The sun seemed way too bright, burning white hot, and I put my arm up to cover my face. My ears were ringing and everything sounded like I was underwater. My chin started throbbing a bit and there was thick, bright red blood everywhere. My first thought was “Oh $h!t I knocked my teeth out”. Quick inventory: all my teeth were still there. Ok, I’m all good. I got up, still hazy from the impact and the adrenaline, and struggled to decide between (a) punching the guy in the car and (b) chasing back into the race. I decided to get back in the race while shouting an impressive assortment of colorful profanity at the driver. My apologies, violence and profanity are not  normally my go-to responses.

There were several people trying to help me, make sure I was okay, give me my bottles, fix my bike, get me medical attention but all I could think was that the gap to the peloton was getting bigger and bigger and I had to get back on my bike. Both shifters were bent in, and both brakes were twisted into my rims but it was still working. Thanks to the adrenaline still pumping through me, nothing hurt and I chased back onto the group in a flat out sprint. They had sat up, slowing down to give me a chance to catch up, so I was back in the bunch in no time. I knew I should sit in the draft, catch my breath, recover but I was still shaking with adrenaline so I lead it over the climb, took the descent at mach1 and didn’t sit up until my nerves were back under control.

It wasn’t until several laps later that I started really feeling the impact of what had happened. My chin felt like it was getting bigger by the second, the skin stretched uncomfortably tight, a headache was starting and my arm was throbbing. Only a couple more laps to go. Suck it up. I forced myself to focus on nothing but the wheel in front of me as I fought my way up the climb again. Shut it all out and focus, force the poker face, breathe.

Denise, Alison and  Maria had about a 30 second lead on Megan and I and we were now halfway through the last lap. It was now or never. I forced my legs to spin faster, then started shifting down into smaller and smaller cogs. Rounding the corner into the last descent I could see the lead three now only a couple hundred meters in front of us. Megan on my wheel, I spun out my biggest gear, tucked low on my bike and tore down the descent closing the gap and setting up Megan to take the win just moments later.

 

I got off my bike, which was immediately taken by a volunteer, and was lead to the paramedics to get the glass out of my arm. Cleaned and bandaged up it was definitely Beer o’clock. What a day! Finishing that race probably wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done but I’m glad I did. I remembered what Marianne Vos had said to me in the spring: “I never quit a race because then the next time it will be easier to quit. You always have to get back on your bike”. She was right, of course. Over the six laps following the accident I had worked through the pain and fear and doubt and desire to quit. I had finished strong and confident.

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So why did I help Megan win? That’s a question a lot of people have asked me and there’s quite a few reasons. First, I was pretty sure that I could not beat Denise or Maria in the condition that my bike and I were in so, knowing that I couldn’t win myself, I needed to decide who I wanted to help out.

What people forget is that, even though we are on different teams and competing against each other, we all have friends in the peloton. Megan and I are from the same city, race the local races together and meet up for the occasional coffee shop spin. Furthermore, our riding styles really compliment each other so we both benefit from working together during races where our teams aren’t there (there’s no way I would have made it over those last few climbs without her). We had successfully worked with each other in several races over the past year and she had actually asked me the night before if I would work with her in the White Rock road race.

Perhaps the biggest motivation in helping out Megan was knowing that this race was important to her. I knew from past conversation that she really wanted to win this race so why not help her. Obviously we all want to win but for Megan this was a target race and I know that if the tables were turned she would do the same for me. For Megan’s account of the race check out the official race report: http://tourdewhiterock.ca/news/

 

“It’s awesome, this was one of my main goals this year, to win this race,” an ecstatic Rathwell added. “I don’t do a lot of racing, I just race locally so I’m really happy to come here and win, it was really important to me.”

In closing, I would like to thank everyone for all their concern and assistance. From the people who came to help me immediately following the accident to the paramedics who patched me up at the finish, thank you! I was especially humbled by the peloton; the number of riders that asked me if I was okay, that offered me bottles, that let me set the pace up the first few climbs after, that sent me texts or facebook messages in the days following. One rider even offered me her bike to finish the race on. It was such an incredible display of sportsmanship. Thank you.

So now on to the process of recovery. As much as I want to get back out there right away I need to take it easy for a bit, listen to my body and give it a chance to heal. See you all soon!

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From Independent to Domestique at Gastown GP

First, I would like to thank Global Relay for reviving the Gastown Grand Prix, definitely my favorite race of the season! Not only did they bring back this top level crit, they have made it better year after year, especially in regards to equality for women’s cycling. This year, the podium prize money and prime money was split equally between the men and the women, making Gastown the biggest women’s criterium prize purse in North America. Global Relay has also taken a leading role in supporting developing Canadian cyclist through their Bridge the Gap program. Thank you!

 

Global Relay Bridge the Gap athletes and board members

Global Relay Bridge the Gap athletes and board members

 

 

So about the race: last year, Gastown was one of the first big criteriums that I raced. I was nervous, racing without a team and lining up against some of the top crit racers in North America. For an hour I barely managed to hang on to the back of the pack, and I never even saw the front of the race. By the end, I was ecstatic just to have survived. One year later I stood on the same line but it was going to be a very different experience.

This time, I had five team mates with me: three sprinters and two other workers. We were excited to race, we were strong and we were ready to rock after some Revolver Coffee on Cambie Street (yes, Nigel, you were right: that coffee was some “next level $h!t”). The atmosphere was incredible! Swarms of people, live video, Lamborghini lead and follow cars, big cash and loud music all through the cobbled streets of Vancouver’s pub district.

 

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Knowing we were one of the stronger teams, our team tactic was to race on the offensive, be aggressive and put the pressure on our competition to tire them out and set up our sprinters for the finish. I’m always down for a fast, hard race so this plan suited me just fine; bring on the sufferfest! The gun went and we were off, lead by the roar of the Lambo.

The famous Gastown hairpin

The famous Gastown hairpin

As soon as the chaos of the start and the first hairpin was over, I maneuvered my way through the peloton and wasted no time in throwing the first punch, attacking hard into the twisty cobbled section at the bottom of the course. Right from the start, the tone of the race was aggressive. The laps were flying by as we attacked, counter attacked and chased down different moves. Every few laps I would attack and get a bit of a gap, once managing to snag a prime after being off the front with Annie Foreman-Mackey for a lap.

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With six laps to go, Jo yelled at me to go. Without thinking I went, bursting out of the group without looking back, I hammered it into the bottom turn before glancing back. I had opened a huge gap and only one rider had come with me. The icing on the cake was that that one rider was on Vanderkitten, which meant that all the pressure to chase us back would now be on Optum, our biggest competitors. It seemed like we were off the front forever and, after a couple laps, I started getting nervous. If Optum didn’t bring us back I would be the one that had to sprint. Having turned myself inside out for the past 45minutes of racing, I was almost positive I would not be able to take the win. There was nothing left. With three top sprinters sitting in the peloton, I couldn’t settle for second place. Even worse, I was worried that I would act as a launching pad for the VK rider. If I was her, if I had the legs left, that would be my plan – attack and go for a solo win.

 

Easing off enough to let the peloton start closing the gap, I caught my breath and got ready for the chaos that the last couple laps would bring. All back together with two laps to go and it was going to be an aggressive, messy bunch sprint. Unfortunately, things would get really messy on the final lap. Coming into the last hairpin, someone went down near the front of the bunch causing a bit of carnage and confusion. In the end, Jo and Sam both managed to avoid hitting the deck sprinting to second and third respectively.

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Kicking off Superweek with Tour de Delta

It’s incredible how far women’s cycling has progressed just in the past year. When I raced the Tour de Delta in 2013, the men’s field was larger, the men’s prize money was bigger, the men’s race was UCI sanctioned while the women’s was not. Frustrated by the disparity between the men and women, I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder but I sucked it up, lined up and raced my heart out anyways…….like all the other incredible athletes that make up the women’s peloton. Now, just one year later, I lined up at the same race but as a part of a larger and more competitive field, racing for equal podium prize money, and with the women’s road race now also a UCI 2.1 event. Incredible! This event has truly been one of the leaders in the push for equality in the sport so I am really excited to be a part of the action again this year. Not only am I back for the action, but this year I am joined by my awesome team! Team TIBCO will be represented by a strong squad of sprinters supported by some big power riders.

 

Day 1 – MK Delta Crit

The first event of Tour de Delta is a four corner crit, including a bit of a tricky corner at the bottom of a little hill. Racing on this course really illustrated just how much I have learned and how much I have grown as a rider over the past year. The first time I raced this crit, I was so inexperienced and so afraid that I ended up getting dropped in that corner on every single lap forcing me to chase for the remainder of the lap, only to be dropped in the same corner again. Less than halfway through that race I had burned so many matches that I couldn’t chase back on anymore and was unceremoniously dismissed by the whistle: DNF. This year, the corner was no problem. Not only was I feeling confident, I was actually gaining position through that corner and, a few laps in, I was opening gaps attacking through that same corner.

With Optum and Vanderkitten also racing, I definitely was not the only person attacking. The race was aggressive right from the start and it wasn’t long before my legs were burning and I was wishing my team mates were with me. With the rest of the squad not arriving until the following day, I was the lone TIBCO rider. At one point I found myself in a promising break away with Jade and Annie of Optum, and Ellen from Stevens. We had put a significant gap between ourselves and the rest of the field but it was too early in the race. Despite our best efforts, the pack pulled us back.

Attacking out of corner two

Attacking out of corner two

A few more laps, plenty more attacks, some short lived break aways and more than half of the peloton had been dropped. Another breakaway had been established, including Denise Ramsden. I had gambled that this break would come back. It was a small group and they were dangling just out of reach but, unfortunately, I gambled wrong: the lead riders managed to hold their lead through the finishing kilometers.

Despite missing the winning break, I still finished top 10, a huge improvement over the previous year’s DNF. The icing on the cake was the call up that that top 10 finish had secured me at the Brenco crit on day 2.

 

Day 2 – Brenco Crit

The Brenco crit is definitely one of the more technical crits in BC Superweek with a nasty left hand corner into the finish line. Knowing that the peloton would be nervous and lining up early, I was definitely grateful to have earned a call up the previous day.

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The gun went and sure enough it was aggressive right from the start, everyone wanting to be up front and safe through the first few laps. I had gotten off to a quick start, securing myself a spot in the front ten wheels and counting my blessings as the crunch of carbon and thud of flesh on asphalt alerted us to the carnage in the back of the peloton.

Lap after lap the speed stayed fairly high making it difficult to move up which, if you were already close to the front, made it fairly easy to maintain position. While the back part of the field was being ravaged by crashes, the front part of the field starting exchanging blows: attacking, sprinting for primes and counter attacking.

002B0276.2014.BCSuperweek.TdD.BrencoCrit.AnikaTODD(CAN)(TIB)

With ten laps to go the race organizers managed to make things even more exciting putting a prime on the line for every single lap for the remaining 9 laps. Now, if one thing makes the peloton go faster it’s cash. Sure enough, utter chaos unfolded. Optum was attempting to start a lead out train for Leah, some riders were fighting to get on Leah’s wheel to take advantage of her lead out, and countless other riders were battling it out for the money on each lap.

With three laps to go, I leaned into the corner just as another rider attempted to use that corner to move up for the prime sprint. She barreled into my bars, smashing me into the barriers and yet somehow, by the good grace of some higher power, we both managed to stay upright. It was, however, a bit too close for comfort and the evasive maneuvering that had kept me from eating $h!t had also cost me about twenty positions. Twenty positions back put me smack dab in the middle of the chaos and there was now only two laps to go.

The lemonade stand that raised $333 for a prime

The lemonade stand that raised $333 for a prime

I managed to fight my way up a few positions on the following lap but then, on the bell lap, disaster struck. Coming into the final corner before the finish I saw the pileup happening in front of me. Somewhere near the front of the field someone had gone down and what was left of the peloton was very quickly stacking up on top of that person. Grabbing a fistful of brakes, I skidded towards the wreckage just narrowly avoiding adding my own bike to the pile. Not an ideal way to end a bike race.

 

Day 3 – White Spot Delta UCI 2.1 Road Race

This is the first year that the Delta road race was a UCI race for the women so I was especially excited to be a part of it. Furthermore, the chance to win UCI points meant that Team TIBCO would be sending a solid squad to race. After two days of lining up solo against the Optum and Vanderkitten squads I was looking forward to racing with my team mates.

The morning of the race it was raining and the roads were slick. With a very technical course it was looking like it would be a treacherous race and so the first couple of laps were uneventful, everyone being just a little bit cautious on the slippery roads. Of course it couldn’t stay calm forever and, on the third lap, the attacks started.

 

Just like the previous two days, there were too many attacks to count. Everyone was taking a turn and several short lived breaks were established as a result. In the last laps there was a break with Jo that we all wanted to work but in the end it wasn’t meant to be. Day three and yet another bunch sprint to the finish. Our sprinters lined up and took 2nd, 3rd and 4th place. Congratulations to Leah for yet another win!

 

 

After three hard days of racing, I was pretty relieved that Monday would be a rest day. Spin in the sunshine with my team mates, selfies, coffee and laughs! Just what the mind and body needs before the crazy mid week crits at BC Superweek.

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Returning to National Championships

In my entire, albeit short, racing career I have never been as stressed out over a race as I was over the 2014 individual time trial national championships. I had basically come out of no where to take the silver medal in the same race in 2013. That one race had changed my life; pro contract, sponsorship deals, media interest, invitations to national team events and selection camps. One race. 40 minutes. BOOM. Overnight I went from local racer no one had ever heard of to the pro ranks.

On the one hand I was ecstatic, I was living the dream; on the other hand, I was freaking out. I had been thrown into the deep end and was barely managing to keep my head above water. Yes, I was and am really strong and, because of that physical strength, there was a lot of expectation. Countless times over the coming year a plurality of people voiced there opinions, predictions and expectations of me and, time and time again, I failed.

Regardless of why I was not getting results, a year of disappointment had put a serious hole in my confidence bucket. More than once I heard the comments and rumors going around about why I wasn’t getting results: lacked fitness, poor bike handling, gained weight, over training, under training, mentally weak, 2013 result was a fluke……and that’s just to name a few. So the night before the 2014 Championship time trial I laid on my bed wrought with nerves. I knew that people expected me to be on the podium, and I felt like if I failed again I would confirm the suspicion that 2013 had simply been luck.

The next morning I woke up freaking out, running through a dozen possible excuses not to race. Then my phone bleeped with the following message from my coach:

 

Morning Beast!

You are crazy awesome and strong. As long as you don’t let anyone distract you it’s going to be frigging great. That is the goal for pre race. Stay focused no matter what. You are a stone cold killer.

Just focus. Power, power power. Continually fight for a little more speed.

Results are for chumps. Performance is for champs.

Enjoy the hell out of it

 

He was right, there was no point in freaking out and there was no point in fixating on a need for a result. Neither would help my performance. I took a deep breath, gathered my brains, and focused: What can I do right now to perform? A thousand times in the hours leading up to the start of my race my mind wandered, my heart rate would start racing and my imagination would conquer up all the possible disasters; a thousand times I stopped, took a breath and focused. What can I do right now?

What can I do before we leave? Pack my race bag, pin my number, prep pre and post race nutrition, clean my race glasses, set up my garmin, double check my equipment

What can I do on the drive? Hydrate, visualize the course, breathe

What can I do pre-race? Get changed, lay out equipment, bike check, warm up, visualize, breathe

What can I do at the start line? Set my computer, stretch, visualize, breathe

Moments later I was clipped in, watching the countdown. This was it. Show time. 10 seconds to go and an overwhelming wave of nerves and nausea went through me. With every ounce of will power I forced my mind to be blank. I focused 100% on my breath. Do not panic. Breathe. Focus. Go.

I exploded out of the starting gate, my nerves once again getting the better of me, and fought to regain control. There’s 29km to go. No, you cannot sprint for 29km. Keep it in your pants, get a grip and focus. Several kilometers into the first lap I finally found my rhythm; I was finally calm and focused. The entire race I spent fighting to keep that focus. Focus on the corners, focus on cadence, focus on breathing. Shut out the doubts and fears and pain. Focus.

 

Crossing the finish line I had nothing left, it was all on the course. My lungs and legs were on fire and my whole body was shaking uncontrollably. No matter what the result, I knew that I had reached my goal: I had stayed focused and I had performed. Moments later doping control came up and started to introduce themselves. I currently had the fastest time and was expected to be on the podium. One by one the rest of the women finished, only Leah and Jasmin managing to come in ahead of the time I had set. I cannot even describe the feeling of relief that went through me when the final results were announced. After a year of disappointment and doubt I had done it, I had made it onto the podium. All the stress dissipated and I found myself actually excited for the following races.

Big congrats to Leah Kirchman on her first National time trial title and to my team mate Jasmin Glaesser who took silver just 2 seconds down from Leah. Also, congratulations to Gillian Carleton who finished just a few seconds off of the podium even after taking the past several months off due to illness.

 

 

Over dinner we discussed the best possible strategy for the road race the next day: 130km including five laps over Mt Morne, a 3km climb pitching up to 11% at the summit. With three riders (Jasmin, Alizee and myself), we were equally matched with Optum (Leah, Denise and Annie). There were a few amateur teams with large numbers and a handful of individual pro riders, like Gillian Carleton, but Optum and TIBCO would be the dominant teams. We decided that Jasmin was our team’s best chance of winning the race and so Alizee and I would be working for her. The plan was for Alizee and I to cover Optum, and to take turns attacking. If any other team attacked, we would let it go for Optum to chase. Our hope was to (a) whittle down the peloton and (b) force Optum to work, ideally dropping one of their riders.

Rolling out to the circuit; everyone watching and waiting for someone else to take charge

Rolling out to the circuit; everyone watching and waiting for someone else to take charge

Early in the race Megan Rathwell, the BC provincial champion two years running, attacked and got a gap. Sarah Coney from Trek Red Truck bridged up to Megan and the two of them started working together, slowly but steadily widening the gap. There was a bit of nervousness in the peloton but no one was reacting, everyone looking around waiting for someone else to do the work of chasing down the break. Megan, a strong climber, dropped Sara on Mt Morne and continued to widen the gap to the peloton. For 60km she rode solo at one point leading by more than five minutes.

Megan Rathwell off on a 60km solo flier. What a badass!

Megan Rathwell off on a 60km solo flier. What a badass!

The climb was slowly whittling down the field, a handful of riders dropping off each time, but all the key players were still there. TIBCO would attack and Optum would chase; Optum would attack and TIBCO would chase. Anytime both an Optum and a TIBCO rider had a gap everyone else would chase. Between attacks everyone would sit up, looking around and waiting for the next attack. As for Megan, no one was willing to do the work to close her ever growing lead. Finally, the stand off in the peloton came to an end: Optum started seriously chasing Megan. Unfortunately for TIBCO, Jasmin crashed just as Optum picked up the pace.

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Alizee and I did what we could, making sure an Optum rider didn’t get away without us and doing our best to hide in what was left of the peloton, and waited for Jasmin. Almost an entire lap later Jasmin caught us again but, coming up on the climb, realized that her derailleur hanger was bent. Forced to change bikes, Jasmin was left chasing the lead group for the second time that day…….things were not looking good for us. At the front of the race, the three Optum riders had successfully chased back Megan and so there was a lead group of about twenty riders coming into the final lap. With the front group together, Optum and TIBCO started exchanging blows again. Back and forth, attack after attack, but nothing stuck.

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On the last summit of Mt Morne there was a moment were the lead group split, a dangerous gap opening up, but the descent brought everyone back together. 30km to go and there were still twenty riders. As the kilometers counted down, more and more riders attempted to break away but it was becoming painfully obvious that this race would be decided in a bunch sprint.

 

The final kilometer was all uphill and never has a single kilometer felt so long. Despite crashing, changing bikes and chasing back on twice, Jasmin still managed to take 6th place overall and silver in the U23 classification. Leah confirmed her dominance as a sprinter taking the win by a mile.

 

Jasmin takes 6th in the elite and 2nd in the U23 category

Jasmin takes 6th in the elite and 2nd in the U23 category

The following day was a well earned rest day. My parents came to visit, we went to watch Svein win the men’s road race in a spectacular 120km solo break, enjoyed a great dinner and took in the view of Lac Megantic at sun set. After two days of solid performances I was feeling calm, confident and excited about the criterium.

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Jasmin had to leave before the criterium and so it was just Alizee and I on the start line against all three Optum riders. Realistically, I knew that I had about a snow ball’s chance in hell of winning the crit but I wasn’t about to go down without a fight. My goals for this race were to stay focused on performance instead of results, to be aggressive and to be smart. I wanted my efforts to count, to make a difference in the race. There was no point in attacking just because or being on the front towing the pack around in a circle. I also wanted the group to be as small as possible at the finish.

Focused on my goals, I put in a solid warmup before lining up at the front of the field. My first goal was to set the tone for a fast and aggressive race right from the start. The gun went and I set the pace for the first lap, stringing out the field and opening gaps in the first couple minutes. At the end of the first lap I eased up just a touch and crossed my fingers that the others would want to play.

YES! Someone attacked, I went with it then someone else attacked. It was a slug fest. What was left of the peloton was exchanging blow after blow making, unlike the road race, everyone was taking a turn. This was going to be an aggressive race. Alizee and I took turns covering moves that had an Optum rider but other than that we did our best to put the pressure on Optum to cover the other riders’ attacks.

Laying the hurt on from the start

Laying the hurt on from the start

Everything was going great, the race was hard, half the field was gone and then things started to go really wrong for us. Leah attacked while I was boxed in. I looked around for Alizee but she was too far back. Denise bridged to Leah and still I couldn’t get out of the peloton. The next corner was coming up fast and it was my best shot at un-boxing myself…….but it wasn’t coming up fast enough: Annie had started to bridge to Leah and Denise. All three Optum riders were now off the front of the peloton.

Finally in the corner I swung wide, coming around the outside of the peloton in full sprint and quickly gaining on Annie who was now halfway to Leah and Denise. I knew I had to catch Annie before Annie caught her team mates or there would be no catching them; they would put their heads down and team time trial to sweep the podium. Time to HTFU, I had  to be in that break. Digging deep one last time I managed to get on Annie’s wheel just as the Optum squad all came together and started to pick up the pace.

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The odds were not in my favor……three strong Optum riders and me…….just me. Not good. I ran through the options in my head:

  1. Sit on the back of the Optum train and wait for the sprint
  2. Attack Optum
  3. Work with Optum

The first option sounded great in theory but I was pretty certain the ladies were not going to be okay with towing me around for another 20 laps so that I could be nice and rested for a sprint. The far more likely scenario was that I would overstay my welcome in their break away and that they would then simply take turns attacking me until I got dropped. Second option would be suicide so that was off the table. Third option was definitely the way to go. I knew that working with them I had virtually no chance of winning but I would have a really good chance at a podium finish. Given the situation, a podium finish sounded great to me.

Confident that I was making the best decision, I started to move up in the line, taking my turn at the front and hoping that Optum would agree to work with me. Luckily they did and for quite a while I was certain that this break was going to stick. We were strong, we were working and the peloton was out of site.

I’m not sure what happened but at some point the bunch decided to cooperate and give chase and, with strength in numbers, they brought us back. The attacks picked up again almost as soon as they caught us but nothing stuck. It wasn’t until the final laps that there was some reprieve in the pace.

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With three laps to go it was looking like another bunch sprint and so I tried to get on Leah’s wheel, knowing that Optum would lead her out for the win and hoping to snag one of the remaining podium spots out of her draft. Unfortunately for me I got tangled up with another rider on the bell lap, losing my position and being forced to chase hard. The last lap ran its course and I finished up a respectable 6th while Annie and Denise lead Leah to victory.

With the crit also in the bag, Leah had won all three National titles; triple crown! Leah didn’t win because she was the best sprinter (although that definitely didn’t hurt) – all week she was aggressive, she worked, she earned her victories. Congratulations champ!

 

 

 

All for One; Team Tactics in Gatineau

The Chrono Gatineau was by far the most technical time trial I had ever raced: three u-turns, a bike path, round abouts and a half dozen turns all in 11.5km. I would be rocking a brand new Fuji Norcom, one size smaller than the old one. It felt fast, powerful, aggressive and aero……perfect, but unfamiliar. With over a thousand kilometers on my old, larger Norcom, I knew exactly how it would react to every twist, bump, shift and pedal stroke but the new bike felt different. It felt good, but unfamiliar making me both excited and nervous to test it out.

“Red Panther Hot Sauce” valve sticker good for at least an extra 10 watts

Time sped up, like it always does before a race, and before I knew it, my warm up was over, bike check was done and I was clipped in watching the familiar countdown, anticipating the start and the pain. BOOM! Go time. As soon as I came down the ramp I was in love with the new bike. Curtis Cramblett had worked his magic once again and the new bike and bike fit felt amazing! Looking back now I should have trusted myself and the bike a bit more but, at the time, flying towards the first corner, I had this vision of miscalculating the corner and taking myself out in the most spectacular fashion. Road rash and broken bikes were NOT on my to-do list that weekend and so I slowed up and erred on the side of caution.

Onto the next straight and, with a slight downhill and smooth asphalt, I was quickly cruising along at 70kph.  My legs and lungs were screaming but it was a good pain; the pain of power and speed. Just as quickly as it started, it was over. Despite taking zero risk, cornering like Grandma Moses, it was still enough for 7th. I was going to do some serious damage with this bike and couldn’t wait to race it again. The beast was back!

While I was playing it safe, my team mate Jasmin Glaesser was racing like a rockstar. She has been training hard this past year and it is very obviously paying off now. She had finished 6th at the Tour of California Folsom Time Trial and was improving on that performance with a third place finish at Chrono Gatineau. The whole team was stoked to see Jas up on the podium, well earned trophy in hand. Watch out for this girl at Commonwealth Games! She is on fire these days!!

 

Originally the plan for the GP de Gatineau, the circuit race the following day, had been to set up our sprinters, Sam and Jo, for the finish. However, Jasmin had been racing strong all season, working hard for the team and delivering ever improving results in time trials. If the opportunity presented itself we all agreed that Jasmin had earned the chance to go for the win.

The new plan was for the team to cover threatening attacks, keeping it together for a bunch sprint where we had the horse power for a solid lead out and the sprinters to seal the deal. The only break away we would let go would be one with Jasmin and a number and composition of riders that gave Jas a reasonable shot at a win. Patty, our Swiss Miss, would be captain, calling the shots, communicating with the director and organizing the team during the race.

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Personally, I was feeling strong and confident and so I made it my own goal to cover as many attacks as possible so that Jo, Sam and Jasmin could save their legs and have the best shot possible at a win. Being near the front and covering most moves had the side effect of putting me in position to snag a prime as well as ending up in several short lived break aways. Just after the prime lap things got aggressive and attack after attack went off the front. Steph Roorda attacked with Jade Wilcoxson hot on her wheel. I bridged up and a break of seven riders, including time trial power horse Annie Foreman-Mackey, formed.

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I knew that the composition of the break away was not in my favor, Jade was a far stronger sprinter than I was. Furthermore, the break away was not a part of the team’s plan. I knew that our team would organize and bring the break back and so I sat in as best as I could, letting my legs recover for the inevitable catch and counter attack. Glancing back I saw all five of my team mates lined up on the front of the peloton quickly and cohesively pulling us back. Sure enough they caught us just a few moments later and the counter attacks started going.

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Not too long after that another break away formed and this one was very much in our favor: six riders including Jasmin, Denise Ramsden, Lex Albrecht and three local riders. Confident in Jasmin’s ability we let the break go, the gap quickly opening up to almost two minutes. The rest of us stayed in the peloton, covering attacks and thwarting any attempt to bridge to the break.

The rest of the race ticked by without incident and, with 3km to go, I worked my way to the front, increasing the pace and starting the lead out. In the end, Jasmin had a bit of bad luck in the final kilometer getting caught off guard by Denise’s attack.

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With a gap to close and the course running out, there was not enough time for a win. Denise took the victory while Jasmin had to settle for third place. Still a spot on the podium, some UCI points and big smiles. Way to go Jas!

While Jasmin sprinted her way onto the podium, our lead out worked well getting Jo and Sam 8th and 9th. Overall a fairly successful day for the team.

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Two races and two podiums later it was time to relax and celebrate. TIBCO founder, Linda Jackson, treated us to a wonderful dinner out at the Byward Market in Ottawa. What a great way to end a weekend of racing!

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Just a few hours later I was in another airport on my way to another bike race. Time to sit back, relax and catch up on the latest Hollywood gossip before winding up for more racing. Next up: North Star Grand Prix in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

 

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Dear California, I love you

Another three weeks in California and I am more in love with it than ever. After finishing Joe Martin Stage Race in Arkansas, I flew straight to Los Angeles to spend some time training in the SoCal sunshine before the Amgen Tour of California two weeks later. The race report for ATOC is down at the bottom, but I thought I would take some time to talk about more than just bike racing this time.

Having spent most of the past 6 months in the Los Angeles area, it felt like coming home: familiar faces, favorite roads, the best coffee shops (Intelligentsia in Venice Beach, seriously, it will blow your mind!) .

The view at the end of one of my training rides. How can you not love this place?!?!

How can you not love this place?!?!

I had just received my brand new Fuji Norcom Straight time trial bike and so I left my road bike in the team trailer to focus exclusively on my new “spaceship”. My last time doing any real time trial training was July of last year, but as soon as I got on the new bike, felt the familiar power and speed and burn, I remembered why I loved time trialing. I have a long way to go before I’m back in tip top time trial beast mode but I did get some solid hours in over the two weeks in California.

Aside from the several hours of training per day, I tried to make the most of every day I was in LA by exploring the city, meeting new people, and just generally getting out and doing things. Of course staying with the Maynard family was wonderful; it always is. So many fun coffee shop stops and a couple lulu shopping sprees with Carolyn and Jaqui, midnight chats and sushi with Brian, martinis served up by Bernie, and of course Larry’s awesome stories. You guys totally rock!

The Maynard family bar; every house needs one of these!

The Maynard family bar; every home needs one of these!

Nancy was also kind enough to make some time in her super overbooked schedule to take me on the coolest tour. Even though I have spent months living in Los Angeles, I had been so busy with training that I had never seen Hollywood or Beverly Hills or any of the other famous sites. I had never even seen the Hollywood sign. Nancy picked me up and, after an obligatory iced americano stop, she showed me all the sites before taking me out to the most amazing sushi restaurant. Of course we had to stop and get the super tourist-y picture in front of the Hollywood sign.

At the observatory in front of the Hollywood sign

At the observatory in front of the Hollywood sign with crazy tan lines (#TheOriginalStrava)

Far too soon is was time to pack up and fly to San Jose for the final race preparations. Some physio and another awesome bike fit with Curtis Cramblett and I was ready for Tour of California to start. The rest of the squad arrived and we had some fun with different sponsor events before racing. The TIBCO squad for this race would be Jo, Jasmin, Kendall, Sara, Paige and myself; a pretty solid crew.

First up was a group ride with some of our amazing sponsors from Silicon Valley Bank (SVB). After a wonderful breakfast meet and greet, these guys (and ladies) proceeded to drop the hammer up some of the more sizable hills in the Bay area. Seriously impressive! We would see a lot of these people again that evening at the annual SVCF Gala Fundraiser for women’s cycling. Thank you for your support!

 

The fundraiser was a beautiful catered dinner hosted at a breathtaking home and spandex was therefore definitely not  a clothing option. Having literally existed in nothing but spandex and sweat pants for the past year “high heels” were not in my vocabulary or my closet and I had all but forgotten how to “suit up”. Luckily I had Sara and Kendall come to my rescue. A borrowed dress, some new shoes and Kendall’s magic makeup skills turned me from bike racer into girly girl…….which apparently was quite the change because when I walked into the main house my manager stared at me blankly for a solid 20 seconds wondering who the stranger in her house was. All done up in our little black dresses, we spent the evening enjoying a wonderful meal and mingling with some of the local supporters of Team TIBCO and women’s racing.

The following day was race day; back to work. First up was the Amgen Tour of California Circuit Race: a 50 minute high speed slug fest around the Capitol building in downtown Sacramento. The atmosphere when we arrived was incredible! Huge crowds, media, horse mounted security, music and even the Rapha espresso cart. We warmed up on our Kurt Kinetic trainers across from the Team Sky bus and watched the festivities around us before sitting down for a quick team meeting. The course was flat, wide and square with a fair amount of wind and a long sprint to the finish. The field was big (115 starters) with a wide range of skill so, if necessary, Sara and I would be setting the pace at the front to keep the field strung out and our sprinters (Jo and Kendall) safe. We also each had marked riders on other teams that we would cover. I was covering a couple strong time trialers with the hope of getting in a break away with them. If none of the breaks stuck, the team would organize in the final laps to lead the sprinters out for the finish.

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As soon as the race started it was clear that we were not the only team that wanted a fast race: it was full gas right off the line. It took me a couple laps to work my way into the front part of the bunch and so I got a good look at the chaos that was mid-peloton. The racing in Europe had seemed so scary with huge pelotons crammed onto tiny roads and so I had thought that North American racing would be “easier” in the sense that there would be more space. That race definitely made me change my mind! Yes, there was loads of space……loads of space for people to be unpredictable and dangerous. In Europe, everyone took the same line through corners because you literally went into the corner sandwiched between the riders on either side so there was no space for creativity, you just went with it. Here there was space to be creative and “creative” is not an adjective that bodes well in cycling. Exhibit A: halfway into the first lap I watched the two women in front of me take completely different, and intersecting, lines through the corner precisely because there was so much space to play with. Sure enough they made contact and promptly wiped out about twenty people.

That was all the motivation I need to hurry up and get myself into the front of the peloton and stay there. Attack after attack was going off the front, with several attempts by Sara and myself as well, but the peloton was not going to let anything get away today. Nothing stuck for more than half a lap before being brought back. The speed was high to begin with and lap after lap we cranked it up more. The crowd was incredible, screaming and cheering and pounding on the barricades creating a deafening roar through the finishing stretch. There was also no shortage of excitement in the peloton: the non-stop attacks, abundance of crashes and competing team tactics took every bit of focus I had. With four laps to go the speed started increasing again and teams began to organize for the sprint. Then disaster struck: three laps to go and a massive pile up happened in the front part of the bunch. Three of our riders were in front of it, three (myself included) behind it. Luckily non of us went down.

There were no more free laps and the carnage was blocking off most of the road and so a sizable gap had opened up before I had picked my way through the bodies and bikes and could start chasing again. Despite my best efforts I ran out of laps, catching the front group just as we crossed the finish line. Jo had done the best she could, finishing 5th despite missing half her team. A good result but we couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed in how the finishing laps had panned out for the team.

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This was my first real individual time trial since National Championships in 2013 and it was a star studded field so I was pretty nervous going into it. We pre-rode the course early the day of the race and it looked like it was going to be a fast one: no wind, no technical corners, smooth asphalt and wide roads. There were a few hills but nothing too steep. The way back was mostly downhill with several long, gradual descents that would keep the speed high.

Several hours later I was on the ramp watching the familiar countdown, clearing my mind and preparing for 20km of suffering. The course started off perfectly, a slight downhill helping me quickly get up to speed. I found the familiar rhythm between my cadence and breathing and pounding heart and settled in. Then I almost died.

Actually, I actually  almost died. I came flying into a 90 degree right hand turn in my areo bars (no brakes) thinking I had the whole road to come out of the corner. A media tent and large crowd meant that I couldn’t actually see around the corner but I remembered it being really wide. Just as I hit the apex of the corner I realized that I did not in fact have the whole road and that I was about half a second away from going face first into an orange metal barricade at about 55kph. I resisted the urge to slam on the brakes knowing instinctively that attempting to stop abruptly would cause a spectacular wipe out. I eased on my back brake ever so slightly and laid the bike down as far as I could praying to whatever higher power may be that it would be enough to make it. My wheels hit the feet of the barriers and my shoe scuffed against the metal and I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to go down. Hard.

What would hurt less? The metal barrier on my left or the asphalt on my right? Asphalt, go for the asphalt…..less chance of impalement and I was leaning that way anyways. Now clearly I have horseshoes stuck up my butt or something because there is no way I should have remained upright and yet, somehow, after skidding over three or four barrier feet (lucky for me they were the flat kind, not the angled kind) I was through the corner and still upright.

I had made it through death corner and was now only a few kilometers away from the turn around point, the adrenaline definitely helping me get back up to speed. As soon as I flipped it at the turn around point I realized that the wind had picked up. Significantly. Uh oh. I had been banking on the way back being the easier part of the course and had used up most of my tank on the way out. It was now painfully clear that the headwind on the way back was going to require much more power to overcome than the uphills on the way out and I was already running close to empty. Never have 10km seemed so far. The wind was merciless and I was soon cracked; sheer will power and a stubborn determination not to be a “quitter” were all that was keeping my bike moving. After what seemed like an eternity I crossed the line, 11th place.

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Thank you California, it’s been amazing and I can’t wait to see you again. For now it’s back to Canada for a week of R&R before gearing up for Gatineau.

Time Trials, Team Work and Thunder Storms at Joe Martin Stage Race

Last week I arrived in Fayetteville, Arkansas, for my first North American race with Team TIBCO: Joe Martin Stage Race. First up was an uphill time trial, followed by two days of hot and hilly road racing, then an eight corner criterium to finish off the weekend. After months of fast, flat racing I was definitely nervous about how my legs would feel on the hills. I was a domestique for this race so my job was simply to work for the team, but I had to make it over the hills if I was going to be of any use to them.

 

Stage 1 – The Hill Climb

Stage one would soon tell me exactly how my legs ranked compared to the others. Now, as a time trial aficionado, I do not think that “uphill” and “time trial” should ever  be in the same sentence. If you’re riding a road bike and your average speed is under 30kmh it’s a hill climb, not a time trial. End of debate. Unfortunately, the race organizers did not ask my opinion on the matter and so I reluctantly skin suited up for 10 minutes of slow suffering…….which is not nearly as much fun as 40 minutes of fast suffering. As I stood in line the wind picked up and it started to drizzle; the drizzle grew into torrential downpour as my start time approached. The course started on a flat, went on a slight downhill for several hundred meters and then pitched up into the climb. I had put my bike in my usual starting gear: big ring and just below mid cassette. As I stood there waiting, one of the guys hanging around looked at my gears and commented that it was way too big, it was a hill climb and I’d never be able to start that gear. Distracted by my impending start and definitely outside of my comfort zone, I actually listened to him…..rookie move. There I was two minutes before my start letting a total stranger pick the gear he thought I should start on. Fast forward 90 seconds and I was on my bike, clipped in listening to the familiar countdown: 5, 4, 3, 2 stand up, 1 swing back, anticipate aaaaand GO!

Except I didn’t go. My right leg pushed down, my left leg pulled up, my hips thrust forward and my arms reefed on the bars. Problem was that my bike was still being held so it wasn’t going forward and all that power and momentum went straight up instead. I popped a full on wheelie, Sagan style, on the start line. I then followed that up by fully spinning out my back wheel (thank you rain and tiny gear), barely staying right side up, before heading down the opening stretch. The tiny gear, downhill and huge surge of adrenaline had me spinning out seconds later, scrambling to find a good gear and rhythm. But, disaster somehow avoided, I did eventually find my groove and crossed the line a respectable 13th place. Not a bad start to the weekend. As a team, we were clearly the ones to beat. Lauren had won and we had three more in the top ten.

 

Stage 2 – The First Road Race

The first road race was just over 100km. There were two short, steep climbs in the opening kilometers, a 13km climb in the middle followed by a long descent into a flatish, windy section. The race finished with a couple more short, steep poppers and an uphill sprint. With Lauren in pink, our plan was to race aggressively. Sara and I would cover early attacks and launch counter attacks in the hopes of getting into a breakaway. This would hopefully do two things: give us a head start on the long climb, and put the pressure on the other teams to give chase right from the start. On the climb, the climbers on our team would set the pace to shed as many riders from the peloton as possible. Once the climb was over, Sara and I would keep the speed high to ensure none of the dropped riders could come back. In the last hour we would take turns attacking, forcing the other teams to chase and hopefully tiring them out enough to give Lauren and Jo an advantage in the finishing sprint.

My legs were feeling heavy and sore and I didn’t fully trust them. Sure enough they were screaming in protest just minutes into the race. It was going to be a long day. The rest of the peloton was clearly ready for a day of aggressive racing. Countless attacks were launched forcing Sara and I to put in effort after effort to cover. There were so many attacks that some of our other riders had to pitch in and help cover as well. Sara put in a couple attacks but was quickly chased down and counter attacked. I had my own hands so full covering that I never got a chance to actually attack before we reached the base of the main climb. Here Andrea “Dre” Dvorack went to the front and set a pace that made me go cross eyed. All I could do was to stay out of the way of my team mates and not get dropped. The climbers continued to push the pace as I fought the urge to puke on my top tube. 13km. Suck it up Buttercup. It had been a long time since I had suffered badly enough to get the tooth tinglies but by kilometer 6 or 7 up that hill my teeth were tingling, my face, fingers and toes were numb and I was seeing stars……if I had a stroke, maybe my director would let me get in the car? I shook my head and forced myself to focus.

Sometimes you just have to suck it up

The crest of the hill was in sight and I was still there in the top ten. I looked around for the first time since the start of the climb and realized that we had whittled the peloton down to only about 20 riders, and seven of the eight TIBCO riders were still there. The descent went by without much excitement and then we were into the flats; the last hour and time to start attacking. I drifted back to about 15th position to give myself some space to get up to speed and surprise the bunch, and did a quick check of who was where. Jessica Cutler, currently third in GC and a powerful rider, was on the front. Perfect. Amber, second in GC, was following Lauren and paying no attention to me, even better. I moved to the edge of the group, stood up and put it all into the cranks. I thrashed my Fuji into a full out sprint peaking at 69.9kmh and quickly establishing a several hundred meter gap. With the gap big enough to discourage most people from spending the energy to bridge I paused, maintaining the gap and catching my breath. Time to wait and see how the peloton would react. Olivia Dillon was bridging up to me solo. Behind her, Anna Sanders was starting to bridge with my team mate Patricia Schwager on her wheel. No one else was reacting. This was perfect! Olivia, Patricia and I were all strong time trialers, none of the top GC riders were there, and it was two TIBCO versus one Colavita and one FCS. Confident in the composition of the breakaway, I started working. 28km to the finish.

Slowly but surely the gap opened wider and wider. All four of us were working well together and we now had almost a minute lead over the peloton. 15km to go. With two TIBCO riders and no GC threat in the breakaway I was pretty sure that my team mates in the peloton would do nothing to catch us, but rather simply keep the gap small enough to keep Lauren in the pink. Patricia had been riding strongly all day and was a rock star on the hills so between the two of us she was definitely the one that had the best shot at the stage win. I knew that if I could give her a chance to recover she would bring home the win and so I pulled…..and pulled…..and pulled. I was burning through matches fast but the final kilometers were also counting down fast. 10km to go……9km to go……8km…..then I blew. I cracked. My legs had nothing left to give and I was unceremoniously dropped from the break away. I sat up waiting for the peloton and doing my best to recover enough to jump in with the group for the finish.

I had barely sat up when I looked back to see Dre flying towards me. She had obviously attacked solo. I stood up, accelerating to jump on her wheel as she flew by. My legs were still completely thrashed but I tried my best to work with her for as long as possible. I was beyond cracked by this point and in the final kilometers it was all I could do to keep pedaling my bike. The peloton came screaming past me, quickly closing on Dre and the breakaway but Patricia managed to hold them off to the line taking the stage win. I was beyond stoked for Patricia. She was an amazing rider but always worked for others, rarely got the chance to win for herself. She had actually been Marianne Vos’ team mate for a year and on our ride, Marianne had talked about what a selfless rider Patricia was, always giving 100% for the team at the expense of her own results. When I caught up with Patricia after the finish she was smiling from ear to ear and knowing that I had helped put her on the top step of the podium made all the work I’d done totally worth it. Patricia took the stage, Lauren held onto the pink and Jasmin stayed in white (best young rider jersey). Another successful day for the team.

Patricia "Patty" Schwager taking her well deserved win

Patricia “Patty” Schwager taking her well deserved win

 

Stage 2 – Another Road Race

The second road race looked a bit like a lollipop. We would ride two laps, each with several steep but short climbs, then turn left off of the circuit onto a flat 8km finishing stretch. The finishing stretch had a strong cross wind and so we decided to race defensively and then use the team to blow up the pack in the cross winds and set up Lauren and Jo for the finish.

TIBCO in the pink, green and white jerseys on the start of stage 3

TIBCO in the pink, green and white jerseys on the start of stage 3

The race started off aggressively and a large breakaway of 8 riders went. Dre was in the group so we let the break go. The peloton settled into a comfortable pace. It was a stand off, each team waiting for the other to make the first move. After one lap the breakaway was down to three riders and Dre was still there. They had opened the gap up to 4’35” though and that was too big for our liking. Additionally, the two riders with Dre had started working together, against Dre, and there was a big risk that they’re joined efforts would successfully drop her.

At the start of lap two we organized on the front and started pulling the break back. Coming into the finishing stretch we had caught the break away and shattered the peloton. With the miles counting down things were heating up. Attack after attack went but nothing was sticking. In the crosswinds of the finishing kilometers the team dug deep, pushing the pace and putting it in the gutter. We had all been working hard for the last hour to close the gap, set up the finish and protect our sprinters. It was now up to Jo and Lauren to bring it home.

What was left of the peloton shattered in the last two kilometers and Lauren and Jo were exactly where they needed to be earning themselves first and second place respectively. Another successful day for the team.

 

Stage 4 – The Criterium

After two grueling, hot and hilly road races as a work horse, I woke up the morning of the criterium feeling like I had been run over by a truck……literally: I was as sore and stiff and achy as that one time when I actually did get run over by a truck. After consuming enough Peet’s espresso to cause heart palpitations the prospect of racing another day was seeming a bit less daunting, which was good because we were soon en route to the downtown start. The weather forecast was calling for thunder storms and, as we warmed up in a line on our Kurt Kinetic trainers, the morning drizzle turned into torrential downpour. Luckily the shower was short lived and the skies had cleared a bit by the time we rolled over to the start line.

Patty and Dre all on the start line

Patty and Dre all on the start line

Our tactics for the day were pretty simple: Sara and I were to set pace on the descent and wide sections to keep the field strung out and our leader’s safe, the other six TIBCO riders each had one or two competitors they would cover. The first few laps were fairly spicy, the roads were wet and slick and it was taking me a minute to get comfortable on the technical 8 corner course. Olivia Dillon, who clearly consumes rocket fuel for breakfast, was on the front setting a break neck speed. Jasmine and Lauren were on her wheel and I was several positions back from them waiting for an opportune moment to move up. Right now Olivia was doing a fantastic job of keeping the field strung out and our team was positioned well so I wasn’t in a huge rush to move up.

 

Olivia setting the pace and stringing out the field

 

We came flying into the seventh corner of the lap when disaster struck: The asphalt was slick as ice from the rain and, before any of us even knew what had happened, half a dozen riders and bikes were sliding across the road in an ever growing pile up. I barely managed to swerve around the crash, almost taking myself out in the process. The crash had happened at the front of the race and it couldn’t have been worse luck for Team TIBCO: Jasmin (white jersey for best young rider) and Lauren (GC leader) had both gone down and most of the team was stuck behind the crash. Sara, Patty and I regrouped and started chasing while the others rushed to the pit before rejoining us on the following lap.

As the laps started counting down the racing got more and more aggressive. A breakaway including Lauren, Jo and Scotti went and would become the winning break away. Behind the break the main group was also starting to splinter into several smaller groups. A gap opened up several riders in front of me and I tried to bridge across but failed. My attempt had however put me in no man’s land: solo between the two groups, which is how I spent the last laps of the race.

Some solo time with my Fuji Supreme

Some solo time with my Fuji Supreme

At the front of the race, Lauren brought it home yet again with her third victory of the week. Team TIBCO had won all four stages, the GC, team GC, Points and Young Rider classification. We had put in some solid team work and I’m looking forward to our next race together…..although hopefully with less hills and more time trialing.

 

 

Monkey See, Monkey Do, Monkey Race Much Better Too

Over the past month my lack of racing experience has put me at a major disadvantage in the Euro peloton so, while the rest of Team TIBCO returned to America, I stayed behind in the Netherlands to live, train and race like the dutch girls.

I would be living with Harrie van der Horst just outside of Rotterdam for two weeks of training and racing. One of the best parts of staying with Harrie is that he owns a scooter so lots of motor pacing was on the menu. Motor pacing, aside from being really fun, is an awesome way to work on speed and cadence so I really loved those workouts.

Before I delve into the stories of racing, I just wanted to take a moment to thank all the people that allowed me to stay in Europe and have helped make this such a rewarding, positive and valuable experience. Special thanks to the van Kessel family and Harrie for opening their homes to me; you all made me feel so welcomed! Also, a huge thank you to all the people that have offered their support in one way or another: Global Relay Bridge the Gap, Marianne Vos, Svein Tuft, and all the riders that have been helping me learn the ropes of Euro racing.

 

Dutch Criteriums

The following weekend it was time to start racing again. First up, a couple of dutch criteriums. I have raced about a dozen criteriums ever so, like with everything else in cycling, I’m not exactly an expert. Nothing I had experienced back in North America could have prepared me for these criteriums. On paper they look simple: longer laps (1-3km compared to the 0.6-1km laps typically found back home), fewer laps so fewer corners, and a field composed mainly of local riders. However, the laps were over brick and cobble roads, along windy dikes, through narrow and twisting streets lined with a wide array of road furniture and punctuated with gaping potholes and gaps…..not exactly “easy”.

Oh, and “small local field” means between 80 and 100 women including a handful of national champions, the occassional world champions and a dozen or more big pro riders.

 

In my first crit, it took me a few laps to find my “crit legs” and by that time a strong breakaway of five had already been established. I spent the next hour chasing and, despite my best efforts, finished in a bunch sprint with a less than spectacular 37th place.

The next day I knew what to expect and had a much better experience. The field had many of the same riders, including three strong women from Rabobank, a Giant-Shimano rider and a few from Hitec and Boels. My goal was to stay in the front 15 spots and be aggressive. Over the next hour I did exactly that: no matter what, I made sure I stayed near the front, I attacked, I covered other rider’s attacks, railed the corners and strung out the field to inflict as much suffering as I could.

Despite managing to get into a half a dozen breakaways, only one rider managed to stay away from the field and sadly that one rider was not me. With two laps to go I shook out my legs and positioned myself near the front on the wheels of the riders I thought would give me chance in a bunch sprint. With 300m to go it was all lining up perfectly: I had picked the right spot, I was close enough to the front to make it, and there was a gap starting to open up that I was just about to accelerate through. Of course nothing can ever go that smoothly and, just as I was rising out of my saddle to give that last little kick, some idiot decides that she really, really wants to try to go for that same gap and, without warning, jerks her bike hard left towards it.

Screams, squealing brakes, cursing, chaos……I somehow managed not to go down but I had lost a lot of speed and position and there was less than 200m to go to the line. With a 13th place finish it was definitely the best result I had ever gotten in any European race, but I couldn’t help but be a touch disappointed at how the race had unfolded at the end.

 

Dwars door Vlaanderen

Week two in the Netherlands brought with it a change of pace; I was driving down to Belgium for an 80km circuit race – Dwars door Vlaanderen. It was a completely flat 11km loop with some wicked headwind. Giant-Shimano was definitely the strongest team there and, given the course and conditions, I was fairly certain they would do their best to keep the bunch together for super-sprinter Kirsten Wild. I decided the best course of action would be to sit in and play sprinter for the day; stay close to Wild, stay close to the front but out of the wind, only go with breaks that had more than one Giant rider unless the one Giant rider was Wild or Pieters. I was willing to bet that anything else would be brought back.

Two laps into the race I had successfully defended my position and my predictions seemed to be coming true: the bunch was staying together and Giant-Shimano was pulling back any attacks that were going. On the second lap a small breakaway formed: 2 club riders, one Lotto-Belisol and one Giant-Shimano rider (not Pieters or Wild). They had 5 laps of mostly flat and windy, non-technical racing left and none of the favourites were in the group. I looked around and no one seemed to be terribly concerned so I gambled, betting that they would get pulled back long before the finish. Over the next couple laps the break away widened the gap to almost about 45 seconds and it the peloton started getting a bit more nervous. Problem was that no one was willing to work to pull the break back, but rather everyone was trying to either bridge up or stop someone else from bridging up so the race turned into a series of relentless attacks and counter attacks.

 

I covered every rider that I thought had a chance of getting up to the break away group and, at one point, managed to get a good gap on the peloton along with Wild and another strong dutch girl riding for Futurum. Unfortunately we got pulled back about half a lap later.

Almost immediately Pieters attacked solo. We were on a windy section of the course, the break away was about 40 seconds away, and Pieters didn’t seem to be getting away from us very quickly. Somehow she actually managed to bridge up to the breakaway . I later found out that it took her 15km to do so, but she did it.  With two riders in the break away, Giant-Shimano successfully took the win. For the rest of us it was a bunch sprint, a good chance to practice the aspect of road racing that I dread the most. Coming up on the last lap my legs felt good and I positioned myself well and managed to still place in the top 20. Things hadn’t happened the way that I wanted them to but, all in all, it was still a good race and an excellent learning opportunity.

 

Racing the Boys 

The last week in the Netherlands there were no women’s races that I could go to, so I decided to race a couple of club races with the boys instead. What’s really cool about the Netherlands is that cycling is such a popular sport that most towns in the area had cycling clubs that had private circuits used for club races several times a week. These club races will attract anywhere from 50 to 150 riders each time so it’s a great training opportunity. Furthermore, racing with the boys is always good because it’s just that little bit faster and more aggressive, especially through the corners and in the sprints.

We were racing 90 minutes and I was the only woman. The course was 1.2km on a space approximately the size of a football field so, to get that distance in, the course basically looped back on itself  several times. 1.2km with four 180 degree corners would make for some excitement. I had forgotten how much more aggressively the boys take those corners and it took me a couple laps to dare to lay my bike down that hard. I did eventually find the groove though and was comfortable rotating through the front 10 or so positions. There was one guy there who was very obviously not impressed by the fact that a chick was keeping up with the big boys. After about 30 minutes of racing he started being a real jerk. He would attack every single time I was at the front, refuse to pull through if he was on my wheel, physically push me out of the line and into the wind, cut me off through the corners. Basically anything he could do to make my life really difficult.

At first he was making me nervous. He was about twice my size, completely jacked and was physically shoving me all over the place. Then I remembered: I’m a bad ass mother who won’t take no crap off of nobody! Why was I letting this twat waffle push me around? That’s when the tables turned: I pushed back, I let him attack and sit out in the wind before countering as viciously as I could (and successfully dropping him). I was pissed and with that anger I found the aggression that I had lost over the past few months.

 

Suddenly I was racing the way I had at the very beginning: before getting a pro contract, before being worried about results, before the national team projects and selection camps. It felt good to race that way again because at some point over the last year I had started believing that I was in over my head, doubting my ability and not trusting my legs. I had climbed the ranks in cycling very quickly; literally going from total amateur to pro in only 3 months of racing. With that success came many opportunities, but also many doubts. Lots of people doubted if I was ready for this, that or the other thing. Many times I was told that I didn’t have enough experience; that it was too early. The comments were not meant to be negative; they were totally logical observations and assumptions. Yes, I was brand new.  Yes, I had about zero experience. Yes, I was racing way outside my comfort zone.

I let all of those comments get in my head, I let them intimidate me. I stopped racing the way I had always raced because I didn’t trust me to be able to do it. In that club race, surrounded by chiselled legs, facial hair and testosterone, I found that old pizzaz again. I could  do this! I had earned my spot and I belonged there.

The beast was back and I was putting it all out there and, with three laps to go, I had laid down more attacks than I could count and had whittled the field down to just three surviving riders. We were coming up behind the peloton, about to lap them, when a massive crash blocked off the whole course.

The race was stopped making a disappointing end to the day, but it had been a break through for me. For the first time in a long time I had totally trusted my legs and put it all out there. I’m going to be a whole lot more confident and aggressive in the coming races.

 

 

Sunshine Spin with the World’s Greatest Cyclist

A month ago Team TIBCO was invited to see Marianne Vos’ trophy room and I thought that was pretty much the coolest thing ever. Our European director had been Marianne’s coach when she was a junior, and was still good friends with her and her family. Marianne was in Sri Lanka at the time, but her brother, Anton, and parents invited us over anyways to see the trophies and watch some old racing videos of her. I thought that was as close as I was going to get to meeting Marianne but, after deciding to stay in Europe to train, Anton asked Marianne if she would ride with me……..and she agreed.

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I was over the moon! For me, it would have been cool just to meet her, let alone ride with her. For those that do not follow womens cycling, Marianne is arguably the greatest cyclist of all time. She has won numerous World Championship titles on the road, track and cyclocross (I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before mountain biking is added to the list) and has Olympic gold medals from London and Beijing on the road and on the track. And that’s in addition to the shed full of trophies, medals and leader jerseys from national championships, European championships and esteemed UCI races.

Now, one would think that Marianne is simply stronger than everyone else, that some physical difference is the reason for her domination in the sport, but she’s actually average height, average weight, average build. Furthermore, she has never been World Champion in the time trial, the purest measure of strength in the cycling world. So what makes her so special? Anyone that has ever watched her race will see what sets her apart. She has a will to win that is so strong it sets her apart from the rest. Every race she is more aggressive, takes more risks, and suffers more than anyone else. Just watching her dare devil descents on television makes my palms sweat. Just watch the video (below) one of her fans made to see what I mean.

 

 

 

 

Having idolized Marianne since I first became involved in cycling, I was pretty nervous about meeting her and riding with her. When her and Anton arrived I quickly forgot about being nervous; she was not at all what I would have expected. Instead of having the superior, somewhat arrogant attitude that many of the big stars have, she was totally normal, kind, approachable. It didn’t take long before the conversation was flowing easily, which was good because I had a lot of questions to get through in just 2 hours so there was no time to be wasted!

 

Quick photo with her former and my current Euro coach

Quick photo with her former and my current Euro coach

 

So what did I learn from the legend?

  1. Base miles, base miles, base miles. Throughout the season the base miles (long, steady miles) give you a solid base layer that will allow you to bounce back quickly if you take time off because of injury, illness, vacation, etc
  2. Take time off. When the racing starts you have to be willing to give the extra 2% becuase you WANT to, not because you’ve trained really hard all winter and feel like you HAVE to
  3. Build a reputation in the peloton, it makes life much easier. If you are known as a good, strong rider you are accepted at the front of the race, which makes it much easier to position
  4. Switch it up and keep it fun. Marianne trains and races on the road and track, mountain bikes, does cyclocross and even runs
  5. Running is totally fine as a winter hobby so long as you do not over do it. Remember that you have the endurance and fitness to run hard and far, but the musculature you develop from cycling is different so you have to take it easy to minimize the risk of running-induced injury
  6. Be relaxed when you’re descending, look far ahead and through the corner. Brake before you enter the corner and then accelerate out of it. Go in wide, cut the apex, then out wide (think “outside, inside, outside”)
  7. Be smart. Understand the race; the course, conditions and competitors. Find “The moment”and then go for it
  8. Challenge your mind, not just your body. Keep using your brain, even as a professional athlete. Analyze the races, think about training, learn and grow
  9. Never be angry with anyone but yourself. If you get crashed out, YOU were in the wrong place. If you get dropped, YOU weren’t strong enough. If you miss the winning move, YOU didn’t read the race properly. When you are angry with yourself, put it all into the pedals. Use the energy to race harder
  10. Be confident. Marianne told me about her first world championships, as a junior, and she said that they (the Dutch junior women) knew that they were the best. They didn’t know anything about any of the other girls, but they knew that they were better. They finished first (Marianne), third (Ellen van Dijk), 5th (Roxanne Knetteman), and 10th (Suzanne van Veen) that year.

 

The Vos siblings (Anton is the guy behind all the awesome race pics lately)

The Vos siblings (Anton is the guy behind all the awesome race pics lately)

 

And perhaps the coolest thing I learned about Marianne: she was studying biomedical sciences in preparation for medical school applications when she won her first World Championships and was offered a pro contract. She decided to pursue cycling instead of medical school and, having recently made exactly the same decision myself, I asked her if she ever regretted her choice. Her answer: No. At first she felt like she had changed her life path from being a doctor helping people and giving back to the community to a selfish, athletic endeavour. Since then she has found a way to give back through sport. She inspires and mentors people around the world, is a driving force in the movement for equality in womens cycling, and an amazing role model for young women everywhere.

 

Thank you Marianne for taking the time to come ride with me! Best of luck at Fleche Wallonne!

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