Thursday, May 23, 2013

Success in Canada

After China, I returned to California for 2 days for washing clothes and repacking before boarding another flight to Canada for the GP de Gatineaux road race and time trial

Training ride in Parc de Gatineau
The next morning we went on a training ride in the Gatineau Park race. The park was super beautiful, with nice smooth roads and great views. The ride was good for testing the legs, which were definitely not liking it. 
View point (+thumb)
The road race the next day was 120km, 12 laps of a 10km circuit. My job was to protect my teammates, chase any dangerous attacks, or let any less dangerous attacks go to calm the peloton before reeling them back in in the later laps of the race. I stayed in front for most of the race doing my job, I even won the first prime, but at 100km my legs decided to stop listening to me. I managed another few last ditch efforts for my teammates, but then had nothing left to even stick with the bunch, so I had to let my teammates take over for the last 15km. I trundled around the course the last lap and a half by myself, catching glimpses of the bunch wherever the course doubled back on itself. All the time I was hoping that my teammates had stayed fresh enough for the finish and that our plan would work out.
Viewpoint from Parc de Gatineau
When I finally made it to the finish line I found my team waiting for me already, screaming and shouting and jumping in the air - our team had worked perfectly to plan with our team controlling the race in the last few km to put Shelley into position to win the sprint! What a great feeling it was to have played part in this success. 
Win for Team TIBCO!
One anti-doping control and a shower later, Team TIBCO spent the evening celebrating with a nice dinner and walk around in the warm summer evening in the buzzing town of Ottawa.

Then we had one day to recover before the TT, which was the same course as the road race, just the other way round. I did the best I could, but my legs were still fried. My teammates were flying though, with Chantal taking 3rd, Claudia 6th and Shelley 7th, while I had to be happy with a smack-bang middle of the field 16th. 

Straight after the race it was the usual procedure of quickly packing the bike and legging it straight to the airport for a flight back to SF.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The China experiment

A couple of weeks before Speedweek my DS asked me if I would be interested in going to China to race the Chongming Island Tour and World Cup at the start of May. If I would be interested? Well, of course!!! I've done World Cups in mountain biking before, but this would be my first road racing World Cup. Trying to organize a visa in time was nerve-wrecking but it all worked out fine and just in time.

After the last race of Speedweek I flew back to California where I had 10hours to quickly go "home", wash my clothes, repack and get back to SFO airport to fly to China via Korea. I arrived with my team late in the evening in our hotel on Chongming Island. Thankfully our mechanic (who was being harassed by the Chinese girls like a rock star) built our bikes, because the racing started straight the next day in the morning.

The Chongming Island Tour has 3 flat stages, on big straight roads, with few turns, and the team was riding in support of Shelley, our resident sprinter who had won the World Cup there the year before. It was funny, in the race book the profile was like a dead persons heart beat - exactly 3.5m above sea level.

Day 1 (passed by OK in good weather without any issues but also no results to write home about, it was a bunch sprint and we all stayed safe and arrived with the bunch. We were stared at by the locals a lot though, which was funny.

A bit dirty after Stage 2!

Day 2 was another flat day, but this time round in pouring rain. At least it was warm. I punctured less than 1km into the race with a big chunk of metal in my tire and had to chase back on. It took forever because I wasn't comfortable to cycling an inch behind the car, but I'm getting better. Then, trying to move up inside a corner, I had to brake and slid out on the wet, slippery tarmac. Thankfully I didn't take anyone else down and the bike was OK to ride, but I had to chase on again. Then, just after I had caught back on we got into a crosswind section and the pace went through the roof! Cursing myself for not having moved up further into the safety of the front I now had to fight tooth and nail to stay on that wheel in front in a peloton-long line out. Of course people let wheels go and I found myself in maybe the 3rd group on the road. Thankfully my teammates were in front, so I hoped they made it into the break. Our group chased hard to get back to the next group on the road, where I found 2 of my teammates, so only Shelley had made it into the break. Another group caught back on and the two big teams not represented in the break kept working hard in the front so that eventually they reeled in the break. A few crashes later (which I luckily avoided) it came down to another bunch sprint, with the front of the peloton coming down in a huge pile up just after the finish, where the surface was even more slippy.

Day 3 was a circuit race around the streets of the local village. We were going OK as a team, but couldn't finish it off in the last few and frantic kilometers, that included yet another crash. This was probably the closest I have raced within a peloton, with elbows and handlebars nearly touching, but it felt surprisingly safe.
Ready to go shopping in Shanghai!
After the last stage we spent some time in a market in Shanghai, haggling for handbags, shoes and watches.

View over Shanghai - it's a big city

Day 4: Recovery day and a nice ride around the island. It's a very organized island where trees are planted exactly the same distance apart.

Recovery ride with Cipollini

Day 5: World Cup. 130km or thereabouts in 40 degree heat. The start was in Shanghai, so we had a long transfer over from the island. The day was super hot. We all had our assigned tents and it was crazy how much media attention this event attracted. It was difficult to find a good time to put on chamois cream, without a camera filming, a microphone being pushed into your face or the riders being asked to pose for pictures. I've never experienced anything like this before. There was even a race helicopter! It was so hot we kept dumping water over our heads and put ice onto our necks and into our jerseys and helmets. My job during the race was to keep attacking, hoping to create a breakaway or at least to make some of the other teams work hard. I kept attacking left, right and center, but nothing stuck and I was chased down every time. Some other people were let go, but not me.

Another breakaway attempt
We had to go through an 8km tunnel, that was scary, then over a 10km bridge. I kept attacking throughout the race until the craziness of the last few km started. I hung back towards the finish, which was even more crazy today because someone at the front missed the correct turn and we went down the wrong road in the last km, had to scramble through a barrier and then start sprinting again towards the finish. It was chaos! For a race where everything else was organized so perfectly, it was unfortunate that this incident had happened.

Our Chinese translators - Roxanne and Sally or "salt and pepper" ;)

The next morning we were all back on a flight to California. Arriving back in California my short Chinese experience felt like waking up from a weird dream!
At the airport in Korea....
My results in China were:

Chongming Island Tour:
Stage 1: 65th
Stage 2: 57th
Stage 3: 62th
GC: 52th

Chongming Island World Cup: 77th

(Results found here).

I'll have two more blog posts coming up soon about my racing experience with Team TIBCO this year, covering my trip to Canada and the last few crits in the USA. Now I'll be resting up for the National TT champs tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Learning the ropes in crit racing

Because of my inexperience with crits, my DS signed me up to do Speedweek. All I thought was - eurgh, a whole week of crits? How horrible!!! - whereas my teammate Sam, our crit expert, couldn't have been happier. But deep inside me I knew I needed it. What better way to learn how to race crits than a week of crit racing?

Skylar, Sam's little sister would join us in the races and the team would be supported by the Schneider sisters' dad Dave, so I was outnumbered by the Schneiders! Skylar is only 14, but races crits like a seasoned pro. My money's on her once she's allowed to race on adult gears.

The crits would be based all over Georgia and South Carolina and we started off with the Terrapin Twilight Crit in Athens, a buzzing student city. I was really nervous and the race was super hard, especially on the backside drag that stretched the field in every lap. But I managed to stay with the peloton for the first 20min, at which point I would have gotten dropped before. But I was told that the peloton eases off after about 20min, so I told myself to "hang in there". And then, just a lap or so later, the bunch did ease off ever so slightly and I knew I had made it. The time went up to 25min, then to 30min, and the laps went down. When I saw 7 laps left, I knew I would finish the crit without being dropped and I did! I was probably the happiest 36th position finisher ever.

Video of the pro men's Terrapin Twilight Criterium

This was the first pro-level crit that I didn't get dropped in and it completely reversed my dislike and fear of crit racing. I actually think this was the most fun racing experience ever. Racing in the dark, cornering so close to the barrier that you touched the zip tie that held the barrier together every lap, shadows racing over the tarmac and thousands of people out having fun in a warm summer night cheering on the racers - wow, I finished with such a high, I was a convert! I knew I had finally cracked crits and I actually couldn't wait for the next one!

The next crit, the Historic Roswell criterium, was in complete contrast to the Terrapin Twilight one. The sun and warmth had been replaced with pouring rain and cold temperatures and the racers were huddling together under a tree before the start of the race, trying to stay warm. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the Historic Roswell Criterium in the pouring rain and my teammate Sam got onto the podium for 2nd place.
Women's peloton in Roswell

After a long transfer from Duluth, Georgia to Beaufort, South Carolina on our rest day, the third criterium, the Coastal Empire Cycle Fest, was again completely different. It took place in a chilled town in hot weather right down at the beach and was super fast and super fun on a straight-forward 4-corner course. I managed to get into a group chasing the break, but the peloton caught us again and stopped chasing for the leaders.

Thanks to our host John!
The next day's Downtown Walterboro crit wasn't my type of course with tight roads and corners and a long back straight (and maybe it didn't help that the legs were tired), but on the positive side my teammate Sam won!

Teammate Sam on the top step in Walterboro!
After Walterboro we had another recovery (i.e. transfer) day to Greenville, a great cycling-mad town, where we spent our recovery ride with our hosts.

Next day's Spartanburg crit was probably my best performance (if you ignore the first half). The course became challenging by a slight drizzle, just the type that turns the road into a slippery ice rink. I nearly binned myself on a slippery rutty section on the road at the start. Several people slid out during the race. I took it easy for the first half, navigating safely and testing the corners. By the second half I was racing near the front in perfect position. My legs felt great and I was having super fun, being in the mix at the front. Unfortunately I let myself be pushed back in the later laps and just as I was making my way back up the front in the 2nd last lap some riders came down just in front of me and I was caught up behind the crash. Bummer!

Fun with the Schneider sisters :)
Another transfer back to our original host family in Duluth, we only had 2 more crits left, Belmont and Sandy Springs.

The Belmont crit was my worst one. I had a bad start and the pace was super fast for the first few laps (thanks, Sam!), with a steep hill on the course, making it hard to chase and move up into a safe position. The peloton was lined out all the way and I chased down too many gaps that riders let open in front of me before I could reach my teammate. By that stage a break had gone, but I had spent all my matches just to get into the safety of the front that I wasn't able to be of much help. Eventually my legs gave up on another high speed ascent up the central hill and I was dropped. Not fun.

The final crit of the series, Sandy Springs, was another hilly crit and my legs could have been better, but they could have been worse too. Straight after the finish, I had to pack my bike and make my way to the airport to catch my plane. Thanks to Holly for the lift to the airport and lounge access, so that I could have a shower before my flight back to SF!

Leading the peloton in Sandy Springs
The Speedweek was a something of a mad experience, a crazy whirlwind of ups and downs,  adrenaline fuelled racing, late nights and lots of traveling. I have learned so much during it and have come a long way in that week as a rider. I am very grateful to those that have helped along the way. I owe a big thanks to Dave for his support and mentoring during the races. All during Speedweek we stayed with amazing host families, so thanks to Edie and David and the kids, to Valerie, and to Jeni and John for sharing their homes and food with us and making us feel so welcome. I feel blessed to have met so many nice and supportive people!

Jeni with the 3 crit girls after a Mary Kay make-over!
My Speedweek results were:

  • Terrapin Twilight Criterium - 36th
  • Historic Roswell Criterium - 29th
  • Coastal Empire Cycle Fest - 24th 
  • Downtown Walterboro Criterium - 24th 
  • Spartanburg Regional Classic - 36th 
  • Belmont Criterium presented by Carolinas HealthCare System - 39th
  • Global BMW Sandy Springs Cycling Challenge - 28th