Friday, September 16, 2011

Gateway Cup - Day 4: Benton Park Classic

I really liked that I got to ride the course yesterday before the first race started.  We decided we'd show up early again today.  The first race was scheduled to start at 10am.  We showed up around 9:30 which gave me plenty of time to ride the 1.8 mile loop which started at Benton Park, went by the Busch Brewery, curved back through a neighborhood, and finished back at Benton Park.  The course was flat with the exception of a small incline right at the start/finish line.  The real challenge of this course was the TEN 90-degree turns!  All the other courses in this series had FOUR corners.

Despite the fact that EVERY SINGLE tree, pole, post, whatever had a No Parking sign posted on it, some people apparently did not get the message.  Nine cars were left parked on the closed race course which meant nine cars had to be towed away before the races could start.

Hard to miss the No Parking signs on every tree and pole. 

Nine cars at 10 minutes per car to tow it away meant Monday's first race was delayed a full 90 minutes.

Unfortunately the hour and a half late start caused the race organizers to cut the first few races short.  The women's 3/4 race was supposed to be 30 minutes + 3 laps.  Instead, they cut our race down to 5 laps.  FIVE LAPS!  Period.  Basically that meant it was going to be a dead sprint for about 15 minutes.

I made sure I was well warmed up, knowing the warm-up today was key.  Even so, when we started, I struggled to get my stuff together on the first lap.  I was holding on fine, but didn't feel ready to attack or react to attacks.  The pace was fast and not letting up.

About halfway through the 2nd lap, I managed to work my way up near the front of the field.  A girl in front of me moved over and the path ahead of me opened up.  I knew I had to jump on it.  I attacked and hit corner 8 in the front of the pack.  I got out of the saddle again and when I looked over my shoulder, I saw I had a decent gap on the field.  I hammered through corners 9 and 10 with no one on my wheel.

As we came through the start/finish line, the bell rang indicating a prime lap.  I could feel someone had caught my wheel, so I let up my effort a little but no one overtook me.  I continued to pull through corners 1, 2, and 3, through the wind by the brewery, through corners 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8.  As I was on the front, I had an open line through every corner while everyone else had to worry about getting boxed in and having to touch their brakes.

As I came around corner 9 I began to wonder if I could maintain the lead and win the prime.  I came through corner 10 and hammered the 3 blocks to the finish line.  I was out of the saddle the last 2 blocks, but got caught right at the line again and lost the prime by half a wheel.  Damn!

I'd been pulling for a lap and a half and now we only had 1 lap to go.  It was a windy day, so I was reluctant to keep my position at the front.  I tucked in behind a couple other girls through corners 2-7, but found myself boxed in and had to touch my brakes around the corners.  I was forced to take the outside line on corners 9 and 10 and even with a hard sprint was not able to pick up many spots.

I finished 15th in a field of 35.  Still not a horrible finish.

Overall, I was happy with my races at the Gateway Cup.  I wanted to finish in the top 50% of the field and managed to do so (not including my DNF on Saturday).  More importantly, we had a fantastic weekend in St. Louis.  I can't wait to come back next year!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gateway Cup - Day 3: Giro Della Montagna

Today we headed to The Hill neighborhood for Day 3 of the Gateway Cup.  Today's course was not around a park, but through a super cool Italian neighborhood.  The course was a big rectangle, 4 blocks long by 1 block wide.  There was a "hill" on the back side of the rectangle, but since there was a downhill going into it, it was not a significant factor in the race.  The bigger factor was the narrower streets which made changing position a lot harder than the other courses we've done so far.

I showed up at the race site super early and was able to ride the course for a good 15 minutes before the men's 4/5 race started.  I spent the rest of the time warming up on the trainer.  Today was a much nicer day as it was cloudy and in the mid-70's... a HUGE change from the last 2 days which have been over 100 degrees!

I lined up at the start line feeling fairly confident today.  Unfortunately that confidence went out the window about 0.1 seconds into the race.  The whistle was blown and I went to start only to find my rear wheel would not turn!

I jumped off my bike to figure out what had happened.  No one had run into me.  The chain was in place.  Then some guy jumped out of the crowd telling me my rear wheel was not attached to my bike!

I have no idea how that happened since I had been riding my bike for the last hour without any issues.  I didn't know what to do.  A race official told me to run back to the pit and get my bike fixed.  I would be given a free lap.  Since my wheel wouldn't turn, I picked up my bike and ran in my bike shoes down the sidewalk, back about a block to the pit.  I had no idea how to enter the pit, so I threw my bike over the fence and told the guys my wheel wouldn't turn.  Fortunately the pit crew was totally relaxed.  They helped me figure out how to get around the fence, calmed me down, fixed my bike, and then tried to convince me I owed them a six-pack of beer and a back rub for their services.  At that point I was more than willing to give away beer and back rubs just as long as I could get back in the race!

I was pushed into the race about 1/3 through the field and spent the first 5-6 laps hanging out in the back of the pack, like usual.  Today's group was STRONG.  I had to work just to hold on!  My cornering sucks so this course was particularly challenging for me to try to hold my position.  I was not in any sort of position to go for the first prime and instead just tried to stay in the draft.

Coming around Corner 1 early in the race
 For the 2nd prime, I worked my way into an OK position but stood no chance on the sprint.  I crossed the line 5th, but was happy to be with the lead girls for the first time in this race.

As the remaining laps ticked away, I found myself bored in the pack.  I could tell some girls were getting tired and I felt like I wasn't working at all.  I decided I needed to do something, figuring if I went hard and died, at least I would have tried.

With one lap to go, I attacked.  I doubted I could get away, but at least I got recognized for my effort as they announced my name over the loud speaker.  I hit corners 1 and 2 in first place which gave me the opportunity to make it through 2 corners without hitting my brakes.  I hammered up the incline on the back side, but could see shadows of girls coming up on either side of me.  I hit corner 3 in about 5th place and then got passed by some more girls before corner 4.  I had a crappy turn on corner 4 but was able to catch 3 to 4 girls on the 3 block sprint to the finish line. 

Despite my crappy start, I managed to finish 13th in a field of 39.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Gateway Cup - Day 2: Tour des Hills

Today we headed to Francis Park, a 1.3 mile rectangle that was half inclined and half declined.  There were no "hills", but you could see and feel the incline/declines.

Found a shady spot for my warm-up.  It was near 100 degrees on Saturday!

After convincing myself that my rear rim was completely ruined yesterday, I realized that the rim tape was not entirely covering one of the spoke holes.  This is where I was getting holes in the tubes.  I put a dollar bill between the rim and tube, and somehow convinced myself this was the answer to my issues.

Of course, I was wrong.
The women's 3/4 field at the start line.

Obviously not paying attention to the pre-race announcements - oops!  

The race:
For the first prime lap, an attack was launched at Corner 3.  I moved with the attack as best I could and  crossed the line in about 8th place.  I got to the front a couple of times, but wasn't able to do anything good.  For Prime #2, I was on front and pulled through corners 1 and 2.  I tried to stick to the front of the pack, but ended up mid-pack when we finally got to the line.

26 minutes into the race - hanging out in the back of the field.

At 30 minutes I was not feeling it at all.  I just wasn't racing well today.  I prayed my bike would hold up, but knew from experience my chances of finishing without a flat were slim.  Sure enough, with 2 laps to go, I felt my back tire go flat.  I promise I'm really ready to admit the rim is done!  No more thinking otherwise!  I've spent way too much money on tubes and way too much time on changing tires.  I'm sticking to my spare wheel for the rest of this weekend!

I pulled off and started to cut through the park to the finish line when a race official stopped me.  He told me I could get scored if I stayed on the course and crossed the line.  If I pulled myself out I would get a DNF.  I soft-pedaled through corner 4, crossed the line and called it a day.

I don't feel entirely bad that I wasn't able to finish the race.  It's not the first time a rear wheel flat has cost me a race.  Besides, I wasn't racing awesome today.  I just didn't feel it.  In fact, I was starting to wonder if I had a brake rubbing or something stupid.  I'm sure it was just the feeling of the tire slowly going flat.  Whatever the reason, I just felt heavy and slow today.

Thankfully I've got two more days of racing ahead!  I'll do better next time!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Gateway Cup - Day 1: LaFayette Park

The Minnesota cycling season officially ended a couple of weeks ago for us roadies.  I wasn't quite ready to call it quits on my season, so I headed to St. Louis for the Gateway Cup races.  The Gateway Cup consists of 4 races over 4 days throughout some super cool St. Louis neighborhoods.

Since I don't have a sponsor and have to pay 100% of my own expenses for races, gear, and travel, I knew I needed to convince my husband that this trip to St. Louis would be a fun vacation.  Fortunately my husband hasn't yet realized that all our vacations have something to do with me racing.... that week we spent in Boston in 2009 (when I ran the Boston Marathon)

....or that romantic weekend we spent in Door County Wisconsin for our 5 year wedding anniversary (where I completed my first half ironman)

Since St. Louis is a 9 hour drive from St. Paul, we decided to split up the drive with a stop at my parents house in Cedar Rapids, IA.  I managed to finagle my way out of a late afternoon meeting at work on Thursday and Husband and I were able to hit the road by 6pm.  We spent a whopping 11 hours in Cedar Rapids (sorry Mom and Dad!) and continued our way to St. Louis on Friday morning.

We arrived at the race site with no time to spare.  I immediately grabbed my bike and headed out to warm-up.

Unloading the car at LaFayette Park.

Unfortunately, there was really no place to warm-up on the streets around LaFayette Park.  Next time I'll be sure to warm-up on the trainer!  The good part of my warm-up was running into Rebekah D. from Nebraska who I met when we raced in Clear Lake, IA in July.  We warmed up together until she turned off to head back to the park and I set off to do a couple more efforts.  This was the point where I got my zillionth flat of the season.  I have been plagued with rear wheel flats all fricking year.  I think this was flat #11 or 12.  I've changed the tires, I've changed the tubes.  I've done everything except admit the issue is the rim.  I checked out the damage from today's flats and have concluded the wheel is definitely done.  Time to get some new wheels!!

I was good mile away from the park, not entirely positive how to get back, it was 3:55, and my race was to start at 4:15.  Complete panic set in.  I did not have my cell phone to call my husband.  I ran down the block, only to find it was not the street that would take me back across the bridge and to the park.  Instead, I waved down a car to ask for directions.  The guy had a general idea where the park was and as he was giving me directions, I decided I was too pressed for time to listen.

"Can you give me a ride to the park?"  I asked as I was assessing the leather interior of his small car and wondering how I was going to shove my bike into his back seat.  Only then did I realize he had a bike rack on the back of his car!  Thank you, God!  I threw my bike on his bike rack, jumped in this complete stranger's car, and got a ride back to the park.

Thank you, Brad from St. Louis, for completely ignoring everything you've ever learned about stranger danger and giving me and my bike a ride back to LaFayette Park!

I ran the 1/2 mile around the park until I found my husband, switched out my rear tire and then was extremely thankful that the men's 4/5 race was running behind schedule.  I had about 20 minutes to gain my composure as much as possible before we were called to the start line.

The race:
As usual, I was not warmed enough and spent the first 4-5 laps hanging out in very back of the pack. I was thankful no one made any big moves in the first few laps because my body was not ready to react.  On the first prime, I used the lap to move up to the front of the field.  Since the course was completely flat and wide open, I moved up on the outside.  We could easily go 4-5 wide around the corners.  I was in good position on corner 4 and sprinted for the prime, but quickly realized I was not in good enough position.  I sat up and crossed the line in 3rd.  We had a group of 4 off the front a tiny ways.  No one was interested in taking advantage of that gap, and I'm definitely not aggressive enough to make it happen on my own, so we let the field catch back up to us.

On the 2nd prime, I took the same approach.  I used the lap to work my way to the front, pulled through corner 2, tucked in for corners 3 and 4 and then sprinted up the outside for the prime.  I thought I had it, but Rebekah took me at the line.  I knew I hadn't given 100%, so I'm OK with losing the prime.  I'm happy Rebekah was able to win it as she has improved tremendously since the last time I raced against her.  She definitely deserved the money.

The sprint for prime #2 at LaFayette Park.

Before I knew it, we had 5 laps left.  The laps went quickly and, as usual, came down to the final sprint. I wasn't in perfect position coming around corner 4, but sprinted with everything I had and was able to pass 2 girls on the home stretch.  I finished 10th in a field of 36 which is exactly where I wanted to finish.

Race #1 complete!

Monday, August 29, 2011

A couple more RAGBRAI pics

Saw this photo on Facebook and couldn't resist reposting it.  For anyone who hasn't been on RAGBRAI or isn't familiar with the sheer volume of riders on it, here's a perfect picture of what it's like:

The bowels of RAGBRAI (photo stolen from New Guy Jack's Facebook page)

When RAGBRAI starts to look like the photo above, it's time to find a shade tree and pull the maneuver in the photo below:
Always make sure at least one guy on your team brings a cross bike with a rack on the back.  You never know when you'll need to make your own beer stop while waiting for the roads to clear out!