Part 1, Saturday Morning: Before The Race
All of this year’s travel, training, hard work, and highs are coming to a close at the end of today.
Wow. What a year! I didn’t know what to expect coming into this season – while I longed for a great year with results that would launch me into a pro contract, I tried to temper my expectations and see this season as a chance to learn and improve. My one goal was to podium at a national-level race.
Things didn’t go as expected. First was qualifying for the Nature Valley Pro Chase – I was so excited to have that opportunity and a big event to focus on for the season. Then I won Walterboro at Speed Week and was thrilled; I can still remember every moment of that experience and how incredulous and excited I felt. Seeing those podium flowers and that winner’s jersey sitting in the hotel room when I woke up the next day, it felt like my heart was going to burst with joy.
Then I won the Wilmington Grand Prix and Kelly Cup in the same weekend. I couldn’t believe it. That weekend was incredible. Not only had I achieved my goal of getting on the podium in a national race, but I’d soloed my way to the top step (and crossed the line with both arms in the air for the first time ever). The picture of that moment still lives on my computer desktop as a reminder of what is possible if I’m willing to take chances and ride with no regard for pain or fatigue.
The Liberty Classic didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, but as is true with most disappointing races, it faded into the past. Lesson learned. The Nature Valley Grand Prix and Pro Chase experience was one of the best times of my life. My teammates were wonderful, Michael Engleman was a fantastic director, our host houses were awesome, and the racing went well. For the first time in my career, I rode with confidence: staying near the front, flying through corners, and riding in a tight bunch felt completely natural like never before. Having a full team also showed what it’s like to be part of something bigger than just me and how much better racing is when you share the experience with people you adore.
After Nature Valley, I had some down time to prepare for the camp at the Olympic Training Center. While it was hard to watch everybody else race while I stayed home to train, it was the right choice. When it came time to perform, I was fresh and enthusiastic to ride. The camp went well and led to another quick trip back to Colorado for an amazing vacation and race in Aspen. It was one of the fastest crits I’d ever done, but I loved being part of it and suffering like a dog to fight for a solid finish.
Chris Thater was supposed to be my last race of the season, but when I crossed the line, there was no sense of relief or satisfaction. I wasn’t ready to stop racing. Not because I wanted more results or prize money, but because I just wanted more chances to pin on a number and race my heart out. I quickly registered for the final NCC crit of the year and tried out a cross race in the interim.
Now I’m here in Boston, getting ready to start my last race of 2012. In an exciting turn of events, the Colavita/espnW Pro Cycling team has asked me to guest ride for this race. A year ago I would have traded a major organ to be riding for Colavita and now here I am. Amazing what a difference a year can make.
Part 2: The Race
The Race: TD Bank Mayor’s Cup Crit
The Course: 60 minutes of racing, 0.7 mile lap
The Field: 1/2 women
The Finish: 4th
So let’s be honest here. Wearing the kit of an actual pro team feels kind of awesome. I wanted to be all nonchalant and like, hey everybody, what’s up, but inside I was all OMFG!!!1!1!! When it was time for staging, I tried to stand and look dignified and professional, ignoring the part where angry bats were flapping around in my stomach. There were a bunch of callups for accomplished riders like Laura Van Gilder, Erica Allar, Jennifer Purcell, Lauren Tamayo, and my own teammate Mary Zider. Once those were done, the rest of the field rolled to the line and we were off.
The first part (half? third? no idea) of the race went by so quickly. While the pace wasn’t as slow overall as the Chris Thater NCC crit, it was still more go/bunch up/go than some of the crits I’ve done this season. The field was motivated to sprint for primes, but was otherwise content to ride somewhat conservatively, especially once Janel Holcomb from Optum (the largest team in attendance, with five racers) attacked early and established a 30-second gap. Riders took turns on the front working to close down the gap, but Janel stayed steadily ahead. My instructions were to sit in and conserve, so I focused on surfing the field with minimal effort while Mary worked the front.
Then there was a crash before the last corner around 14 laps to go. I’m not sure how it happened – rumor was that somebody clipped a pedal on the barriers – but there was a big explosion of bikes and bodies on the left side of the course. Mary was safely at the front of the field when it happened and I narrowly missed a flying bike, but many weren’t as lucky, including one racer who left on a backboard. While she was receiving medical attention, the race was neutralized and the field slowly circled the course as the laps continued to count down. I preferred that versus a ‘stand and wait at the line to restart’ approach, as it was less jarring on the body and nerves, but I’m pretty sure spectators unaware of the circumstances were wondering why the women’s race involved so much chatting and so little pedaling.
With 10 laps to go and the course cleared, Janel was sent up the road to reestablish her gap and the field was released. The intensity of the race picked up immediately, as people were rested from the multi-lap break and energized by the single-digit remaining lap count. It felt frantic, as any lull in the pace at the front meant a big surge of riders from the back, and I struggled to stay glued to good wheels. At three laps to go, I was in good position near the front. At two laps to go, I had slid back dangerously to no man’s land. By the final lap, I had fixed that mistake and was ready to go when Optum went early following the second to last corner. Up the slight hill, around the sweeping turn, and down to the line I sprinted to finish 4th behind Erica Allar (1st), Jade Wilcoxson (2nd), and Laura Van Gilder (3rd). It was a satisfying end to a more-than-satisfying year.
Holy shitballs, what a season! I started with low expectations and ended with a great race in an awesome city wearing the kit of a team I could only dream about last year. Now I have one more week of riding before starting the rest month and off-season training. This time, I feel ready to call it a day, ready to take a break from racing, and more than ready to turn my attention towards preparing for another great season in 2013.
I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to thank the people who made this season possible through their support, coaching, and encouragement. To my coach Alison, my mentor Michael, the wonderful and wise friends I’ve met through racing, my tirelessly supportive partner Andrew, my loving parents, and everyone who has sent kind messages through this site, email, Facebook, and Twitter all season long: Thank you. I could not have done any of this without you. Your support – helping me through the lows, celebrating the highs, providing the support I need to go off and chase my dreams – brought me to this place that makes me so happy. Thank you a hundred times over.