Sunday, July 28, 2013

US Pro National Criterium Championships

Beautiful drive through the Smoky Mountains... my nice big borrowed SUV

This weekend was another professional race: The US Pro Criterium National Championships in High Point, North Carolina (we raced the US Pro RR and TT National Championships back in May). I drove over solo on Friday to get there in time for number pick up. During that time, I chatted with some refs, met the race director (who offered me help in the feed zone if I needed it on Saturday), and checked out the venue, wandering around a few of the turns. Then I headed to Alex’s House for some local eats.

Eating local

They had been setting up fencing already on Friday, so I knew that by Saturday morning they’d have most if not all of the roads closed. I got up early and rode over to the course, stopped at the Shimano neutral support tent for the use of their pump, chatted with the Swiftwick guys (they always spot their socks), and then rode multiple laps of the course. I wanted to get an idea of what it was like, imagine what line the ladies would take around each of the corners, and generally prepare for the race. Then it was time for the kids’ races, for which a few Optum ladies and I, along with some pro men and parents, escorted the racers.

Escorting the kids' race

And we thought the numbers were big on us!

Because my race wasn’t until 4:50 pm, I also walked over there later to watch the Women 2/3/4 race, and they raced in a downpour. We were dry watching, but it was a sign of what was to come…rain in the later races as well. That would be the reason I found myself warming up in my hotel room an hour later.

For our race, we had to sign in at the main stage. They announced our names and team names and everything, and it was a pretty cool experience. I hung around the stage for a while and was approached by the cutest 5-ish-year-old there. Little Frank was fascinated by everything, I really enjoyed interacting with him. He wanted to know about everything and try on my gloves and sunglasses and he even wanted to ride my bike. It was fun to see his enthusiasm, and it was kind of the perfect interaction for before my race. One of my focuses for the weekend was being willing to meet and chat with new people…which for me means being open and looking approachable. It’s not always a challenge, but because I was also focusing on racing, it was more of a challenging this weekend but also more rewarding. I wanted to be a light in the darkness, and this was one way I could be that.

For our race, 44 women lined up. These are 44 of the best of the best, pro women from around the entire country, all Americans, mostly professional (four of us were Cat 2s/part of Elite Teams). I am one of those four Cat 2s, and it was truly an honor and humbling to line up with these amazing ladies. We started out at a fast but reasonable pace, and we had to contend with rain and slippery corners for a while. That meant braking a lot in every corner and staying off the painted lines, but I managed. Around minute 16, a duo from two different teams attacked, and at minute 17 I fell of the back of the group as the field reacted. I rode another at least two laps by myself and was pulled from the course at minute 26.

You can't see me, but I promise I'm in a decent position
on the left side (outside through the first turn)

I was hurting when I fell off…like at that point where you just want to stop and throw up. But I kept going—this was the professional championships, after all, and I wanted to give 100% for the entire time I was allowed to be out there. One girl had fallen off just after me, so I could see a solo rider in front of me. This was motivation for me to keep going, and I did. Around minute 22, although I wasn’t getting any closer to the field and perhaps not even making up any ground on that Kenda girl, I didn’t just want to throw up—I wanted to quit all together. At this point, I should have taken a drink, but I didn’t even think about it. I was focused on going hard for as long as I could that I forgot to take a drink. It wouldn’t have kept me in the race any longer, but it probably would have kept me from feeling like I was going to die by the time I got pulled.

It took me a good 10 minutes to relax after that, and I just sat on a bench near the start line trying to breathe. I watched a few more laps, and then I went back to my hotel to shower and change before going back down to watch the finish. That tells you just how long a 90-minute race is! The finish was super exciting as the duo who attacked at minute ~16 stayed away until the end but was very close to being caught by the field.

I really wanted to finish this race, but I also wanted to give 100% for the entire time I was in the race. I achieved the second goal, and the first will come the more of these I do. Todd agrees that I need to do way more of these to get to the level where I can finish and then begin to compete against these crazy strong ladies. I’m pleased with this performance but definitely have some work to do before this same race next year!

Stats: 26:10, 9.78 miles, 22.4 mph, 165 bpm, 1382’ ascent, 1467’ descent

As shown by the stats, this was not a flat course and it was fast. It was a long (1.3-mile) figure-eight course going clockwise (1 left, 3 right, 1 left, 3 right turns). The finish stretch was ~400m and uphill; the stretch after turn 4 was ~300m and uphill. These weren’t necessarily hills though, at least not in terms of road races. In a road race, we’d probably call them false flats. In a crit where you do 30 laps (or in my case, 7), they become hills.

Sunday I got up early and went to Oak Ridge to watch Catherine race. I debated doing the race, discussed the pros and cons, and decided to not race given how mentally exhausted I was from Saturday’s race. I didn’t want to make a mistake, and with the way I felt I thought I’d be putting myself into the position of possibly making a mistake and thus putting everyone else at risk. It was not a risk I wanted to take, and although I felt terrible about leaving Catherine with no teammates (this happened to me last year at the same race), it was the right decision for me. I will make it up to her next weekend!

Cat 4 omnium

Cat 1/2/3 omnium

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