Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Cherry Blossom: Stage Four and Some Randon Ponderings About Stage Racing

Took me a while to work up the energy to write this last one up. Dog-tired and suffering from a bit of post-race/pre-PMS letdown. Whatever happy-go-lucky chemical (endorphins? dopamine?) I was emoting in spades Sunday is taking a while to regenerate.

Stage Four: Columbia Gorge Road Race. Very few things in life truly scare me.




A few years ago, I raced the Pacific Crest Half-Ironman on the "regular" course, that is, the one that includes climbing the south side of Mt. Bachelor. For fifteen miles rolling up to the base of the climb, all that was running through my head is "I am not scared of you." But I was.

Fast forward to a year later. My one and only attempt at the Wednesday night Mt. Tabor Circuit race. I got annihilated. My own field came 50 meters from lapping me on the last climb.

From then on, I was a self-designated "non-climber." Which was O.K. I had other talents. Even at my "pre-bike racer" weight, I was strong, tough and capable of random bursts of soul-crushing speed.

I didn't sleep well the night after the crit. I dreamt of climbing up a never-ending hill by a guy that looked vaguely like Val Kilmer and was riding a blue unicorn. And when I woke up in the morning, my system had full-on revolted on me. This was not totally unpredictable. After three days of oatmeal, HEED, Recoverite and PB&J, my stomach had finally drawn a line in the sand. It took me over an hour and half to consume one English muffin with peanut butter and two smoothies.

Why so nervous, you ask? I present to you, dear reader, the elevation profile for stage 4:

The graphic is sort of small, but yes, that is 1800 feet of climbing in about four miles. My only solace was that my field got off lucky and only had to climb it once.

We rolled out onto the course around 9am. It was a mild morning and although the wind was blowing, it didn't look to be nearly as gusty as Friday's stage. I was sitting fifth in GC and just wanted to (1) help Mindy and (2) minimize the damage on the climb so that I could keep my podium spot.

I didn't worry about getting my usual spot at the front of the pack. The climb started at mile 2 and would sort the straw from the chaff pretty quickly. My plan was to glue myself to Mindy's wheel to protect it for as long as I could. If she decided to attack, I could drop off to block and slow the pack.

So we started going up. And I'm crabby about that. Not the best time to be stuck on my least favorite wheel. I finally had had enough, said something, got some lame retort in return and figured lame retort= I won that round. No need to press the issue any further.

The attrition as we moved up the hill was remarkable. Remarkable in how quickly it happened, and remarkable that I wasn't yet a part of it. Two of the GC contenders gone at the "Wall." A couple of friends shelled a half-mile later. I wasn't comfortable by any stretch of the imagination, but the pace being set up front was manageable.

I watched the quarter-miles tick off on my bike computer. All I could focus on was Mindy's wheel in front of me and the sound off laboring lungs. Mindy doesn't show any signs of wanting to attack, so I settle in and climb.

And then there were six. Only two of the other GC contenders are in this group and my goal becomes to stay with them.

We reach the summit together and look around. The lead car is long gone down the descent and the wheel car has yet to catch up. Six riders alone at the top of the world. I had ten seconds of this surreal sense of accomplishment (Holy Fuck! I'm Here! With the Climbers!), then it was on once again. The Bend woman who had dragged us up the mountain peeled off (I thought I caught something about "horrible descender") and the five survivors raced on.

I love going downhill. But it is a particularly frustrating task with compact crank. Two women raced ahead with Mindy and I spinning like gerbils about 30 meters back. The fifth rider seemed wary of the speed and kept dropping further and further back on the curves. Made a mental note of this for use later.

We catch the two rabbits coming out of Mosier and the five of us began pace-lining back up to the Rowena Loops. And it become immediately apparent that my legs are not happy with the idea of more elevation gain. Mindy and Cara graciously let me take some extra rest in the back...they both know that they will need me in the last 10K.

Cara, a master's rider and I attack as soon as the descent begins. We think that we can drop the wary descender and keep Mindy in the fold.

The next three miles were ecstatic fun. The Rowena loops are cut into the side of a cliff, but safe enough for me to take most of them with minimal speed fluctuation. When we reach the bottom, Mindy is gone and I can't see how far back because of the follow car. Momentum is sucking me forward and I continue hammering along.

Cara and I's plan to put some extra time on the chasers and drop the masters rider is short-lived. I am obviously struggling more than they are, talking out loud to my legs. I am barely hanging on, but am refusing to give up.

10K mark takes so long to reach and I'm back to watching my bike computer...4 miles, 5K, 1000K. When the 200 M mark is in sight, they stand to sprint to the end. And I can't follow. I throw on a gear or two for good measure, but sit up and roll through the finish.

In third fucking place. In a climber's stage. I should be dead somewhere in a ditch getting snacked by vultures. Not sitting podium.

(Stage 4 Podium, Credit Jeff Tedder)

Let this be a lesson to all of you: sometimes stupidity and stubbornness and sheer force of will can trump having the legs of a mountain goat. I lived that shit. I know that now.


The effort was good enough to vault me into third place in the GC and Mindy into fourth place. Alice came in at 10th. Sally 7th in the Masters. Wonderfully brilliant for everyone's first stage race.

(GC Podium, Credit Jeff Tedder)


It's really not socially acceptable to be proud of oneself, lest it be mistaken for vanity or narcissism. But I've never been know for my social acceptability, so here goes: I am really proud of what I accomplished this weekend.

Once we had all changed out of our shorts and drank a celebratory beer, I took a quiet moment to call my mom and tell her how I had done. If you can't tell your mom how good it feels to be you at a given moment, who can you tell?

Some final thoughts on the weekend:

1. My coach, Jeff, is the best and its a blessing that I met him when I did. He has taken a bunch of crazy, loud, obnoxious, neurotic women who knew nothing other than that they loved to ride, puts up with all of our shit and is turning us into a real team.

2. My teammates are a classy bunch of kick ass riders. There was no complaining, no whining. Everyone showed up and raced their asses off every day. And we took care of each other. The bond is forming...it was never more apparent than when I heard that one of my girls had gone down with the crit and almost threw up from shock and worry.

I missed Anna and the Blond Ball of Hate and the rest all weekend...we had such a good time, but it wasn't the same racing without them.

3. The Cat 4 Women's field was amazing group of ladies. I came away from the whole experience not only with a satchel full of congratulatory fruit leather, but also with some new friends and allies for the many years of racing that lie ahead.

Thanks Sorella, OBRA, and everyone else that made the weekend possible. We'll definitely be back next year!

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