Sunday, March 26, 2006

Tough Day at the Office

Southern California has finally returned to the weather that the postcards and television shows promise (speaking of So Cal and TV - I'm finally caught up on my OC episodes). On Friday morning the pro peleton took to the street of Redlands for the Redlands Bicycle Classic - abbreviated. Not that I can really say that, as this is my first experience, but all the same it has been shortened to a 3 stage event (read, not a prologue and two stages, but rather a three stage event). Now many of you may think that I am crazy, however that slight difference cost me a weekend of sitting on the sidelines. While some people, like Amber Neben and my teammate Alisha Lion, experience success on the 5km hill climb, I did not. It was a painful experience that ended up taking me 15 seconds too long - the charming officials decided to enforce the time cut. Translation: the end of my weekend. I won't go into what a bastard move I feel that was, or how the officials said that they imposed is as we were "sandbagging it" which would imply that I wasn't going as hard as I could - which I was...however, I think I might be a little tired.

This here - I'm trying a new thing, just for Lisa - I'm going to try to seperate my paragraphs more...lemme know how it works out. So yeah, my weekend finished really before it started. It did mean, however that I got to ride the old Oak Glen course - and really, from what I've heard, you haven't really done Redlands unless you've gone on a group ride while the race is still going on. This isn't to say that I was happy, or proud, or not incredibly pissed off that I didn't get to start the beautiful crit in downtown Redlands (it was a super COOL course from what I could see). But I've realized that there is only so much racing that one girl can get through - and I've hit my limit. So it's time to head home and train, get my bearings under me and go get some RESULTS for the rest of the season. Besides, I hear what doesn't kill you makes you stronger... ;)

Monday, March 20, 2006

The San Dimas Stage Race: COLD and WET

A picture of me leading the field at San Dimas
My North American season has officially begun! Friday afternoon saw my first race on this continent, and to be honest, right after I finished, I was quite aware that I would not remember it as a highlight of my 2006 cycling season. To my credit, the course wasn’t exactly hand built to my personal strengths – a 6.2km uphill TT. On the upside, I didn’t finish last – only 54th of 65 starters…so I did beat people. Just as I was starting up the mountain in the small suburb town of Glendora, California the rain started to pour. The temperature was decidedly un-Southern California and a small part of me thought that maybe I had a hope as the small climber girls might not have enough body fat to make it up the hill – alas they did…it was actually coming down that was the hardest part! Luckily I had my super-mom support and she was waiting for me about halfway down with a nice warm gortex jacket – perfect for the conditions. I then made my way to the van (I really must get a pic of it onto here) and warmed up with the help of some miso soup and the heater while I awaited Chris’ return.
We awoke Saturday morning to frigid temperatures, but the skies were clear. I tried to warm-up prior to the race, but even after 20 minutes of riding, my muscles still felt cold – really I felt right at home! I will interject at this point that these are by FAR the coldest temperatures I have encountered since leaving Calgary in August where it spend the better part of a month around 10 degrees and raining. So we rolled off to check out the loop, which we would complete 8 times for a total of approximately 92km. As was expected, we rolled along quite comfortably for the first chunk of the lap until we hit the major obstacle on the course – a climb of just over 1km. It was short enough that I could roll up the first bit without too much trouble, only starting to feel the burn a few hundred meters prior to the 200m to the top of the KOM. At that point, I would try to settle into a rhythm before powering over the last 100m with everything I had. The good news is that my climbing is coming along quite nicely (contrary to what Friday’s TT results would lead you to believe) as I was able to make it over the climb in the top half and usually in the second group of girls. The frustrating part was that I was routinely at the front of the second bunch over the top and would have to lead the charge down the hill to catch the front group. With KOM primes on laps 2,4,6 and hot spot sprints on laps 3,5,7 the action of the race was sure to serge. However, on the second of the KOM primes, the pace was high overtop of the hill and the field was split decisively with 7 girls going clear up the road. Next over the crest was a group of about 5 girls, followed by my group. With some excellent chasing spearheaded by the girls from America’s Dairyland we caught the smaller group in front of us, but the 7 girls up front we not to be seen again. The teams did not seem to be interested in chasing – mostly as the major teams of Lipton and T-Mobile were well represented with 3 and 2 girls in the break respectively. The hill continued to prove to be a challenge and we managed to whittle away the remainder of the field. The last time over the hill I pushed with all my might and managed to make it over with the front group. As we descended and hit the finishing straight, I saw the girls fighting for position, and I really should have made my way up there. Unfortunately, I was a little rusty with the finish line positioning, as I haven’t seen the front of a race for a while now! I made my move to get up there a little late and with 100m to go my legs were toast. I pushed to the finish line, but a few girls squirmed past me as I finished 19th. But the real surprise of the day was that the finish moved me up to 36th on GC – confirming just how bad my TT was the previous day.
With the hilly stages out of the way, I was stoked to hit the crit course on Sunday afternoon. The weather was once again chilly (and for those of you who have limited sympathy for me, please remember that while it may be colder up north, you are not necessarily trying to spend time outside in spandex in 5 degrees and raining) as we took to the line for a 50-minute race. Things started out quite nicely after what I had been exposed to in Australia and on the third lap I decided to have a go at stringing it out. I attacked through the start/finish taking 3 or 4 girls with me, however it was not to be and within a lap we were brought back. A lap or two later saw the first hot spot contest, as I had already had a good effort, I decided to let the other girls go for it. Unfortunately for me, right after the sprint, Anne Samplonius of Team Biovail decided to counter taking 4 others with her just as the rain (and hail) started to fall (including the on fire Lisa Sweeney!) As I was resting in the pack, I saw the move go, but was unable to follow and figured that the girls would respond anyway…but no such luck. I tried my best to get up there and I managed to help bring back a break off group of 3 girls, but the 5 were long gone. After that, things were decidedly frustrating in the pack. Lipton was represented in the break, along with Dairyland and CPT Colnago and for whatever reason T Mobile was uninterested in chasing. I tried my best to get the group fired up to chase, but anytime I put in an effort, I would find someone covering me (I would later find out that they were girls protecting the break mostly). The race itself was very different from anything I had experienced in Australia – mostly as I wasn’t killing myself just to stay on. It was decisively less aggressive and the net results was me feeling rather frustrated. On the final lap I tried to position myself going up the hill, but taking the wide line wasn’t the best call. As we raced down the hill I was smushed between a couple Lipton girls who, as I found out a little too late, weren’t all that interested in sprinting. I came out of the corner and tried to make up some space, but only managed to cross the line in 15th overall. Not too shabby, but not really what I had wanted either.All in all it was a solid weekend of racing. I think it was important in my development as a rider as I am now confident in my ability to play ball with the big girls. I am, however, looking forward to having a team to ride with next weekend at Redlands as I believe this is the first set of racing I’ve ever done where I can see the benefit of a team. I’m happy with my showing, especially in the roadrace, as I feel in prior years I would not have been able to stay with that front group. I’m off to a solid start and the fun is yet to come!

Friday, March 10, 2006

One More Sleep

I can't believe it. Almost 6.5 months have passed since Chris and I boarded a plane to come to the land down under and now it's only one more sleep until we return to North American soil. The last week has been gorgeous - I've been unbelievably boring, but the landscape has been incredible! Thursday morning we jumped on an 11 hour train that brought us from Wellington to Auckland, well a town just south of there to be more exact (I can't remember the name, but I can tell you that when pronounced by a New Zealander our stop and the one before sounded really similar and Chris and I tried to get out at the wrong one!) We're staying with the Williams' (Liz who we were staying with in Melbourne - her family) and they are incredible. We went for a ride yesterday and it was unbelievable! The terrain is all rolling - but hard rolling - the hills go up, up, up then down, down, down! The entire train trip was pretty - rolling grass carpet. I believe that trip may have actually cost me money though as I'm now convinced I would like to return here to ride sometime! :P I'm still shaking out the cobwebs from racing (I slept 12 hours last night) and we'll head out on the road after we get to a bike shop this morning as Chris snapped his shifter cable while riding yesterday. We have one obstacle left: how to get to the airport - I'm going to see what I need to bribe Andy, Liz's bro, into getting us there! And so I'm signing off from what will likely be my last post from the southern hemisphere - it's been great...I love it...but I'm stoked to get home and see everyone!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Time to Sleep

After two weeks of being a full on pramateur athlete (that is an amateur who must ride with the professionals), I’m ready for a good long nap. This afternoon Chris and I moved all our crap up 48 stairs into our new abode for the next couple of days, which is actually the house of one of the guys who Chris met in the feed zone over the last week. Five people live in this house (of which we have met only 3 to date) and they have been kind enough to let me be a vegetable on the couch for most of the next 48 hours. Yesterday I toed the line yet again with a collection of the world’s finest female cyclists, and someone up near the front decided to make the day miserable from the start. Right as the car pulled away and we headed into the first climb, 1km from the start, things started to go nuts. The course was a 6.2km loop through the CBD of Wellington (for my true blog fans, you will remember that CBD stands for Central Business District and is a fancy name for downtown). The first climb was a three-part climb of just over 500m gradually increasing from about 6% to almost 10% at the top (that felt even more difficult as the race went on). After the climb we whizzed down the other side for the better part of a minute before taking a sweeping left-hander up the feed zone hill. This hill wasn’t quite as steep and wound around for another 5-600m before shooting you onto a fast downhill and then back into the city for about 3km of crit-style speed. The start/finish was super classily placed on the steps of parliament (which proved to be a great viewing area for the final sprint!) and there were people lining the streets throughout the course. So yeah, right from the gun the heavy hitters decided to make today a selective race. The first three laps were completed around 10:00 which is an average of over 40km/h. The field strung out in a single file line throughout the flat sections and then blew up good going over the hills. I was positioned alright through the first lap and after the hills on the second lap was set up for a good position before a girl “gumbied” (nice word eh? Thanks Josie!) and crashed right in front of me. I managed to avoid hitting the ground, but I did get shuffled towards the rear at this point. Unfortunately, that positioning gerfuffle proved to be the beginning of the end as on the next lap a number of riders in front of me were gapped and while I made it over the first hill with the main pack, I had some difficulty regaining my composure on the downhill and struggled down on the flats. Early on in the next lap I was dropped and tried to fight back with about 7 other girls, but I didn’t manage to stay with the group (although they did make it on to another group shortly thereafter). That was more or less the end of my race. I kept the effort level hard as I wanted to get a good workout in with my last race of this block, but was lapped by Sarah Ulmer before too long. Now, while that does not sound terribly dignified that I was lapped, I will point out that Sarah did manage to chump the international field and lap all but 39 of the 111 starters on the day. I’d like to give some props out to my composite teammate and sweetheart Tina Pic for a 5th place finish on the day to place her in 4th overall for the race to be World Cup leader. Everyone in the field agreed that today was unbelievably difficult (it’s nice to hear that the big girls found it really challenging as well) and as I may have mentioned, I’m a little tired! Having said that, the last two weeks have been an incredible learning experience. I haven’t felt so young and new to the sport of cycling in a long time. I know that I have a great deal to learn, but it’s nice to see that I’m only a few steps away from “making it”. The girls at the top are most definitely faster than me, but it’s a level that I can understand and that I believe that I will be able to attain in the near future. I’ve met a load of super incredible people – friendly, encouraging – it’s been great. I’m motivated to hit the road (after my nap) and do a good block of work this summer to take one more step towards international success.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Windy, Windy Wellington

Once again, we have found ourselves a new home - this time in the Angus Inn Hotel in Lower Hutt just outside of Wellington. The scenery has been fantastic, with the weather a little colder than we are used to, but all in all New Zealand is living up to its hype. In just four days I've determined that I definately have to come back to do some further exploring at some other point. The hills look inviting for training and the mountains growing out of the ocean are picturesque.
Having said that, it hasn't been smooth sailing...I'm happy to report that the Aussie attitude towards customer care has indeed transferred over to the airline industry where, as per expectation, we encountered a great deal of hullaballoo in getting the bikes on board. However, a long walk to a different terminal by Chris and two new shiny bike boxes later (retail $16.00) later, we were on our way...unfortunately the bikes weren't. Despite our appearance at the airport 3 hours prior to departure, we arrived in Wellington to be greeted by only one of our bikes. Now, out of a possible four, would you guess which one arrived? That's right, none other than Chris' track about useful! Luckily our road bikes showed up about 12 hours later (just in time for the downtown parade), but my track bike would be another 24 hours in arrears. You might not think that to be a problem, but my tools and all my cycling kit was in that box - hence an issue...but I made it through. Is does make me ponder the fact that they will let you stay seated on the runway for hours if you make it to the plane without your bags on board, but they can choose to delay your bags??? I will NEVER understand the airline industry!
Anyway, with all that behind me, on Wednesday night with took to the first stage of the New Zealand Trust House Tour being a criterium right here in downtown Lower Hutt. The course was awesome - nice and technical and exciting. The race itself was quite tame as a group of 8 got off the front with all the major teams represented, so people were minimally motivated to chase. As I was just trying to get my legs underneath me, I was okay with that! I was well positioned throughout the race until about 3 laps to go when I was pushed right into a massive pylon and forced to come to a complete standstill before heading wide off course. I didn't realize just how good my position had been up until that point as a good 60-70 riders must have passed me. In the end, it didn't make a difference as the commissaires made a mistake and pulled all the riders except for those lapped off course (which was completely contrary to what they had mentioned in the manager's meeting). Consequently, those of us in the bunch all tied for 9th position (good thing that they spent thousands of dollars putting state of the art computer chips on our fork blades!) Speaking of managers - Chris has been fantastic! He's been running around like a pro and helping us out a great deal - three cheers for Chris! Unfortunately, in all the bustle, he has not had time to find his camera and so we are yet again pictureless...sorry!
Anyways, so yesterday was the famous double day - starting with a 100km roadrace in the morning, followed by a 1 hour crit in the evening. With only a few hours between the two, we ended up racing almost 150km! Now, that's a big day! The roadrace went okay. We all rolled along the undulating terrain for about 50km before hitting 20km of real hills. They went up and up and culminated on what felt like a mountain pass. Early on I was shed off with a group of other girls, but we managed to make it over the obstacles and rolled in nicely, 15 minutes behind the frontrunners. Not stellar - but stronger than I would have done last year. I just need to learn to push myself that little bit harder on the hills - I think my lack of confidence and experience at being able to stay in the pack on climbs shined through!
Once in the town of Masterston we were fed finger foods as a turn around before the crit. The crit was a thing of beauty - unreal fast and fun technical corners. It was fast enough that I saw a few good names blow up - including Rochelle Gilmore who saw her demise directly in front of me. I spent most of the crit near the mid to rear (I was sure that Chris would heckle me for it), but funny enough, when it was strung out, that was the most consistent speed. I had a good time picking one or two girls off each corner and slowly yo-yoing through the bunch. The best compliment I received however, came from Tina Pic (who is not only 4 time US crit champion but one of the NICEST people in the world!) who said that I was riding well. She complimented me on my positioning in the roadrace...good to see that I've re-established my confidence in the pack - it's just so much fun moving up through it! With one lap to go, one of the Chinese riders let a gap go as she was being dropped. I gave it my all to close it, but apparently the average speed for the lap was 47km/h, and as you might have guessed, I didn't succeed. I did managed to hold steady though, so that was good. Which leads us to the final stage this morning - the time trial. I can only hope that it was more successful than my TT last weekend, and due to the number of no shows and others who decided that it wasn't worth blowing the energy before Sunday's World Cup event, I feel that I might be charging up the GC - maybe top 75??? We haven't got the results yet, so I'm just not sure. The wind was howling, but I gave it a go and hey, I got a finish for the Tour, which is more than I can say for a good deal of the 124 starters. A finish is always a strong thing to have under my belt and I'm stoked for Sunday which will bring us around a 6.2km circuit 20 times. Apparently there are 2 power climbs per lap, but I can only imagine that 40 power climbs will zap the legs! I'll let you know...until next time!