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!

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