Finally, yesterday was the first time I've felt good on a bike yet this year. It's been a harder struggle this year getting though the transition from 'cross to base training and working towards race form, which hopefully will be coming along soon. Fatigue and low motivation plagued me, Crohn's hit me while I was down. A diagnosis of anemia along with a Crohn's flare at least gave me some concrete biology behind my fatigue and really feeling like I'd never pedaled a bicycle before. I got dropped multiple times in local training races with the guys. Every day felt like that first ride out for the year when you are spinning squares and have no juice. Like the bike beneath you is a foreign object, not an extension of your body. My coach encouraged me to keep going and I'd get through and feel good soon.
I saw a light in the distance yesterday at Wells Ave. Just an ordinary combined A/B training race with the guys, but most of my teammates were there: Brooke, Sam, Susanne, Sally, and Nat. A CCB woman and Harvard's Anna McLoon were also there, too. Our team intended to use the B race to practice some team tactics, but the A & B fields were combined because Battenkill and Miles Standish provided other race options for people, and although Brooke gave me a great lead-out for the women's preme, we weren't really able to send off attacks and counter at the high speed the race maintained.
I thought Sunday would be a bad day for me on the bike. It was supposed to be a rest day. Saturday's Battenkill was tough, and I didn't get home until 9:30 pm after a long day of racing and driving. I enjoyed Battenkill in the sense that it was good training for me. Other than the hill ride I did Wednesday, it was the first time I'd seen any hills this year. The course was beautiful, and I tried to take it all in, especially after I was left in a chase group after last long, dirt climb.
I don't know how I would have done if I had had more gears. I rode my usual 12x25 cassette that I always ride for races with hills (I have a 39x53 up front). There was one dirt climb that I came close to having to walk, but my stubborn pride forced the cranks over in an agonizing grind reminiscent of a struggle through thick mud in cyclocross. I must have been doing 10 or 15 rpms in the loose dirt. Really. Well, the girls in front were clearly turning their pedals over much faster than I, so despite the unbelievable effort I was able to muster, I got separated from the group. Luckily, I caught on at the bottom. I made a questionable tactical move on the rollers that followed after Sally bridged to a duo off the front and brought an Advil rider with her. Okay, I admit, chasing was a mistake, and I feel really sheepish about it. And in making this mistake I also wasted a bunch of energy in the wind and put myself in the red heading right into another climb. Not knowing the course, I didn't know the climb was there. Again, I chased back onto the field.
The biggest climb was long and the soft dirt made it tough. I just popped about 1/2 way up when again, I could barely turn the cranks over. Luckily, I can always count on my self-preserving stubborn ego not to stop pushing with everything I have inside. I think it was a multi-step climb of several miles, but it's a little hazy in my memory. I felt pretty certain most of the field was up the road at the top. There were lots of tough rollers following. We eventually formed a group of 5, my teammate Sally included, and worked together and rotated the whole rest of the way. I thought we were maybe racing for 20th place, so really, I just wanted to get it over with and go home. Enjoy the ride and some scenery along the way. I had no idea we were really racing for 9th - still in the money! There was my next mistake of the day.
The last dirt section might have been the hardest part of the day. Loose dirt with only one or two clear packed down lines to ride on, dropped stragglers from earlier fields to dodge, the junior field pace car wizzing by us and then the field passing us in a blinding cloud of dust, hard vibrations on the rocks and dirt causing my feet to go numb, legs aching, and lungs coughing up muddy phlem. I love to ride off-road, but if I'm not on a mountain bike, I want my 32mm tubbies with less than 35 lbs of pressure in them! I was last in my group of 5 through this section. I had slipped from the harder-packed line at one point trying to avoid a dropped rider, and almost washed out my wheel. I ended up last in the group. If my brain had been in "race" mode, I would have gotten on front at the start of the dirt, just as if it were a cross race. Dumb move to end up at the back. We hammered, and it was all my stubborn pride that kept me glued to the wheel in front of me. I made it though to pavement again.
I didn't know where the finish would be. How much further? I could gauge only generally because I had recognized part of the course from our drive into town earlier that morning. I imagined only a couple of miles. Now how to play the sprint? I figured 20th place really made no difference. I thought about either Sally or me attacking from about 750 meters out and forcing the others to chase then the other counter-attacking and taking the finish. But we didn't know when that was going to be. I kept looking for markings. I saw a banner - I guessed 1 K to go, but there was no distance marked on it. Decoration or 1K banner? I had no idea. Finally, I saw people and the white official's tent up the road. Why didn't I attack? Complacency, maybe. I don't know. My pride checked out at an important moment, maybe. Then there were the train tracks. Once we crossed those, the sprint began, and I was 5th wheel about 300 meters out. Not cool. I could not come around, and I think I remained last in the group. So much for my first sprint of the season! Oh well, it can only get better from here.
Congrats to Anna for winning such a tough race!
Oh! I've digressed! My stream of consciousness has meandered. I was talking about Wells Ave yesterday and how I felt good on a bike for the first time this year! So back to it. I thought I would be exhausted from Battenkill and a lack of sleep. I got up at 7:30 and left with Sam at 8:30 to ride to Wells. When we got there, I actually dozed off in the grass waiting for the race to start! The race began fast, and it took me a few laps to get going, but I had a blast racing. I was able to be active in the race, bridging across to breaks a couple of times (sometimes with the help of the amazing draft offered by Skip Foley's wheel - great to see him back on a bike!). I found myself hurting but still able to actually race, not just sit in and roll around in circles suffering, which is what I had been resigned to up until yesterday. I made it up into the breakaway with one to go, but we got swarmed around the last turn into the final straightaway. I had lots of fun! I love it. I honestly think I could be happy just racing Wells and Wompatuck for fun. And it always feels good to be out in front of the field in a break and have a guy look over his shoulder and blink with surprise when he sees a girl on his wheel.
Rest today - Wompi tomorrow!