Monday, October 23, 2017

Race Report: DCCX

This is what success looks like!
DCCX is one of the highlights of the CX calendar in MABRA land. It's a UCI race and it's in the District of Columbia, so everyone comes out for it. The atmosphere is terrific, the racing is hard, and the race directors do an unusually good job with port-a-johns; they even have them cleaned out between Saturday's racing and Sunday's racing!

I expected the racing to be tough, since the promise of racing on the same course as the pros always draws a larger and deeper field (if not quite so large and deep as Charm City, which had a C1 race and was part of the US Pro Cup). Additionally, the strongest 3s, who normally race the 1/2/3 field locally, join the straight 3 race since the elite race is a P/1/2. I had a few friends who raced the pros on Saturday and Sunday. I didn't envy them, but that will probably be my fate next year. If I work hard in the off-season, maybe I'll be able to finish on the lead lap.

Anyway. My race Saturday was awesome. I got a good start. I rode almost all the features smoothly. I knew that first and second were probably out of my reach, based on previous experience with those two women (girls really; they're 13 and 12 years old). I spent most of the race in fifth place, battling hard for fourth. I caught fourth place (another teenager!) with about 400 m to go in the race and held it to the end. So I got to stand on the podium at DCCX! Fourth place! Whoo!
And this is what mental fatigue looks like.
Sunday, I woke up feeling unmotivated. I didn't feel tired or sore or weak; I felt mentally tired and I didn't want to be there. I crashed hard during my pre-ride in a fast downhill section that I took too fast. There was some gravel in the corner, and I got into it right as I was turning. Fell over on my right side, banged my foot on my pedal (I was worried I'd broken it!), scraped up my elbow, and banged my head on the ground. One of the Bikenetic men saw me go down and helped me off the course. He sat with me until I felt I could go on, but I escaped largely unscathed!

I'm still sitting second place in the series, so I still get a front-row starting spot. I got a terrible start, though, and entered the first turn close to the very back of the field. There was a big crash in one of the first turns, though, and I was able to scoot past it on the left side. That got me a huge number of places back. I was able to work my way back up to about 10th place over the course of the first lap. I managed to catch and pass 8th and 9th in the second or third lap, and felt I could hold them off if I could just ride clean.

I did not ride clean, though. I slipped and fell in a loose right-hand turn that I thought I had dialed. Scraped my elbow on the EXACT SAME SPOT as I hit in my pre-ride crash, which burned like fire. Also took a bunch of skin off of my right calf, and my right hip, and my right shoulder. I somersaulted over my bike and took a second to determine whether I still wanted to go on while 9th and 10th re-passed me. I got up and re-mounted and set to work catching them again. I caught them with no trouble, but was waiting for the right moment to pass. In the final lap, I went down AGAIN in a loose chicane that was a tough turn (lots of crashes there all weekend, great viewing as a spectator) but that hadn't troubled me all weekend. I took all the skin off of my other side, 8th and 9th got a big gap on me, and I mentally said, "Just get me outta here."

I gave up at that point and forced myself to keep pedaling to the end. I managed to make one more big mistake on one of the final turns, where the course crested a hill, went over a tiny little curb onto the road, and then dropped down the other side of the hill before making one more turn onto the finishing straight. So I went into the uphill too fast, cleared the curb, but then totally screwed up my landing and came down so hard on my front wheel that I was convinced I'd broken the carbon or popped a spoke. So at that point I had crashed three times and was pretty sure that I'd broken my bike. I crossed the finish line and rolled off the course, frustrated more than tired, and skinned up all over. The woman I'd been battling for 9th place is a friend of mine, and she was ready with a hug and a "Nice racing!" That helped. Then I rolled back to the team tent, grabbed a water bottled, and rolled off on my own to cool down . . . and have a good cry. I sat on the steps by an abandoned building (the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home, the military retirement grounds where DCCX is held, has a lot of abandoned buildings), burning tear tracks through the dust on my face, and felt sorry for myself. And after about 5 minutes of that, I felt better. And I drank a bunch of beer and talked with my friends and shared stories about all our races and one of my teammates gave me baby wipes to clean off my (many) scrapes . . . and everything was good and fine and I still had an amazing time.

I'm proud of my performance on Saturday, but I've overcooked my brain with all the racing I've been doing. I could have raced much harder and probably been in the contention for 6th place on Sunday, but I didn't have the mental strength. Teaching my spin class on Monday mornings after a double race weekend is normally torture, but this morning my legs felt fresh. That tells me that I'm not overtrained physically; I'm overtrained mentally. So I'm going to shift my focus for the rest of the season and try to hone in on the Sportif Cup races, where I'm sitting second in the overall series. I won AACX, the Sportif Cup race last weekend. A few more wins and I think I'll have the overall lead. I may sit out the rest of the Super Series, or at least take a few weekends off. I'm missing the long, enjoyable, zone 2 rides with my teammates, and I miss the camaraderie of spending hours on the bike with them.

So that was DCCX--the good, bad, and ugly. I plan to take a weekend of long, easy rides and enjoy the feeling of being on a bike. And then I'll race Biketoberfest CX on Saturday and I'll hang out at Tacchino CX on Sunday (but I won't race). (Probably). (Emily, stop reading this).

Friday, October 13, 2017

Race Reports: Sykelocross, Hyattsville, and Charm City

I've been delinquent in my race reports. We have some catching up to do!

Sykesville didn't go well for me. It was meltingly hot. The course was really hard--technical and with a lot of elevation gain. I had high expectations after my performance at Hub Labels, but did not live up to them. My body absolutely exploded in the heat. I can't handle heat well, I assume because I'm small and muscular, and it places a ceiling on what I can do in the heat. I hit that ceiling hard at Sykelocross. Emily came to watch this one, but I didn't do a great job for her to watch (and she doesn't handle heat well either). Ended up 5th out of 19, so a decent showing! The results were all kinds of screwed up because the timing chip computers went down. So we stayed long enough for me to protest the results, then headed out before we melted! Considering how terrible I felt throughout the race, I'm happy with 5th.
Too tired and scared to post up properly. I would totally be the person who crashes in the finishing straight.
Hyattsville couldn't have gone much better because I frickin' won! Hyattsville is basically a grass crit with only one little climb. I got the hole shot and held the lead for most of the race, except for one little stretch where one of the local butt-kicking teens passed me. I passed her back and held a gap to the end by playing up my punchiness. I assume it's harder to be punchy when you're a 90-pound 14-year-old. First win as a cat. 3 in cyclocross, and it gave me the lead in the BikeReg Super Series!

Charm City CX was presented to me as the hardest race on the circuit. It did not disappoint. Since it's a UCI C1/C2 race, AND it's a part of the new US CX Cup, AND it's a little farther north than most of the MABRA races, so it draws the top cyclists in every category from MABRA, Virginia, Pennsylvania, maybe even New Jersey. I met people from as far north as Philly and as far south as Charlottesville. The women's fields were big! And they were full of talented women (and by that I mean waaaay more talented than me)! I won't go through the blow-by-blow, but basically the teenagers blew my doors off and won everything. There were other women my age who also blew my doors off, but the teenagers were the stars of the weekend in the cat. 3 races! Both days, I hit a brick wall in lap 2 and my back and hips went into spasm. Then it went away in the 4th and 5th laps (5 laps both days) and I was able to claw some positions back. Ended up 7th on day 1 and 10th on day 2. I think I still have 2nd place in the series, so I still have a shot at the overall!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Race Report: Hub Labels CX

I am two weeks late with this one, so I'll keep it short.
That's how I felt after this race.
The course was good for me and I had good legs on the day. Unfortunately, my mechanic's skills weren't up to the level of my racing skills. The course had some off-camber turns, one off-camber descent into a steep hill (which I was able to ride if I could get the right line), some woodsy sections, one hill in the woods that would have been ride-able if the race director hadn't put big logs across it (just kidding, Joe!), and a little pile of rocks that you could totally ride if you got the exact right line.

I took the hole shot and led into the first part of the course. First time up the off-camber descent to run-up, I banged my rear wheel and heard it rattle. Ethel's rear quick release had come loose slightly. I stopped to open it, tighten it, close it. Lost about 3 places, but still had everyone in sight. Second lap, I went down in a corner that hadn't given me trouble before. Lost another place or two. Got back up and kept going. Went down in another easy corner, and heard my rear wheel rattling. Rear quick release was loose again. I'd just passed the first pit entrance, and had to go through a bunch of the course before I would pass the other side. A guy in the pit saw me looking for the pit entrance and volunteered to get my bike ready for me. I had to take all of the corners super easy because my back wheel was sliding out from under me. Entered the pit and got to switch bikes almost like a pro! Superstar teammate and former full-time bike mechanic Clay was in the pit to receive my bike. He saved my bacon on this race!

On my pit bike, I tried to start making up some ground. Brakes felt a little . . . not brakey. I managed to finish out that lap, but on a tight 180 around a tree at the start of lap three, my brakes gave up, I couldn't slow down, and I went right through the course tape and into the parking lot. Naturally, this happened right in front of the race announcer with tons of people standing around. I rode a slow circle in the parking lot. I'm pretty sure there are rules against going off course like that. Was I disqualified? Could I get back into the race? Did I even want to? Then one of my friends from the local scene said, "Jamie! Don't give up! Do you want to be in 15th place?" So I hopped back on the course and resolved myself to finishing super slowly . . . Until I saw Clay waving at me from the pit! He'd fixed my A bike, and I was able to change in the pit and get back to some hard racing.

My last lap was the best. I rode everything except for the uphill logs in the woods. I passed two of the women in the 1/2/3 race, which had started a minute before my race. I caught and passed a few more in my race. I was within sight of two more women in the finishing straight, but the end wasn't long enough to outsprint them. I finished 5th of 15, even with two bike changes! I was very satisfied with my racing, if not with my wrenching.

It's fun to think about how I would have done if all had gone well with my bikes. I've replaced Ethel's quick releases. Once I got Fred in the bikestand back home, I discovered that one of the pads on the front brake had come loose from its backing. No wonder it wasn't slowing me down--it was steel-on-steel! I think I could have finished second, maybe even first if I hadn't had the mechanical difficulties. Ultimately, though, it doesn't matter; taking care of your equipment and arriving to the race with your bikes squared away is part of racing!

Big, big, big thanks to Clay for being my pit crew, and congratulations to him for getting third place in the 35+ 3/4/5 race! Congrats also to Beth for getting 2nd in the women's 1/2/3, Chris for getting 4th in the men's 4/5, Eric for getting third in the 45+ 1/2/3!

Friday, September 8, 2017

New Bike Day

I wasn't planning to buy a new bike. But sometimes the bike chooses you.

One of the women in the local 'cross scene posted her 2014 Crux Pro on the DC Used Bicycle Marketplace. It had a SRAM Red groupset, hydraulic brakes, and came with two wheelsets: an alloy clincher pair for training and a Roval carbon tubular pair for racing. She was selling it for a song, with extra chainrings, chain, and rear cassette that she had laying around for it. And it was 46 cm--my size. I couldn't not check it out!

So Emily was a little surprised when she came home from traveling to Chicago for business, because there was a new bike in the stable (there are now 5). I've spent the last few weeks setting it up for me: lowering the saddle and the stem, adding new pedals and bar tape, learning how to glue (and now re-glue) tubulars onto carbon rims . . . I've never worked with tubulars, SRAM, or hydro brakes, and I still have much to learn.

But after 2 weeks of tinkering, she's finally ready to race. Her name is Ethel (Fred is my pit bike). The carbon tubulars will need to wait until the next race to make their debut, because the front one flatted on Tuesday and I need to go through the process of pulling the old one off and then regluing a new tubular. I present to you Fred & Ethel, making their debut at Hub Labels CX this Sunday!
Heeeeere's Ethel!
Fred and Ethel, ready to race!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Going Tubeless for Absolute N00bs

There's a running joke in the local women's cyclocross scene regarding my riding style: I'm like a bull, strong but completely lacking in grace. This came about after numerous pinch flats and a fellow racer suggesting that maybe I should learn how to ride (she put it more graciously . . . I think she used the word "floating"). But I proved last year that if there is a rock, root, or sharp drop-off from pavement to dirt I will find it, bottom out, and pinch flat by riding the least graceful possible line. This is one of my opportunity areas this season; I'm working on it.

But while I'm working on my ability to float around the course while bleeding out of my eyeballs from the effort of producing my modest wattage, I also switched to a tubeless set-up. The bike I bought last year (2016 Specialized Crux) came with tubeless-ready wheels and tires. So last November I went to my LBS, bought some Stan's NoTubes sealant and valve stems, and headed to my basement shop to set myself up for a pinch-flat-free existence.

Four hours (and four days, TBH) later I was ready to pull my hair out.
These instructions . . . are not very helpful.
The only thing I've experienced in home bike maintenance more frustrating that trying to seat tubeless tires is internal cable routing. I have ultimately figured both of those things out. But as I've just mounted new tubeless tires for the season (I've been running tubes in the off season), I'd like to share what I've learned through hard-earned experience (and through asking friends on Facebook).

I'm assuming that you already have tubeless-ready rims. Tubeless rims are designed with an extra secure interface for the tire beads so they'll hook in as securely as possible. They also need to be prepped with special rim tape to keep air from leaking through and to get the beads of the tires as close to the edge of the rim tape as possible. If you don't have tubeless-ready rims, there are conversion kits and ways to DIY them. I've never tried either, and your mileage may vary. My bike came with tubeless ready wheels, and these are the steps I followed to mount them (successfully) this second time around.

  1. Stretch the tires. When you get new tires, they come all folded up, right? We need the beads to lock into the rims as tightly as possible, and folds in the beads will prevent that. So before you add sealant or soapy water or do any inflating, first put the tires on the rims and let them sit there for at least 24 hours. I go a step further and put them on the rims with CX tubes (fatter than road tubes in them) with relatively high pressure (60-80 PSI) overnight. Inflating tubes in the tires will get one side of the beads to seat in the rims right away, and will stretch the tires out so they'll lock into place more easily. I speak from experience when I say that taking the step of stretching the tires before you do anything will save time and frustration. And sealant. After letting the tires sit like that overnight, unseat one side of the tire and remove the tube. Note: Be very careful if you're using tire levers to remove your tires! If you slip with the tire lever, you can damage the rim strip and ruin the interface between rim strip, tire bead, and rim!
  2. Install valve stems. Use a pair of pliers to screw the nut on as tightly as possible. That will pull the rubber part of the valve stem deep into the rim and help plug the valve stem hole more completely. These are a pain in the butt to get out, though.
  3. Add sealant. If possible, hang the tire so it's suspended with the valve stem at the bottom. Seat most of the tire bead around the rim but leave a gap down at the bottom where the valve stem is. Pour sealant into that gap (directly into the tire) then carefully turn the tire so the valve stem is at the top and finish installing the tire on the rim. I get the big bottle of Stan's NoTubes sealant, but they also sell a smaller bottle (theoretically enough for two tires, but I'm skeptical) designed for putting sealant in through a removable valve core. If you want to go that route, you remove the valve core (there's a special tool for that, but you can use a pair of pliers if you're careful) and squirt the sealant in through the valve stem. Having the valve core out also makes inflation easier, because more air can get in through the valve stem than through the valve core. Which brings us to . . .
  4. Inflate. This is where stretching the tire should pay off. Ideally, you use an air compressor for this step (you'll need valve adapters, probably), or one of these double-barreled floor pumps designed for seating tubeless tires. I've seen people recommend using a CO2 cartridge to quickly seat tubeless tires, but CO2 gets really cold inside the tire. It can freeze and break the beads (although that's the method advocated on the packaging of my Hutchinson tires, so maybe it varies by tire bead material). If all you have is a track pump, remove the valve core and pump as fast as you can. The principle here is to get as much air into the tire as quickly as possible so the tire expands all over and the beads push into place. If you're having trouble with this step, try using some soapy water (dish soap works fine) with a rag and wet down both sides of the tire. Not sure if it's lubrication that makes this work or if the surfactant in the soap changes how much air can escape, but it's a common trick to get tire beads to seat. Soapy water will also show you where air is escaping. I've also been able to sort of pull the beads into the rim with one hand to help ease the beads into place, but that only works if there are a few gaps. If none of these tricks work, I recommend walking away and having a drink or two then coming back and trying again. Or giving up and finding a new sport. If this ever turns into a blog about curling, you'll know what happened.
  5. Spin, slosh, and shake. Once the beads have seated, you need to shake the wheel around so the sealant sloshes into all the nooks and crannies. Shake the tire in every direction you can think of. Hold it in front of you like a steering wheel and push and pull it vigorously. Steer it side to side. Lay it on its side and spin it, then flip and repeat. Bounce it up and down. If you're losing air mostly out of one side, let the tire rest horizontally, that side down, so the sealant has time to flow into that side of the wheel and seal all the holes. At this point, I would lay them both horizontally (cardboard boxes work well for this purpose, so that the cassette/disc/end caps of hubs have a place to sit) and walk away for a while. Come back after a couple of hours and flip them over. Leave them overnight. Go to sleep and pray that they still have air in them when you wake up.
  6. Ride and check. The next day, assuming they still have air, inflate them to a little higher pressure than you'll normally ride them and go for a short spin. Check the air pressure carefully (digital gauge helps) before and after your ride.
Talking to a teammate/ex-mechanic, it seems like some tires hold air a little better than others, probably down to casing material; a more supple casing will deform better and give a smoother, grippier ride, but it will also be more porous. I had a helluva time getting my Specialized Tracers to hold air last season, but the Hutchinson Toros I'm running this season were no sweat. I'm probably better at the tubeless process, but I think the tires are easier, too.

If you're still having trouble with the tubeless thing, you can always just run tubes with some sealant in them. Or you can take them to your local bike shop and have them install them for you (although that costs more). If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below and I'll try to get back to you. Or visit my Facebook page and ask there! Good luck!

Update (8/29/2017): A teammate of mine (whose cross racing palmares are extensive) offered these extra tips:

  1. Unless you really know what you're doing, don't try ghetto tubeless. Get tubeless-ready rims and tubeless tires. I know people who have made it work, but if you're an absolute n00b you probably won't and it will just frustrate you and drive you nuts.
  2. Ride your wheels right after you first get them to seat and inflate. That sloshes the sealant around and lets you know right away if they're holding air (or not).
  3. Eric seconds the recommendation for the Bontrager Flash Charger pump (one of the double-barreled floor pumps) and recommends using an air blow gun with a right-angle Presta chuck (often called a "crack pipe" adapter) if you have access to your own air compressor.
Additional note: I know that tubulars are better. They are also more expensive. Please don't leave comments explaining to me why tubeless is worth it because tubulars are so much better. This post wasn't for you.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Race Report: Dirty BikenetiCrit

Top step, baby! VWS goes 1-2!
Bikenetic's annual dirt crit is one of my favorite races of the season. It's flat, fast, dusty, and hot, with a few gravelly turns where it pays to have the right line and some great power sections. It's a good race for me.

All the women raced at basically the same time: there was a 1/2/3 race and a straight 3 that went at the same time with the 4/5 women following one minute later. I was racing the straight 3 with 4 other women and another 3 in the 1/2/3 race. The 4/5 field saw a great turnout, I think about 25 women!

We went off hot from the beginning, determined not to be caught by the large 4/5 field behind us (it's happened in MABRA crits before!). I sat second wheel and attacked on the first corner that required some technique. I waaaaaay overcooked the second corner that required technique and took a little ride through the grass. Then I stayed away for most of the rest of that lap, caught on the final straight before the finish line on the back stretch. From there I drifted to the back of the pack, which had dwindled to a group of a dozen, three from each race. I sat on the back for a few more laps as an attack or two went off and came back quickly.

My teammate was on the front riding tempo as we came through the woods in the front side of the course. As we came up on the one little rise on the course, I put in a big dig and went off the front. I floated through the best line, did not overcook the corner, and had a good gap when I first looked back. I've had a few good attacks this season, but I've always ended up doing too much too soon and wearing out. This time, I was determined to dole out my effort more judiciously so that I could stay away for the rest of the race. I think that happened with 6 laps to go.

I spent the next 4 laps by myself off the front. The moto came up to me a couple of times to give me the splits. "You've got 25 seconds!" He told me before I came around with 5 to go. "30 seconds with one in the gap!" on the next lap. I had an idea of where I could gain the most time (on the flat and downhill sections in the woods) and where I would lose the most time (uphill in the woods and the headwind on the final straight). I dug deep on the sections where I could gain the most and recovered on the sections where I would lose time anyway. I managed my effort well; I kept asking myself, "Could I do exactly this intensity for another 3 laps?"

With 2 to go, one of the women from the 1/2/3 field caught me. "You're in the 1/2/3, right?" I asked. She nodded. "I'm racing the straight 3, so we've got the wins locked up!" We agreed to work together and she gave me a pull through the headwind straight. We traded off that lap and into the next, but she was smart enough to stick me in the wind on the final straight coming to the finish line. I knew that was the right thing to do, and was pretty sure I could not outsprint her. I was still determined to try, though!

She jumped at about 200 m to go. I dug as deep as I could and managed to get back onto her wheel. As I started to pull to the left to come around her, she surged again--a double sprint! I'd already given all I had to get her wheel the first time, but I didn't give up anyway. I gritted my teeth and kept pedaling as hard as I could . . . and of course she beat me.

But I still got to stand on the top step of the podium! And I got some road upgrade points! And I got the congratulations and the "Nice moves!" of the 1/2/3 women, which is like a prize unto itself. My teammate was able to outwit the other cat. 3 in the pack for second place. In our race. We won a six-pack of beer and a mini pie. We had two other people racing from Veloworks-Spokes, Etc.: one won the 45+ masters race and the other got third in the men's single speed race.

Thanks to Bikenetic for putting on a terrific race (one of my favorites), and to our sponsor shop Spokes, Etc. for helping me get my Crux ready for world domination!

Also, in case you hadn't heard, CX is coming . . .

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Tour of Washington County - Sunday Edition (Boonsboro Time Trial and Williamsport Criterium)

Picture courtesy of Vladimir Sarkisov, a.k.a. first place's dad. That's her behind me!
I did not sleep well on Saturday night. I had trouble getting to sleep, and once I finally fell asleep (well after midnight), I woke up every hour or two throughout the night. I got up for the final time at 6-ish, packed up, and drove to Boonsboro.

My stomach was not happy. By the time I got to Boonsboro, I had to use the port-a-loos in an emergency kind of way. Not sure if it was something I ate; I think it's more likely that my body doesn't like hot, hilly road races and was rebelling against the previous day's effort. I started warming up on the trainer but had to take another couple of nature breaks. My legs felt heavy and unresponsive.

I used Best Bike Split to estimate the time I could do on the time trial. I had a pacing strategy that involved going hard on the uphills and recovering on the downhills. I don't have a power meter to monitor my effort level; I was going strictly based on feel. I definitely went hard on the uphills, and recovered on the downhills, but I don't think it helped. It took me to the halfway point to catch my 30 second (ahead) person, and as I made the turn-around I could see my 30 second and 1 minute (behind) person close behind me. They passed me shortly thereafter. The wheels started to fall off. I kept an eye on my computer, just to know how much suffering I had left to go. My 30 second person re-passed me right before the finish line. I stopped my computer and let out a sigh. My time was about 3 minutes slower than last year, and I felt like I'd given absolutely everything I had. I was gutted. Last year, I'd been able to do the time trial in around 28 minutes, and it was good enough for third place. This year, that time would have gotten me first, but I couldn't manage anything close to it. Last year I only did half of the road race, though, and I certainly didn't end up third in it! The increased stress of the previous day was enough (I assume) to ensure that I couldn't hold anywhere near my FTP for the time trial.

And I'm not trained for time trials, anymore. I've been training to my strengths over the past several weeks, which I now think are short, hard efforts--in other words, criteriums! But last year I had 10 years of steady-state training in the bank from triathlon, which gave me an edge in the time trials but I was at a disadvantage in everything else. This year, my time trialing prowess is considerably less, but I've gotten better at the other things. It all balanced out, at least in this race.

After the time trial, I headed back to my car to warm down on the trainer and eat my snacks. My teammates tried to encourage me, but I was feeling low. I stopped spinning after about 10 minutes, stomach still churning, and packed up the car. Back at the hotel, I took a shower and ate some more food, both of which helped me feel better. I packed up the last of my stuff and loaded up the car for one more race.

I set up the team tent (I had custody of it for the weekend) and all my stuff and started spinning right away to warm up. The race was running behind schedule, though, so I got off and walked around. I made a visit to look at the TT results and noticed that I'd fallen to fourth in the GC behind a friend who had taken first in the TT. Grr . . . I needed to gain 20 seconds on her in the criterium in order to keep my podium spot (but also, good for her for kicking butt in the time trial)! I still felt nauseous as I finished my warm-up. A teammate brought me a nylon stocking full of ice to stick down my back, and I can't believe how much it helped!

I got a call-up and started on the front row of the criterium! My start was textbook, too; I got myself clipped in on the first try without even looking. I went into the first few laps sitting third or fourth wheel and stayed there for a while. As the swarm came up around me, I let myself be washed back until I started seeing cat. 4/5 bibs. Some of the surges were hard, but I felt surprisingly awesome! Gone were the waves of nausea; gone was the feeling of deadness in my legs. Every time I demanded a surge in power from my body, it responded, and I was able to stay with the lead group as more and more riders got shelled off the back.

The course was fast with two punchy hills and one sharp right corner. It took me some time to get the hand of the hard right, but I finally found the right line and was able to carry speed through it eventually. The field felt safe and confident. It was some of the most fun I've ever had racing. I even kind of felt like I belonged with the cat. 1/2/3s!

First and second place in the cat. 4/5 GC were still in the lead group with me, but when I looked behind me I realized that everyone else had been dropped and pulled. Going into the final prime lap, an intermediate sprint for bonus seconds, I lost touch with the back of the pack. I surged to catch back on, and spent a few laps chasing. There was one other woman behind me, and we tried to work together to catch back on. But my ice had melted by that point, I was overheating, I had the chills, and I had what I wanted--third place in the GC was in the bag. I pedaled just hard enough to stay within sight of the main pack, and managed to finish as the very last rider on the lead lap.

So I got third last year and third again this year in the Tour of Washington County, but it took a lot more work this year! This was my goal race, and as much as I would have liked to have won it, first and second place were stronger and deserved their spots. I feel like I've grown a lot as a racer in the last year. My legs have gotten stronger, sure; but I've also learned a lot about the tactics of the sport, how to ride in a pack, how to conserve my energy, how to move up or drift back as needed. I've learned some of my strengths and weaknesses as a rider, both in terms of natural and learned ability. Those were big goals that I had for myself going into this season.

But my biggest goal of the season was to move from cat. 4 to cat. 3. Tour of Washington County was my last race as a cat. 4. I submitted my upgrade request and it was confirmed this morning. I'm officially a cat. 3 racer now!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tour of Washington County - Saturday Edition (Smithsburg Road Race)


Since the women's road race didn't start until 10:30, I had the chance to sleep in a little on Saturday morning. My body woke up at 6:30 anyway, though, after a restless night of sleep. I took advantage of the hotel breakfast before packing up and heading to the Smithsburg High School for staging. I warmed up very briefly by riding around the parking lot a few times before lining up with one teammate for the start. The cat 4/5 men went off 5 minutes ahead of us, a decision that several of us women questioned; we were pretty sure that our race would be neutralized when the men inevitably caught and passed us. Somebody said something to the effect of, "You're the 1/2/3 women! Surely you can hold off the 4/5 men!" Uh, yeah. Sure.

This road race course is moderately rolling throughout, with three short but steep kickers at the end of each lap. Those three hills are probably the deciding factor of this race. The rest of the course is a cinch, comparatively, although the pace picked up on the first, third, and fifth laps for the sprint points competition. A series of attacks strung out the group going into the first intermediate sprint. My legs were already a little tired going into the finishing hills for the first time. I got dropped and figured that was all I would see of the pack for the rest of the race. I was very overheated, to the point of wanting to pull over and vomit. I unzipped my jersey all the way and tried to settle into a hard but manageable pace.

Then, naturally, our race had to be neutralized so the 4/5 men's race could come past us. I'd worked myself back within sight of the neutral support vehicle, but the neutralization is what allowed me to catch back on (I probably would have stayed off the back if not for that). It took a surprisingly long time for the men to get past us. I stayed way in the back of the group, following the lead of some more experienced women. I had no problem staying with that group until the second time up the finishing hills, when I got dropped again.

I worked hard to try to catch back on, though, and was able to tag on with a group of stronger, more experienced riders. A pair of women from Haymarket and one from Vanderkitten and I worked together (although it was mostly one rider from Haymarket) to get all the way back to the pack. I stayed in the lead group again until the third time through the hills, when I fell off for the final time.

Fortunately, I found a few other riders to work with, and a group of 2 to 6 of us worked together for the final 2 laps. We took turns pulling, although we never established much of a rhythm. I was half-hoping that we would get pulled after 4 laps, but instead we got the bell. We stayed together for the final lap, sweeping up a few more riders along the way, until the last time up the hill. On the final climbs, my right quad cramped so much that I couldn't pedal with my right leg at all. So I pedaled one-legged up the hill, shook out my right leg on the downhill, and that gave me enough relief to make it up the final two hills. The group I had been with rode away from me, including one other woman in the cat. 4/5 race. Since I couldn't pedal hard, I took the opportunity to eat the rest of my food and drink the rest of my water to start the recovery process for the next day's races. I made it up the final hill in a little over 2 hours, a few minutes back in the GC from first place and just seconds behind second place.

I'm proud of myself for doing well in this race. I don't think this course suits me; it's too hot and too hilly. In retrospect, I wish I would have used different gearing, too. I had a wheel with an 11-28 cassette on it in my car, but used the wheels with the 12-25 instead because they're a little lighter. I think having the bigger cassette would have been more helpful than a slightly lighter wheelset. Still, I managed a respectable third place in the 4/5 field, and gave myself a good start in the GC competition going into the weekend.

One of my goals for this year was to get better acquainted with my strengths and weaknesses. I trained steady-state for so long as a triathlete that it was the only real strength I had coming into bike racing. Now I'm starting to develop more of a sense of what I'm good at, as a cyclist. Hot and hilly road races ain't it, though! Criteriums, on the other hand . . . well, that's what I'll talk about in tomorrow's installment.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Tour of Washington County - Friday Edition (ToWC Kick-off Criterium)


I just got back from a long weekend of racing. It'll make for a long read if I write it up all at once, so I'm submitting it to you in chunks. Chunk #1 is for Friday night, the kick-off crit in Hagerstown, MD.

I'm fortunate to have a job where I can take off at noon on a Friday to go race, so I left mid-afternoon to get on the road to Hagerstown before the traffic apocalypse that is Friday night in the suburbs of D.C. Even so, the drive took twice as long as usual. I was grumpy and out-of-sorts by the time I got to the cheap hotel I'd booked for the weekend. Also, one of the cats peed on my duffel bag, so I had that pleasing aroma to keep me company on the drive up. Add to that the fact that Emily had to stay home because of an appointment she had on Saturday, and I was having a day.

There was rain in the forecast. The sky was gray as I parked in downtown Hagerstown and got my numbers from registration. By the time I kitted up and started riding the course to warm up, it was sprinkling.

This was a women's open field and their regional championship crit, so I felt in over my head. I was there mostly to support a teammate, and I needed to keep my powder dry for the weekend and not crash. Tour of Washington County was my A race for the season, but the kick-off crit didn't contribute to the GC; it was just for fun. I told my teammate, who wouldn't mind having the championship jersey, that I would be there for her in the end if I could. We made tentative plans, then lined up for the start.

It was legit raining by then. The oil and grime was welling up on the roads. The corners were slick. I stayed near the back of the bunch, which was fast in the straights and ginger in the corners. Five corners, one more of a chicane, with a short, punchy hill on the back side made up the course. There were zebra crossings (stripes of white paint) and bricks on the corners. It only took one lap for someone's rear wheel to slide out on the chicane. Three or four women went down. I barely avoided a downed bike and hopped onto the sidewalk to get around the crash. It took a lap or two to chase back on, but I made it after 2 laps.

The pace was manageable for me, so I moved up into the top 10 wheels after getting settled. I followed an attack by a Charlottesville rider, then took the inside line on the chicane (which no one else took for the whole race, for some reason) to go off on my own. I didn't have any ambitions of staying away, but I wanted to get one tough effort into my legs for the next day's road race. I stayed away for about a lap, then tagged on to the back of the group as they caught me.

It was raining steadily, and the corners were treacherous. About halfway through the race, a rider from Baltimore Bicycling Club went down in front of me and I slid out trying to avoid her. One other woman went down and another dropped her chain trying to avoid us. No one was hurt, and no bikes were hurt. I'd torn my skinsuit, though, and all I could think to say was, "Aw man! This thing was $180!" In retrospect, I wish I would have said, "You guys okay? Let's go to the pits for our free lap!" The other three took off and I followed at a much slower pace. My brake levers were twisted in so much that I couldn't prop myself up on them. I stopped in the pit to have my brake levers fixed and because I could, but the other three were trying to chase back on. I assumed they didn't want to take the risk of being in the pack, but one of the women later told me she didn't realize she could go to the pit for a free lap. So again, I wish I would have said something about it instead of complaining about skinsuit damage.

I got a push from the mechanic and got back in with the main pack, now down to 10 riders. I had no trouble matching their pace, but I was skittish in the corners and kept getting gapped. The bell rung, the race announcer shouted, "$10 prime!" and I though, "I don't want to crash and die for $10!" The pace hotted up a little, I was still getting gapped in every corner and surging to catch back on, and eventually I said, "Screw this, I have to race hard all weekend" and dropped myself off the back. After two or three laps on my own, I got the hang of the corners and was able to take them at speed, but I don't regret dropping out of the group. One of the more experienced racers, a woman I respect very much, pulled off to the side and DNFed after the first crash. She has little kids. She didn't want to risk a dangerous crash like what had just happened. I respect that very much. It was safer for me and for everyone else around me to drop back and finish the race on my own terms.

I did several more laps on my own. Eventually, on the finishing stretch, I looked around to see the pace car turning the final corner just as I went through the start/finish line. I knew that would probably be my last lap. I got pulled on the next lap; I think there were 2 or 3 to go at that point. Two women got a gap in the final prime lap, probably just before I got pulled, and held it to take first and second. My teammate attacked into the final corner and held her sprint all the way for third place.

There was one woman from NCVC who was taken out on a stretcher after that first crash. Fortunately, she was discharged from the hospital that evening and went on to win second in the women's open GC for the weekend. All of the women made it out of that race safely, but there were a few of us who left with a little less skin!


Tune in tomorrow for the next exciting installment in my Tour of Washington County weekend!

Monday, June 12, 2017

When Cycling Makes Me Grouchy

Emily never takes me seriously when I get grumpy because she says I look like this.

This year, I've developed a new warning sign for overtraining: when I'm under a lot of training stress, I get really grouchy.

I've noticed a greater tendency to react negatively and aggressively to motorists (and other cyclists) late in a long bike ride, when I'm tired and hot and hungry. Sometimes I make stupid mistakes. Sometimes I'm rude. Sometimes I grouse in my head and complain to myself for half an hour. Sometimes I have enough presence of mind to short-circuit my responses before they get out of hand, but other times it's not until I'm home, showered, and fed that I realize, "Oh right, that guy did have the right of way!"

This problem is similar to one that a continental pro cyclist addressed in a recent article in Peloton magazine: she was tired on the second day of a tough stage race. Her fatigue led to a poor handling mistake, and she went down with a broken collarbone and concussion. I've had that experience of feeling my handling and decision-making skills disappear over the course of a hard workout, to where I'm scared to ride in a pack by the end of a tough race.

This article is less instructional than observational, but I do have some suggestions for how to cope with this phenomenon. First off, be aware that your mood and reactions can be an indication of fatigue and hunger, and use them as an excuse to take it easier through the end of a ride or stop and have some extra food and drink.

Second, in race or group ride situations, be aware of how your fatigue level may affect your responses. Be slow to swear or yell at other riders or motorists, especially in race situations. If you feel that fatigue is affecting your ability to handle your bike or respond quickly enough to the moves of other riders, move towards the back of the pack to put yourself and others out of danger. Perhaps you can even recover and eat back there, so that you can eventually move back up and into contention. But even if you can't get back into contention, better to finish at the back (or off the back) of the pack rather than risk bodily harm to yourself or others.

You can also practice developing mental acuity when you're already fatigued. I listened to an interview with Ryan Aitcheson where he talked about practicing math problems and critical thinking late in difficult trainer workouts. Choose a venue where you'll be safe, wear yourself down for a bit, then force yourself to think and make decisions.

Finally, be aware of changes in your overall mental and physical state. Have you been extra snarky to your spouse over the past few days? Maybe it's time to take a recovery week and let the stress clear from your system. Be familiar with your base state, and be prepared to skip workouts if needed to avoid making your friends and family members hate you.

That's my spiel for this week. I'm coming off of a week of recovery and going into a taper week for the Tour of Washington County next weekend, which is my A race for this season. It will also likely be my final race as a cat. 4! I'll tell you all about it when I get back next weekend!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Race Report: Clear Spring Road Race W1/2/3/4

This was my longest race of the year so far at 50+ miles. And it was on hilly roads. And it was in a women's open field. My main goal for the race was to flog myself as training for the Tour of Washington County, which is my A race for the year and comes up in three weeks. I wanted to hang with the main group for as long as possible, over all of the hills if possible. To that end, I made a RideWithGPS route based on the course map and race e-mails to review the night before. I even wrote down key features of the course and taped them to my top tube (with the words "GO FLOG YOURSELF! TOWC" at the bottom). One teammate also raced, but we decided in the pre-race to hang out and take the race as it came with no specific team plan.

The course was a preview of the USA Nationals course for 2018-2019. It runs over a loop of about 13 miles, repeated in our case 4 times (with the first one slightly different to avoid the "big" climb). The first half of the loop has some rolling hills, including one that steadily gains over about 1.5 miles, then a long stretch where the roads are mostly flat or downhill, with a short, steep climb towards the end of each loop. The finish line was . . . well, I'll save that for later.

The race started with about 25 women and stayed mostly together for the opening lap. There were a few women who took the pace hard on the hills, but most of the group was able to stay on. Going over the climb that had looked so big on the elevation map didn't feel that bad, either! I turned and asked another racer, "Was that the big hill?" The second lap was more of the same, but with a little more attrition through the hills and also some rain. I responded to an attack with a counter on one of the early downhills and covered a few more. My teammate floated off the front at one point and stayed away for a mile or two. A woman from Sweetspot-Cutaway stayed away for I think most of a lap. There were a flurry of attacks to bridge up to her, but enough of us covered those bridge attempts to bring the whole pack back together eventually.

In the penultimate lap, I was sitting second wheel to a woman I've seen (from the sidelines of the 1/2/3 races) to be strong. She took a short roller pretty hard, and I was able to match her pedalstroke for pedalstroke. So I figured, why not? And took the next roller as hard as I could. I went clear of the group and stayed away for I think 5 or 6 miles. I came around and got the bell for the final lap solo, which was pretty sweet; but I didn't really think I would be able to stay away for the 10+ remaining miles on my own. I had time gaps ranging from 20-30 seconds, and my goal was to make it over the "big" hill and into the descent before the group caught me. I figured I would be toast if the group caught me in the hills.

I finally came back to the group just before a sharp left turn, and I was surprised to get kudos from other riders! One of my buddies said she would give me the Most Courageous Rider jersey, if there were one for this race. I felt a little bit like I'd proved my mettle in terms of ability to hang with the 1/2/3 racers. I drifted to the back to recover, but didn't stay there for long. My legs still felt good, and I go downhill so fast that I naturally drifted back into the front 10 wheels.

My teammate and I found each other and discussed the finale. I said my legs were still feeling okay, so we agreed that she would do her best to lead me out. Around the peloton, other teams had similar ideas, and riders were showing up in pairs and trios of matching kit at the front. It was really cool to see! That almost never happens in a 4/5 race, where multiple teams coordinate their individual lead-outs!

Sweetspot-Cutaway and Haymarket were mostly patrolling the front with a pace that was not too high but certainly not soft. Somehow, my VWS teammate and I ended up driving the pace the final time up the short, steep hill, and boy was it hard! I barely hung on to my teammate's wheel for the climb! Neither of us was sure how far away the finish was; I was just going off of my bike computer and the improvised cue sheet I had taped to my top tube. I felt like it was too early to ramp up the effort, but I didn't say anything (why didn't I say anything? Lesson learned: if you're going to be the protected rider, SAY SOMETHING!) . . . I tried to communicate periodically to Robin that I was still on her wheel as she drove the pace forward, the lead-out for ABRT on her right side.

Turns out . . . it was too early. My teammate popped, and I had probably already done too much early in the race. My legs were toast and I plummeted backwards through the field as ABRT's sprinter went for the line and the swarm came around me. My teammate encouraged me to keep going for a good result, but I could not.

Except that we passed the red tent with the lap markers where the officials had been and there were no officials. And there was no camera. A few of us looked at each other quizzically. Then I remembered that the pre-race e-mail mentioned that the finish line would be up by the school, and we hadn't passed the school yet. About that time, the moto official came alongside us and told us that the line we sprinted to wasn't the finish line. I started accelerating, yelling that the finish line was still ahead. No one else responded in time, though, and I got way out front and crossed the finish line alone. Whee!

That was the end of the fun part, for a while. The women who had won the sprint to the first line were understandably upset at the confusion. The finish wasn't marked with signs (1k to go, 500m to go, 200m to go) and the fact that there were two lines with the finish beyond the bells-and-laps line wasn't adequately communicated. The officials asked me if I knew that the first line wasn't the finish line and I said, honestly, no. I'd sprinted with everyone else and (as I said before) did not do well. I was just the one who figured out what had happened first and responded to it before anyone else could. Actually, the fact that I'd done so poorly in the first sprint probably allowed me to do that; if I'd been more of a contender at the first line, I wouldn't have had the legs to go for the second.

It was a contentious half hour or so of back and forth between judges and racers, with the race director and a few neutral observers weighing in as well. In the end, the officials decided to take the results from the second finish line, and I got the win. It felt pretty rotten at first, and I'm sure there are still plenty of women who are angry about how it ended. But I'm proud of myself for meeting my goal of staying with the 1/2/3 women for a hilly 50+ miles and for keeping my head up and responding to the situation as I saw it. I won't be relying on that as a tactic to win races, but I will remember the importance of always maintaining that awareness.

Also, my action camera was an unfortunate casualty of this race. The case broke sometime during my breakaway. I remember hearing some flapping and feeling like something had dropped or flown behind me, but I thought it was the tape from my cue sheet blowing off. It wasn't until I was back in the group and someone asked if I'd gotten my breakaway on my GoPro that I realized it was gone. Fortunately, it wasn't an actual GoPro or a Garmin Virb or something else very expensive; it was a $50 knock-off from China (via Amazon). And by the time the thing with the finish line was sorted out, I was too tired to drive around looking for a tiny grey box in the grass on the side of the road. So if you see a camera out near Clear Spring, Maryland, please contact me. I hope a cow didn't eat it.

I have a break from racing for the next few weeks, then the Tour of Washington County (which I'm pretty sure will be my last race as a cat. 4)!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Race Report: 2017 BikeJam Kelly Cup W4/5

Spoiler photo! Now you know how the story ends!
A Veloworks-Spokes Etc. teammate and I carpooled to the race and chatted on the way about how we planned to approach it. We decided to ride mostly defense, with her softening the field with attacks in the early stages then tucking in to protect me and lead me out to a glorious sprint victory. I called it a no-turn crit course as we pre-rode the course, because there were no turns except for a gentle chicane just past the finish line. The pavement was rough with a few major holes (one of which, I swear, I ran over on every single lap). The hazards were all well-marked, though, and nothing presented itself as particularly dangerous or crash-inducing. The final drag to the finish line was slightly uphill, but at a gradient so gentle I could take it easily in my big chainring. And the stretch just past the finish line had that right-left-right chicane around a park shelter then a downhill just steep enough you could really gather some speed.

Twenty-two women lined up at the start. We made note of the wheels we needed to mark--a rider from Blue Ridge Cyclery in Charlottesville who won the sprint at Jeff Cup and another from New York who took second at Carl Dolan. My teammate took off from the gun with just enough vigor to string the field out. They gave her space and she got a small gap right away. There weren't many individuals willing to put their noses in the wind to chase, and only a few teams showed up with more than one rider. My VWS comrade wasn't the only one who tried a solo attack, either; there were multiple women who casually floated off the front in the first half of the race.

In between attacks, the pack ran mostly at tea party pace. Digs from a few key players were enough to stretch the field but not break it. The woman from Blue Ridge that we'd marked at the beginning made a comment about how easy it felt--sort of boring! Hmm . . . Maybe the two of us can make things more interesting? With 7 laps to go, my teammate put in a genuine attack up the left side of the climb. I saw the woman from New York and the woman from Blue Ridge start to bridge up together. I knew I needed to mark that move, so I accelerated to get on their wheels. As I did, I looked back and saw that I had also gapped the field--this was it! This was the move! I shouted up the road that we had a gap and to go! go! go! The Blue Ridge rider heard me and dug in, and we both blew right by the other two. I caught her wheel and we accelerated down the back stretch. I heard "15 seconds!" on the next lap, and it grew from there. My breakaway companion asked if my teammate in the pack would disrupt the chase. "Oh yeah," I replied. VWS ladies have become pros at that this season!

As we took turns in the break, I was realizing that my companion was stronger than me. Her pulls were much harder than mine. Trying to match the speed she carried on her pulls was pushing me dangerously into the red. I started calculating my approach to the finish of the race. It was clear by 3 laps to go that first and second place were in our group; it was just a question of who could outwit and outride the other person. I started to ease off my pulls a little bit, trying to conserve some energy for the end. I allowed my struggle to show; I wanted to telegraph that she was stronger than me and I was doing my best. We took turns pulling the hill to the finish line, and I exaggerated my suffering on each subsequent round to project some weakness.

She took my bait and attacked me on the hill coming into the bell lap. I knew I needed to get back to her ASAP, because I didn't want a repeat of Bunny Hop where my breakaway companion completely rode me off her wheel. So I put in what was probably my biggest effort of the day and caught back on just as we started the downhill on the backside. She flicked her elbow for me to come around and take my turn. Haha! No. Don't think so. I just got the lead-out I was looking for.

I knew she was going to have to jump from the front, and she knew it too. It was my race to lose. She started her sprint near the barriers, but I was ready to accelerate with her. I followed her wheel and kept driving around her. I realized at that moment that I'd left it too late, stayed in her draft too long, and wasn't going to get all the way around her. I threw my bike at the line in a desperate (and kind of silly) attempt to get the win, but I did not. The race was already hers at that point and I came away second-best.

I played the game right, just left the sprint a little too late. Ah well. At least I got second in a different way this time! I think this was the first time I've been in a situation where I needed to time my sprint just right to win. I know if I had started my sprint just a little bit sooner, I would have come around her and won. I'm not sure where I should have started it, though, and how I'll know next time. Fortunately, I have this race video that I can review endlessly to obsess over how I could have done better!

I don't think the speed data from my Garmin is accurate. It seems a little high. It's based on the GPS file, not my speed/cadence sensor, because the wheels I was using don't have a magnet on them yet. This is my first try with using the fancy overlays for the data!

My VWS teammate won the field sprint to take third place and grab another double podium for the VWS ladies!

I'm grateful to be on a team where we can have fun with tactics and race plans in the women's 4/5 field--it makes the racing so interesting and fun!

As an aside, if you are reading this race report to decide whether or not you should race this course, I recommend it, especially if you are a beginner. The course isn't technical, the climb isn't steep, the roads are wide enough to move around through a pack, and the vibe is great. The only downside is the rough pavement, but it's not so rough that you need to worry about it; just stay relaxed and keep your head up and you'll be fine. The race (Kelly Cup) is part of a cycling festival (BikeJam) so it has a festival atmosphere with food trucks and an outdoor cafe and crafts and races for kids. Not many road races have an environment that encourages people to hang out and watch after their own race is done, but this one did. I stayed well after my race (the first of the day) to watch teammates race and to enjoy the vibe.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Race Report: Poolesville Road Race

Dirt don't hurt!
Poolesville is one of the longest-running (I think only Jeff Cup has been running longer) races in the MABRA region. It's notorious for a mile-long stretch of gravel repeated on each lap. As you can see from the photo, it was a little muddy out there on Saturday. Muddy, wet, and cold--perfect weather for a spring classic, but a month too late; my brain has already moved on (with the pro peloton) from Belgian weather to California sunshine! I think many MABRA women were in a similar mental space, because only 15 of us lined up to contest the 4/5 race (21 were pre-registered), including myself and 5 VWS teammates. And in spite of the fact that it's May and I expect a little sunshine and a little warmth, I Belgianed up, put embro on my legs, and went with bare arms.

We started neutral until the first turn, at which point two of my teammates regulated the pace at the front. We took turns attacking and countering, while Bike Rack and NCVC chased us back. The RCV racer picked up the pace going into the gravel turn, but everyone took it easy and kept it upright through the turn itself. The gravel had two decent lines, one on the left and one on the right. One of my teammates had done recon earlier in the week and said the left line was better. I followed an NCVC racer up that left line. She drilled the pace and we left the pack behind. Before we lost touch with the peloton, I heard a teammate call out "Flat!" So I knew that VWS was down to 5.

My NCVC companion kept the pace high through the gravel, and we briefly traded turns on the front once we were back on pavement. The pack quickly reeled us in. I looked around and realized that our A rider was missing, so we were down to 4 VWS riders in the pack. My memory gets a little fuzzy around this point, in terms of sequence of events. I know I attacked again at some point and was pulled back. I remember the racing felt hard, and I spent a good amount of time recovering in the back. I remember covering at least one attack.

The critical move came when one of my teammates attacked and got a good gap. A woman from the Bike Rack followed her. Nobody else did, though, and two of my other teammates went to the front of the pack and rode tempo. The peloton let them sit on the front; I think everyone was happy to ride an easy pace for a while. Off in the distance, I could see the Bike Rack rider with a gap on my teammate. When we came through the start/finish line at the beginning of our second lap of three, one of our male teammates mentioned that she had almost bridged up to the break. I was nervous about that; was she struggling? Did she have the legs to stay with the Bike Rack rider? Should we try to bring the break back and try to attack again later?

My teammates started to accelerate the pace on the front at the beginning of the second lap. They weren't chasing the break back; they were trying to shake a few more riders out of our group. It certainly worked! Our group went down to about 8 riders, and some of them were just barely hanging on. The pace picked up again on the gravel thanks to the same NCVC rider, and I stayed with her. Everything came back together on the pavement, and shortly thereafter I felt my handling get squirrely. I had a flat tire. I kept the bike upright and sashayed along as best I could on my rear rim until the sweep vehicle came along to give me a ride back to the start. I cleaned up a little, put on warm, dry clothes, and then headed back to the finish line . . .

In time to see my teammate win! She had stayed off the front for most of the race and dropped the Bike Rack rider on the last corner. A second teammate came out best in the field sprint to take third place. Another multi-podium for the VWS Ladies! Tactically, the real stars of the show were my two teammates who controlled the pace in the pack from the time the break went until the end. Without them keeping the pace slow, our winner probably couldn't have stayed away for over 20 miles with only one other rider.

I was disappointed to flat out and DNF, especially since I felt more than able to hang with that second group for the rest of the race (one teammate described the pace they were setting as "tea party pace"). But I was able to do my job in the first lap and a half, and the result came out exceptionally well for our team. It was a fun day on a challenging course, made more challenging by cold, wind, and wet. Out of 15 starters, only 11 finished--two flats, one broken spoke, and one broken rear derailleur hanger. Pretty epic race, if you ask me!

Next weekend, I'll be heading to BikeJam in Baltimore to race the Kelly Cup. It's a criterium, and I'll be bringing pit wheels so I don't have two DNFs in a row!
Trusty steed after the race. Notice the squishy rear tire.
Trusty steed after a bath. Much better!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Race Reports: Bunny Hop & Ride Sally Ride


I'll try to keep these brief, because there are three!

Of our cat. 4 group, I was the only woman registered for Bunny Hop on Saturday. Ride Sally Ride (Sunday) was the big team-focused race. My plan was to go to Bunny Hop and get as many upgrade points as I could. I want to be able to upgrade to cat. 3 with the rest of my team, because many of them are close! I'd never done Bunny Hop before (it was cancelled last year) but it was on a new course this year anyway. The race organizers had posted a video of the course, which made it look very technical with rough pavement. Many of us were nervous about how the course would play out, especially in a beginners' field with rain in the forecast.

We needn't have worried! The course was fun and safe (or as safe as bike racing can ever be) and it stayed dry in spite of occasional cold, spitting rain. It was in a derelict office park that's now used for autonomous vehicle testing. The pavement was fine, smooth through most of the course with only a few well-marked potholes and seams. The finish line was on a long, curving, exposed stretch that started out head-crosswind and ended with a tailwind past the line. Then there was a hard right turn with a tailwind and a slight downhill, a few sweeping curves into a short uphill, a right-left chicane and a hard right turn, then another gentle turn to the left about 300 m from the finish line. A somewhat technical course, and I wouldn't want to take some of those corners more than three abreast (almost never a concern in the fields in which I race), but it felt safe to me throughout my races.


Bunny Hop Criterium Women's 4/5
Scoping out the competition before the race, I had my eye on a fellow racer from Sticky Fingers. I knew her wheel would be trustworthy where many of the women were of unknown reliability. And I was pretty sure that if we teamed up we could get a gap on the field and stay away.

With so many unknowns in the field, I started the pace off hard to set an expectation for a fast pace. I settled in after the first turn and let the field come back together a little. I looked back to see if everyone was still there. I tried to keep the tempo high and encouraged the front 5 or 6 women to work together to force a selection. That continued until the first preme lap, which I used for it's intended purpose--to create a break! I took that lap hard and won the preme, then kept going at slightly higher than tempo pace to see how long I could stay away. Five or six women came back to me, and we started working together to keep the pace high and make that selection stick. When the pace slowed down significantly on the climb, I attacked across the road and got a gap. Stayed away long enough to get another preme, looked back and Sticky Fingers was on my wheel. Yay! This was what I wanted to happen!

We worked together for the rest of the race. I told her to take the third preme, and we kept our rhythm going until the last lap. I heard after the race that one of the chasing pack tried to bridge up to us and almost made it but blew up and drifted back. My Sticky Fingers compatriot took the front on the last lap, which ended up well for her because she was strong enough to ride me right off her wheel! She gapped me on the last climb and I couldn't claw back before the end. She took the win and I took second place a handful of seconds later.

Bunny Hop Criterium Women's 3/4
There aren't many 3/4 races now that there's a women's 5 field. I took the opportunity to double up and try to pip another upgrade point or two. The 3/4 race had only 6 women, with a few apparently scared off by the wind and the rain. My plan was to sit in and do as little work as possible, since I already had one race in my legs. Sticky Fingers had two racers, but everyone else was there as a single; no teammates to work for us!

As a result, the pace was really slow. No one wanted to burn matches on the front to keep it high. On the first preme lap, no one even bothered sprinting; the woman on the front of the bunch accelerated slightly and no one tried to come around her. She took the preme comfortably.

I didn't have high hopes for winning the race, so I took a gamble on the next preme lap and sprinted from the 200 m mark. No one else came with me, so instead of sitting up after the line I followed the advice of the crowd to "Keep! Going!" I had a massive gap! I drilled it for another lap then tried to settle into threshold. I don't think I'm very good at judging what that is, yet; I think I end up going too hard and running out of steam.

I stayed away for a few laps before an RCV rider bridged up to me from a gap of 7-ish seconds. I slowed down a little until she caught my wheel, then drilled it to pull away from the chase group again. Unfortunately, I drilled too hard, and couldn't catch her wheel when she pulled through. We both drifted back into the pack. I sat on the very back of the bunch and waited for a good opportunity.

The pace was still pretty slow on the last lap. I'd planned to attack after the chicane, where no one was pedaling because they were preparing for the next turn. There wasn't really room, though, because we were so spread out. So I stayed in the back and waited for someone else to jump. I'm not sure who jumped first, but I held back for a few extra seconds and then stood and accelerated, surfing wheels to come from 6th to 2nd. Podium number two for the day--a double double!

I enjoyed this race so much; I can't say enough good things about what a terrific crit Artemis Racing put on. I recommend it to everyone for next year!

Ride Sally Ride Women's 4/5
This was our big team race. We had 5 cat. 4s in the field and a solid race plan. The course is an office-park crit with three right-hand turns and two little stretches of elevation gain. It was cold and windy on Sunday, with a strong headwind after the first turn, a cross-headwind after the second turn, and a powerful headwind with a slight downhill on the finishing stretch.

We began attacking from the beginning, opening up gaps and forcing everyone else to chase. Every time they brought one of us back, another would attack. Meanwhile, our A rider was staying sheltered in the pack. I got in two good attacks, one of which prompted a bridge from a Rock Creek Velo rider. We traded turns for a long time before the pack brought us back.

On my second break, I was afraid I might actually stay away! As I came around with 10 to go and then 9 to go, spectators were shouting that my gap was growing and the pack wasn't working to bring me back! Besides the fact that it hurt a lot, it wasn't the plan for me to stay away! I was glad to see a teammate blow past me with 8 to go. I heard people shouting for me to grab her wheel, but I didn't have the strength and drifted back to the peloton.

Another teammate bridged up to the first, so we had two working together off the front. The three of us that remained stayed positioned to disrupt any chasing efforts, then came together with 4 laps to go. I confess I got a little excited and started ramping the pace up too soon, with 3 to go. Patience, Jamie! With 2 to go, our A rider was on my wheel, and I was on another teammate's wheel. She drilled the pace for a whole lap and started a second before pulling off. Our A rider shouted to me "GO! GO!" "Wait, what? Don't GO?!" I replied, because my ears had stopped working and my brain had turned to jelly. "GO! GO!" she said again, and so I did. I buried myself right up until the final turn, going as hard as I possibly could and shouting my body down when it asked to stop. I pulled wide out of the final turn and our A rider came past me with open road in front of her. She took the bunch sprint to complete a clean sweep of the podium for Veloworks-Spokes Etc.

As fun as it was to stand on the podium and win some premes, I had an even better time working together with my team. We executed our race plan to the tee and brought home a great result. I ended up in 7th, and my other teammate in 11th, but really we won the race. It was a marvelous team victory, some of the most fun I've ever had on the bike. I'm so grateful to be part of an awesome team!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Kit Review: Pactimo rain jacket and changing kilt

Today I'm introducing another kit review (you can find my previous kit review of the SheBeest Petunia bibs and Divine jersey here), this time of the Pactimo Ultra-Lite Women's Rain Jacket and their Quick-Release Changing Kilt. I bought both of these items with my own money; this isn't a sponsored review (although if anyone from Pactimo is reading this and wants to send me stuff to try, I will not turn you down!). I purchased these items from Pactimo about 2 months ago. Since then, I've had the chance to use the rain jacket twice, once in heavy rain, once in light rain, and the changing kilt half a dozen times.

Pactimo Ultra-Lite Rain Jacket (Women's)

This rain jacket keeps water out, which is its primary function. It breathes better than most of the rain jackets I've used in the past, but it still gets very sweaty inside. That wasn't so bad in cooler weather, when I had a layer of warm fabric between the jacket and my skin. But now it's warmer, and the material clings to my arms and exacerbates the sensations of heat and sweat. A few weeks ago, when our team ride ended up feeling more like a team swim, I ended up taking the jacket off because I got so hot; I wasn't sure if I would get wetter riding with it or without it. I got much wetter riding with it, to the point that my jersey was flapping at my armpits, it was so saturated from rain. So I regretted taking the jacket off. I didn't realize how much it was contributing to my comfort until it was gone.

The fabric of the jacket is thin and crepe-y, almost crinkly. The fit is very flattering for me. I didn't notice the jacket flapping down hills or at high speeds. The tail of the jacket is long enough to reach halfway down my hips, and has a silicone gripper to keep it in place. That keeps the jacket from riding up, but it also makes it difficult to access pockets when riding. I got the clear model so that I can use it for racing (that way you can pull the jacket on and officials can still see your number through it), but I think I would only use it in very heavy rain, or if the rain is cold enough that I'll be uncomfortable if I get wet. For light summer rains, it will probably be easier to suffer through the wet, especially since my races aren't very long in duration.


Pactimo Quick-Release Changing Kilt
I feel ever-so-slightly silly for spending $30 on what amounts to a very nice towel (or one of these), but I really like my changing kilt. The material is light and airy. It feels high-quality. The hook-and-loop (that's the generic term for Velcro, if you didn't know) makes it adjustable. It has a silicone gripper along with the elastic waistband for comfort and so it doesn't fall down and embarrass you. On that note, be careful on windy days with this product. Learn from my mistakes.

The silicone gripper may be gimmicky, or overkill, or the kind of thing that a brand puts into a product to make it appeal to cyclists who could easily wrap a towel around their waists and change that way. Maybe I'm a sucker for buying one. But I love mine and use it at every single race and would walk around in this and nothing else post-race if I thought I could get away with it.

Overall, I'm impressed with the quality of Pactimo's products. I like the fabrics they use; I like their attention to detail; I like the teams that they sponsor; I like that they offer so many products that are cut for women (most companies just have a unisex rain jacket, which will inevitably flap around my narrow shoulders and ribs); and I like that they've structured their minimums for custom orders to be especially favorable for mixed-gender teams. They seem committed to quality, with a manufacturing defect rate well below the industry average. They also have 5-piece minimums for custom orders, so if you want to get your own fancy skinsuits or jerseys with a custom design, or if you have a particularly small team, that's a low barrier to entry for customized kit.

Two other things they do that I appreciate are a loyalty program and custom content. Their Pactimo Rewards gives you points for purchases, for referrals, for liking them on Facebook and following them on Twitter, for writing reviews of their products, and as a little gift for your birthday. Those rewards add up pretty quickly, to the point that I was able to get $20 off on my first purchase just for committing to follow them through social media and e-mail. Without that discount, I may have been less inclined to give their products a chance. They also have  a library of articles, videos, and podcasts related to cycling and triathlon. It includes coaching and training tips, beginners' guides, and interest pieces. I appreciate that they're creating content to help people learn and improve, as well as high-quality products for sale.

I like this brand. I support it. Pactimo comes off as serious and committed without taking itself too seriously. I appreciate that they are going out of their way to have a two-way relationship with their customers; they don't just make and sell quality merchandise (lots of companies do that), but also seem genuinely committed to creating value within the cycling community. I like that. I'm looking forward to purchasing and reviewing some of their shorts and jerseys in the future.