Jeff Cup was one of my first big races last season, and I have good memories of it. It's a circuit race, 3 laps of 10 miles each for the 4/5 women. Our race ran concurrent with the 5 men and the 1/2/3 women, each starting a few minutes in front of us. The course is beautiful and rolling, with one sustained climb (there's a Trump Winery at the top, so everyone calls it Trump) that takes an eternity to climb (not really, it's like a 90-second hill w/ average grade of 5%). The rest of the course is rolling, twisting roads, with punchy climbs and some fast turns. The last turn is deceptively far from the finish line, and slightly uphill. It's a great course in a beautiful part of the country, and the race has been run for 27 years--it is dialed in!
Before the race, I got to catch up with a lot of familiar faces. One of the best parts about being part of a local cycling scene is getting familiar with enough of the women that every weekend is a reunion. It's fun to chat before the race, and helps to calm the nerves. One of my goals for this season is to stay zen and relaxed in all races, with a special focus on not taking it too seriously. After all, we're out there to have fun!
On the neutral roll-out, all three of my VWS teammates came to the front with me. We didn't plan it that way, and we didn't mean to send a message of controlling the race (that wasn't our plan). It was cool that we moved in a unified way without talking to each other about it. And it said to me that the field respects and trusts our team, which is cool.
After the neutral roll-out, we re-staged for the W 4/5 start. I tried to start second row on a teammate's wheel, but got a poor start and had to make up places right from the beginning. I was boxed in on all sides with no teammates nearby--a situation that I wanted to rectify ASAP! Jeff Cup had a rolling closure system this year, which meant we had the whole road to race on. I can't tell you how nice it is not to have to worry about a center-line rule! But we are all so used to racing with the center-line rule, all of the women seemed to forget that we could take the whole road. And so I got boxed in, and stuck behind a woman who was kind of slow up the first few climbs. It took me a while to come around her, but eventually I did and tucked in on a teammate's wheel. I was the B rider for the day, so I tried to stay out of the wind as much as possible.
The first lap wasn't easy, but there weren't any significant attacks. A few women set a moderately hard tempo up front. One in particular, an unattached rider in Specialized kit, was doing tons of work! I kept wondering who she was doing work for. Turns out herself, because she made all the selections of the day and finished in the top group. Kudos to her!
My legs were hurting by the end of the first lap from hard pacing up the hills, so I moved myself as close to the front as I could before the second trip up Trump Hill. I was hoping that would give me room to slide back in the pack without losing touch. As we swooped around the corner before the hill, one of the riders that we'd specifically marked (she won Black Hill last weekend) attacked, and without thinking I followed her. I sat up quickly, remembering that it wasn't my job to chase her down (good thing, because I couldn't have stayed with that surge anyway). I called out to my A teammate to see if she could cover the attack, but she didn't have the legs to go with it, either. Fortunately, we saw a third teammate come by in hot pursuit, and I thought, "Thank god she has it!"
I definitely didn't have it. I don't know if it was the initial surge to cover the attack that blew me out (I don't think so, because I didn't stick with it for that long), or if the pace was just that high going up Trump Hill, but I slid further and further back, away from the lead group, away from the chase group, out of touch with almost everyone else. I suffered going up that hill; I suffered with the pain of a thousand stubbed toes!
I did make it to the top of Trump Hill without puking or dying, and looked around to see what help I could get in chasing back on. There was another woman a little bit ahead of me, and a woman I knew from NCVC a bit ahead of her. I was able to catch on to the closest wheel, then we worked together to pull up to the NCVC rider. A Charlottesville Racing rider (who'd dropped her chain on Trump Hill, major bummer) caught us, and we had four people rolling turns. Then I saw a teammate in the distance, and the four of us were able to take turns pulling up to her. We had a good group of 5, and we were coordinating well, but I was just dying. I had to skip several turns, and I almost lost touch with the group. Eventually I recovered, and we picked up a sixth rider, the youngest in our field--a rider from Rock Creek Velo who's only 13!
We were all suffering to get back onto the chase group (except for my teammate and the woman from C'ville, who were holding the chase together and keeping it organized). I had recovered enough by then to slot in and take extra pulls as gaps opened. After chasing for three quarters of a lap, we got back on to the main chase group near the start of the third lap. Their pace was not easy, though, and rest in the group was a relative thing. As soon as we got up to them, my VWS teammate and the chick from C'ville told the group that we would help contribute to the chase right after we rested up.
Our pace was steady but manageable going into the pre-Trump-Hill rollers, and then I dropped my chain on the first one. I tried to shift it back, but my front derailleur is a big issue for me and it wouldn't hop back on (I have a K-edge chain catcher, too, mind you). I stopped and pulled it back on to the little chain ring, and a bystander offered me a push to get me going again (which made me feel so pro). Unfortunately, my calf muscle cramped when I tried to clip my foot in, and I almost fell over (thank you, innocent bystander, for catching me twice). I was eventually able to clip back in, but the commissaire's moto sped past me, and I figured I was off the back for good. I was so disappointed, after working so hard to get back into the group, to be derailed by my front derailleur.
The women's 1/2/3 field had been neutralized for our race to pass theirs in the second lap (because we are a bad-ass bunch), and now they were getting ready to re-pass me. Their lead moto came up alongside me to let me know they were about to pass, and to stay to the right. They went past, and as they did I saw my chase group up ahead! They had also been neutralized for the 1/2/3 field. I was able to stop with them and get back in the bunch! Best of all, everyone seemed happy to see me, and glad that my dropped chain hadn't ended my race. The NCVC woman who'd started chasing back on with me way back after Trump Hill v. 2 was also able to catch the group while we were stopped. We all had an extra drink and a few deep breaths before they let us go again.
At that point, we weren't sure whether or not the lead group had been neutralized too, but we figured chasing them down wasn't going to happen. Our group committed to riding well and riding safe, but not necessarily easy for the rest of the race. We had a great time, the peloton communicating well and keeping things fast but safe. Coming around the final corner, I found my VWS teammate's wheel; we were both on the same page, I could tell without having to talk to her, that she would lead me out to hopefully place well in the inevitable group sprint that was coming.
The two of us stayed steady and tight, pretty far back in the pack, but with room to move outside to the left when the time came. With around 500 m to go, I told her to start moving me up, and she accelerated around the left side of the pack. Unfortunately, we came around a curve and saw there, in the left lane, two riders down and an ambulance behind them. The pack slowed, unsure what to do, and we eased back in to the right lane, our rhythm disrupted. She was able to regain some speed after passing the ambulance, and I came around her to put in a semi-sprint, but it was only good enough for fourth place out of the chasing group and 10th overall.
Still, it was a very successful day for us! Our VWS teammate who covered the big break was able to sprint in safely for third, so we had a rider on the podium (and none of us got caught in the crash, which was a blessing)! I've never been in such a positive and encouraging race before, either! The chase group communicated and moved together like we were one team. We were still racing each other, but we all respected each other and were committed to having a great, safe race. It was a really cool thing to be a part of! More importantly, I think that our team, the VWS ladies, were a not-insignificant part of that positive racing environment. I look forward to making our team mark on the women's fields not only with wins and podium placings, but by helping to foster a racing culture that is safe and welcoming while still competitive and challenging.
I do feel like I didn't live up to my personal potential in this race, but that just fires me up for next weekend's races! Thanks to all my teammates and fellow competitors for making such a fun and memorable race! And thanks to our team sponsors, who make our racing possible, and the race sponsors and organizers, who make the races possible!
Next on the docket: Farmersville Road Race on Saturday and Carl Dolan Memorial/Howard County Library Spring Classic on Sunday!