April 7, 2009

Cherry Blossom Cycling Classic - 4 races, 3 days, 2 legs, and I won

Bishop, you worked too hard to let it go now. Come on!

My legs are on fire, 3 1/2 miles to the finish, I lost some time on the final descent and a gap has formed. I am riding alone, into a head wind and a group of three is ahead of me, it is now my job to catch them, this is my race to lose. All the mistakes and misjudges of the weekend flash through my mind.

Who won the freaking time trial? I ask myself, Ride!

My mouth hangs open like a gold fish, my legs pump, I can think of nothing except the goal ahead. I catch one of Hammer Velo riders that has dropped off the front group and as I pull beside her I offer her my wheel, but her legs are shot and she can't hang on.

Around the final bend and the finish line comes into view – 200m to go. I have made up a lot of time in the last 4 miles, but not enough to take the stage. I sprint to the finish, gasping for air, 19 seconds back. 3rd in the stage, but close enough to take keep the lead in the general classification.

3 days, 4 races and 1 set of legs.

Lessons Learned… the hard way – Friday (Race #1)

The Cherry Blossom Cycling Classic began on Friday afternoon with a 38 mile road stage, 2 laps of brutal wind and a minor climb.

The first lap was an afternoon training ride. No one wanted to be out front, no one wanted to make a move. The wind was howling and to pull was taxing at best. I stayed near the front, 3rd wheel, 5th wheel, got out front a couple of times, but didn't hang out there for long. The peleton was like a slow moving ameba that proceeded forward in a blob-like fashion. We came through the start/finish line to begin the second and final lap and it was here that I made my "bad decision".

I came here to race. I am going to race.

I pulled out to the left, accelerated to the front of the group and started hammering. The wind was much less on this side of the course, but it was not absent by any stretch of the imagination. I was in the drops, determined to split the group. I looked over my right shoulder. We had strung out a bit, but no break had formed. I kept going. Mary was right on my wheel.

What are you doing? She yells

I am racing, get up here and help me.

There's no break, you are just pulling everyone.

No one would help me. At this point I was committed, to what I wasn't quite sure. I put my head down and looked at my computer, 27mph.

Damn, I am going to get dropped on the hill.

I had visions of the entire peleton moving past me like I was standing still when we hit the incline. I pulled for almost 10 miles, we started to climb.

One girl moved past me, then another; I was right on her wheel. Two Hammer Velo riders, Lindsey and Mindy, launched and were out front by about 50ft. Girls were dropping off, moving back, I was hanging on. The Susanna and Mary came around. I followed and soon their where 7 girls in the break. We didn't have much of a gap, but we started to work together, double pace-lining as we crested the hill and started the decent. 13mph was all we could muster into the headwind, but it was enough. The gap widened over the next 5 miles and as the 1k sign came into view, the pace accelerated.

I held on. Just barely.

We were still working together, and as we rounded the last corner with 200km to go I was third wheel. I grabbed the drops and sprinted with everything left in my legs. It wasn't enough to win, but 5th wasn't bad. I was pleased that I had held on, glad I had made it a race; but frustrated by my impatience. When am I going to learn that a road race is not a cyclocross race?

1 down, 3 to go.

Against the clock……… the time trial – Saturday (Race #2)

The alarm went off at 5:30am.
Didn't I race yesterday?
Yeap, and you get to do it again today, twice.

Coffee, breakfast and out the door, headed to the staging area of the Eight Mile Time Trial; another first for me. My instructions were to break it down into pieces and be sure to feel like you are going to puck by the end. I set up my trainer near the start and began to warm up. My start time was 8:16 and with borrowed clip-on aero bars and helmet, I clipped in and was off. 4 miles up, 4 miles back, racers starting at 30 second intervals. You can see the person in front of you, if you can catch them, you know you are doing okay.

4 miles, that was it, a couple of 4 minute intervals and I would be at the turn around. I kept my breath under control, but was pushing hard, trying to keep my pedal stroke fluid and quiet. I passed 2 girls before reaching the turn around, slowed to make the sharp u-turn and sprinted out of the saddle, getting up to speed and settling back into the bars.

I passed another rider almost straight away and then another. Coming into a couple of S-curves, I slowed, coming out of the bars on the right side and cursing myself for loosing time. A bit more practice in this position would have been helpful. I look at my computer, 3.28, three-quarters of a mile to the finish.
I put my head down, one last curve and I could see the finish. I saw the white line whiz beneath me, but only after I heard the official yell did I slow.

I wasn't sure of my time, I had no concept of how fast I had ridden compared to others, but I took a deep breath, spun out my legs and was happy that I had given it everything.

It was only hours later that the results were posted. I had ridden 22:21, 11 seconds faster than 2nd place and 40 seconds faster than 3rd. I was leading the GC.*

2 down, 2 to go.
*Original results for the TT were corrected, no Cat 4 Women road 20:03, she actually rode 30:03)

Be Safe, Stay Upright, and Finish Upfront……My 1st Criterium – Saturday (Race #3)

Stage races are a constant roller coaster of emotions. The sense of relief felt when you finish one race is quickly over taken by the realization that you have another one in just a few hours. Rest, recover, and try not to be nervous.

Saturday at 3pm I lined up for my first Criterium. 45 girls, riding around a 1km circle – quickly. My goal: Be safe, stay upright and finish up front. I was leading the General Classification; all I had to do was finish the Crit in one piece and not lose any time to stay there.

The race was 30 minutes; a fast 'cross race on asphalt. My nerves were on edge for the first 6 minutes. The pace was fast, but not painful; I settled in, tried to stay sheltered from the wind on the back side and keep my position toward the front. I worked too hard coming out of the corners, taking them too wide and having to make up for lack of skill and confidence with strength.

I couldn't tell if the pack had broken up. There were still a lot of bikes riding very close to one another when I realized there were only 5 laps to go. The pace increased, but not enough to break up the main pack. I was about 6th wheel coming into the last corner, things started to get aggressive and I reminded myself of the goal. Safe, Upright, Front Pack.

The sound of carbon on asphalt and a flying bike in front of me – look right, move right. Only one rider went down; she was okay. I finished with the front back, stayed safe, upright, and in the lead of the general classification…. Goal achieved.

3 down, 1 to go.

Words of advice…….. Welcomed and respected – Sunday (Race #4)

This is your race to lose.
Let them do the work; do not pull them up the hill.
Don't be impatient. You are the race leader; they have to bring the race to you, not the other way around.
Figure out who needs to break and hold on their wheel.

In other words… don't do what you did on Friday.

The final stage on the Cherry Blossom Cycling Classic was a magnificent loop showcasing Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, and the beautiful Columbia Gorge. The course was truly spectacular; 28 miles, 2 climbs, 2 decents and a 4 mile stretch to the finish.

The peleton rolled out and for the first few miles we all hung together. Cara Bussell was about 1 minute behind me in the GC and I expected her to be strong on the hills; it was her wheel I needed to be on.

The climb of 7-Mile Hill began and the pack quickly strung out. Susanna (BBNS) led the charge, Cara sat 2nd wheel, I was right behind her. I glanced at my watch, my heart rate was 170. We made our way up, switching back and seeing the road twist down below us. My breath was steady and strong. I could hear others around me gasping for air and then fall behind. I knew someone was behind me, but I didn't know who and I didn't know how many; I didn't look.

We dropped them, we can slow down now, came from a labored voice behind me.
Susanna didn't let up; she stood and climbed out of the saddle for a bit. I sat back, concerned only with the black tire churning in front of me.

A few spectators gathered 200m from the top, cheering us on and letting us know we were about to descend. I looked at my watch, HR 172; good.

We crested and Susanna fell back, Cara shifted into her big ring, stood up and pushed off. I was right behind her. The descent was fast, steep, and harder than the climb we had just finished. I fell behind, being passed by 2 Hammer Velo Riders and a Master's Rider; working hard to bridge the gap on the flats. We turned down into Moiser and onto the Old Historic Highway. I was just behind the other 4 riders in the break and I quickly rejoined the group.

We double pace-lined up the next climb, the 5 of us working together; no other riders in sight. We kept a good pace, a few times someone would drop back and we would encourage them to hang on. We were stronger together than apart.

The second descent, the Rowena Loops, was more technical; S-curves, switchbacks, metal guard rails. I couldn't keep up. Being right on Cara's wheel made me nervous and as soon as I let go, I was off the back of the whole group. Everyone spread out, Hammer Velo between Cara and myself. I cursed myself for breaking, but had no choice; I lacked the confidence to keep my speed. Just hold on.

As the road flattened out I knew we had 4 miles to the finish. I could see figures in front of me; 3 riders working together, Mindy from Hammer Velo, and then me. I stayed in the drops.

You didn't work this hard to lose on the descent. Pedal.

The gap between Mindy and I was getting larger, the follow car pulled in between us.

Shit, Shit, Shit. Come on Bishop, pedal.
Who won the time trial? You did, now go!

My legs began to burn, my glutes were on fire. I was closing in on the pace car and the 2 other cars that were in the gap. Mindy was right in front of them. I couldn't get around them.

Come on, come on, come on. Let's go. I cursed at the car, silently or aloud, I don't know.
The road straightened out, I narrowly stayed to the right of the yellow line as I moved past the cars. I was close enough to Mindy to read her jersey. I was right beside her.

Come on, get on my wheel, we can do this.

I pulled in front, I didn't look back, I was gaining ground on the group in front. My legs were still burning. We sped past the 1k sign. Mindy couldn't help, but I had to keep her from out sprinting me. The words from Damian's last email ran through my mind:

Go at the 1km mark. Think of it as a harder 4x4. Again, explode out to create the gap, put your head down and pedal as hard as you can for 3 minutes.

Head down, go….I went. The 200m sign flashed by. I saw the front group cross the line. I only had 56 seconds on Cara. I crossed the line, mouth hanging open. 19 seconds back. I smile, knowing I had taken the GC.

My first stage race complete, a place on the podium, and a long list of improvements to be made… and damn, I have got to learn to descend.