St. Louis - The Gateway Cup

Friday – Tour de Lafayette

“Hey, where are you guys from???”

As the miles ticked down to St. Louis, my nerves were growing ever so slightly. I decided to race the Gateway Cup because a) I had heard several people (including Randy) talk about what a fantastic series it was and b) I’m from St. Louis and a nice weekend getaway to see the family while spending some quality time on the bike is always a fantastic combination. I had no idea what to expect from the series or the competition. This is my first year, so I’m still testing the waters and have kept one goal of trying to learn something from every race I do (with secondary goals of never finishing a race last and keeping the bike upright).

Tracy decided last minute he was going to double up and do the 4/5 race that started 15 seconds before the women’s 3/4, so we took a few laps around the course together. I was already surprised at the number of people there. The crowds at all of these events did not disappoint. People in the neighborhoods grilling and sitting out in their front yards, tons of tents selling food and tshirts, people with signs, cowbells, everything. I remember that thought going through my head during our race – wow, the first race of the evening and already most corners are packed with people just screaming and cheering for us. It was such a cool atmosphere. But back to the race…

I was nervous as heck. There were a lot of women in our group, and not as many familiar faces as I’m used to seeing in Chicago (which is actually cool, it’s nice having new competition). I could also already pick up on some local rivalries between some of the St. Louis girls which would later prove entertaining. They started the mens 4/5 and I was just hoping they would stay upright and not run us over if they lapped us. I strategically got myself in the front at the line as that killed me in Glencoe (see, I learned something). So we took off and I just tried to keep myself up front and prepared to fight to hang on to the group…and didn’t have to. I had no problems keeping up and happily sat about 5th wheel back keeping a close eye on the front, which almost always contained Mia. She was testing the waters – trying to get away, and she did for a little bit. Came through the finish area and heard them call out xXx, which would a very, very common thing this entire weekend. At one point Mia slowly came back to the group, and I was feeling pretty good, so I thought sure, why not counter attack, and took off. That’s a pretty fun feeling, being out front, as well as being alone out front. I was keeping an eye on my speed and after Mia got called out for leading the group the last lap, here I came, getting my own call out and another nod for xXx. I know I had a big grin on my face coming through the finish line and hearing my name. But we still had a lot of race to go.

I came back to the group and returned to my place near the front of the pack but safely tucked in, and watched the front. One thing became apparent – people did not want to work. Mia sat on the front doing all the work for so long, and no one else would take over. I watched the time tick down on the clock and just remember thinking “man, I really love racing my bike”. It was just fun. We did get neutralized twice, the moto would ask us to move to the side and we would slow to let the 4/5s go by, which was both annoying and nice as it gave me some time to grab a drink and recover. The men were hauling as Tracy “I’m just going to sit in for this race” Dangott was pushing the pace and getting plenty of xXx calls outs as well. The two times they passed us, he was always in the front 3, and he was always yelling at the top of his lungs “SUE GET UP THERE!!! GO MIA GO!!!” which made me smile. The pace jumped at the final lap and I still hung in there and picked a couple people off in the final sprint but was pretty spent. I finished 15th, and started to think I’m cursed as that number just keeps popping up this season. But I was happy as I felt I raced well, and would rather try some new stuff and finish 15th than just sit in the whole time. I was also determined to not let that happen Saturday.

Tracy pulled off a 3rd place in the men’s 4/5, and xXx was on the radar. The announcer yelled to our group “hey, where are you guys from?” and we all yelled “CHICAGO”. No one had to ask that again the rest of the weekend.

Saturday – St. Louis Hills

“Dance, puppets, dance!!!”

Today was definitely my favorite crit race since I joined xXx. And to think I almost didn’t do it. I got to registration about 3 minutes before they closed, and was already in the “I’m not sure I’m mentally prepared for this” state. Which Bill told me was good, just get my tail out there and race. I had a very short warm up and the pavement was a little rougher on the downhill than the day before, but still a lovely course.

We take off and a familiar sight here – Mia Moore with xXx up front. She was testing the waters again and maybe 3 laps in, attacked. The group seemed to think about chasing, and maybe did for a few seconds, but kept a steady pace with Mia in front of us. I was keeping an eye on the clock and I’m sure everyone else was thinking – we’ve got over 30 minutes left to race, that girl can’t solo this. I myself wasn’t going to put it past her, and in my limited experience, started thinking about what I needed to do to help keep her off the front and get her some more time. I figured going right to the front would set off the alarms, so I started creeping up with the intention of eventually getting up there and trying to keep the pace down. But my blocking intentions were put on hold by the fact that there was all sorts of disgruntlement going on at the front as, big surprise, no one seemed to want to work. No one wanted to be in the front, in the wind, using energy to try and pull us up as the only person who had been willing to do that was now slowly getting away from us. I think the farther ahead Mia got, the more arguing went on, and Bill told me later you could actually hear it and see the pointing and hand gestures when the pack would come around. Sweet. I had happily settled in mid pack and was trying not to snicker as it was sort of comical. People on the sidelines and at the finish would yell to us “15 seconds….25 seconds…30 seconds…come ON girls!!!” as Mia’s gap would grow in time with the smirk I had on my face. We had actually lost sight of Mia at this point, which was awesome, and another observer, a girl from Colorado who was also here working on her rookie season and I chatted a bit. Feeling like being a bit more involved now, I headed to the front and was quickly given lead position to pull for a while and actually heard someone behind me say “yeah let’s go, get up there!” and put my head down and started soft pedaling to take the speed down ever so slightly. No one wanted to pass me either. Perfect. I was hoping we’d get neutralized just to put the final nail in the coffin, but Mia didn’t need any help. As Tracy joked later, she had probably stopped and gotten a coffee by this point.

And this is where things got sketchy. With Mia having the top place on the podium wrapped up and only a few laps to go, I wanted to be up there with her. I had been sitting in for the most part and figured I would be pretty rested for the sprint. I started thinking about where the group was most likely to jump on the final lap, where I needed to be positioned to be up front but still out of the wind, and where I’d need to jump and go all out. We came around with 2 laps to go…but the counter said 1…but the announcer CLEARLY said “two laps for the ladies, two to go”. Confusion ensues. We all start talking amongst ourselves “Is that for the men? Do we have two? Or one?”. Everyone thought two. We had been told two. The group uncomfortably settled in on two. Back to my calculating. I knew if I could be near the front after turn three, I could use the downhill to really rocket off, fly around corner four since I seemed to be the only person who didn’t like to brake in corners, and sprint to the end. That was my plan and I thought it was pretty darn good. Again, I was in tucked in the pack after turn three and found myself braking and having to hold my bike back when it just wanted to fly, again, on the downhill and into the corner. One lap to go!! Here’s where people start jumping…or sprinting…wait, why are they announcing Gina Champion’s name and not ringing the bell? My complete confusion was mirrored in every other face there. I yelled “did they just cut our race??” someone answered “no, we should have one more...right?”. Everyone was hesitating, no one knew what to do, and we still had our bunch formed. I was already pissed as I had slowed, and had I just charged on, I could have already been gone by now and caught some people off guard. In the span of a few seconds, we decided we had one lap to go. People still were unsure, but the race resumed, and I was hoping to bank on the hesitation and took off with the group on my wheel. All I could think was “way to go, stupid, you’re going to pull the field through the entire lap and set them up for the sprint” which is exactly what I did. I was even out front coming into the last corner like I planned but my legs were just done and I couldn’t get out of the saddle, and I saw numerous people flying by me. I did a quick count over the finish line, and was almost to 20. Drat! Worse than 15th. At least I could celebrate the Mia Moore Show, what an amazing performance that was.

The race folks acknowledged they messed up big time. Apparently they took the first finish, as I pulled off a 13th, and that was just from sitting there thinking it was still 1 to go and trying to keep with the group, so I’m slightly pleased with that. Others were not so lucky. Some girl was spazzing as she got lapped and they pulled her or something, and another girl I talked to said thanks to the error, she went from second wheel on the final stretch to finishing 16th. I had already put it behind me and was excited to watch Mia’s first top of the podium finish! Which was massively delayed as no one could find Gina (she had no idea she even podiumed) so they ended up doing the podium ceremony with just Mia and the race leader from Kansas City, who took second. I went back to the car to change and en route was promptly congratulated by everyone I passed on my phenomenal race (“thanks, but that was my teammate” “thanks, that was my teammate Mia, she’s awesome”) and enjoyed a post race massage, some toasted ravioli, cheering for Bill, Tracy, Jared and Charley in the 4s, and watching some of the pros. They had a professional photographer there who was trying to get a nice picture of every racer, and we were so happy over Mia's finish that Tracy, Bill, Mia and I went into the tent to get a group shot and ended up getting four absolutely awesome and hilarious pictures. We look like we should be in some sort of magazine ad. Later it was off to Ted Drews for recovery ice cream. I love St. Louis.

Sunday – Giro della Montangna

“well we’ve been hearing a lot of this all weekend – looks like a rider from xXx racing from Chicago off the front…”

So after skipping the last two days where I have been racing strong, my parents decide they are going to come watch today. Even after my mom said they weren’t coming out all weekend (my parents are so supportive but mom is still not too fond of the fact I’m doing this bike racing thing as it's too dangerous). Probably wasn’t the best idea to set up the team tent on turn 1, which was super narrow and coming off a downhill. It was also conveniently located across from the medical tent, where my mother had the pleasure of watching the battered and bloody go into all day long, one guy even went in on a stretcher with full neck brace. Sigh.

Of course this is my worst race of the series. The entire stretch between turn 2 and 3 was a gradual but loooong climb. Doing it in warm ups was just painful. I had a bad feeling about this and tried to shake it off. The good news is that due to the narrow nature of the course, as well as the lap count error the day prior, they were now splitting the women and the men. The 4/5s would go for 30 min, then the 3/4 women right after. We ladies were all very happy to hear this as the day would end up being crash central. I had talked to Mia before the race to see her plans – if she was going to attack again, I didn’t think the pack would be stupid enough to let that happen so I wanted to proactively be in a place where I could help. Oh, the best laid plans…

We started off and Mia was out in front, as usual. I stayed up front about 3rd wheel in and had a few good laps up front. Mia came back from the front and I slowed down to let her in. I had heard we had already dropped people, even some of the new faces and fresh legs that had just showed up today were struggling. I don’t even remember what happened, I just remember that stupid hill. It was full speed to the base, then the whole group would just slow. And I would slow even more. People were actually groaning. Long story short, here comes the drop. There were a good two laps where the pack would slow on the hill and those of us off the back could have caught up, but we didn’t. My legs were not responding and people were dropping off the back one after the other. I seriously felt so defeated, but I don’t quit races and I sure as heck wasn’t going to finish last on what could be my final race of the season. I went by two other girls and yelled “come on! Quick pulls” and they jumped right on and we had a nice little rotating paceline going. We passed another rider on the hill and I yelled at her to jump on too as I was suffering so badly at this point I wanted more help, but she couldn’t hang on. Eventually we finally broke apart and I was alone again, pretty miserable. I was trying to keep in mind that hopefully Mia was up in front, bringing the pain and taking another podium.

The things keeping me going were the laps slowly coming down off the counter , and the people on the back stretch that would cheer like crazy and ring cowbells, even for one lone dropped rider. Again, the fan support at these races was mind blowing, whether you were a Pro or a Cat 4. I had a girl in sight on the final stretch, and though I knew I wasn’t last, she was moving at a snail's pace and I gave it everything I had to pass her before the finish. And walked away with an 18th. I should have known something bad was up when I heard Tracy yell at me “Sue, where’s Mia?”. She got taken out on the final lap by someone who clipped a pedal but aside from some scratches and bandages, was ok, thank goodness. And of course this happened on the turn where my mother was sitting, sigh.

The rest of the day’s highlights included xXx pushing the pace right off the line on a huge Cat 4 men’s field. Bill even got some face time on the NBC news that night. The masters race after ours actually had to be stopped and restarted as someone crashed so badly. We enjoyed our free incredible pasta dinner and watched the women’s pro race and J.T. in the men’s.

Monday – Benton Park

“If we weren't us, I would totally want to be us…”

I arrived at the course 75% sure I was not going to race this day. My body just did not feel up to it. We jumped on our bikes to go check it out, and I have to say, what a fun course. Ten turns in total, almost two miles long, two overpasses over the highway, passing right by Busch Brewery, an S curve through this adorable neighborhood, it just looked like fun. I was starting to rethink my decision and went off on my own to test my legs with a few little sprints, and they were not having it. I gave it a few more laps just to see if more warm up would help, and that pretty much sealed the deal. I would officially sign myself up as the main video/photo/cheerleader with vuvuzela and cowbell close by.

The technical course split up all the fields pretty early. Tracy had a great couple laps off the front in the men’s 4/5 and xXx again was getting lots of call outs while Bill was doing a great job of blocking. Mia pulled off yet another first place podium, sprinting to win the final day of racing. She should have won the whole series if not for that crash. The mens 4s was fast and looked pretty brutal.

When it was all over, Mia had two first place medals and Tracy had a third place. xXx in general had some great races and great finishes and definitely got noticed. We were all tired but had such a fun weekend. The series itself (aside from our little day 2 mishap) was SO well run, such an amazing atmosphere, and really well organized. The community support was phenomenal, and we would be crazy not to take a busload of people to this next year. It was a bit sad to realize this would be my final crit of my first racing season, but what a great way to end it.

Huge shout outs to Bill, Tracy, Mia, Jared, Charley and Nikki – it was such a blast getting to hang out and race with you!

And a huge thanks to everyone on the team that helped make my first season of racing such an amazing experience. You've all been so supportive and I have learned SO much and met so many amazing people. Joining xXx was definitely one of the top highlights for me for 2010, and I cannot wait to come out next year and help "bring the pain".

Now on to my first season of cross.. ;)