So one of the best decisions I made thus far this year was racing all 4 nights of the Gapers Block series. It was nice snagging some early upgrade points, but more importantly Gapers became a testing ground for me to try some things out and learn about myself and how I’m feeling so far this year. Learned some great things about how long I can (or cannot) solo off the front, that my matchbox has a lot more matches than it had last year, and how I race when I show up to the line exhausted and sick. On top of all the personal measures, it also gave me some good tactic lessons, such as what to do (or in my case what not to do) when you are in a break of 4 people, and one of those people is your teammate.
All these things I collected in my little mental suitcase, and perhaps because of that, went into Hillsboro calm as ever. We had, no doubt in my mind, the firepower to podium this race, if not win it. My goal going in was to work with the girls to keep this race under control, deliver Ellen safely to that final hill, and let her do what she does best – climb like a goat and win races. I was hoping I could hang in there and grab some upgrade points for myself in the process, but Ellen on that podium was my target.
Target #2 quickly became to safely survive the conditions. We spent the night in Litchfield listening to the thunder and hearing the rain pound down on the hotel windows. I slept unconcerned, figuring “good, it will get it out of its system and clear up for the morning”. No luck. It was a complete downpour until after 1pm. I knew everyone was a bit jittery, especially about wet cobbles, so I made sure to ride them in my warm up and test out how slick things were. I heard them announce the 10 minute warning and call the Women’s 4 field to the line. I was heading up the stretch to the line when something just felt wrong. “Oh no, I think I’ve got a flat” and jumped off my bike to find a half full rear tire. Awesome.
I ran up to the line, grabbed an official to let them know I was going to change it (in under 5 minutes, of course) and was immediately swarmed by teammates. I know I always say I’ve got the greatest teammates in the world, but it’s times like these when these ladies continue to go above and beyond. Meg grabbed my bike and started reassuring me I had plenty of time, no worries. As I pulled the back wheel off, I felt a tap on my shoulder from another official: “Excuse me, where is your time chip? Did you not get one?” Oh yeah, my time chip. Which should be around my ankle but is actually back in my car. D’OH. I had a sudden flash of doubt that I could pull this off, and no, I couldn’t. But a team of awesome people could! Immediately Jess took my bike, Meg grabbed my wheel and instructed me to go get my chip, they would handle the flat. By the time I charged back to my car, got my chip, and ran back, Meg was finishing getting the tire back on my wheel and with a quick CO2 inflate, I was back in business. Timing chip on and the official gave me a pat on the back and said “relax, catch your breath, a minute to start”. We did a quick check of where our other ladies were, and I was thrilled to see Ellen in the first row, right next to Daphne K from Cuttin’ Crew. Without knowing the locals, I would have put money on that being the 1-2 of the race.
We took off, and I had to smile as I already heard Meg expertly yelling commands from behind me, telling me to get up the side and get in position (near the front). Which I did. The pack as a whole did a great job of following the center line rule, something that was not the case last year, and communicating about turns and trying to keep everyone safe. Within the first two miles, I kept moving up, then saw the familiar red and black in the first spot and knew it was time to do my job. I let Ellen know I was coming to the front and advised her to stay on my wheel and let me take the wind. She replied laughing “I know, I know…but I’m restless!!” I looked down at my computer and started thinking….3 miles in…could she do 26 miles herself? YES, I have no doubt, but we wanted to make sure she was as rested as possible as there were some talented ladies in our midst. Just take it easy, patience, wait for the right time and right breakmates. Not yet.
I spent a lot of time at the front, just drilling away, thinking about all the time I was in the same position at Gapers and how I knew I could do this. I knew people were going to sit in the whole race, and they’d probably get to the sprint a lot more rested than me, but we HAD to protect our teammate. Sandra joined me near the front and we started plotting and actually got Ellen and Daphne a bit of a gap with some blocking until enough people decided to chase. Again, once all together, I told Ellen to rest and recover. It became apparent that everyone was quite content to let me pull, as even when I slowed to try and get a rest for myself, no one would come around. So on the front I remained. There were a few attacks, and I was starting to wonder if this group of ladies would ever let a break go. I finally went to the side of the road, knowing I would be useless to everyone if I couldn’t even hang on the whole race, and the pack went by. I tucked myself in to rest a bit, and there was another surge from an attack. I looked up to see black and red on the front again. "ARGH, Ellen, I haven't had enough time to rest!" I thought, but then saw it was Jess taking charge at the front!! With Ellen close behind. Man, I love racing with such a great team.
The next big attack came from Katie Tomarelli, who took off like a missile with several strong girls. “Ellen! GO!” but she was already on it! I smiled and watched as the group started getting a gap, and thought “this might be it”. And then I noticed TWO pink jerseys in that group – both Daphne AND her strong teammate, Marie Snyder, both amazing track racers. Flashback to Gapers – when Ellen was forced to sprint against two girls working together because I didn’t think I had it in me, and I just heard my brain say “NO, I will NOT leave Ellen to deal with this solo”. I shot around the pack and chased as hard as I could, and approaching the group of about 7 girls, was screaming “GAP! GAP! KEEP THE PACE UP LADIES, STAY AWAY!” There was definitely suffering near the front, so I went up there and tried to pull as hard as I could. “ROTATING PACE LINE!! QUICK PULLS, C’MON!” Sometimes I wonder if people get sick of me yelling in a race. The girl who pulled after me dropped to the side, and next up: Ellen. Who with her “strong pull” managed to ride us all off her wheel. Even while struggling to keep up, I had to grin, she’s a beast. Eventually the group caught, and we were back together, but slightly thinner in numbers.
The rest of the race went by pretty fast. Marie Snyder took a long turn up front with Daphne on her wheel and put in some impressive efforts. I had already told Ellen that if we were with her at the end, we’d do our best to lead her out. If we weren’t with her at the end, she needed to stick to Daphne like glue as I assumed that would be her best lead out.
I finally looked ahead and saw that huge climb approaching. Happy knowing it was near the end of the race, happy we had gotten Ellen safely there, happy Sandra was close by me and I knew she was anxious to attack that hill too. Without hesitation, Ellen took off, drawing a few other girls with her and the rest of us chasing.
I couldn’t stay with that group but settled in with the fallen riders behind and started gaining spots on the hill. I wasn’t too worried as another big piece I learned at Gapers is that I’m starting to have confidence in my sprint and can make up a lot of spots in a short time. That was what I was banking on; unfortunately I didn’t have the chance. We were all beyond soaked at this point and the rain still hadn’t stopped. Approaching a 90 degree left turn, I heard the rider on my left start yelling in panic and I called out “you’re fine!” as we turned into it. She was heading in a diagonal line over to my side of the road. I think in normal conditions she could have saved it but not today. BOOM. She went down hard right in front of me and in the seconds before impact, the two thoughts going through my head were “oh no, I’m going to crash, there’s no avoiding this” and then “oh NO, I’m going to run RIGHT OVER HER”. And I did.
My left forearm took the full impact onto the pavement, followed by my shoulder and then a loud thud of my head. I have to credit my college volleyball career as diving and rolling is second nature to me, and I still don’t know how I didn’t break anything (besides my helmet). I was completely shocked and could hardly focus on anything but the pain in my arm, but our bikes had gotten tangled and as we were trying to get them free, I saw several riders go by. Finally the bikes were untangled, and after asking if I was ok, she took off. I was SO frustrated that all my hard work had come down to this, and was in so much pain, that I didn’t know if I should throw in the towel and wait for help or continue on. After doing a quick evaluation of the rest of my bones and my bike, I figured I needed to suck it up and get my tail to the finish, as there were still a lot of people who hadn’t gone by. I quickly realized my arm was swelling and I couldn’t extend it to reach the bars, so it was a cautious one armed ride back to the finish, where I crossed the line 15th, still in the top half. I made a beeline for the ambulance, and as they were patching me up, again, I was swarmed by my teammates who immediately sprang into action to help. I know crashing is part of bike racing, and I don’t have any others to compare it to, but I think this crash became a lot easier for me to handle when I learned my teammate took FIRST PLACE! Ellen never looked back in her attack, and when the others reached the top of the hill and attempted to recover, Ellen just kept charging. All the way to the finish line, second place not even close.
So that was Hillsboro, and I am so thrilled for such a huge win for our women’s team! Even more honored to be on a team with such awesome people on and off the bike. Sandra, Meg, Jess, Ellen, April: THANK YOU so much for taking such great care of me after the race and making sure I was ok with dry clothes, food, good company, everything. You girls are the best.