AT the time, I was racing with LGS. I have since moved on to race for Velo Science.
This day was a long time coming for a few reasons. First and most impressive was that LGS put on such a kick ass event. Leave it to the ladies to pull off deciding to invent their own race, plan it, and execute it with ease. Serious props. I can only hope this race gets more recognition each year.
Like any race, I had been checking the registration list obsessively the week leading up to the event. Bad idea. Seeing names from MN, IL, PA….very intimidating**. Not only that, but seeing the number of registered women keeping getting larger and larger was daunting. Typically in OH we have around 20 women in a race I think. That is enough competition. I like 20. But this was a different beast and almost 50 women were pre registered for CAT1/2/3. Nerve-racking and awesome at the same time.
**Looking back at this comment is fun. I remember being sooooo nervous to race with such a large field at the time. But now I can’t wait to get out there and compete in larger national races.
So race day. The weather was not promising. As we packed up the car to leave, it was pouring. But the closer we got to the race, the sky got clearer and clearer. Still drizzling, but it was early and I was hopeful the roads would dry up in the 4 hours we had until the race start. I pulled into the Zanesfield location pretty early in order to set up and attempt to calm down. At 9am I took a warm up loop around the 14 mi course. I took the hill at a moderate pace but just spun through the rest of the course. The wind profile was the same as it always is for this race course; headwind on the gradual, long, uphill stretch. Not fun, but not unexpected. After this, I decided not to warm up anymore. I just wanted to lie under my tent to rest and eat. Unfortunately I forgot my bowl of fruit and rice pudding at home, so I was just nibbling on gluten free pretzels and hoping my body would have enough fuel to get through the 56 miles. About an hour before the race my LGS teammates started to mingle. Everyone seemed a bit on edge and tense. They went to warm up but I stayed behind and sipped a sugar free red bull**.
**This is my time. For running or cycling races, I need mental space. That doesn’t always work when you have a team to coordinate with, but I tend to get anxious and need to calm myself and visualize.
Somewhere around 45 women gathered at the staging area, all looking intense, strong, and ready to race. LGS had 7 teammates racing which gave us a strong team presence. Getting a prime rollout placement was key as the first hill comes only ½ mile into the race. I tucked myself into the front ¼ of the pack. Every cyclist in Ohio knows the Zanesfield hill. It isn’t soul crushing, but it is enough to divide a race field and hurt your lungs and legs. I was in the front with maybe 3 others going up the first time. We were riding hard. I was sure this would be enough to shed some riders and create a smaller group. Looking over my shoulder as I neared the top proved me wrong. The crowd of women was intact and looking un-phased. Shit. This was going to be tough.
The first lap remained pretty intact and easy until a break happened about 2 miles before the finish line. I was able to get away into the uphill wind section with 2 other racers. We pushed it and got up to a 1 minute lead on the group, but it wasn’t enough. Lasting maybe 4 miles the group was right behind as we turned the corner onto the hill for round 2. As we climbed, I eased my pace to get caught back into the group and rest for a bit. The other 2 riders were ate by the peloton as well. We rode as a large group for most of lap 2 until there was another break. This time teammate Tori was able to get away with 4 other women. As they fled the group, I looked over at teammate Kristen Arnold as we were both on the front pulling. I took her lead and we sat up, blocking for Tori. Eventually the other women got sick of this and decided to chase the breakaway. Miles later we passed Tori who was on the side of the road with a flat or broken spoke or some other misfortunate mechanical. The pace was getting tough as we rounded the right turn into the hill for the third time. I was working it, but feeling tired after putting so much effort into the earlier parts of the race. I couldn’t quite make it onto a wheel as a small group pulled away over the hill. I tried to catch up but knew if I didn’t do it before the turn into the fast roller section that it would be useless. I let the rest of the group catch up to me knowing that the lead group was getting further and further away and I would just exhaust myself going at it solo. It was infuriating. I stayed on the lead of my pack and pushed the pace, hoping to make up time on the break pack. I was vocal and tried to rally my fellow cyclists to work hard. Tarah and Jen, strong riders, were with me on trying to break away. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t get a clean separation and the pack stayed. As we turned onto the hill for the 4th and final time, the moto called out that the lead group was intact and had roughly 1:20 on us. Damn. I rode that hill as hard as my body would allow. Only 1 other rider from the Chicago Elite Team matched my determination. As we climbed, we were able to get a good lead on everyone else and after quick eye contact, it was decided we would work together to get away. The moto was with us now informed us the lead was 1:10 up. Time to get busy and boy did we. Taking quick rotations we went hard into the fast roller section. There was serious team work happening and I was thrilled to have one strong woman to be chasing with. We were vocal, chanting to each other but mostly ourselves to keep the motivation high. “We can do it!’’ “We’re gaining on them!” “Keep it up!” etc etc… Our moto called out 50 seconds and our heads went down and our legs turned it up a notch. I felt like I could vomit. It was tough. Halfway through this roller section we could see the lead pack up ahead. This was hugely motivational. Moto called out 30 seconds and we shared a look of joy with each other. We were doing it! Nothing would stop us from catching them now.
Working with 1 other Chicago cyclists to bridge 1:20 to the lead pack.
At the turn into the headwind, we joined the other 8 women in the lead pack and breathed a huge sigh of relief. I was thrilled. But my excitement quickly dissipated as I looked around. A group of 10 strong women was too much for me. Knowing that I have no sprint, really, none, I couldn’t sit back in this pack and wait til the finish sprint to perform because I would surely get 10th place out of 10. At that moment I envied teammate KA who could easily do this. She was conserving energy very well and would have no problem sitting in until the sprint and finishing well. I decide to try to make it work for me and decided to ride to the front and push the pace. At this moment, my body was hungry and was feeling the effects of not eating enough prior to the race. I shoved some gummies in my mouth to quiet the hunger for a moment, knowing there was less than 10 miles left in the race. With this little bit of added energy and my absolute desire to do well, I worked to push the pace as much as I could while riding uphill into the wind. As we neared the finish, my plan was playing out nicely, women were dropping off. At the sprint line, we had a group of 6. KA and a member of Chicago took off for the finish with another rider close behind. The other 3 of us were not so gifted at sprinting and rolled in behind. I was able to beat out 1 rider for 5th place overall. There were tears in my eyes as I crossed the finish. Finally things worked out.
Someone came up and asked ‘are you first Cat 3??’ and I just stared at them. I honestly had no idea and I didn’t care. I had put in huge efforts throughout the race. I finished in a great spot and worked hard for it. Teammate KA just took second place. It all went worked out.
This was victory in my book. Hard work and race smarts put into action.
I got to stand on the podium for 1st place Cat3. And got a nice check for finishing 5th overall.
This was the best race I’ve ever ridden in and not just because of the nice finishing place. The race had everything; hills, attacks, breaks, team work, intensity, and excitement. Well done to all the women who raced and to all the volunteers and spectators who made it possible.
This race also revived my spirit which was close to cracking after a season of disappointing races. I realized that I had turned things around. My health was back on track and my training was effective. After this, I was hungry for more racing.