Teamwork makes the dream work

I’ve so enjoyed reading race reports from some of my friends, that I thought I’d try my hand at one of my own.  Truman Cup 2017 weekend was a real breakthrough for me.  Last year at this 3 day race, I won the time trial and then took 3rd in the circuit race and the criterium, and honestly, I was really proud of those finishes, they were hard-fought against some really strong women who had more experience than I did.  28395575682_904f9465f2_oThe picture to the right is me last year leading the pack up the 1 mile climb on Kentucky Ave on the first lap of the circuit race, right before I got a created a gap in the field and then decided to go ahead and fully attack.  That attack split the field and I found myself in a break with Lynn Wilson (strong cat 3 then, now a cat 2) and Britta Siegel (cat 1) Thanks to Roger Harrison for the pic.  I made some mistakes that cost me the win on that race, but that 3rd place meant more to me than some of my wins that year.

But this year, something was different for me.  I have been suffering from a severe lack of confidence.  This year, I have been competing in some higher caliber regional races and getting my butt kicked in them.  In addition to that, challenges at work and in my life off my bike have been affecting and limiting my training.  I haven’t felt like I am as strong this year as I was last year.  On the other hand, it has forced me to have to learn to race smarter. (learning from those mistakes I made last year…..)

But the first event of the race is a time trial.  And time trials are all about strength and speed, there are no team tactics, there’s no hiding in a pack and conserving energy.  It was my specialty last year, like it is for many triathletes-turned-cyclists.  A time trial comes down to digging deep and gutting it out in the pain cave, and it’s a solo experience…..or so I thought.  But as it turns out, teamwork makes the dreamwork…..Specifically, the amazing encouragement & support I got from Amy Cottrell.  She had enough confidence in me for the both of us.  We hit that course a couple of times and practiced it.  I did a couple of efforts on my road bike one week, and then a couple on my TT bike the next week.  I haven’t been on my TT bike as much as I need to be, partly because I’ve been focusing on preparing for other races and partly because the saddle on that thing was the WORST.  But Sunflower Bike Shop here in Lawrence helped me with that, and my TT bike and I are now friends.  BUT, it didn’t change the fact that I hadn’t had enough time on it to feel as comfortable as I’d like.  I was nervous about making a wrong decision and suffering the consequences.  More powerful position on my road bike, more comfortable in the turns and at the actual turnaround, better ability to gauge my effort vs the sheer aerodynamic position and frame on my TT bike.  I was also nervous about the crosswind I saw predicted and wondered if it would throw me off kilter.  Basically I wondered about a thousand what-ifs in every direction.  I sought advice from people I trusted, and still had a variety of answers.  My favourite response coming from my teammate Julie, “just pick a bike and ride it.”  Because isn’t that really what it always comes down to?  I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told “it’s not the bike, it’s the rider”.  Craig “Hemi” Henwood finally said “look, you have enough time, hop on your TT bike, and head out to the course and test ride it.  If it doesn’t feel good, come back here and get your road bike.”  What a genius….so I did just that, and I didn’t notice any wind issues.  I felt pretty comfortable going through the S section with a good amount of speed and I did ok on the turnaround too.  I tried to take the pressure off myself by insisting that if nothing else, this is a good practice session to see what a real race effort looks like on the TT bike.  I’m not really good at “no pressure” though.  I was excited and intimidated to be chasing the incredibly strong Molly Benton, who smoked me handily at the last TT we were at, with her on her road bike and me on my TT bike.  And right behind me was my beautiful teammate and cheerleader, Amy Cottrell.  I really wasn’t sure what to hope for power-wise on the TT bike.  If I were on my road bike, I’d be shooting for 300.  But I don’t know how that compares, so I decided to go with being a slave to speed. I had determined that with a tailwind outbound and a headwind return I wanted to average 28mph out and 23mph back, hoping for around 25mph average overall.  In past TTs, I feel like I’ve reserved too much on the outbound leg, worrying about having enough power left to finish strong.  I decided this time, that I wanted to go out SO hard, that coming across the finish line, I would be slowing down (Thank you for that, Jim Whittaker). From the start, my slick speedy fish was out of sight.  I think it was about 2 minutes in when I caught a glimpse of her, and then I just tried to keep reeling her in closer and closer.  By the turnaround, I had calculated that I was 20 seconds behind her, which meant I was 10 seconds faster.  I tried to keep eyeballing the landmarks she would pass and then do the calculation when I would pass them to try and keep or improve that gain.  IMG_7788I was, indeed, getting tired, but that’s when that my teammate’s confidence in me, and her amazing pep talks prior to the race kicked in.  She had told me a story about another racer in this area and how when he starts feeling defeated, that he tells himself  “You can’t stop now, you’re Steve Tilford.”  So of course, what did I say to myself?  “You can’t let up, you’re Glenda Taylor…..You’re Rochelle Schleicher, You’re Renae Weaver….you’re EVERY amazing woman ever to suit up in Free State kit….and you are NOT going to back down now.” (There might have been a couple of expletives in that inner monologue….) And that pushed me on and on, especially in the last half mile or so, when Molly went back out of sight again due to the visibility distance of the course itself, and I had no idea how far ahead she was, or what her time was when she finished.  BUT, I knew I had put out a solid effort.  My strava showed just under 14 minutes for the effort, and my overall average speed was 24.2mph, and I had pushed as hard as I could the whole time.  I couldn’t have asked my body for even 1 watt more.  I was really proud.  For maybe the first time this season, I was really proud.  As it turned out, that TT was good enough to get me on the podium, and on the top step, even, though just barely over my teammate.  I beat her by a quarter of a second.  I forced her to take a podium pic with me together on the same step, because not only was it close, I truly believe, I would not have been able to do that without her, and that is why I think Time Trialing is not always a solo event.

Day two was the circuit race.  For those of you still reading this, and who may or may not know cycling lingo, a circuit race is a set number of laps of a course that can be anywhere from about 3 miles to 15 miles or so.  This one is out in Sugar Creek Missouri and starts at the Mike Onka Hall.  The first part of every lap includes a one mile long climb up Kentucky Avenue.  (refer again to the picture above).   Last year, my strategy was to wear people out on this hill.  Because then, even at my size, I was a pretty decent hill climber, and I was good at the pain cave.  But like I said, this year is different.  I’m heavier than last year, and not as fit.  (no, I’m not down on myself, just realistic…these are relative terms.  I’m still in good shape, but not the shape I was in last year.  It’s just a truth).   BUT, like I said, I have been forced to become smarter.  AND ALSO, I have these amazing teammates.  Karen Pritchard, a new addition to our team, but a hella-strong woman who has been racing for years, plus the aforementioned angel, Amy would line up with me for the circuit race, ready to take on the trek team of Molly and Lynn Wilson (see notes regarding last year’s loss to Lynn) plus the amazing Ariel Wyant, who came up from Tulsa for this race.  I was feeling good coming off my TT and our team had a great strategy that we were prepared to execute.  Amy and I had practiced climbing that hill together and she would stay back and pull me up while Karen would be ready to attack it and try to wear out the competition, or cover one of their attacks.  We would regroup on the top flat section if needed.  My job was to trust my teammates, be patient, and bomb down the big hill toward the end, sprint through the straightaway after the S curve, and then hammer up the short power climb at the end to the finish line.  Sounds simple enough, right?  Because I am known for my patience, right?  But I focused on the trusting my teammates part, and also, trusting myself.  I arrived with my awesome kiddos, who were my own personal cheerleaders for the day (and who were looking forward to squirting me with a super soaker…the temps that day were over 100 before the heat index).  When I got out my bike to start warming up, disaster struck.  My Di2 wasn’t working.  (agin, for anyone still with me that doesn’t know, Di2 is an electronic system that controls the shifting on your bike.). No lights on the indicator at all…(usually a green light is good and a red light means it needs to be charged). I had thoroughly washed my bike Thursday night, lubed the chain and tested everything, so I couldn’t figure out what had happened.  I thought maybe I had gotten water into the contactors or done something else to mess it up.  And I just couldn’t figure out how to fix it and I was clueless about what to do.  Of course it was so hot that no one was there too early for their race or staying much past.  The masters men were on course, and although I knew several of them probably rode similarly sized bikes, I had no idea what pedals they would have, and there wasn’t enough time to make changes between the end of their race and the beginning of mine.  The same would be true for anyone racing immediately after me.  I was pretty much in complete despair and thinking I was going to have to scratch the race when another racer overheard me and said “shoot, don’t do that, ride my bike…”  He didn’t race until two after mine, so the timing would actually work out ok.  My hero, as it turns out, was Kurt Wilson, the husband of my competition, Lynn, yes THE Lynn Wilson.  (This exemplifies one of the things I love about this sport.)  Kurt’s bike is a really beautiful Cannondale with colors that matched my kit about as perfectly as could be possible.  It was like that bike was made for me.  Except that it’s a 54….and I ride a 58.  But a bike is a bike, and better to ride an unfamiliar bike and at least finish the race than have to scratch right?  So I swapped my pedals, and adjusted the seatpost as high as it would safely go (still about 3 inches lower than it would be on my bike, but whatever) and then I had about 15 minutes to figure out how Sram double tap works (for my non-bike friends that are totally lost by the 54 vs 58 and sram lingo, let’s just say that Kurt’s bike was more or less opposite of mine), 20248453_10210102380821510_6219018402183084529_oI was lining up for the start of the race.  I didn’t feel super confident, and I really hadn’t gotten a good warmup, but I thought to myself that I have 3 laps to figure this bike out before the lap that counts, and I have teammates that I can trust, and in 100º heat, who needs a warmup, right?  I did a better job this year of sitting in with the group and not doing too much work.  Note that in this year’s picture (again taken by Roger Harrison), I am in the back of the pack, not pulling it, and my competition is doing the work with one of my teammates near the front and one right in front of me.  Ariel was the wildcard, because I didn’t know much about her, but I learned quickly that she is amazing at cornering and descending.  I filed away that little note for lap 4.  I almost didn’t get to make use of that information because climbing that hill on lap 3 almost did me in.  About 2/3 to 3/4 of the way up, I started to fall off the back.  Lynn was up toward the front and she was pushing the pace.  Amy covered the attack, and Karen kept an eye on me, but the pack was pulling away and my legs or lungs or maybe both were not cooperating with the orders my brain was giving.  Karen stayed with me as long as possible to keep me close, then zoomed to the front on this zippy little 180º right turn and slowed down the pace.  I caught back on and was able to recover along the top side flats.   Then I had a little talk with my body about how we were NOT going to repeat that the next time up the hill.  Thankfully, lap 4 was a different story.  Then on the top side, there was definitely some antsiness as we were all trying to compete for position.  I knew I needed to work toward the front to where Lynn was, because I was planning to follow her wheel down the first part of the hill and through the little S turn.  If she got away, she’d be tough to catch.  BUT, I had developed a backup plan, because Ariel was “back up” where I was, and I had watched her go from the back to the front of the pack on that downhill, so I knew I could descend on her wheel and get to Lynn, which is almost exactly what happened, and I followed her down the first part of the hill, then around her and used my own ahem “advantage” that I have over last year’s version of me, I could see Amy in front of me, and Lynn just in front of her, I passed Amy, then followed Lynn through that S (which gave me trouble last year because I feared the corners….but not 2017 Cindy….), and then I knew it was my moment.  My teammates had done their part masterfully and it was up to me to be the closer and there was no way in hell I was going to let them down.  I pedaled hard and caught Lynn and passed her.  “Shoot, was that too soon?  Is she just going to suck my wheel and then beat me on the final uphill sprint?  crap, did I just blow this?”  IMG_7803 2No chance in hell was THAT going to happen, I took the last turn into the hill and started to climb.  I really needed to shift, but I had a sudden memory failure on the unfamiliar bike, and I knew a mis-shift would end me, so I just decided to power through, up out of the saddle pushing every watt I could squeek out on every stroke, and I hear a voice saying “push, push, push” and realize that is a real life voice coming from behind me, from RIGHT behind me, but I cross the line first and only as I’m flying down the downhill on the other side of the line do I realize it is once again, my teammate/angel, Amy, who had gotten on my wheel when I passed her and followed me to the line.  Honestly, she could have beat me across the line, and I said as much to her.  She just smiled, shook her head and said “it wasn’t the plan, sister” and then she told me how proud of me she was and hugged me.  I was so thrilled to see that we had executed our plan so amazingly well, and I excitedly stood on the top step of the podium with the pride of every skittle ever…I was tasting the rainbow for sure.  I joked that it took Lynn Wilson’s husband’s bike to beat Lynn Wilson.  And after a little bit of good-natured ribbing about the etiquette of borrowing a bike from your competitor, she was extremely gracious and complementary to me and told me she was proud of me.  (another excellent example of what is great about this sport).  It also didn’t hurt that in reality, she made a mistake and went too soon, but I’d take the win, knowing tomorrow’s crit would be a truer test.  Crit’s are Lynn’s speciality.  Of course, I still had my bike issue to deal with, so I drove directly to Sunflower from the race.   It’s embarrassing to admit, but I do so only because it might save someone in the future.  My battery was dead.  that was all it was.  I didn’t do anything to ruin my bike, which was a relief, but I felt like a blooming idiot.  Thank goodness sunflower doesn’t charge for stupidity.  And they were REALLY nice.  I decided it was probably worthwhile to order a spare battery to keep in my race bag, just in case.  Though, I’m pretty sure charging ALL my stuff is going to be on my pre-race checklist forever.  Bringing a spare bike will probably be on there for a long time too.  But I slept really well Saturday night.  Good thing, because I was going to need it.

This brings me to Sunday – the Criterium.  I’ll skip over the part about locking my keys in my car as I was loading it up and how Daphne saved the day when she found the old key with the dead battery that would still open the car with the actual key part.  Yeah, that was a fun way to start the morning.  But I was smart enough to take my bike for a test ride around my neighborhood before heading out of town, and I still tossed Dave’s bike into the van as a spare, just in case…. I had been thinking in my head about all the possible scenarios for the crit today and I felt pretty positive about all of them.  The only concern I had was for my teammate Amy, who had broken her toe a week or so ago, and then during Saturday’s circuit, she had exacerbated it.  She was in a lot of pain, but she was still committed to coming to race.  She and I both layed out of the masters race that morning to conserve for the more important 123 race.  My kids were with me again, and armed with their super soakers, plus I actually got to have my husband cheering for me.  He opted out of being an official for this race so that he could support my teammates and myself.  (i’m sure the thought of nailing me multiple times with a super soaker had nothing to do with his decision).  I had done some calculations and realized that I had enough points for Women’s Free State to keep the top step of the podium, almost regardless of my finish.  I think I needed to get 6th place…but I wasn’t positive.  But I realized that with Amy semi-injured, and Karen having already done the masters race, that I was going to need to do more work in the race than the original plan included, which was fine with me, actually.  I have to admit, I was feeling a little lame and a little bit antsy to have some fun.  As I indicated, Lynn is an incredible crit racer, and she would have not just Molly but also Kelly Skinner with her in this race.  The Trek Trio is always a formidable foe.  And of course there’s also the lone wolf, Ariel Wyant, who I knew was also a bit of a crit beast.  Lining up for WFSR would be myself, Amy and Karen, plus Julie & Sev jumping in from the masters race.  I got a pretty good warm up in, and before I knew it we were on the line. I have never been so excited for a crit before.  We actually started off pretty slowly.  It seemed no one wanted to make the first attack.  Finally (and almost predictably), Julie jumped, and got off the front.  She eventually got pulled back, and then Karen jumped.  I was at the front then, and I sat up and I think I was maybe going 15mph, holding back the pack until Lynn decided she’d had enough of Karen off the front.  I jumped on her wheel and sat in while she chased Karen down. As soon as she got pulled back, I told her to go recover, and then Amy jumped.  Molly went with her and the two of them were off the front.  With one skittle and one trek in the break, it fell to Ariel to chase it down, which she did.  This woman was amazing.  I think it took her 7 laps at the front by herself, but she managed to pull them back.  I followed her through the corners that she was just cut through like butter.  We ended up basically all back together and the next thing I remember seeing was that there were three laps to go.  I had to start paying attention to my position and where my mates were.  Kelly was at the front then, and she pulled for about 2 laps.  She slowed the pace down, which was kind of good…it gave me just the rest and time I needed to prep myself.  My legs and my lungs both felt good (I’d used some of the Doterra Deep Blue on my quads before the race and that stuff is AMAZING).  Ariel was right there with me and as we came into the last lap, Kelly was falling back and Ariel was coming up.  I worried she would the jump on me in a couple of corners that I knew she was taking more aggressively than I, when who should appear but Karen, who totally SHOULD have been cooked by then, but wasn’t.  IMG_7849She zoomed to the front and kept Ariel at bay.  I was able to get the jump on her coming down to corner 5, took that one and hammered forth to the final turn and the straightaway to the finish line.  I was in the front, and again, I worried that it was a bad decision.  I know the best place to be is second or even third wheel coming into the sprint, and I knew I needed to get a solid hard jump to keep Ariel and Lynn from getting a free ride on my wheel.  So I attacked hard and probably started my sprint too early, but I was so high on adrenaline and so close to a top step sweep for my team that there was no stopping me, I fought hard, dug deep and gave it all I had all the way across the line.  And again, after it was all over, Lynn told me how proud she was of me.  What a class act.  I do love those trek gals…But not as much as I love MY WFSR skittle gals.

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