Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Killington Stage Race Report -- Women 3/4

The first “big” race with our team, the Killington Stage Race, was this past weekend. Vanessa McCaffery and I represented the Corning/NoTubes Race Team in the Women’s ¾ race and we did a pretty good job of getting our team on the map! Teammates Ruth Sherman and Marjolein Schat raced the ½ race, and I know they will want to tell their own stories.

Saturday turned out to be a bit misty, but fortunately for our race it did not rain. The race that day was a circuit race, which navigated a 17 mile lap. There was a neutral start for the first couple of miles and then we were let out of a cannon from there. Our pack had over 50 riders in it, and everyone was kind of nervous, especially since the loop featured what seemed like way more downhill than climbing. We had to do two laps, which featured a sprint hot spot after lap one, and a QOM (Queen of the Mountain) sprint during both the first and second laps.

As we negotiated the first lap the group stayed together, even on the gentle climb up Plymouth Gap. Compared to any of the climbing we would do the rest of the weekend this was no climb at all. The QOM, though, was on a side road that went through a little historical village that was the birthplace of Calvin Coolidge. The QOM, as expected, was always a pretty lively event. The finish line, which was the site of the intermediary sprint hot spot was a very fast downgrade and that was always a bit more exciting that most people wanted as well.

Lap two was a bit harder, and just before the QOM all hell broke loose. I suspected as much and worked my way up into the group that was heading away from the rest. The pace remained high after the QOM, and coming back out onto the main drag and then to the ensuing steep descent was pretty exciting! Once I got to the bottom of that descent and corner I got onto a group of women who were busy getting dropped. Great! I wanted no part of finishing behind the leaders so I took off. Yeah, so did the pack. I time trailed for six minutes, but regained contact with the leaders again. Phew! Through all this teammate Vanessa was sitting up near the front and looking good. This was going to be her, race, I just knew it. My goal was to do as little work as possible so that I would have some super legs for the TT on Sunday. I was hoping that this extra TT practice did not foil that plan.

Shortly after I got to the pack one of the girls had a really hard crash. Her wheels got caught in one of the many vertical cracks in the pavement, she hit the wheel of the rider in front of her, and then she and her bike literally flew through the air and onto the other lane. Miraculously, there was no oncoming traffic just then and no one else went down. Our moto com was right there, as were our support vehicles, so there was plenty of help for her. I still do not know the extent of her injuries, but I did hear that she was at least able to talk when the immediate help arrived.

Coinciding with this crash was the start of a downhill section and the setup for the final sprint. Vanessa was close to the front and working her heart out. I was in the back still freaking out after witnessing the crash so up close and personal. I responded to the surge the pack was now taking and rode in with them to the finish. I had achieved my pack finish and the “same time” that I was looking for. Even better was the fact that Vanessa had finished second on the stage! Alan Atwood even showed me the finish line photos, which were wonderful to see. We would be going to awards that night. Hooray for Vanessa! However, our glee was definitely tempered by the worry that we felt for the girl who had crashed.

Sunday was the day that I was looking forward to -- a 10.75 mile time trial, point to point, gaining elevation along the way. What fun that would be for me! I was so excited and a bit nervous. It sprinkled a little bit, but before my start the sun came out and it was getting hot. Perfect TT weather.

Start order was in reverse of finishing from Saturday’s stage, so because I finished at the end of the pack I did not have any of the contenders to chase. I did have lots of women to chase, though, and I passed a lot of them. I crossed the finish line and was quite happy with my average power. I rolled around and around the parking lot to cool down and waited for Vanessa, who started second to last, to finish. She sounded like a steam engine rolling in, as had I, when she finished.

We waited for results to be posted at the finish and we were ecstatic with what we saw. Vanessa had finished fourth and I had won the time trial! The GC was also posted and it showed that I was now the leader of the race and would be in the pink leader’s jersey the next day. Vanessa was in fourth place, and her time bonus from Saturday put her only 27 seconds back. OMG, that was pretty cool. Every once and a while this time trial thing pays off! We had some fun at the awards ceremony, held at the Long Trail Brewery, which was also the sponsor of the TT. I won some cash, a six-pack, and a very cool pint glass. And, of course, the jersey! Results are posted at Velocity Results. There you can see my "photo finish" as I grab for the brakes before hitting the end of the pavement at 27 mph.

Monday’s road race was a 61 mile affair that started with about 5 miles of climbing, followed by 20 miles of descending to a sprint hot spot, followed by a lot of climbing and descending. The profile for the race showed the last 20 miles to be nothing but climbing, with the last 5.5 miles going from the base of the gondola, on route 4, to the very top parking lot on Killington Mountain. Not for the feint of heart!

Our race was the last to start, and we had the usual contingency of follow vehicles, as well as a state trooper, leading our pack. The Killington Stage Race is very well supported and very well officiated, something that cannot always be said about other races. As we headed up the climb toward our turn onto Route 100 my bike seemed kind of squirrelly, but I just thought it was me and my nerves, or the pavement. As we got to the top of the climb, though, I knew that it was not me at all, but that I had a flat tire. Oh NO! Here I was, the race leader, and I was now stopped along the side of the road awaiting a wheel change as the pack raced away. Darn!

I got a new wheel and installed it myself, made sure that the brakes were not rubbing, and took off, chasing away. I caught up with some girls who had been dropped and passed them up as soon as the official’s car would let me by. I was going to try hard to catch that pack! I looked back a minute or two later and the three girls came up behind me and told me they wanted to help bring me back to the pack. How sweet! Unfortunately, as soon as the terrain went up I dropped all but one, and when another short climb occurred I dropped the other. I was on my own again, and for a total of 20 miles, except for those two climbs, the terrain lost elevation. I had a moto com at my side or behind me for much of this time giving me splits as to how far away from the pack I was. I came within two minutes and got a good look at the back of the pack a couple of times, but just as I was really getting close it was time for a hot spot sprint and one of the bigger teams put the pressure on in order to keep their girl in the red jersey. The pack pulled away and I never caught them. When I got to the hot spot line I was told that I was three minutes down. OK, time to get ready to climb.

Shortly after that hot spot the course turned right and it was climbing time! It was hot and the terrain was starting to take its toll on our field. Girls had been dropped and I caught and passed them one by one. By the time I got to the feed zone I was so thrilled to see Bob there with a nice bottle for me. It was hot, I was sweating a lot, and “Soak Up the Sun” was playing in my head. Thank you Bob for the support! Then it was on to more girls, chasing as best I could…on to the dirt road section…on to Route 4 and twenty more miles of climbing. At this point I had Katherine and Cindy with me, but Katherine disappeared while Cindy stayed on my wheel until the base of the steep climb up to the finish. We passed a pack of 6 more girls. I wanted to get to the climb and get this race done!

The climb had a bit of shade at the bottom, but was in the sun for most of the painful part. I was shocked when I started to feel the effects of the heat and the climb. I had so looked forward to this climb, with average grades of over 10 percent, and to passing more women. I could see them ahead of me, but I was making no time on them. In fact, it seemed that I was going backward. I was so hot! A couple of the girls that I had just passed now passed me on this climb and I could not respond. Eventually I got to the QOM and then there was a bit of downhill to cool me off. Oh, that felt good. But then there was the last few km up to the finish. “Just pedal and think of nothing but the present, one pedal stroke at a time.” That was my mantra.

Eventually, the finish line approached and I crossed it. My teammates were there and was the moto com who had supported me for almost 20 miles. I could not pedal another stroke, so I stopped and then I had to sit down and get some ice on me and some cold liquids into me. That certainly helped! It was either that or pass out, which would not have been too pretty. Well, I was not looking too pretty by then anyway.

What a day! Vanessa hung in there and ended up 11th on the day and took 9th in GC. I managed 27th on the day and 21st in GC. At the end of that climb toward the finish the words “never again” were also playing in my head. However, I would really love to go back there and race that stage the way it is supposed to be raced – with a pack – and see how I feel on that climb. We’ll see what next year brings :)

Thank you to Bob Nunnink for all the support he gave the Corning/NoTubes team during this great three-day stage race.