Category Archives: Road
Melissa the Mountain Goat had another successful Ride the Rockies! Read all about your favorite Naked hill climber’s week-long experience here.
Where do I begin? Ride The Rockies 2014, will be a year that Sharon Madison and myself will not soon forget. It was a week of freezing temperatures, new friendships, sudden injuries, beautiful scenery, close calls and personal accomplishments. Ride The Rockies, aka RTR, has become an annual event for Sharon and I since we met in Steamboat during the 2011 tour. We both had this year’s “Epic Week” marked on our calendars since the beginning of March. To start off, we both planned on racing the Sunshine Hill Climb Race on June 7th, followed by RTR June 8th-13th, and finishing up with the Guanella Pass Hill Climb race on June 15th. We knew what we had signed up for, but never dreamed it would have turned out like it did.
Sunshine was hard! I was not ready for that monster climb at all. Without going into too much detail, I wasn’t feeling too great that day but I signed up and raced anyway. It was my first race as a Cat 3. Talk about being nervous. My body already turns inside out before every race, but when I lined up next to those crazy strong Cat 3s that morning, I knew I was in store for a sufferfest. I love to climb, and I think in normal circumstances, I would thoroughly enjoy climbing Sunshine Canyon. However, I think my mind got the best of me in that race. Maybe it was the anxiety of knowing RTR started the very next day (with a scheduled 10,000 plus feet of climbing in 89 miles) or maybe it was the fact that I was racing at a new level with very strong competition. All I could think about was how sick I felt and that climbing that beast of a mountain was going to hurt. And it did. My teammate, Jamie Gilmore set a very strong pace right out of the shoot. My initial thought was “uh oh”, because I knew she is an incredible climber. I did my best to hang with her for a bit, but with the way I was feeling, I knew I had to back off. As a few other racers passed me, I conceded to the fact that this was a personal race for me, and it was about survival. It’s hard to race when you don’t feel good, so just finishing was an accomplishment. Jamie and Brittany dominated the Cat 3 race and Sharon took 3rd in Masters. It was very exciting to see them all on the podium at the top.
After racing Sunshine, I came home and began packing for my week long trip with one of my very best friends. Most people who sign up for Ride The Rockies camp at the local high schools in each of the finishing towns. Not Sharon and I. =) Camp? Could you imagine? Those riders are tough. Every day they ride over mountain passes, through extreme weather conditions, sometimes close to 100 miles of riding, set up their tents with tired bodies, shower in semi truck trailers and sleep outside in the cold, just to get up and do it all over again the next day. Ha! I’m too prissy for that. I need my coffee every morning and a mirror to put my eyeliner on. Each year Sharon organizes hotel accommodations in the hosting towns and we tuck into warm hotel beds each night after eating fancy dinners with great friends. Talk about extreme differences. But that doesn’t mean we don’t work our booties off when we are on the road. Our friend Dr. Sean Bender, who also rides with us each year, makes sure we all hit Zone 5 at least once each day…..or all day, depending on what he ate for breakfast that morning. He was nicknamed the steam engine for our Naked Train this year because he is so strong and fast. I remember some guy hooked onto the back of our train one day and he came up to Sean at the Aid Station and said, “Do I owe you money or something for that ride? You are a machine!” Sean just laughed and acted like it was no big deal. I think he was the strongest rider on RTR this year. And if that’s not impressive enough, he was that strong even after suffering a broken collarbone in February, from a crash in a race in Vegas.
Day one of RTR was wild. We left the high school in Boulder at about 6:45am and headed up beautiful Boulder Canyon. It was a real treat to ride up that canyon with one lane closed to traffic. I remember thinking how nice it was to not have to worry about cars and to be able to take in the scenery around me. The morning air was crisp, the rivers were full and flowing fast, the sun was bright and everyone seemed energized and happy. It felt like it was going to be a perfect day. The beautiful weather stuck with us all the way through Nederland, Rollinsville and even up until Gilpin County (mile 36 or so). But the storm clouds were rolling in and when we got to Black Hawk and Central City, it was evident that we were in for some weather. Riding through Central City was fun. There are some good hills back there and the descent into Idaho Springs was a blast. Once we got to Idaho Springs however, my attitude changed quickly with the first crash of thunder. I always knew I was a lightning wimp, but when you are standing out in the open with a group of people on bikes, and a GIANT flash of lightning flies overhead, I think it’s perfectly normal to FREAK OUT!! Sharon, Sean and John were taking their sweet time putting on their rain jackets and leg warmers as lightning streaked across the sky and thunder shook the ground. “No big deal guys!! It’s just lightning!!!” I was convinced we were going to die. They just laughed at me as I had a mini panic attic on the side of the highway. Then it happened……In the midst of my meltdown, my attention was suddenly diverted. A group of cyclists flew past us in a very organized and beautiful fashion. They were not your typical RTR riders and it was evident in their appearance and riding style. My eyes were immediately drawn to them and I quickly realized it was George Hincapie. ((sigh)) That guy is a hunk! Suddenly, my terror turned to excitement and all I could focus on was trying to catch up with his group and ride with them. Thank you Mr. Hincapie for the distraction!! That was exactly what I needed to get me through the storm and on to Empire.
When we reached the Aid Station in Empire it was windy and cold. Yuck! We shivered and huddled together while we ate our bars and goos and rested for the climb to come. We were 62 miles in and the summit on Berthoud Pass was mile 75. When you are already freezing cold and you know you have to ride in the wind to a much higher, and inevitably colder elevation, its hard to get back on your bike. Sean decided he was going to summit Berthoud alone. Word on the street was that he had a massage waiting for him in Winter Park, so he took off like a rocket and told us he would meet us there. Lucky guy…or so we thought anyway. As John, Sharon and I began to climb the pass, the weather went from wind, to light rain, to light snow to giant snowflakes that stick to your eyelashes. I decided I wanted to push myself up the mountain, so I set out on my own for a bit. I was feeling awesome considering the dreary weather. I even noticed I had some guy sucking my wheel the entire way up. I didn’t say anything but I knew he was there. The closer I got to the top, the wetter the roads got and the more I became aware of my body temperature dropping. It was strange, I went from feeling amazing and powering up the mountain, to sudden dizziness and confusion. I even had to get off of my bike to try and regain my focus. I never do that. Was I bonking? It was a feeling I had never experienced before. I could see the summit in the distance, it wasn’t far at all. My body didn’t feel fatigued but I was dazed and had tunnel vision and I felt like everything around me was spinning. I remember thinking maybe it was low blood sugar or dehydration and I would eat when I got to the top. I forced myself to get back on my bike but it was the first time that I was truly afraid that I might black out while riding. It was so surreal. When I reached the top, I immediately got off of my bike and just laid it against a wall in the parking lot. There was a little warming house (not heated), so I went inside and just sat down on the floor. I remember Sharon came in moments later and said “Let’s go and get out of this weather.” She wanted to descend right away but I knew I couldn’t do it. All I could do was sit there. I was done riding for the day. I told her that I was afraid I couldn’t descend safely. She and John told me to wait there and they would go get a car in Winter Park and come back and get me. I felt like such a baby. I was not pleased with myself for wimping out, but I knew I would crash if I tried to descend those switchbacks on wet pavement, feeling the way I did. My head was in a daze. As Sharon and John began to leave, over a loud speaker, a police officer announced that the pass was closed to cyclists. “There will be no cyclists allowed to descend. The conditions are too dangerous.” They said we were to wait at the top and they would make arrangements for us to get down the mountain safely. At that time, the warming house was not very full. However, as the cyclists began to make their way up the mountain, suddenly the warming house looked more like a sardine can. Everyone was piling inside to get out of the wet snow and wind. Sean made it down the pass before they closed it, but Sharon, John and myself were stuck at the top with hundreds of other cyclists.
As our sweat began to cool and the temperature continued to drop, the shivering reached an entirely new level. My entire body physically hurt from shivering so much. I couldn’t feel my fingers and toes and I remember feeling short of breath from my body tensing up so much. Sharon couldn’t sit still through all of this. She is considered the Mayor of RTR (because she knows EVERYONE), and she was able to work her magic and found a ride down the mountain with a friend. John hopped on a crowded bus. They said they would come back with a car to pick me up. I decided to sit down in a corner and rest my head on my knees. I was so tired. A very kind man was next to me while I waited. He put his jacket over my shoulders and offered me food. I was so exhausted. I said no thank you to his kind food offer and I rested my head on my knees again. I could hardly keep my eyes open. I just wanted to sleep. I couldn’t stop shivering and I just wanted to close my eyes while I waited for John and Sharon. As I began to doze off I remember feeling the man’s hand on my arm, pulling me to my feet. I was embarrassed that I was so sleepy and it took me a minute to realize what was happening. He pulled me by my arm through the crowd of people and outside into the snow and wind. I remember it seemed so bright outside and I asked him where we were going. He just told me he knew some people and before I knew it, he opened the doors to a big fire truck and he helped me inside. He said “Stay here and I will come get you when John and Sharon return.” How did he know John and Sharon? I was so confused. The fire truck was incredible. It was more like a warming truck of some sort. There were benches to sit on and heaters that blasted warm air throughout the entire cabin. There were people in blankets shivering next to me and as time passed, more and more people piled inside. I felt like I was dreaming. As my body warmed up, I wasn’t as sleepy as I was moments before and I felt like I could see more clearly. I looked out the windows of the truck and realized the severity of the situation. There were bikes everywhere, people wrapped in blankets standing in lines to load onto buses and trucks and the snow didn’t show any signs of stopping. I have no idea how long I sat in that truck, but eventually that wonderful man that helped me, appeared in the doorway again. He said “Sharon and John are here. Let’s go.” We piled four people and several bikes into the car and made our way down the mountain. We all ended up safely in Winter Park at a beautiful condo that Sharon had reserved for us. We sat around and told our stories while we rested our tired bodies. That was only Day One of Ride The Rockies! Little did we know, we had several other wild adventures to come.
Day 2 of RTR began with a chilly morning in Winter Park. So chilly, we decided to leave a little later to allow the temperature outside to rise a bit. Sean and I both know the importance of a cup of coffee each morning before a long day in the saddle. Sharon is not a coffee drinker, but she is sweet and tolerates our desperation to find a coffee shop each day. That morning we happened to find a Starbucks. I was so excited. Once we indulged in our addiction, we headed out into the cold, crisp morning air. At least the sun was shining. As we made our way out to the main highway we bumped into a friend of Mayor Madison’s. His name was Robert and he happened to be standing next to a vehicle that said Hincapie on it. Suddenly I became very aware of the BMC bike that was resting next to a pile of suitcases. “That’s George’s bike!” I thought to my self. I didn’t want to move. I wanted to stay and see if I was right, but alas, Sharon said it was time to go, and she is the boss, so we went. We met up with a friend of Sean’s on our way out of town. His name was Alexi and he was going to ride with us for the day. So the 4 of us began our journey to the next location. Day 2′s route would take us from Winter Park to Steamboat Springs, traveling 95 miles over Muddy Pass and Rabbit Ears Pass. It was another big day. Other than a cool breeze, the first 30 miles were pretty uneventful. We were all settling into our rhythm and getting to know each other’s wheels. After stopping at Aid Station 1 just before Granby, when we reached Aid Station 2 near Parshall, we decided not to stay very long. We wanted to get through the day at a quick pace to avoid any weather. That’s when the next unexpected event happened. As we pulled out of Aid Station 2, Sean took the lead, followed by Alexi, then Sharon and I hopped on the back. We barely started pedaling, when all of a sudden a vehicle that was passing us pulled over to the right, forcing Sean off of the road. Alexi hit his brakes, which caused Sharon’s front wheel to rub his back wheel and Sharon ended up crashing. It was horrible to witness. It was like it was happening in slow motion and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Sharon’s wheel rubbed the side of Alexi’s wheel for what seemed like forever. She held her bike upright as long as she could but she finally went down. Her head and her shoulder hit the pavement first and my heart sunk in my chest. Sean is an ER doctor and he rushed over to Sharon to see if she was ok. She got up immediately and quickly realized she had a lot of pain in her shoulder. Her helmet was cracked and she had some road rash on her hip. She was incredibly calm. Even at a moment like that, she was kind and graceful. After Sean looked her over, he decided it would be a good idea to have her shoulder x-rayed in Steamboat. Her bike was not damaged but she definitely needed a new helmet. The woman that pulled over, pushing us off the road, was ironically a friend of Sean’s. It was a complete accident and Sharon was as sweet as can be to her, despite the pain she was in from falling. Sharon decided to catch a ride with Sean’s friend to the next Aid Station. I wanted to ride in the car with her but Sharon wouldn’t let me and she told me to keep riding. That was not easy for me at all.
After riding alone with the boys to Aid Station 3, just outside of Kremmling, we ran into Sharon and noticed she was up to something. She was standing in line at the Bike Source tent buying a new helmet. Clearly, she had every intention to ride, despite her injuries. Although we set out after lunch without her, I don’t think we made it 15 miles before she was hollering out the car window for us to pull over. When we came to a stop, we realized she couldn’t sit still in the car and watch everyone ride. She got her bike off of the rack and gave us all the look that said “I’m riding. Don’t say a word”. The plan was to see how it goes. Sean’s friend was just a phone call away and if Sharon couldn’t handle the pain, she would be right there to pick her up. This was nuts. I could not believe she was getting back on her bike. I was a nervous wreck. All I could think about was how she was feeling and if this was a smart plan or not. I figured Sean wouldn’t let her ride if he was really concerned, but my instinct was on high alert. We took it very easy along the stretch from Kremmling to Muddy Pass. Although I can’t say it was uneventful. In fact, along that very stretch of road the most terrifying thing to have ever happened to me on my bike, happened in the blink of an eye.
Ride The Rockies is an annual bike tour that has gone on for nearly 30 years now. It is a very well organized event with State Patrol escorts, road blocks in certain areas, route safety volunteers and well marked hazards and road signs for all of the cyclists. Ironically, just outside outside of Kremmling, I remember seeing a huge road sign warning vehicles that a bike tour was in progress and to please proceed with caution. For the most part, traffic flows smoothly and it is clearly evident that there are cyclists everywhere. In our group of four, Sean was up front, followed by Alexi, myself and then our wounded soldier Sharon at the back. We were traveling at a steady pace going into a slight corner when a massive semi truck came barreling down the road. He obviously had no patience for the cyclists and he was going to show his rage by hugging the shoulder. Not only was he going entirely too fast, but he came so close to us, that Sean was pushed off of the road into the gravel. Alexi’s immediate reaction was to hit his brakes, my front wheel instantly locked with his back wheel on the lefthand side and all I could think about was Sharon’s crash just hours before. Typically when your front wheel rubs with another wheel, you go down. If I would have fallen, I would have fallen into the semi because I would not have fallen to the right because of Alexi’s wheel. As the front of the semi truck rounded the corner, the trailer came even closer to us. I could see the tires, and the trailer right next to me from the corner of my eye. I felt the wind from his speed as he passed by and at that moment I really thought things were going to end badly for me. I have no idea how I kept my bike upright as that giant truck flew past us. I was absolutely terrified. We all had to pull over and catch our breath. I think I will thank God every day for the rest of my life for protecting us that day. I can’t believe the driver of that truck was so careless and had no regard for life.
When we got to the Aid Station at the base of Muddy Pass, Sharon decided to catch a ride with Sean’s friend. Her shoulder was hurting and she noticed that climbing intensified the pain. So Sean, Alexi and myself made our way up the pass. As we kept pedaling, Sean decided he wanted to summit Rabbit Ears at his rocket ship cadence. So Alexi and I climbed the remaining stretch of Rabbit Ears, just the two of us. When we reached the top, Sharon was waiting. She was with Sean and she wanted to descend with us into Steamboat. Yes, I’m convinced she is crazy. Or else she has embraced an entirely new level of “badass”. One of the two. She descended the pass with grace and beauty like every other descent she has made, and we arrived safely in Steamboat.
Having an ER doctor with you on a bike tour has its perks. What normally would have taken hours in the ER for X-rays, literally took 10 minutes. Sean was able to diagnose her injury as soon as the X-ray was taken. Sharon had suffered an AC separation. In her mind, no big deal. She was thrilled that her collarbone was not broken. A little tape and ibuprofen and she would be good to go. (I would be crying like a baby). Since Day 3 was a loop around Steamboat and we would be staying two nights at the same hotel, Sharon agreed that taking a day off of the bike was a good idea. It didn’t hurt my feelings either because I knew I had to race Guanella on Sunday and I was already feeling tired. So, while the other cyclists rode a not so easy 54 mile loop through Steamboat, Sharon and I indulged in a little retail therapy. We had a very nice day together followed by one of the best dinners I have ever had. Dessert was the real treat. I’m not one to ever choose bread pudding from a dessert menu, but OH MY GOD, this bread pudding with carmel sauce and vanilla ice-cream knocked my socks off. I still dream about that bread pudding. Anyway…
Day 4 was another long day in the saddle. 82 miles from Steamboat Springs to Avon. Although, we rode to East Vail because Sharon has a condo there and that’s where we stayed that night. Sharon was still hurting (obviously) from her injury, so she was quick to ditch us at the first aid station. We happened to hook up with a few guys from the GS Boulder team along the first few miles, and Sharon preferred their pace over Sean’s. It’s not his fault he is a machine and he makes people taste blood in their mouths when they try to keep up with him. So long story short, I was Sean’s designated riding buddy for the day and I knew I was going to suffer. I was right too. As soon as we fueled our bodies, we flew through the next 20 miles at lightning speed. I tucked in behind his wheel and did my best to hang on tight. I’m actually shocked I was able to stay on his wheel. It wasn’t easy. We were flying. That’s about how the rest of that day went as well. We would stop at the aid stations, refuel, refill water bottles and continue to hammer out the miles at a very quick pace. When we reached the high school in Avon, I was fried. My legs were jello and I knew we still had about 20 miles to go to East Vail. Thankfully at this point, we had Sharon with us and she took charge of the pace. I was thrilled when we decided to stop and have lunch at a wonderful pizza place in Vail. I had a diet Coke, a big side salad and 2 large pieces of pizza. Why do I mention this? Well, Sharon’s condo was about 7 miles from the pizza place, uphill I might add, and that was the hardest 7 miles I have ever pedaled. My legs were cursing Sean and my belly was full of pizza. We were nearing 100 miles that day and the last thing I wanted to do was get back on my bike. I was so happy when we reached Sharon’s place. A warm shower, a delicious dinner, homemade cinnamon rolls and ice-cream and a very soft bed, was a perfect ending to a long day of intense riding.
Day 5 was a fun day. 74 miles from Avon to Breckenridge was the scheduled route. I don’t remember our exact mileage that day because we set out from East Vail and ended in Frisco. Sean has a place in Frisco so he was like a horse heading back to the barn. He couldn’t get there fast enough, but Sharon reined him in and he was exiled to the back of the line while Sharon set our pace for the beginning of the ride. Poor Sean. Ha! In a nutshell, Day 5 started in the beautiful town of Vail, a little Starbucks in the system to get us going, and a beautiful day riding in the mountains. I couldn’t get over how full the rivers were and how green everything was. It was still chilly, but Summer was in the air and the sun was shining bright. We traveled over Battle Mountain, Tennessee Pass and Fremont Pass. Some of the bike paths we rode along were absolutely gorgeous. I feel so blessed to live in this beautiful State. When we arrived at Sean’s place in Frisco, we had an incredible dinner and we all slept like babies.
The plan for Day 6 was to take it easy. Sharon had decided she wasn’t going to race Guanella on Sunday, so it was all me. Sean joked around that I was the “protected” rider. He was really good about keeping me reined in when I wanted to power up a hill. It wasn’t easy to go slow, as strange as that may seem after the big days of riding we had just endured. Sean told me I would thank him on Sunday when I had some legs left for the race. I knew he was right so I did my best to behave. I had never been to Keystone before or over Loveland Pass. It was beautiful! There were actually people skiing as we climbed to the summit. I thought that was wild. I felt great climbing that day. I loved every second of it. When we gathered at the top, however, we didn’t stay up there long because the wind cut right through us. It was very cold up there. We quickly put our layers on and enjoyed a lot of down hill riding into Idaho Springs. That was fun. Floyd Hill was a lovely little bump in the road (Ha!) but it wasn’t horrible because I knew Golden was so close, and that meant my beautiful children and my husband were waiting for me at the finish line.
Ride The Rockies this year was definitely one to remember. I’m so glad we all made it home safely. It is such a huge sense of accomplishment crossing that finish line each year. It’s not only about physical toughness. Finishing a bike tour like this takes heart and mental toughness as well. So many different types of people participate in this event and it amazes me every year how far people push themselves. I see people of all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities out there every day pushing their bodies to the limit. It’s awesome! I look forward to RTR every year and I hope I’m out there pushing myself when I’m a little old lady too.
Katie has quite the collection of State Championship vests! Now she’s got the title for TT too!
I was in the middle of prerace preparation for the Colorado State TT Championship and I was walking back to my car to warm up when I heard a male racer say to his buddy, “Everyone gets lucky at some point.” He was referring to his win at Deer Trail the week prior. I was reminded that it was just the week before that I pulled myself out of the Deer Trail Road Race due to illness. I’m not a quitter so it was a tough decision. I thought I felt fine the morning of the State Road Race Championship, but after one strong attack I started coughing, I was having trouble breathing and my legs were heavy. Brittany Jones and Melissa Langdon were out there and I did not want to leave them, but I realized that I was no use to them anyway. I had to decide, drop out or get sicker. My head was like, “Suck it up!” but my body was like, “You’re done.” There is a time and a place to push oneself on the bike but this was not the time, nor the place. So, I quit. I was frustrated, but what I didn’t know at the time was that maybe it was a blessing in disguise. I took a few days off after that race before I started training again with the State TT Championship in mind.
For the most part, in a time trial you have no idea how the rest of your competition is performing and you don’t know until the end how you match up. It is the race of truth, a race against the clock and a battle within yourself to see how much pain you can withstand for the duration. I like to tell people, it hurts from the very first pedal stroke. It’s as much a mental exercise as a physical one. I placed second for the SW4 in the 2013 State TT Championship but I had upgraded since then. The SW3 lineup for 2014 was stacked; every single one of them was strong. In fact, the majority of the start list had been faster than me all season long, so I had no expectations going into this race.
The winner of the SW3 TT I thought for sure was going to be either Barb Lotze or Nina Donohue – these women are machines and they were performing with times that would rival the Pro 1/2s. They are amazing time trialists and I have a lot of respect for both of them. I have never defeated Nina in a TT and the last time I defeated Barb in a TT was one year ago, at last year’s State TT Championship, where I bested her by only 4 seconds. I hadn’t won against her since. I was fortunate enough to get the final start time for the SW3, 30 seconds behind Barb.
I was surprisingly relaxed at the start line. Barb and I wished each other luck and off we went. As we rounded the second turn and I could tell that Barb was already getting away from me. Then it happened. We were about 4-5 miles in to this 24-mile race and my gears locked up. I couldn’t pedal. “No, no, no, no!” I yelled out loud. I frantically started shifting trying to free the chain and it fell off. I could pedal again but I had dropped the chain. Trying to stay calm, after spinning for a few seconds I somehow was able to pedal it back on. The bike was fine but my ride was not. Barb was catching the rider ahead of her and I was essentially dropped.
I passed the rider who went off 1 minute ahead of me after the first lollipop. After the second turn around we were hit with a massive headwind going all the way back home for 10 miles. The return to the finish was supposed to be slightly down sloped but it didn’t feel like it. I was probably a minute behind Barb at the final turn around – I could barely see her. I felt defeated but I tried to stay focused through all the pain. I certainly wasn’t going to give up.
I don’t have any data on my tt bike, no garmin, no power meter, no cadence, no gradient information, and no speed. All I had to gauge my performance was my heart rate monitor and perceived exertion. As an indoor cycling instructor, I’m used to monitoring my efforts in this way. Lucky for me, most cycling classes are an hour long – nearly the exact time it would take me to complete this race. So I was quite comfortable hammering for an hour. I knew all that spin instructing would pay off at some point! I fought with myself during the majority of the race to stay focused on my heart rate and cadence. I was trying to push the biggest gear I could as fast as I could and I also wanted to keep my heart rate around threshold until the end where I’d push it into overdrive.
Coming into the final two miles I was feeling stronger and I was surprisingly gaining significant ground. There were a few curves ahead before the final drag into the finish. I don’t know who I was talking to but I said out loud, “Give me the legs.” I stayed aero around those curves and dropped into a bigger gear. We passed the 1k marker and I thought to myself, we are running out of real estate, I have to start my push early can’t wait until 200m. Barb was now within striking distance and I gave it everything I had. I watched her cross the finish line and started counting down from 30, which was our start gap; if I could get to that line before I reached zero I might have a shot at the podium, but the win wasn’t even on my radar.
After the race I met up with Melissa Westergard and we headed over to the results area together. I saw my coach, Sue Lloyd. I gave her a hug and asked if she’d won. Of course she did. She broke the news to me that I had also won my category. I did not believe her. I was in shock. There was no way. I had to go see for myself. Indeed, I’d won by 6 seconds. The spread between first second and third was 13 seconds, so it was very close. We were very clearly equally matched, but I guess my sprint was just enough to give me the edge that day. It was an unexpected win, but some days you just get lucky.
Melissa took the road race state championship (and it’s the first race she ever won!). Might as well make it a good one!
This weekend started as all the other race weekends have. Wake up at 5am, leave the house at 6 to get to the race at 7 so that I have 2 good hours to get my number and warm up. As with any race, there is a lot of anxiety that is experienced before the start. What I’ve learned to do is give myself plenty of time for prep. Before this race I warmed up on the road with teammates for a while. I was most concerned about the distance in this race. It’s been a while since I’ve been on my bike for that long, not even considering racing for over 2 hours.
The race started with a neutral rollout through town and the pace started off pretty mellow. For the first 10 miles of the course we had significant rolling hills. I positioned myself in the middle of the pack for the first 4 miles trying to reserve energy. I eventually found myself in the front of the pack for the next 10 miles working for everyone else. Up to this point, no one had made an attack. Everyone was trying to stay together to save themselves from the wind. There were a few girls from Primal who were pulling at the front quite a bit too so I asked one of them if they would lead an attack with me after one of the turnaround points halfway through the course. The plan worked out smoothly. Right after the turn we sprinted for a while trying to create a gap. There were 3 others who joined us. We were facing headwind for the next 10 or so miles but all 5 of us worked together to keep a paceline going at a high tempo and we were able to increase the gap by a few minutes. During the paceline, we had a couple girls drop off the back and then there were 3 of us, our teammate Natalia Ptas and a girl from Boulder Running Company. We knew if we kept the pace consistent that each of us would get on the podium that day so we stayed together battling crosswinds at that point. The last 8 miles were the most challenging with trying to maintain a quickly rotating echelon between 3 people. After the last turnaround in the course I knew we had about 2.5 miles left until the finish. I was feeling really good at that point and felt like I had a lot left to give. I picked up the pace and was able to cross the finish line 1st, something I have never experienced before. The excitement was almost overwhelming realizing that I had actually finally won a race. I’m so thankful for the girls I raced with that day that gave everything they had to keep our small group together and finish strong.
Natalia and Melissa worked the State Road Race Championships to bring home a jersey! Here’s the story of how they got the top step on the podium at Deer Trail.
Deer Trail is a small farm town on eastern planes one hour from Denver. The area is famous for its rolling terrain and crosswinds. I like to think that long, endurance races are my strength but you never know what can happen while racing, and as I was driving to the race all I could think about was getting dropped and time-trailing the entire 42-mile race. I arrived at the race with no expectations.
We lined up at the start line and were led through the town by the official on his motorcycle. Once we turned onto the county road the race was on. The SW4 field was relatively small, only 18 of us, and just one other girl from Naked. The pace was moderate and the field stayed in a close pack so the wind didn’t seen as strong. Melissa and I talked about strategy and even got few girls from other teams on board. About 25 miles into the race one girl from Primal team attacked. Melissa and two others followed but I got stuck behind a girl who had to get off her bike when turning around the cone. I knew this was my only chance so I pushed really hard and after fighting the wind I caught up with them. The five of us sprinted until we were far enough from the pack and felt safe. We formed a pace line and worked really well together. After few miles one of the girls dropped off and I started to feel fatigued and wanted to drop off as well. What kept me going was my teammate’s encouraging words and the scary thought of being left behind in the wind all alone. Melissa and I kept pushing each other and if it wasn’t for her I would be left behind.
It was only nine miles to the finish line when it was only the three of us. I looked behind and I saw nobody and I couldn’t believe how the race turned out. We knew we were safe so we slowed down a bit and gave our legs a little rest. At that point we knew we got this, but we still didn’t know who would win the final sprint. When we approached the 1km sign Melissa took off and I knew I couldn’t catch her. Margot from Boulder Running Company team and I raced to the finish but she was just a little bit stronger and I finished 6 seconds behind her. When I crossed the finish line I still couldn’t believe what just happened. For me this was my first podium road racing this season and I couldn’t have asked for better company on the podium. I was so proud of my teammate winning the State Championships. This by far was my favorite race so far this season, not only because I got my first medal, but because we strategized, executed, and won. This truly was a team effort.
Lanier talks crashing, how to overcome to get back in the race, and why you should never live a life fully out of fear.
I was in a crash during a race 2.5 weeks ago, resulting in a fractured rib. When I first got up, adrenaline was doing its job and I thought my front wheel sustained all the damage. But the pain increased by the day and x-rays later that week confirmed that I was looking at yet another recovery period this season. I already worked through 4 weeks of muscular damage recovery this spring from a minor fall during a break in racing. So the mental path was familiar: initial optimism that recovery would be short, followed by frustration when my body does not share that optimism, then slow painful efforts on the bike to avoid losing every last shred of fitness that I worked so hard to obtain. Training rides are again exercises in pain tolerance. Racing plans are postponed. My weekly yoga and strength routine is disrupted. I am in a funk.
I remind myself that I am lucky, that several competitors’ injuries were far worse. At least I can ride! One long-time riding friend who has ridden centuries with broken ribs, explains exactly what to expect and gives me a pep talk in his gruff way: “It’s just pain management, Lanier. You’re tough. Just ride your bike.” I arrange a ride with him. My coach tells me to refocus my short-term goals: “Remember what you love about riding before you started racing, and do that. Lead those beginner rides, commute and enjoy the scenery. Just ride your bike.” I sign up to lead more beginner rides, begin commuting to work and plan the MS Ride this weekend with Jenifer. Endorphins are working their magic and the pain is reduced. My spirits improve.
Several have asked if I am scared to race again. The answer is no. I have fallen more outside of races than in them. Using feedback from others, I think through what I can do differently to reduce the chances of going down in the future. There is risk in riding and racing our bikes. There is also risk driving a car or walking across the street. I will do everything I can to mitigate those risks. But I never want to give up living my life fully out of fear.
So if I am afraid when I line up for my next race, I will remember another racing friend’s words. It was my first race back after the first injury, and despite my excitement to race again I was worried my muscles would lock up. He asked, “Can you race?” When I responded yes, he said “Then just go race your bike.” So I did, and I will.
Melanie took to the hills ad represented Naked for the Guanella Pass Hill Climb in the uber competitive Women’s Pro 1/2 Category. Read her report here:
The climb up Guanella Pass outside of Georgetown is beautiful, rife with ponds, reservoirs, gushing waterfalls and scenic views every time you turn a corner — I didn’t notice any of it.
That happens in bike racing, in this case the State Hill Climb Championships at Guanella Pass. You’re so focused on turning the pedals over, breathing or catching the wheel in front of you that you don’t see anything else.
The race started out as a near disaster for me. Organizers staged the racers earlier than expected, and I did not have time to warm up. There were 8 women in the 1/2 category, and we all shivered under cloudy skies waiting for our wave to be sent off on the 11-mile climb.
As we started, a few girls sprinted off, and I fully felt the consequences of my lack of warm-up. There was no power in my legs, and the initial switchbacks, which hit 12 % grade, made my lungs burn. The entire field left me in a matter of minutes, and in my head I imagined EVERYONE from all the juniors to the tandems passing me.
I was going to be dead last.
To my relief, my legs woke up after about 10 minutes and I set to work catching up. I did slowly for the next 45 minutes, picking off all the riders who had passed me earlier.
The last couple miles were a struggle as the pitch got steeper, and being above treeline, the air was frigid and the wind was gusting. I finished 5th in my category and just in time to see other Naked Racing women in the 3 and 4 categories come trickling through the finish line.
Talk about a mountain top experience! I strongly recommend checking out this climb when not racing — the road is in great condition and the scenes are phenomenal!
Kimberley has had some ample time off the bike due to suffering a broken neck but she’s back on the bike! We couldn’t be more thrilled! In the meantime, you can read about her progression on her blog from Gila, to injury, to back in business!
Our ladies crushed the Cat 3/4 Tour of the Gila, and even worked to get on the podium! Read more about the epic race from Jamie – one of our fastest climbers (and she proves it on that last stage)!
Before we knew it, May arrived and we found ourselves in Silver City, New Mexico. Our 4-day adventure was about to begin. Five women from Naked Women’s Racing, Elena Alarcon, Lanier Allen, Jamie Gilmore, Nadiya Mitelman and Leslie Young, were ready to start the Tour of the Gila. The 4-day stage race is known for the challenging climbs and tough competition. In order to prepare for such a race, we knew we had to train both mentally and physically. Fortunately, we had two veterans of the race, Lanier and Nadiya, to help us prepare and be ready to race strong.
In our preparations for the race, Lanier and Nadiya shared valuable advice, and important considerations that proved to be essential for us:
- Focus on being in the pack, but towards the front. Out of trouble, but not working.
- If we found we were on the front, others would let us stay there as long as we let them, so slow down to conserve energy and eventually get another rider to come around.
- Communicate consistently throughout the race to adapt to the rapid changes that would unfold.
- Know we would be racing with fierce competition; be prepared for lots of attacks, aggressive riders and be ready to race smart and with awareness.
Stage 1 – Fort Bayard Inner Loop Road Race – 61.3 miles with 4,595 ft of climbing
The race began in a tiny little town called Pinos Altos with a total of 26 women on the start line. With 5 women, Naked was by far the largest team and there were 4 more women from Colorado. At the start we had a plan to stay safe, throw in some attacks, ride strong and have fun. The day started with a quick descent followed by a 5 mile Category 3 climb. We quickly integrated ourselves into the field and enjoyed the scenic climb with the pack through the Gila National Forest. The fast, technical descent split the field nearly in half, and 15 women continued together through the rolling terrain of the next 25 miles. As the final 16 miles approached, the pace picked up to break the field in two again over the final Category 3 climb.. A group of 15, holding Elena, Jamie, Nadiya and Lanier, quickly fell to 6. Both Jamie and Elena held in with the lead group, which was climbing strong and fast. Elena did an amazing job pacing in the front on the climb and the descent, with Jamie right behind her, to ensure Naked was near the front for the finish. Most of the women stayed together on the descent as well, and it was clear there was going to be a good battle at the finish. Coming into one of the final corners, Elena was nearly thrown into the concrete median and lost momentum, but Jamie held on for the sprint finish and ended up in 2nd! Elena ended with a strong 5th. Lanier and Nadiya were not far behind finishing strong.
Unfortunately, Leslie ended the stage with a broken elbow after crashing in the same corner that nearly took Elena out less than a mile from the finish line. She would have finished soon after Lanier since she had dropped her two racing companions on the second climb. She smiled her way through the pain and wanted to cheer us on for the next 3 days. We couldn’t have asked for a better teammate!
Stage 2 – Dan Potts Memorial Tyrone Individual Time Trial – 16.15 miles with 1,188 ft of climbing
The individual time trial is a true physical and mental challenge. This is especially true of the time trial at Gila, which starts with a 4.5 mile Category 4 climb up and over Little Burro Pass. There are a couple small rollers before the turnaround, and then you hit the shorter but steeper 1.5 mile climb back up Little Burro. Obviously, when you start with a climb, you finish with a downhill! Wind is usually a huge factor in this stage, but we were extremely lucky with a calm afternoon. The best part of this stage was starting on the time trial ramp with someone holding your bike. Certainly makes you feel a bit “pro”.
We ended with another strong day of racing. Elena, who’s favorite event is the time trial, finished 4th to bring her up to solid 4th in the GC. Lanier came in 5th, moving up to 13th in the GC. Nadiya came in 10th to hold her 12th position in the GC. And Jamie, totally retro on her road bike with no aero bars or helmet, came in 13th and moved to 6th in the GC. Next year we will beg, borrow or steal the right equipment for her!
Stage 3 – Downtown Silver City Criterium – 12.9 miles (12 laps)
The crit was a 1.08 mile course with 4 fairly decent corners. There was 1 short hill that certainly had the legs burning right when you reached the top, and then a roller coaster of a downhill that spit you right over the next bump in the road. The descent and last corner onto the finishing street was a fast one. There were 3 primes in this crit. Two of them went to the race leader, but Elena decided to play a bit, and managed to win one as well. Once again, the Naked team raced strong, stayed safe and finished the day maintaining strong GC positions.
Stage 4 – Gila Monster Road Race – 68.9 miles with 5,610 ft of climbing
They certainly saved the best and the most difficult day for last! It’s the reverse route from Stage 1, but they start you in town for a few extra miles. So the technical descent from Stage 1, is now the nearly 10 mile Category 2 climb that determines the Queen of the Mountains! Going into this stage, Elena was sitting in 4th, 2:54 sec off the leader, but only 53 seconds off a 3rd place podium spot. Jamie was 7th, and 4:59 sec off the leader. Everyone wanted Naked on the podium, and we knew it was going to be a tough day. There was a real opportunity for us to launch some attacks and make an exciting day of racing! Jamie made a plan to attack at the base of the Gila monster to shake the field and change the overall GC positions. There’s a descent right before the climb and Jamie took lead of the pack a few miles out and led into the climb. From the very base of the climb, a very determined Jamie launched her attack and completely obliterated the field. Elena desperately tried to stay with her, but happily watched her ride away from everyone! She took one look back early on, and then it was see ya later. Her attack was a great success. She held off the overall race leader who had won nearly everything (every stage, nearly every sprint and prime) and won the most difficult stage of the race by nearly a minute! She also gained enough time back to come in 2nd in the overall GC. Of course, Leslie was at the finish to witness this impressive win and be the first to celebrate with Jamie. Elena was able to maintain her 4th place in the GC. Nadiya’s descending speed and skill were brilliant again that final day. She hung in with the lead pack to help out Jamie and Elena, and finished 12th overall in the GC. Lanier also raced strong, and finished 14th overall in the GC.
As we all finished, we were greeted with the cheering smile and voice of Leslie. What a treat it was to have such an enthusiastic supporter.
The incredible opportunity for us to race Gila as part of the Naked Women’s Racing team enabled us to gain invaluable knowledge. The opportunity for us to race hard, adjust quickly to fast changing race conditions, and be a part of an encouraging team has elevated us as racers and we are excited to apply what we learned to all our future races.
Sometimes it is just as fun to not race, though we had plenty of opportunities with the Maverick Stage Race and Rumble at 18 Road MTB race. Camp was the great kick-off to the season and a reminder that being a team can still be fun even without racing.
Team camp top 10:
- Wind sucks but it is better to ride in a team, especially behind Katie
- Criteriums are more fun when you are watching from the beer garden
- Wardrobe malfunctions do not happen just in superbowls
- Costco is a wonderful bartender
- Jen is still gluten free after 27 hours (only because we include sleep time)
- “If you can’t ride it, walk the next 5 feet” Cathy (when mtbing at Mary’s Loop). Best advice of the day.
- Nadiya takes the 3rd step in the Grand Junction crit
- Pigs are smarter than dogs
- Surprise rain storm turned to gorgeous day on the tacky trails and road
- MTBing requires just as much commitment as skill
Kerri, Jen, Cathy, Elizabeth, Katie and Amanda
Continuing her Roadie Series, Rachel shares some tips with you to help hold your position in the pack. You worked hard for that spot, so here’s how to keep it!
BEST TACTICS FOR HOLDING YOUR POSITION IN THE PACK
First, read this blog post from the Norcal Cycling News on how to hold your position in the pack. Oldie but a goodie. Some very good pointers here and will set the groundwork for the rest of my blog post. Seriously, required reading before diving into specific tactics.
As we all know, our competitors have certain strengths. If you don’t know these riders and their strengths and weaknesses, be sure to watch them and find out. It’s usually pretty clear. But, as we’ve also seen in our own riders, we each have strengths we didn’t know about. So, we don’t want to get trapped into ANY expectation for ANY rider. Including ourselves. So while some of these tips are just scenarios, each could end a million different ways. This is just what I perceive (and my coaches perceive) are best practices so to speak. Intrigued? Read on!
BEST TACTICS TO HOLDING YOUR POSITION IN A BREAK
So, you find yourself in a break … what are the “best” tactics? In a break, you must be honest with yourself … and the question is this:
“What can I do in this break that will give my team the best chance at winning the race?”
So what are those some answers?
- drive the break
- sit on the break
- attack the break
- be conservative in the break
- kill the break
- sacrifice for a teammate in the break
- attack for the win from the break
- repeat 7.
- never, ever get dropped from the break. Ever.
and, so on.
- – - – -
“So I’m in a break with a sprinter, she’ll beat me…what do I do?”
Good question. First answer: don’t work with him/her. Unless you make the decision that you are happy with second if you can’t beat this gal/guy, then take whatever you can out of the situation. Because, sometimes second is as best our team is going to get. Them’s just the honest facts
However, for the vast majority of races, the proper tactic is to put your team in the best situation to win the race. And so, that may mean killing a break that has a sprinter who will beat you in it. But what if you have a teammate with you against that feared sprinter? Well then, I think you know you can beat her then.
- – - – -
“I’m strong in the break, but no one will work with me?”
Well, I have to be honest with you, 99% of the time if a girl isn’t working in a break, it’s because she can’t. Everybody, I mean EVERYBODY wants to be seen as strong, it’s as simple as that. If there’s ever a rider who’s sitting on you for a reason other than she’s tired or that her team tactics dictate it … well, those are what we deem as wheelsuckers and they will get branded as such.
But, the honorable riders don’t sit on unless there’s a valid reason to do so. If you have a teammate up the road, it’s almost always suitable to sit on chasing riders. If you can’t win the race out of a 2-up move and you don’t want your team to settle for second, it’s ok to sit on that rider. etc.
And so, back to the original question – you’re strong, but the riders won’t work in the break. Well, maybe the best tactic is to kill the break immediately so you can re-absorbed in the pack and try and attack out again with a more favorable set of conditions for you.
- – - – -
“I’m in a 4-person break and I might be the weakest rider. Should I work or wait for teammates?”
The answer to this question will answer a lot of your questions about whether to work for a teammate, or what you should do as a teammate when one of your other ladies is up the road.
Anyone who does the work to get into a break or ANY of your teammates who does the work to get into a break deserves to get a result out of that break. We love winning, but we love the chase of the win more. Meaning, if one of our teammates gets in a break, let’s support their chance at a result. The reasoning behind this is obvious. If we all share the work, we’ll all share the chances at being that rider either in the break, or positioned well for a field sprint.
Any examples you can share? Let us know!