Read Emma, Amy, and Tori’s account of the week, during which our qualifying athletes won the Club/DII Omnium, got 3rd place in the Team Time Trial, and won a National Criterium Championship.
This year, we sent four riders to Collegiate Nationals in Grand Junction, CO, where the races were held for the second year in a row. For Amy and Sarah, this was their first trip to nats, while Emma and I (Tori) had gone once before. Accompanying us on the trip was our coach Nicole, and Youyang, who had just graduated from MIT, and conveniently for us, moved out to Denver for his new job. The first day was dedicated to traveling. With a flight and a 4 hour drive through the mountains in CO ahead of us, we got an early start. But Amy and I made sure to practice our TTT technique with this dinosaur we found at a rest stop along the drive.
The next day was dedicated to preparing for the races and pre-riding. The six of us drove out to the TTT course, which was in a different (and thankfully, less windy) location from last year. After practicing a few rotations, and doing some openers, we felt ready to race! Emma, Nicole, and I proceeded to drive around the RR course, which was the same as last year, but gave us a great chance to refresh our memories, and strategize.
Here’s a recap of the road race by Emma:
I was both excited and nervous to take on this road race course. The nerves came partially from not wanting to crash out again (last year I crashed 3.5 miles into the race…) and partially from knowing the competition would be incredibly strong. The excitement came because it’s a beautiful course, we had a rolling enclosure, and I felt on good form!
The course was the same this year as last year, but the start/finish line had moved to the top of a short, steep hill in the middle of a longer, mostly false-flat section. I knew that that short, steep hill, as well as another slightly longer and steeper hill on the back section of the course, would be the main difficulties. We would go around the course 3 times in total. We started out at a reasonable pace, and when I made it down the first descent (where I had crashed last year) without incident I started to calm down a little bit. The first time up each hill was steady, not crazy, and the pack mostly stayed all together. The next lap, the hill on the back stretch lit things up and a ~10-woman break formed. The paceline was actually pretty disorganized (maybe partially due to the fact that for the most part we had never raced with each other before), and a few riders were shelled from the break. I was feeling really tired as soon as we hit the false-flat section. So when someone put in another effort up the short climb to the finish, on the second lap, I was shelled from the break. I tried my hardest to catch back on, but I couldn’t do it. At that time there were 6 girls still in the break ahead of me. I knew we had put some time into the field but wasn’t sure I could hold them off for an entire lap. Another rider that had been dropped from the break caught up to me and we worked well together for half a lap. Going into the climb on the back stretch for the last time, the moto told us the break was 2 minutes up the road and the pack was 1 minute behind. Though I later found out that “pack” meant about 10 people! Anyways, the girl I had been working with showed some signs of struggle and I knew I couldn’t afford to wait for her. I pushed on and TT-ed my way to the finish line. I just kept thinking that if I had been caught all of the work I had done would be for nothing! Every time I looked behind I could see the group of girls inching closer, but I put my head down and worked as hard as I could, and thank goodness didn’t get caught! I ended up in 7th.
I was disappointed to have been dropped from the winning break, but I knew I had tried my hardest. It also made me feel better that, of the 6 women that finished ahead of me, 5 were from schools at altitude. Of course I’m not trying to diminish their achievements… and winners/ podium finishers from other fields were from schools not at altitude! But it’s always good to have an excuse, right? ☺
Tori had a nightmare for the second year in a row at this nationals road race and ended up on a neutral bike (again, for the second year in a row) after her chain dropped hitting a big bump in a corner, and subsequently getting tangled and stuck. She really deserves some good bike karma soon! But she finished the race like a champion!
The course was really beautiful, and I was extremely glad that there were no bad crashes this year. I’m so glad to have completed my first nationals road race!
The second day of racing featured the TTT. Having ridden together as much as possible over the course of the season, and even before it started, we felt confident that we could work really well together as a team, and coach Nicole had prepared us extremely well by talking through every part of the race beforehand, and helping us decide what to do in case of various unexpected situations.
Here’s Amy’s race report from the TTT:
Saturday was the team time trial. The course was a 19-mile relatively-flat out-and-back, with a headwind on the way out, and a steady climb for the last mile. We suffered a few minor mishaps near the start of the race: the “holders” who keep your bike balanced for you so that you can start the race already clipped into your pedals did not inspire a lot of confidence, leaving some of us uneasy and me not clipped in when our time trial started; and, a few minutes later, Sarah dropped her chain, but was able to salvage the situation by quickly shifting back up again.
The rest of the first half passed relatively uneventfully, and we were relieved to complete the U-turn and have the wind at our backs. Even so, the race was above 5,000 feet elevation, and we could feel the effects of the altitude. By the time we started the final climb, we had dropped a rider. During the climb we suffered an amusing miscommunication in which I, going about as fast as I could, said “no faster,” which Emma misheard as “faster!” Emma, who was leading and also didn’t feel that she could go faster, then told me to lead, and was quite bemused when I got to the front huffing and puffing and going no faster than she was! Nevertheless, we soon reached the finish line, coming in third, 21 seconds behind first place and three minutes ahead of fourth place.
The third and final day was the criterium – a fast, flat, 6-corner course around downtown Grand Junction. Once again, Nicole had made sure we were ready for basically any scenario we could hope to see in the race, and so now we just had to go an execute it.
My assigned starting position was unfortunately near the back of the group, but I worked hard in the first few laps to make up positions. The riders at the front kept the pace really high, and people were starting to drop off the back. After a rider crashed in the corner in front of me, I temporarily lost the group but put in a big effort and caught back on to what was now a narrowed down group. Unfortunately, a similar situation happened again a few laps later, and this time, I wasn’t able to get back to the group. I ended up in a chase group of about 10 riders with several fellow ECCC riders. We were not far behind the break of 8, which included Emma, and the strongest women of the Rocky Mountain cycling conference. Knowing Emma was up the road, I sat in on the chase group and let the other riders take pulls. It was a motivated group, and we were within sight of the break, but they were able to stay away. I sprinted from this group for 14th overall. I was satisfied with my race, but was even more excited after I finished my race, and realized how Emma’s race had gone!
Here is the race from Emma’s perspective:
Well, writing this race report more than a month after the fact, I think everything may have finally just sunk in. This was by far the best result I’ve ever had, and it was honestly one of the best days of my life!
To be honest, I wasn’t as excited about the crit as the road race and team time trial going into Nationals. Last year the crit had a bunch of crashes, and it came down to a group sprint. But possibly this lack of pressure is what enabled me to do so well!
The night before the crit, Coach Nicole went through the entire race with Tori and me, talking through different possibilities and what we would do in different scenarios. The plan was for me to try to get in any break (especially with CU Boulder girls, since they had gone 1-2 in the RR and TT and had 3 very strong women, as well as CU Denver girls, who had been 3 and 6 in the RR and both top 5 in the TT), and if that failed I would lead Tori out in the group sprint. She walked us through where we should be with 5 laps to go, 2, 1, and at the last corner. The next morning, we measured where 200 meters was on the course.
The crit was a pan flat, 6 corner crit in downtown Grand Junction. It was a great atmosphere, with cafes and shops all around the course and tons of people watching. The biggest difficulty was turn 4, which went from a large road to a much smaller one, with potholes and, mostly notably, a bunch of car grease on the ground. This is where Anne and Tori both crashed last year, so we were understandably very cautious about this corner.
I lined up in the second row and so was immediately at the front in a great position. There were a few early attacks, and two separate breaks formed but I let some of the bigger schools chase them down. The pack whittled down in the first half but I stayed comfortably in the front. About halfway through the race, I saw an opportunity (I think after a prime if I remember correctly…) and attacked. I only stayed away for about half a lap, but when I looked at the group when they caught me there were only ~9 of us, including the 3 Boulder girls and 2 Denver girls. I knew that, if a break was going to stick, it would be this one.
We worked together really well together, but at 7 laps to go I heard a crash behind me (at that evil corner), and all of a sudden there were only 3 left. I had no idea what to do because I wasn’t sure if free laps were still available, and I also didn’t know how far behind the pack was. It turned out that it was the last lap where free laps were a thing, so most of those girls got back on. The pace in the break eased up in the last couple laps, and I was nervous that the group would catch us. But there were a few last-minute attacks that really picked the pace up. With ~1.5 laps to go, the girl from CU Boulder who had won the RR and TT attacked, and I think took some of the other girls by surprise. A girl from CSU (who was the same girl I had worked with the in the RR!) jumped on her wheel and I got on the CSU girl’s wheel. The pace was super high, so that order stayed the same until the last corner. The CSU girl jumped right at the corner. I had come in 2nd quite a few times this year thanks to jumping and sprinting too early, so I forced myself to be as patient as I could, and came around her with ~150 (or less!) meters to go. I couldn’t believe it when I crossed the finish line and no one had come around me! I screamed (my friend later described it as primal) in disbelief!
I ran over and found Nicole, Youyang, and Amy and screamed a bit more and hugged them all a lot. I couldn’t believe it or really make any coherent sentences because I was just smiling and laughing. Tori came around in the second group and when she saw me she came rushing at me and hugged me. It was a pretty special moment to share with someone who has been my teammate for a couple years now. Throughout the season, Tori has on countless times helped to control the chase when I was in the break, lead me out for a sprint, and just in general been an awesome teammate. And in addition to this we’ve spent many hours training together.
Tori finishing up: So all in all, we walked away from nationals with Emma’s National Criterium Championship, her 2nd overall in the individual omnium, a 3rd place the the TTT, and a win in the team omnium. It was a truly incredible weekend for the team. Before I sign off on this post, I want to send special thanks to our Coach Nicole, who helped with many things throughout the trip, but especially helped us make strategies for the races that were undoubtedly a big factor in the team’s success. Also to Youyang – who lent his equipment, mechanical expertise, and curry-making skills throughout the weekend. It was awesome to have him around. And lastly to Berk! Unfortunately we couldn’t field a men’s team this year, but Berk was instrumental in planning and supporting, and even brought us carrot bread when he picked us up at 5 am to take us to the airport. We couldn’t have done it without help from so many people!