One of the only redeeming part of Army’s weekend last year amidst the hill-climb ITT and the hilly-though scenic road race, was the Stadium Crit – a venue where spectators could view all the action and where I had a blast, despite finishing dead last (check out the recap here). This year, due to an event in the stadium, that crit was to be replaced with a circuit race. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go –academically I was in between two hell-weeks, an awful lot of hills haunted the weekend, and as week 5 of 8, I thought it would be a good weekend to skip so I wouldn’t get burnt out on bikes. The road captains saw my hesitation and encouraged me to take the time off if I thought I needed it. As fate would have it, however my best friend Becca Greene, who I had been encouraging to come out and race all season decided that Army would be her first weekend. I had no choice, friendship prevailed and I signed up for the weekend.
Boy am I glad I did!
(It turns out I also had an unwarranted prejudice against circuit races – this one was essentially a crit, with crit scoring and only one stretch of road with the yellow-line rule, earning its title as a circuit race. I also had to realize that since I wasn’t contesting green, the race was really more of a scratch race with primes for chamois butter than a points race.)
Alright, enough preamble, time for the actual race report:
Just before the race, Coach Nicole gathered Corey, Jen, Shaena and me in the Barge for a race strategy meeting. We had a critical mass of women in this race that we had a very real opportunity to employ some good team tactics. After debating strengths and different potential strategies, we finally decided on one, knowing that if it failed we would have to be flexible. The goal was to wait for the third prime. I would go for it, ideally get it with Shaena on my wheel and then she would attack and then hopefully get a break if she was alone or Michelle or Leslie went with her. Then I would get to block and she would duke it out for the finish. If her break failed then Jen and Corey would try to be there and trade attacks. Once Shaena and I recovered, we would join in trading attacks until someone got away. It was a good plan and it let me practice patients since I have this tendency to jump at things early and waste a bunch of energy trying to be involved in controlling the early parts of the race.
The first half of the race went pretty much as planned. Shaena went for a prime or two, securing her green jersey and I tried to rest as other riders attacked and were brought back by a responsive pack. Aside from kicking a hay bale onto the course on turn one of one of the laps, fish-tailing and staying up, the first half of the race was rather uneventful for me.
The laps went by and suddenly the bell rang for the third prime. I tried to play it cool and worked my way up to the front of the back by the backstretch of highway road. At turn 3, I was in the front with Shaena close by, and at 200m to go, I attacked with Shaena on my wheel. Immediately after I got the prime, Shaena went. Unfortunately, Rose was the one who went with her and then refused to work, sitting up and letting the pack catch. Shaena’s attack was so sudden that Jen and Corey were not in position to trade counter attacks as planned. I was gassed from the sprint so it took me a minute to recover. When I got up to the front again, I attacked and Shaena traded a counter attack trying to split the field. The field, however, was very responsive. Other riders also launched attacks after that but the pack always chased and caught.
Well so much for that strategy. With two or three laps to go, I got to the front to see if Shaena wanted to try to get away one last time and if I could help by giving her an attack to counter. She did not and indicated that we should just try to rest for the bunch sprint instead.
And so we decided to wait for the end, where the last 10 seconds define an hour of tactical racing. As other riders went for the double-points final prime, I chilled in the pack. One lap to go. I took the last lap to position myself to the left of Shaena’s wheel. At 400m Shaena went and Gabby from Army and I were on her wheel (I was to left, she to the right.) With about 175m, I went and didn’t look back.
The finish line came and I did a bike throw out of habit. I didn’t know who was around me or how the field was responding. It was only after that I realized that Rose and this Kutztown trackie had finished with the same time as me but a bike length behind!! What a good lead out! My first Women’s A mass start win! A rider came up to us after the race and expressed how thrilling it was to actually get to see people utilizing team tactics well.
And so, despite getting dropped on the hill in the following day’s road race, I am so so thankful that friendship persuaded me to race this weekend! (It didn’t even matter that that particular friend got in quite late the night before and actually missed my win, sleeping in the car.) I got to prove to myself that I could be patient and that I could be competitive in a sprint against this field. As Coach Nicole reminded me after the race: it’s one thing to say or think that you could do well in a sprint given the right circumstances and another thing to prove it.