When my old Davis teammate and close friend Breezer Hill drove me to the airport for my flight out to Nationals, I confessed that I was worried about the small things that can unpredictably ruin a race — flat tires, crashes, equipment failures. She replied with some sound wisdom, telling me that although those possibilities exist, I was still coming into the race with the potential to win. Sure, Breezer said, everything has to come together to have a perfect race. But you can’t have a perfect race unless you’ve completed the months of training beforehand. Luckily, I had three almost perfect races at Collegiate Nationals in Richmond this past weekend.
Friday featured an 18 mile time trial that first took riders out and back along brick streets lined with beautiful old row houses. After some technical turns, we then headed over the James River on a bridge that was extremely windy. A short punchy climb followed by a tricky descent back onto the other side of the bridge brought us back across the river to more turns, a fast downhill, and a kicker of a hill up to the finish. The end of the race actually came after 700 meters of false flat following the top of the climb. We started the race with a team of four: myself, Sara Enders, Sarah Beard, and Folsom Bike’s Diane Moug. While all of us had raced team time trials together this spring, we’d been struggling to find that perfect balance where each teammember pulls just according to her own abilities. Thankfully, that balance came together on Friday. We had Sarah Beard sit on the back for the first part of the race while Diane, Sara E, and I all rotated through. I was careful to moderate my efforts at the front, as I often pull too hard at the beginning of TTT. When we started our return trip across the bridge, Sarah Beard came through to take a strong pull and launch us across the bridge. From that point on, it was just me, Diane, and Sara E. Both those girls are significantly stronger time trialists than I am, so every time I got to the front I thought, “Don’t screw this up,” while I pulled as hard as I could. We had the smoothest possible race and landed in second place, only 20 seconds behind Marion University’s team.
Saturday’s crtierium took place on city streets in Richmond and was my dream course. A narrow start / finish straight followed by several quick and technical turns, and then a swooping descent which launched riders onto a fatty hill. What more could I ask for?!? Not to mention the fact that for this race, I was lucky enough to have my parents and close friends from undergrad make the trip to watch me race. All I had to do for this race was to keep calm, stay out of trouble, and not think too much. Luckily, outstanding teamwork from Sara Enders made this possibile. Despite having crashed in the early laps of the race, and despite this being her first nationals criterium, Sara just knew what to do. Almost everytime I was in the wind, Sara came to the front and protected me. When prime laps were called, I was careful to sit on Marian University’s train, but I didn’t sprint for any of the primes, instead choosing to conserve energy for the final sprint. With one lap to go, Sara was first wheel, I sat second right on her through the turns, and in the middle of the hill on the backside of the course, Marian launched their leadout. Having anticipated this, I jumped right on Allie Dragoo’s wheel and sat there for the corner at the top of the climb. I knew that before the final turn, stuff would get crazy. And sure enough it did. I sat up to sprint into the final corner, went around it at a terrifying speed and then sprinted with everything I had for 300 meters to the finish line. I was ecstatic to only be beaten by Coryn Rivera from Marian.
The last race of the weekend was a technical road race on Sunday run on a 9.5 mile circuit featuring two cobbled sections: one short and fast descent, and then a couple miles later a short cobbled climb with switch backs. The last kilometer of the race was identical to the team time trial’s finish: a punchy climb followed by a 700 meter false flast drag to the line. The first 6 miles of the circuit were uneventful, with all the fun stuff packed into the end. Given the technicalities of the race and its short distance (we only did 49 miles), I rode it like a crit. I never left the top five of of the peloton. Going into the cobbled descent each time, Stanford’s Eileen Mazzochette would put on the gas and thankfully string out the peloton. Marian also punched it down that descent, so instead of being terrified each time we went down it, I instead got to enjoy how fun the ride was. Positioning on the flat straight was easier than I’d anticipated — collegiate women are definitely less aggressive than the pro fields I’d ridden in at San Dimas or Sea Otter. Each time we entered the climb, I was third wheel and climbed to the top with Coryn and Allie from Marian. On the second to last time up the hill, a group of us finally got good separation from the pack: it was me, Coryn, Allie, Midwestern State’s Jessica Prinner, Cornell’s Lenore Pipes, and Diane. Sadly, Diane got dropped up the second kicker climb up to the start/finish where things started to heat up. As we rode that false flat hearing the bell for one lap to go, I was toasted and just followed wheels. Allie attacked and I just couldn’t jump to her. Shortly thereafter, Coryn decided she’d had enough of staying with us slow ladies, so she also jumped out to join Allie up the road. It was pretty pathetic that neither me nor Jessica nor Lenore had any energy to respond to this one-two punch, but we quickly started working together so that we could assure our 3rd, 4th, and 5th places on the podium. We never went all out in this last lap, since it was pretty obvious that we weren’t going to catch Marian and that the pack was not going to catch us. We just had to maintain a steady tempo to keep a safe distance from any chasers. As we neared the final climbs, we eased up on the gas, starting to conserve for the final sprint. I’m sad to say that I was much too cocky going into that sprint. After having bested both Jessica and Lenore in the previous day’s crit, I thought that I could sit at the front (going easy, of course) and still win. That wasn’t the case, and when Jessica jumped with a little over 200 meters to go, I couldn’t catch her. I did manage to hold off Lenore for 4th place. While I felt stupid after botching that last sprint, I can’t complain about the race overall. This entire weekend has been a dream come true, and it’s been incredibly rewarding to accomplish goals that — to be honest — I set for myself 7 years ago when I was still an undergraduate.