I do silly things in long road races when things are dull. Last week at Pescadero road race, I came up to Melanie during the first 10 miles of the race, proclaimed my boredom, and told her I was going to get the peloton up to speed after which she should attack. We accomplished our mission, but I promptly got dropped from doing too much 10 miles later. A month ago at Berkeley Hills, on the last lap after it became clear Molly Van Howling would stay away for the victory, I came up to Melanie and told her we had to organize our trip out to Tulsa Tough in June. See? Silly things.
To be fair, going to Tulsa seemed a good idea at the time. I was craving big, fast crits, and I’d wanted for years to do the races in Tulsa. The event itself is a fantastic weekend of downtown crit racing with a classic Route 66 atmosphere. Fans (in numbers that far exceed any race in NorCal) come in droves to watch some of the top crit racing talent in the country. So clearly with a naive, but gungho attitude we had no choice but to saddle up and head west.
What I couldn’t have anticipated was that the following week my personal life would be upended and I would spend the three weeks before Tulsa barely training. In the end, I came to the races straight from 24 hours in LA and barely any time in the prior 5 days on the bike. Nonetheless, Tulsa Tough was a great time and we enjoyed many “Folsom Style” adventures including: sleeping 3hrs in the airport on couches before a 5AM flight, leaving luggage at the security checkpoint and then sprinting back from the gate to TSA, driving and trying to park a boatsized Kia Sedona minivan and and scrambling to locate a Trek dealer for parts thanks to Fedex’s notsogentle handling of Melanie’s bike just hours before we roll to the startline (we like to refer to this final situation as “channeling your dinner Diane” who always seems to have to rebuild her entire bike the night before a race).
Friday’s course was a flat, 8-corner affair. All the corners were wide and sweeping; the speeds were fast, and I felt so lucky to finally be part of this giant party about which I’d heard so much over the years. It seems everyone in Tulsa is invested in this event. As we pinned numbers onto our jerseys, a spectator came over to ask where we’d travelled from, and whether this was our first time in Tulsa. I’d never before been to a race where the general public treats riders like celebrities! The courses were lined with screaming fans and music. I was so happy to be there, I didn’t even care that I slid out and crashed with 3 laps to go. While fast, the race didn’t hurt too much, and I found it relatively easy to move around throughout the race. With 6 laps to go, I moved up to 3rd wheel, but then started to doubt my place at the front of the race. I started to lose focus and then dumbly took myself out. My bike and I were thankfully fine and Melanie managed to finish safely with the pack.
Frank Lloyd Wright house just blocks from where we stayed!!
So we’d survived the first night. And Saturday, it turns out, was an excellent chance to begin our appreciation of Tulsa’s amazing architecture. Unbeknownst to either Mel or me before this trip, the city features a number of buildings built in classic 1920s styling during the booming years of Oklahoma oil and gas. Not only is the downtown noteworthy for its building design, but many of the neighborhoods also have stunning, huge homes. Including one designed by Frank Lloyd Wright less than a mile from our host house! We were lucky to have JL Velo’s Marissa Axell as a tour guide during this trip. She was participating in her 5th year at Tulsa Tough. She shared the hospitality of her host family on Saturday night, where we enjoyed a delicious dinner with delightful company in an ornate mansion built around 1910. And oh yes there was a race before said dinner on Saturday. The course was L-shaped, the weather hot, and the pace high. My lack of training started to catch up with me, and despite a great start and good vibes early on, by the second half of the race, I was just trying to survive. I focused on taking good lines, moving up with little energy, and ignored the pain in my body. Mel had a great finish, but I just exploded on the last lap.
And then came Sunday the queen stage in this 3 day crit event! On Sunday at Tulsa Tough, racers get to tackle Cry Baby Hill, a short climb lined with Tour de France style spectators the peloton breaks through like Moses parting the Red Sea. On the hill, riders hear a wall of screaming, music, and vuvuzelas while the heat of hundreds of drunk party goers radiates off into the road. It’s magical. I was incredibly disappointed in myself to have an old quad injury flare up, because this is the kind of race that I live for. I’m especially disappointed because this injury presents itself when I don’t roll out or stretch enough. If I actually got regular massages, I’m sure it wouldn’t be an issue. But the tell tale signs started only five minutes into the race my left leg went numb, and a dull ache developed. Soon I was unable to deliver any power to the pedals, despite willing myself with every fiber of my being to do so. I had to give up, take a beer from a lovely spectator and watch Mel crush the rest of the race until she too could not continue the torture any longer.
In the end, I’m glad I got to experience Tulsa Tough before hanging my wheels up. It was an experience we’ll never forget and Mel is already planning on returning next year for Cry Baby Hill part II. After this season, I’m done bike racing for a bit. I need to finish my PhD and get a move on my scientific career! There are very few things in my life for which I’ve felt such a deep, all consuming, internal motivation to pursue. Bike racing is one of those things. Biology research is another. For the past 11 years, so many of my life decisions where to live, what kind of science to pursue, where to go to graduate school were influenced by my desire to be part of a vibrant cycling community with time to race my bike. Cycling has taught me what can be accomplished when you work every day for years at something you absolutely love. But two years ago, I decided I didn’t love cycling enough to go pro, because something else in my life research was calling. I’m so looking forward to being able to focus on one passion now, and being able to see how far I can get when I work very hard, every day, for years on my science career.