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Cat’s Hill Criterium

Illi Gardner

Cat’s Hill criterium is one of NorCal’s most well-known races with its steep, punchy hill that gets harder every lap. This year I was joined by Amy and Melanie with the rest of the field consisting of a few doubles from other teams and a lot of strong singles. Our start was delayed due to a crash in the previous race, so the first lap was a bit of a shock to the system as Megan Alderete (Hagens Berman–Supermint) charged up the hill and immediately shelled a few riders. It took a couple of laps to get into the rhythm of maneuvering poor road surface and getting into the right gear for the 23% climb. A few laps in, I crested the hill towards the front while Melanie and Amy let a gap open. I went off the front for four or five laps and collected some primes (they were offered nearly every lap!) while Amy and Melanie controlled the pace. Once I was reeled in, Amy attacked and stayed off for quite a while, getting a ton of primes. Eventually we were all back together but the pack had whittled down to seven or eight riders. A few more hard laps and there were five left: Megan Ruble (Cycle Sport-Specialized p/b Muscle Milk), Naomi Hester (JLVelo), and us three. We kept the pace high for the last few laps. Amy and Melanie were great at encouraging me as I tended to ease off as the climb leveled, which is a vital place to keep pressure on the pedals. Going through the right hand turn to the downhill section on the last lap we were strung out. I was sitting third wheel behind Megan and Melanie, with Amy just behind me and Naomi a little further back. I’d been advised to go through the last turn as close to the front as possible since the finishing straight is so short. I risked it and attacked down the right side, rounded the turn first, and held on for the finish with Melanie and Amy right behind. Megan Ruble, who had done a ton of work, finished fourth followed by Naomi. We were really happy with how we worked as a team, especially without any real predetermined plan, and it was, of course, a really fun race!    71388004-5A4A0135Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 2.05.34 PMScreen Shot 2017-05-17 at 2.05.41 PM

2017 San Dimas Stage Race (by Diane)

For the 2017 San Dimas race Illi, Liz, and I (Diane) made the trip down to Southern California for a weekend of racing. This was my fourth year at the race and I had seen improvements every year with my fitness, comfort in the pack, and how to position myself during the road race. This year my fitness wasn’t great, so I was just hoping I could make it through the weekend without race-ending mechanicals like I had the previous 3 years. For Liz and Illi, this was their second year at the race; both were looking forward to fast and aggressive racing. As a bonus we got to re-connect with the race organizers that we had gotten to know in previous years; thanks again Bill and Annette McCusker for welcoming Folsom Bike Women back to San Dimas! A lot of these pictures were taken by Annette – thank you for sharing them with us!

Time Trial

The race starts on Friday with a 4 mile uphill time trial. Liz and Illi were both eager to test their fitness, and improve from the times the previous year. I was just trying to pace myself, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to match my previous performance. I was the last rider to start, and the time trial was as hard as expected. I passed the two riders ahead of me on the way up, so I knew it couldn’t have been that bad. I did show the effort on the way up:

The time trial finished with Liz in 22nd, Illi in 12th, and I surprised myself with 4th place. Krista Doebel-Hickok (Cylance) set the fastest time and had over 1 minute lead over 2nd and 3rd place. I was about 18 seconds back from 2nd and 3rd, and 5 seconds ahead of 5th. We spent the afternoon spinning around the road race course, and having a great time.

Road Race

The San Dimas road race is 8 laps of a ~7 mile circuit. It is like a crit in that positioning is so important at nearly every point during the race. The main feature is a short, steep climb called Hecklers Hill that summits about 3 miles from the finish line.

Liz unfortunately got caught in a crash early on during a fast descent that broke her collar bone. We are hoping for  a very speedy recovery for her!

The race stayed together for the most part, with any attacks quickly chased down by the yellow jersey. A lot of the pack’s focus was on sprint points since GC and QOM points were fairly wrapped up by the yellow jersey.  About half way through the race, there was a separation on Hecklers hill that left me, Illi, the yellow jersey, and a couple of other riders in a promising move. Even though we were all working together, we were caught by the pack. A similar separation happened with just over two laps to go, but again it was brought back by a motivated pack. Illi was outstanding throughout the race, always in great position and being aggressive on the front.

Heading into the final climb, the pack was reduced and stayed together into the final sprint. Heading into the final, no one was motivated to make it fast and sacrifice her chances. Illi ended up on the front and led out the pack to the finish line. I was in good position, and I contested the group sprint for possibly my first time. I again surprised myself by passing girls near the finish line and crossing it in fourth; Illi finished in 12th place; and the yellow jersey took another stage win.

After the finish, we quickly found Liz at first aid, stopped for chocolate, and brought her to the ER.

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Criterium

Heading into the crit, Illi and I were ready to make it aggressive and have fun. We had planned to stay calm to see how things were up until the first points sprint at 20 minutes in, but neither of us stuck to that plan. Illi go onto the front on the first lap and began her attacks – they were often marked by the yellow jersey, but that didn’t deter her. I countered one of her attacks before the fast downhill section and managed to get off the front. I was chased down after a couple of laps, but I did manage to get a time bonus to put a bit more cushion between me and 5th place. Illi kept being aggressive and managed to take some primes as well. The race finished in a fast bunch sprint with Illi taking an impressive 6th place.

In the end, Illi finished 10th in GC and the top ranked junior rider. I held onto my 4th place in GC, my best finish at San Dimas to date.

 

 

 

 

 

Bariani Road Race

Illi Gardner

Bariani road race this year was very hot and very busy with our combined P/1/2/3 field containing around sixty riders. Last year it was incredibly windy and rainy, making for very tough conditions and a shattered field. This year was completely different; wind was low and we knew that breaks would be difficult to stick given the flat nature of the course. Six of us lined up for the 3pm start: Diane, Liz, Senders, Melanie, Amy and me. Sara let us stay over with her in Sacramento after racing Land Park the previous day, which was super fun and convenient. Since we knew that breaks were unlikely, our plan was to hold off on attacking until the latter half of the race and then formulate a leadout train in the last kilometre or two while I conserved energy for the sprint.

Bariani consists of three 13.7 mile loops, flat except for rollers followed by a slight uphill leading into the finish. Centerline rule was enforced until the final straight so we made sure to move to the front as quickly as possible to prevent missed moves. We had a tailwind on the first straight, then we took a right turn on the overpass before another right turn onto a slightly bumpy section with a headwind. Positioning was vital here: attacks were likely and it is always safer to be further up. Melanie, Sara and Diane put in some powerful attacks that were chased down mainly by singles such as Liza Rachetto of Hagens Berman, Lisa Cordova from Cycle Sport, and Clarice Sayle & Amanda Seigle from Jakroo. JLVelo also had a strong showing of 20+ riders.

Melanie put in a very strong attack in the rollers which nearly led to separation but was brought back by the large field. The first part of Lap 2 wasn’t too eventful, although four of us did get a bit of an echelon going in the crosswind. There were a few attacks but it was clear that nothing was going to stick. Unfortunately, ~27 miles into the race there was a big crash which took down around twelve riders including Amy. Some riders managed to chase back on but there were some pretty bad injuries. Hope everyone is okay and healing well!!

Attacks died down on the last lap and the pace was very slow leading into the rollers. Then Melanie and Diane launched a series of attacks along with Sara and Liz. It was getting quite crazy as everyone scrambled to chase and a small group nearly got away. We rounded the final corner with only a few riders shed, but everyone was much more tired so attacking had been a smart more. After the turn was a 1.7 mile slight uphill stretch with a bit of a tailwind. I was meant to get on Sara’s wheel but somewhere along the way I got caught up with other riders and got stuck at the back. Diane rode super strong at the front while Melanie and Liz got on her wheel. I was surrounded on both sides and realized that I had to get out if I wanted to contest the sprint. There were no gaps for me to jump in so I had to brake and come out the back and to the right of the pack. I pulled up till I was around fourth wheel back, but I was stuck to the side with no draft. Sara was just about to help me when I saw Sandra Freeman (JLVelo) come shooting up the right side. I jumped on her wheel and stayed there until the finish was within reasonable distance, then pulled to her left and continued that long, long sprint that seemed to go on forever! Liza Rachetto very very nearly passed me at the finish but I managed to barely hang on. Close behind was Lisa Cordova and Nicole Pressprich (Audi) followed by Sandra Freeman.

Although our leadout train didn’t quite work–completely my fault–it was fun to try new tactics and, apart from Amy’s bad luck :(, it was a good day. Melanie, Diane, Sara, Liz and Amy did a great job tiring out the rest of the field and helping me with positioning. I have a lot to work on but I’m very excited to continue the season with this awesome team. It was great that we had such a large field and it’s clear that races and tactics are playing out differently than last year with the size and strength of various teams. Thank you to Sacramento Golden Wheelmen and Bariani for hosting such a great event. Now onto the next race–San Dimas begins next Friday!!

 

Snelling 2017

Snelling 2017 Birdie Liz
Snelling is one of those classic races that not only unofficially marks the start of the racing season, but has a special place in the memory of almost every cyclist in the NCNCA.  Everyone has a story from Snelling. Like that one year someone put rubber ducks in all the puddles after it rained, or that other time when a tiny, territorial, terrier almost chased the peloton off the road. There was the time when one female rider escaped off the front in the first few miles of the race – and everyone forgot about her – and that year when it was discovered that some upset person had dumped a box of tacks in the road, resulting in flats for all.

I was reminded of all this as the group sat chatting at the startline for the 2017 edition of the women’s P12 race at Snelling. With JL Velo 10 riders strong and several noteworthy singles, including Clarice Sayle (Jakroo) and Megan Ruble (Specialized p/b Musclemilk), our squad of 5 – Sara Bird (aka Birdie), Sara Enders, Illi, Liz and I – knew we needed to make this race tough out of the gate and hopefully form a break with at least two of our riders in it.

As soon as we were released from neutral, Birdie and Sara started laying down attacks in rapid succession. Throughout the first half of the race we pushed the pace, trading attacks with Amanda Siegle (Jakroo), however each time we were pulled back by the numerous members of the JL Velo squad. In particular, the strong winds made it difficult to stay away and even when we managed to get our ideal composition in the break (at least two riders), riders from other teams would refuse to work (even if they had equal numbers of representation) and eventually it would get pulled back. I always liken it to a card game – each new break is a new hand you have to play and although it doesn’t always work out, you can reshuffle the deck and try again.

Nevertheless, by the last lap we had whittled a formidable-sized field down to a handful of riders – including 3 JL Velos (Marissa, Sandra, Emily), Clarice and Megan. Our entire squad of 5 was still riding strong, so we continued to attack with the goal of making Claire, Megan and Marissa (three riders we knew were riding strong) do as much work as possible.

The lead-up to the Snelling finish line is a long, straight, bumpy road, then a 90 degree right hand turn to a final set of double rollers. Position into the right hand turn is critical. Ideally you want to be sitting within the top 5 wheels (although not at the front) to still have enough draft protection up and over the first roller, but not so far back that you can’t kick and pass the remaining people by the second hill. On the bumpy lead-up Liz mounted an impressive attack, forcing Claire to chase hard into the right hand turn. Illi was sitting 3rd wheel and I was sitting 5th as we sprinted into the first hill. I knew I wanted to reach the base of the 2nd hill first (it’s much more difficult to pass people on a hill), so I forced my way to the front and was beginning my second kick when I saw Sandra from JL Velo come flying up my right hand side. She hit the base of the second hill first and I launched after her. I made up a good amount of ground, but not quite enough and she rolled over the line about half a bike length ahead of me. Claire finished 3rd with Illi close behind in 4th. Sandra had used the leadout of her remaining teammate to  sneak up the right hand side, unbeknownst to the rest of the field.

Snelling 2017 podiumThere are always things you wish you could have done differently in a race – but at the end of the day I’m incredibly proud of my teammates and their selfless work. We are a different team than last year, so tactically we have a lot to learn, but the one thing that remains the same is our culture of active racing and sacrifice for the good of the team. On a personal level, I’ve always dreamed of being on the podium in this classic race and I’m happy to see that all my hard work in the off-season paid off. Cheers to many more races to come my friends!

Snelling 2017 Melanie

Chico Stage Race

Illi Gardner

 

A few weeks ago Amy, Melanie, Liz and I headed North for a fun weekend at the Chico stage race. This was my first time doing it and all I really knew about it was the infamous gravel section of the Paskenta road race. But that was on Saturday, and first we had the Thunderhill circuit race on Friday. It was a rollercoastery hour of fun. The course was different than previous years, so the first few laps were spent figuring it out. Hagens Berman were pretty aggressive and grabbed all the hot-spot sprints, but no breakaways succeeded and it came down to a bunch finish. I tried to follow riders as they formulated their leadout trains and got into a good position for the finish. I came 7th with Melanie, Amy and Liz rolling in at the same time. It was a good start to the weekend but we knew that the next two days was where our position would be determined.

 

Saturday was the 90 mile Paskenta road race. The day was off to a good start with a delicious breakfast made by Melanie. That’s the good thing about stage races…you can eat as much as you want!

I was extremely happy to find out that the four-mile gravel stretch was shallow and apparently much better than previous years. The first lap was tame until a couple of miles before the gravel where everyone began fighting for position. A five-person breakaway group had gone very early in the race which contained a rider from every big team, so no one was working to bring it back. It was going okay until we hit the horrendous pothole section before the gravel, about two hours in. I hit a particularly bad hole and got a pinch flat right when the field was starting to split. Luckily I got it changed quickly and got up to a chase group–we worked hard to catch back on but it turned out that everyone was stopping for a pee break anyway.

By this point, the break was a whole eight and a half minutes ahead. Eventually the pace picked up and I started to regret not drinking or eating very much. We all stayed intact the last time through the gravel which ended just a few miles before the finish. Bottles were flying and energy was building. The pace surged on the little hill coming out of the gravel and Melanie and I just barely made it over with the first group and hung on till the finish. We were slightly gapped coming over that little hill and if Melanie wasn’t there to help bridge up I don’t think I would’ve made it!

I had been wearing the white jersey but lost it because another junior was in the 75 mile breakaway.

 

We were extremely thankful to Sara E for coming up to help in the feedzone and bringing our awesome Oakleys!!

 

The last day was the TT and crit. The TT was shortened to an out-and-back 8 miles due to flooding. This pretty much determined our GC positions, as our times were all close together leading into it. We all rode pretty well and then caffeine-loaded before the crit (thanks for the great mocha Amy…I basically spent the entire weekend eating other people’s food). The crit was just forty minutes of a six-corner L through downtown. I started at the back and was never able to move up, so I wasn’t too happy at the finish. Most importantly, we all stayed upright and our GC positions remained the same.

 

Overall I learnt a ton and had a super fun weekend. Thank you for being amazing teammates! Staying with a host family was also a new experience for me and I loved it.

Now we’re doing a few local races before heading to San Dimas at the end of the month!

 

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The Bump Circuit Race

After a successful season opener racing the Folsom Winter Crit with Senders, Illi and Diane, I was pumped to line up again the next day at The Bump Circuit Race in Livermore with Sara, Melanie and Illi. Sara and Melanie had raved about this race in the preseason, so I was pretty curious about the famed “bump” power climb—how steep was this thing anyway?

We lined up with a pretty big and powerful field, alongside some ace sprinters. Each of us covered attacks early on, but things really got moving when Melanie put in a massive attack and went off the front solo. Nobody matched it, and Melanie buried herself for the team for most of the first lap, allowing the rest of us to take it easy and wait for the next development. That came soon enough, with a strong attack from Hanna which split the field. Illi and I ended up in a group of 5 with Hanna, Claire and Megan Ruble. This was a motivated group so the pace was high, but Sara and Christina from JL Velo were chasing hard. The gap to Melanie came down slowly, and we caught her just at the top of the bump. After that, our group of 5 stayed together, with Illi and I able to chill out because we knew our teammates were hot on our wheels.

Finally, we were closing in on the bump for the last time. Our group of 5 lined up side by side across the road, each of us looking for an avenue to open up the sprint, but nobody ready to make the first move. As we rounded the final right-hander, I could feel the pace pick up. I thought it would be hard to come around the leader on the bump itself, so I kicked hard to come around on the left in the downhill before the bump. However, my plan to switch from the big to the little ring mid-bump was…not a good one to say the least! I was mashing, mashing, mashing, and then suddenly…oh no! I was spinning, spinning, spinning! My chain had not shifted at first, and then suddenly moved to the little ring! But Illi, who had a much smarter plan to tackle the bump, solidly kicked on to the line and won the sprint!

All in all, I was pretty proud and thrilled by the teamwork we used to win this race, and I drove home high on the satisfaction of being part of a smart and strong team. A solid weekend of racing for the Folsom Bike/Trek women in the
books!

Also, a big shoutout to our sponsors, Folsom Bike, Trek, Bontrager, Jakroo, GU, Athleticamps, Oakley and Hoo Ha Ride Glide, who keep us on the best equipment, kitted, fed, comfortable and ready to rock it every race!

Liz

Folsom Winter Crit

 

First, sorry that it has taken so long to get this race report up, things have been hectic with the start of race season aligning with job interview season. Me, Senders, Liz, and Illi came out for the Folsom Winter Classic crit for a kick off to 2017 – Judy, Fanny and Erin also showed up to cheer from the sidelines. We were all feeling fast in our new Jakroo speedsuits, which worked out well with the field waiting for Folsom to be the aggressors. Let than 10 minutes in, after some attacks and chase downs, two riders dangled very close off the front. I powered up to them and expected to be marked right away, but no one followed and I went right past them. With that separation, I didn’t like the idea of going solo for the next 40 minutes, so I put my head down and hoped I would catch the field before the race ended.

After 25 long minutes, I made it back to the field. The Folsom ladies that had been marking attacks, were eager to start attacking and having fun again. Even though they were always closely marked, Illi and Senders still managed to snag a couple more primes. When we got to the last lap, I found out designated sprinter, Liz and led her out to the last corner. She sprinted away and was the first one to cross the line, while Illi nearly caught her for third place.

With that, we started the season out with a sweep of the podium!

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Thank you of course to the volunteers and Sierra Nevada for putting on a great season opener.

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British Track Nationals

Illi Gardner

A few weeks ago I flew over to Manchester for the British track nationals. Most of the winter was spent doing track-specific workouts (a lot of time in trainer hell) rather than long base miles. We signed up a few months ago – I’m unable to compete in the US nationals as I’m not a citizen so we decided to just go for it. It seemed like a crazy idea then and was an even crazier experience but I’m really glad we went.

The level of competition in the UK is high. There is a massive focus on track in the BC system and everything is very structured. They were all experienced and relaxed while I was freaking out about warming up next to Katie Archibald (and trying not to fall off the rollers).

This was (slightly worryingly) one of my first track races. I started doing track in August for the Bi-National games in October, which I loved, but the field was small. We went down to the LA track a few times, which is similar to Manchester, but nothing could quite prepare me for this!

The first few days were spent adjusting and testing out the track. I got to join a team GB session which was quite scary but very cool! I also had the opportunity to test out the starting gate, which I had never used before.   

My first race was the 3k individual pursuit on Friday. I was terrified. I had a good start for the first time ever but ended up completely fading (first lap was 23 seconds instead of the usual 25…then 17…a few 18s…and into the 19s by the end…). It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great. I know better for next time.

The next day was the scratch race. Qualifiers were in the early afternoon and finals in the evening. The top half of the two heats moved on to finals. There were twenty-something people in my heat and throughout the race I made sure to stay relatively near the front. Qualifiers were half the distance of finals; 20 laps, which took five minutes or so. With five to go it got a bit out of control. I found myself right at the back and panicked. I was desperately trying to move up, but so was everyone else around me. Suddenly there was one lap left and I was definitely not in the top half and so wasn’t as careful as I should’ve been. I’m not entirely sure what happened: we were at the first turn and I think I was trying to get in the same space as the girl next to me and we bumped shoulders. Phew, stayed upright–or not. I hit the wheel in front (really? How did I manage that?) and went down along with two others. Physically I was alright but really embarrassed. There was no reason to crash, and I obviously couldn’t finish the race because it happened in the last fifteen seconds. To fly all that way and waste everyone’s time, money and effort…I was really angry with myself. I broke my helmet but managed to borrow a spare – everyone was very supportive.

Next, and last, was the points race. My positioning was terrible; I left giant gaps and just wanted to make it through upright with yesterday’s crash still on my mind. Hopefully with experience I’ll be able to move on from things like that with less difficulty. It was a pretty fast heat but I could’ve done a lot better.

We watched finals which was fun. The velodrome was packed. I wish I had gotten to ride in them but it was all down to me so I can’t complain!

Although my results weren’t good, it was a crazy and fun experience. I got to race with those at the highest level, meet lots of nice people, and learn a massive amount.

We wouldn’t have even been there if it wasn’t for Beth and Jakroo – her help with training and support during the trip was amazing – thank you! I will learn how to do all the bike maintenence soon, I promise…

Now on to the road season!

Kicking off the 2017 season with team camp in Monte Rio

Last weekend, in between rain storms, the Folsom Bike/Trek women’s elite team headed up to beautiful Sonoma county to kick off the season with a two day training camp. We were missing Aliya, who is currently based in Tucson training with the Homestretch Foundation, and Illi, who is training for British National Track Championships.

On Saturday, we rode out to King’s Ridge, where the elusive California sunshine greeted us. After a solid day of training, rockstar Diane treated us all to an amazing chicken curry dinner. On Sunday, we headed south to the coast in search of pastries. With visits to Tomales and Wild Flour bakeries, it was mission accomplished and more solid training miles in the bank.

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Does it get any better than this?

After a weekend filled with good training, amazing food, and lots of laughs, we are ready to hit the ground running, err cycling, with the first races just around the corner.

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But wait…there’s more

FE1I0277Who’s ready for a bonus round? We’re not saying that we don’t believe her, but this next very special individual seems to have a knack for keeping us in constant suspense by saying every race is going to be her last. Now in “semi-retirement,” Judy Wexler is one speedy sprint ninja.

judywexler2017Judy Wexler started racing in 2005, representing Tufts University in the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference. She’s since raced in New England, the DC Metro Area, the Pacific Northwest, and the NCNCA. Judy is mostly retired for the 2017 season, as she’s focused on finishing her PhD in evolutionary genetics and entomology at UC Davis. However, you may still see her reppin’ the Folsom pink and black in her favorite discipline — the criterium! Highlights of her career include basically the entire 2014 season, which saw her snag 2nd place at collegiate crit nationals, 4th place in the collegiate nationals road race and 3rd in the omnium in addition to 4th place at the Sea Otter circuit race. Her favorite NCNCA victories include Snelling in 2015 and winning the crowd prime at the 2014 Davis 4th of July crit.

Say what you want Judy, but we know you are going to ride your bike just as much during your “semi-retirement” and crush every “occasional” race you enter. Folsom Bike would not be the same without you!