Thursday, July 06, 2006


by Tina


Fitting title I think.

A year ago and 15 pounds heavier, I decidedI was going to do my first bike race. Not just any bike race, but a 4-stage stage race in the mountains surrounding Missoula, Montana. The Ecology Classic used to attract top pros from around the country including T-Mobile, Saturn,HealthNet, and Navigators.

I have a stubborn streak. I finished that race – and repeatedly got my rear end handed to me, to the tune of being over an hour and 10 minutes down on GC, and still showed up the next stage. The first road stage I was dropped after about 15 minutes without even seeing the first hill and rode the 3+ hours alone. The circuit and criteriums had some great photos of the field lapping me, but if you really look at it right, it looks like I'm on a mad breakaway. Or at least that's how I remember it!

I decided then and there that I would be back – and that would not happen again. In the fall, I hit the gym. In January, I joined up with some AWESOME chics called the Velo Bellas and hired a coach. I meant business.

This past weekend (July 1-2), I was out to prove it. The first stage was a time trial. Fellow Bella Renee' Coppock couldn't make it and loaned me her tri-spoke wheels and time trial helmet. My smashing new Bella skinsuit had arrived just the Wednesday before (very lovely I might add) and I'd actually been in the aero bars more than once in the past 6 months!

My goal was to average 21 mph.The course was rolling with some good hills right off the bat. I knew that I needed to power over those and each strong pedal stroke would take off time. I felt good. Really good. And was determined to not be passed.

I passed one rider about 1 mile into the race. Yikes. After the turnaround, a Ticycles/Avanti rider did pass me, but then backed off it seemed. I came back around her, and she came back around me. Okay. That was enough. I passed her again and that was the end of that.

The last part of the course is deceiving in that you think you should be climbing so you hold back a little bit. It does have some rollers, but trends downhill, so I kicked inthe turbos and finished at exactly 21 mph with a time of 42:58. A solid 4th place finish (about 5 seconds out of 3rd) and over 11 minutes off my time from last year!

The second stage was a short 27 mile road race that afternoon. Mostly rollers with a couple good climbs to break things up. It was hot and we were a little worn down from the morning, so we literally lollygagged to the first turnaround. A few of us intentionally would take turns at the front and back the pace off. Which unfortunately, allowed a few girls who had missed the start to catch up with us.

The women (1, 2, 3 and 4) rode with the juniors (all 3 of them). One of them in particular is pretty serious (and actually rode up with me to the race), so I knew he was pretty motivated to drop the rest of the juniors early. But his coach had told him to not pull. HA! Zoe Smith (Velo Bella to be) told him, "If you're going to ride withthe b*@$#*es you're going to be our b*@$#."

He actually thought that was cool and spent most of the race riding tempo at the front. Allison Beall, a very tough Pro/Cat 1 rider in the northwest was Zoe's toughest competition in the 1/2/3 race and our little junior knew it. He set out to set Zoe up for an attack up the first decisive climb. She went, but Allison went too. And then Allison countered and that was that. The shattered field then soldiered on with only three 4's left upfront, which included me.

We kept taking pulls, hit a climb and one of them fell off the back. It was down to two of us, and I was pretty whooped. I told Zana (Starbucks Cycling Team) I was about to drop down into my bottom gear to spin up the climb and thought she'd go around for me to grab her wheel. Instead I gapped her – enough so that I didn't wait for her at the top to finish the last couple miles of flat road before the uphill finish. She was a tough cookie(must have been a Frappucino shot) and started catching me, so I sat up and we worked together until the last climb.

Again, without a whole lot left in the legs, I dropped it down thinking she'd go around. But again, I gapped her and she was gone for good. It wast hen I realized, "Oh my gosh, I'm going to win a stage. Oh my gosh!!!" I had the biggest goofiest smile on my face as I stood over the top of the climb. Once up top, there were these littleroller "whoop-dee-doos" that made you feel like a prairie dog popping up out of your hole.

There's the finish, and then you didn't see it, and then oh, there's the finish, and then you'd drop again. And then finally, there's the finish. WOOHOOOO!!! I'd won my first stage/race ever!

On Sunday, we had the Bitterroot Valley RR – a 50+ mile "climbers course" – which never sounds good to me. I now sit in 2nd on GC and am trying to preserve it. And I know who to look out for. Here's hoping Zana (who's 3rd on GC) didn't have her Venti Double Espresso Latte with Peppermint and Power.

I'm still feeling pretty tanked from Saturday since I had put in a heck of an effort. But I consoled myself with the fact that so had most of the others. It was an omnium race and there were a few additional riders just doing this stage with fresh legs – a couple of them pretty good climbers – that I had a feeling would start slewing us by ripping our legs off on the climbs.

I didn't make it that far. We were on a false flat "shake and bake"section that just felt awful. My heart rate was through the roof, my legs were jello and suddenly I started feeling like a caboose that's come loose from the train and there's nothing you can do. I limited my losses and eyed Miss Ticycles/Avanti (4th on GC) up the road on the next climb. I kept trying to bridge up, sat off of her wheel for about 200 yards and she never turned around or let up to work together.

That made no sense to me. So I finished the stage alone. There was a heartbreaker of a hill on the 2-loop circuit called the "El Capitan Loop". The feed zone was at the base and then it switch-backed up from there. The finish was a true uphill finish complete with ridiculously steep grade where I can barely keep my bike upright. I yell "PUSH!" to a friend on the side who just looked at me all puzzled like. She's like "Yeah – you pushit!" and I said "NO – YOU – PUSH!" It was pretty funny.

Anyway I grunted it out over the line, not 5 minutes behind the last rider from the group, which did make me feel better.And since omniums are based on points, and Miss Ticycles/Avanti dropped out after the first lap, I preserved my podium finish with a3rd Place Overall.

My good friend Jane won it all, with Zana swapping spots with me for 2nd. Supposedly, she and one of the threes would get dropped and bridge back to the front group like 4 times, just during the first time around. I need to find out what drink does that!

Zoe ended up taking 2nd in the 1/2/3s which is awesome since she just upgraded two races ago from the 4s. All in all, I would say this has been a very successful start to bike racing. Going from dead last (and then some) last year, to winning a stage and taking a podium. I love it. And I'm coming back next year with even more to prove.

There's only four more road races this year on the Montana scene: the State RR, Criterium and Time Trial Championships and the Big Sky State Games RR.

Thanks for reading and cheering on us newbies. It does make all the difference in the world.


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