Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Bellas Take Heat at Montana State Road Racing Championships

by Renee

Being an attorney, I tend to write articles a little longer than they
need to be—that power of persuasion thing. For those of you who like
a shorter version, I've included it as well.

SHORT VERSION: Bellas captured the 1st place (Reneé Coppock) and 2nd
place (Zoe Smith) podium spots in the Cat 3 Division of the Montana
State Road Racing Championships held in Whitefish, Montana, and 7th
in the Cat 4 division (Tina Whitfield).

LONG VERSION: Road racing in Montana—nothing is quite like it.
Scenic courses, little traffic and travel time that generally equates
to more than double the time actually spent riding the bike. The
Montana State Road Race Championships were slated for a gorgeous
course with something for everyone—a downhill start, flat sections, a
few rollers and some steep climbs, one aptly named the "wall". I had
almost decided to bag the state championship race, given the fact
that it was being held near Whitefish, at least a 7 ½ hour drive from
Billings. To add to the complications, my folks were visiting from
Illinois, and my 7 year old had an "art show" slated for the Friday
before the race to show off everything that was accomplished during
art camp. However, fellow Bella Tina wanted to ride in her first
road race championship. We decided to make the trek together, hoping
for cooler weather than the 103 degrees we had been experiencing in

We hit the road Friday afternoon and began our journey. Town after
town passed by on the interstate before a large cloud of smoke came
into view. This has not been a great fire season in Montana. It
seems like ½ our state is on fire. Great for the allergies. We
watched as helicopters flew over the burning area, spreading buckets
of flame retardant. The buckets seemed ridiculously small compared
to the size of the fire. Luckily, the interstate was still open,
despite the smoke. With Tina as the guide, we made our way past
Missoula and headed toward Kalispell. But what is this? The road
was missing…. No one had told us that the highway was under
massive "de-construction." We crawled along at a rate of about 20
mph, thoroughly dusting our bikes. Zoe and Jackie could have ridden
their mountain bikes over the road faster than we were traveling.

We reached our hotel about a 1 ½ hours later than we had hoped, and
noted that it did not seem cooler in Whitefish. The trusty Weather
Channel told us to expect 97-degree temperatures by the end of the
race. Joy. After cleaning our dust-laden bikes, we hit the sack.

Race morning—sunny and hot. After Tina checked Floyd's progress in
the time trial, we headed out the door to scope the course. We were
sweating just packing our gear into the car! Tina and I hoped the
hills were not as steep as they seemed as we drove the course. I
sure didn't remember them being that steep last year. After the
turnaround, we noted 2 deer near the road, so I slowed down.
However, as Tina shouted a warning, the least intelligent of the pair
zigzagged and ran right into the driver's side of the car. He
bounced on the road, hooves flying in the air, righted himself and
then ran into the woods. The driver's door would not open very wide,
and the deer left some hide behind, but our bikes weren't injured,
and we didn't have to drag a bloody carcass off the race course.

The accident had our adrenaline going as we registered, and I was
sure I had all the bad luck for the day out of the way. Tina warmed
up wearing a wrist brace, the result of a mountain bike race that had
not gone exactly as planned. It was already in the mid-80's, so we
knew that the brace would be a sweaty hindrance. Despite the lack of
the initials "M.D." behind either of our names, we opted to remove
the brace and tape Tina's wrist and hand. What could that hurt?

As we lined up for the start, we noticed a few new faces among the
familiar racers, including Rebecca Falls, who was in the area for
Trek Travel and was well acquainted with the Tennessee Velo Bella
riders. The first mile was straight downhill and gave us a much
needed breeze. We turned onto a flat section of the course and began
a somewhat relaxed pace line. The goal was to avoid a reoccurrence
of last year's crash that wiped out about half the women's field
before the 7-mile mark. We were successful. When we hit the first
hills, Danyel, a strong rider, took off like we were in a finish line
sprint. I grabbed her wheel, thinking "What the heck? We still have
30 miles to go!) Fellow Bella Zoe hooked onto my wheel, and we were
determined to stay together. The next climb broke the entire pack
apart, as Danyel continued to ride hard up the steeper portions.
Danyel, Zoe and I made a break for it, under Zoe's direction. We
sped up, trying to increase the gap. We thought we were moving along
at a rapid pace when a 4th rider, Lara, riding for GAS/Heritage
Homes, joined us. How did she catch us?

Hill after hill, as we charged up we put a gap on Lara. But she kept
bridging the gap. This was going to be a hard race. The temperature
began to rise even more as we hit the "wall." We were now determined
to drop Lara. In the fight to get to the top, we lost Zoe, but she
is a strong rider and a good sprinter, so we kept going, thinking she
would soon catch us. Danyel and I took turns pulling, but she seemed
to be slowing. I didn't want Lara to catch us, so I kept encouraging
Danyel to dig deep and pull hard. At the turn around, not only was
Zoe less than 30 seconds behind us, but Lara was as well. We just
didn't know enough about Lara's strengths to make an educated guess
about how she sprinted at the finish line. She was definitely strong
and persistent. After seeing the two work together, I told
Danyel "we are toast." At this speed they were going to catch us.
Danyel sped up, but then faded big time. I kept pulling, but she
finally dropped off. I decided to time trial it the last 14 or so
miles, rather than try to sprint at the end. We had a slight
headwind, but some substantial downhills as well. What did I have to
lose? I can't sprint in a group.

I saw Tina on the road, not yet to the turn around. She was looking
strong, but riding solo, just like me. Her wrist seemed to be
holding up, but there were some major potholes and rough section
ahead, especially on the downhill. The heat doesn't usually affect
my performance, so I was hoping my time trial skills would pay off.
I didn't ride the downhill sections as cautiously as I usually do,
clocking over 40 mph on a rough, curvy road. I must be insane! All
I could think about was Zoe, Danyel and Lara working together in the
headwind to catch me. I said my usual prayers and hoped to hold on.
With about 5-7 miles to go, "IT" began—the twinges in my right quad,
the sign that cramps could soon follow. I drank more frequently and
tried to think positive thoughts—I love my bike; I love the heat; I
love bike racing (right……)

With about 2 miles to go, I couldn't see anyone approaching from
behind, but I felt my cadence slowing. Cycling is great fun, I told
myself, as sweat rolled in my eyes. Finally, the 1 k mark—still no
one in sight. 200 meters—a slight sprint and victory! All I could
think about, however, was cold water and headed back to the start for
a drink.

The next women to reach the 200-meter mark were Lara and Zoe, with
Zoe taking the sprint, as she usually does. Danyel rode in for a 4th
place finish. Tina finished the race in 7th in the Cat 4 division.
The wrist did prove to be a problem on the rough sections, but
she "cowgirl upped" and sprinted in.

After Tina and I cleaned up as much as you can in a state park
parking lot, we hit the road again for a the long trek back—this time
to Cooke City, with a night time drive through Yellowstone Park. All
in all, 1158 car miles, 49 bike miles. Cycling in Montana—you gotta
love it.


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