Friday, March 26, 2010

My Dragon

It's been a trying couple of weeks and I've been missing from the blogging world.  Many understand and know why... and many have already eloquently written about last week... so I will try to move forward... how?  Well... I'm not sure you knew... but I've got this dragon...

In the fall of 2008 the hubby and I bought road bikes and started down this path that has drastically changed our lives... we became cyclists... about 6 months into this new adventure... we heard of a ride coming up... lots of people were doing it... so why not us?  The ride: Marque de Sade

Now... Marquis de Sade... was an interesting French fella...  He was a bit crazy... literally spent much of his life in insane asylums... and the term "sadism" is derived from his name...

This should have at least given me pause... right?  Maybe caused me to step back and ask why this ride was called the Marque de Sade??  Hmm... Sadism, pleasure through pain... hmm...

However I was a bright eyed bushy tailed new cyclist... ready to take on anything... or so I thought. I mean... look at this smile beforehand!

I had delusions of grandeur for a nice long ride in the upstate... got some new gear for the hubby & I, some great nutrition prepared... Then something happened... 5 miles in we hit the first short climb... and I didn't see the hubby again for the rest of the ride... and I realized I may not make it through the day.  After 16,000 feet of elevation gain... sore feet from walking the bike up a couple of mtns... & 6 hours later... I rolled back into the North Greenville Campus a defeated cyclist.

And this ride became my dragon...

Scroll forward 12 months to present day... This weekend is the Marque de Sade ride presented by the Freewheelers of Spartanburg as a training ride for Assault on Mt. Mitchell... (btw - I didn't know last year that this was a trng ride for AOMM)...

I've 12 additional months of experience on the bike... thousands of miles in the saddle... races completed... mountains conquered... but I haven't done another ride like the Marque de Sade.

You see that dragon up at the top of this blog... sitting there taunting me? That's my dragon... he's sitting on top of White Oak... I'll chase him off to Green River... and then I'll go after him like a spider monkey all hopped up on Mountain Dew!  The ride... the mountains will not defeat me... I will slay this dragon!

Monday, March 8, 2010


The final race in the Spring Training Series finally came and went.  My goal for this race?  Well, it was mathematically impossible to move into 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in the omnium... but 4th place was definitely in my sites!  I needed to finish 3 spots ahead of 4th & 2 spots ahead of 5th place to do that.

I brought my lucky charm, Jake, to the race with me.  Thankfully Rich & Bella Hincapie offered to watch him while I was racing.  BIG, HUGE thanks to Bella for keeping the pup company all day!

We started out with a group of 35 women.  19 Pro, 1, 2, 3 women... and 16 Cat 4. The officials asked if we wanted to race separate and only a few people raised their hands... so we were back at it with Pro, 1, 2, 3, 4 women all together doing 4 laps around Donaldson.

The race started with a full-on sprint.  I knew immediately this would be unlike any other race in the series.  We must have dropped 6 women in the first kilometer of the race.  And it didn't let up.  On "Golf Course Hill" we were out of the saddle still going strong.  I knew we wouldn't keep this pace the entire time so I wanted to stay with the pack as long as possible.  After the first lap we'd averaged 23.8 mph!  The 2nd, 3rd, & 4th laps all were a bit slower.  We settled in and people took turns at the front trying to break away.  I found myself moving back & forth quite a bit from rear of the pack, to the middle, inside... then outside.

Now that this was the 3rd time racing this course, I had a pretty good feel for where I wanted to be in each section... what potholes to avoid, what bad surfaces mean get on the white line or double yellow.  Every once in a while one or two girls would try to make a break for it... and the whole pack would surge to speeds I never thought I could sustain.  We catch them then sit back in.  This continued the entire race until about 2 miles to go.

At this point everyone started conserving energy for the finish.  This is when I marked my former teammate Elizabeth Brady.  She was ahead of me by 1 point in the omnium.  The person who was in 4th was dropped on the first lap so she and I were both shooting for it.  We traded places quite often and I knew it would all come down to who had better positioning at the end.

The bigger pack of Pro, 1, 2, 3 women (there were only 6 in the previous Sunday's race at Donaldson) kept the pace strong & fast all day.  By the end of it we'd averaged 21 mph for nearly 29 miles.  I have NEVER gone that fast!  With 1 mile to go two groups started to form & the paced picked up.  One on the white line and another in the middle.  I didn't want to take the chance of getting stuck so I sat in the middle pack toward the outside.  We hit the 1k to go sign and picked up the pace again.  People started blowing up all around us and it was "interesting" trying to get around them.  Once we reached the 200m mark it was an all out field sprint and I shifted into a higher gear and told myself not to leave anything in the tank.

From this point on I wasn't going to let anyone pass me.  I was in the drops and passed riders to my left and right.  Women were leaving their lines completely and crossing over others.  I crossed the finish line and immediately threw on my brakes as some women crashed in front of me... My tires left some rubber on the pavement as they skid around to the right of the crash.  I was ecstatic with how well I rode but also worried about what happened.

I know at least two women were involved, I think maybe three.  I remember seeing two people to my left and a bike to my right as I continued on to cool down.  As I came back there was a girl being attended to on the road.  I don't know what happened or how bad she was hurt, but she was taken away in an ambulance.

This sport is dangerous... like going 30 miles per hour and hit the pavement with nothing between you and the ground except your helmet & some material dangerous.  If this series has taught me anything... it is to ALWAYS be aware of what's happening around you!!

After things calmed down & the Masters racers took off in their race I hung out with Bella & Jake near the officials trailer.  People asked how I did and I thought I was top 4.  But when the results were posted... I placed 3rd among the Cat 4s in the race with a solid 4th in the omnium!  My first podium... one of my major goals for the year was to "place" (ie: 1st, 2nd, or 3rd) in a Women's Cat 4 race... and here it was... 3rd place in early March... I couldn't believe it!  The hard work paid off... the training, nutrition, tapering, racing smart... watching other's lines... staying on the right wheels... it all made a difference.

Now... I need a new goal... 

(I was hoping to have some pictures to post here from the race but none have become available yet... so I'll stick with the pix of the results)


This weekend marked the end of the Greenville Spring Training Series hosted by the Greenville Spinners Club & Hincapie Sports.  A huge thanks to all the officials & volunteers that made the series happen!

So... what happened this weekend?  I went to bed Friday thinking I was a little off.  My nutrition wasn't as good as I thought it needed to be and I felt somewhat lethargic.  The hubby and I were both racing Saturday... 1 1/2 hours apart... so I took advantage of that extra hour of sleep before heading out to watch him race.

The River Falls course in Marietta, SC represents the first race I had ever finished in my first year of cycling last year.  After signing up for the entire Spring Training Series in 2009 I was side-lined by a serious upper-respiratory infection.  This time I came into the final weekend with 4 2010 finishes under my belt.

The loop is under 6 miles and starts with a fast downhill to a quick right hand turn.  The next bit has a short incline followed by some flat sections and another downhill (notice the downhill trend?).  A sharp turn awaits you at River Falls Road where you've got more flat to rolling sections.  Last is another sharp turn onto Gap Creek Rd... and this is where all the descending bites you in the rear... a one mile climb awaits!

The climb isn't that steep, it isn't that long... but when you've got to do it three times in a race... it spreads out the field!  The 1km sign shows up at the steepest section and one you see the 200m sign it's an all out downhill sprint to the finish.

 The hubby finishing up his race

I did a warm-up on the big climb with my teammate Robin, Coach, & another racer, Jenn Young.   That was all I was willing to do given that I wanted to get back to cheer on the hubby!

After his finish we got lined up and expected the officials to keep all the women together.  However on this day there was such a big group of Pro, 1, 2, 3s, that they separated us and dropped the Cat 4 laps from 5 down to 3... Hmm... You mean I only have to climb that hill 3 times instead of 5? OKAY!

Jenn, Robin, & I ready to start the race.

We started off at a pretty steady clip.  The girls who sat in 2nd & 3rd in the omnium were controlling the race.  They tried to get off the front a few times but not many people wanted to get out front and pull them.  As we reached the climb on the first lap... I got dropped... At the top of it I was with Jenn Young and she and I worked together to bridge back to the group about a mile or so up the road.

We hung in until the end of the second lap when we got dropped again on the climb.  This time we were dropped pretty quickly and had to work really hard to bridge back to the lead group... We passed a couple of other girls who had been dropped on the climb and pulled them back with us.  As we caught the rear of the field... I reached out my hand to high five Jenn.  Even though we're not teammates... we were in this together & needed each other to stay in the race!

We only had a couple miles this time to catch our breathe and hold on before the last climb.  The pace was excruciatingly slow before we hit the climb.  And that's when people started to pound it out.  I found the wheel of a strong rider and thought of the Paris Mtn Repeats Trainer class I did earlier in the week with coach.  1 - 2 - 3- 4... 1 - 2 - 3 - 4... Over and over again was pounding in my head.  There was some girls ahead of me... but I was passing some as well.  I heard Steve Sperry yelling for my former teammate Elizabeth Brady to sprint... I realized I need to be sprinting too!  I shifted into my big chain ring, hit the drops and got my rear out of the saddle to sprint to the finish.  I crossed the finish line feeling great and gave a little first pump...

Now... I'm incredibly competitive and annoyingly anal retentive.  Meaning I knew exactly who was ahead of me in the omnium and who was very close to catching me.  Before this race I was sitting in 6th place, 3 points behind 5th & 6 points ahead of 7th.  My goal was to get enough points to overtake 5th place or be close.  My sprint at the end put me in 6th place for the race.  The ladies sitting in 4th place and 7th place in the omnium switched spots and I was now only 1 point out of 5th & 2 points out of 4th!

Great work by Jenn Young to grab another top 10 finish... and Robin & Jeni to finish this crazy beautiful course.

 Hit downtown after the race to celebrate with friends...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010



A lead out train in cycling is a beautiful thing to see... when executed well.  The best example of this working to perfection was the lead out train of last year's Team Columbia-HTC.  Teammates ride single file as they approach the finish.  One by one each breaks off to let the next rider take over the work of pulling the train.  It didn't hurt that Columbia-HTC had guys like Mark Renshaw and our very own George Hincapie pulling their train and at the end of it was Mark Cavendish ready to sprint for the stage/race win.

Sunday's race at Donaldson saw a bit of a lead-out train in action, albeit we weren't all on the same team!  

Like Saturday's race at Fork Shoals, all the women riders started together (more than 2/3 were Cat 4).  The officials reduced our 5 laps to 4 and we were took off.  In the first lap on golf course hill there was a break with some higher cat women.  Team Kenda had a girl in the break so they proceeded to sit on the front and control the pace.  We never caught the break.

*Note: For those new to racing, teams do this in order to allow the break to get more time on the field.  If they can do this, they can block other chases so the break is never caught.  It all depends on how many people are in the break and how long/short the race is.  In the case of the Greenville Spring Training Series, if you get in a break of 2-3 strong riders and at least one of you left some teammates behind, there's a good chance you'll finish ahead of the pack.

We also had the pleasure of riding with Thea Kent in her first race back after suffering major back injuries in a crash last year.  Thea is a co-manager at Carolina Triathlon, one of my team's major sponsors and rides for Colavita South.  She was out there mixing it up, involved in some sprints and pulling hard for much of the race.  It was incredibly inspiring to ride with her.

Throughout all four laps riders kept jumping out to pick up the pace but we didn't have any other real breaks.  It reminded me of interval training with my coach.  30 seconds hard... 1 minute break... 2 minute climb... 2 minute break, and so on.  One of my new teammates was with me and it was her first time racing.  She's one of the strongest riders on our 2010 roster and my goal was to to make sure she was in good position for the finish.

Because of the break, the Pro, 1, 2, 3 women were racing for top ten, not a win.  The Cat 4 women weren't sure.  We didn't think we had anyone in the break so we were still racing for the win.  As we came across the rail road tracks on the final lap, the group moved to the double yellow and stretched out.  However, there were a few girls sticking to the white line.  One of them looked like she was riding strong and had a good cadence.  I was torn between staying in the pack or moving to the inside. Finally I made my way over to her wheel and stuck like glue.  As I sat on her wheel my legs felt fresh and I felt really good about the move.

With one mile to go there was NO ONE next to us and I took a very quick glance back to see the entire field had moved onto our line.  The train was coming!  My legs felt great and rested and the rider ahead of me didn't let up.  At the 1km sign still no one next to us.  We hit the 200m sign and started picking up the pace.  I still couldn't see the rest of the field, but I could hear them coming!  The finish line was in view and I tried to get out of my saddle but my legs were tiring and I couldn't go for it.  Some girls passed on my left and then I heard, "on your right" from my teammate Courtney.  Unbeknownst to me she had moved in to grab my wheel sometime in that last mile.  I moved over slightly and let up as she came sprinting past me (and others) to capture 2nd place.  What happened didn't really set in until I read Jenn Young's (GWC) FB status update which included, "Mad props to Courtney & Nikki from GHS who had a textbook finish!!"  We actually executed a lead-out train!

A huge congrats to Courtney for capturing 2nd in her first road race.  Despite getting passed by some at the end, I came away with 6th, Jenn Young (mentioned above) 8th, and my kick butt coach 9th in the Cat 4 results.  Thea captured 4th in Pro, 1, 2, 3.

It was a fun race with a spectacular finish... and did I mention we averaged 19.6 mph!!  I can only imagine what we could have done with more teammates out there.  Hopefully we'll get that chance next weekend!!

Many thanks to the officials (Papa, Joey, Mike, Big Joe, the motos, and all others), the volunteers at every corner, Greenville Spinners (sponsor club) and Hincapie Sports for making this series happen!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Bridging the Gap... When it Matters!

Saturday's race was all about gaining more experience on the Fork Shoals race course (a variation of the South Carolina Road Race Championship course) and preparing for the last weekend of the Greenville Spring Training Series (March 6th & 7th).  The race consisted of 3 laps on a 15 mile loop starting from Fork Shoals Elementary in Pelzer, SC.

We had a great group of women from my team to the line, and more than 30 women racing.  Unlike last weekend they started the entire field of women together.  Some of us were a bit nervous about racing with the Pro, 1, 2, 3 women, but we didn't really have a choice!  Plus, my boys showed up to support me so I was going to do them proud!  Thanks to April at The Living Pixel for capturing one of them in this shot!!

The course is pretty hilly with 6 memorable hills in a 15 mile loop.  As a Cat 4 woman I just wanted to stay in the pack as long as I could.  It was really great to ride with the stronger women.  They are more focused on team strategy and controlling the race.  Every once in a while a couple riders would try to jump out and create a break and the women on the front would pick up the pace of the entire peloton to reel them back in.  We spent a lot of time speeding up, braking, speeding up, braking, which frustrated some of the women.  Me?  I was thankful to have someone else setting the pace and doing all the work up front.  It enabled me to stay on a wheel and save some energy.

At the end of our second lap the pace picked up I got dropped at the start-finish line.  The hubby and puppy, along with many other friends were there cheering me on to catch the group.  I was trying pretty hard but  couldn't bring myself to the pack.  Finally my legs recovered enough and I got up the first two hills pretty quickly and had the group in sight.  With all the practice I've been doing in group rides to bridge the gap between me and faster riders I knew I could do it.  So I got into a harder gear and kept my cadence up.  As I approached the pack with my small victory in hand... the field was neutralized and we pulled over to let the Pro, 1, 2 men around us.

I was a little mad at myself for using up all that energy to catch back on... when I would have caught up to the group anyway... but I was also very happy to prove that I could bridge in a race situation!!  Plus, the neutralized field gave me more time to recover.

There are two big hills about a mile before the finish and we took them a little slower on our last lap.  I could tell everyone was saving their energy for a field sprint at the end.  As soon as we made our final turn the paced picked up quickly.  I kept pedaling as fast as my legs would go while riders passed me on my left and right... I ended up finishing 13th in a field of 20 Cat4 women and was definitely happy with the effort!

Of note, one of my teammates in her very first race took 7th and my team manager took 9th (just two weeks after sustaining a concussion in a crash)!  So proud of my team on Saturday... We had seven girls start and six finish the 45 mile race

Performance Details for the Fork Shoals Race