Cascade Classic-the Final 3 stages
Kimberley had one of the most successful NRC races in her history. This one was definitely a sweet finish for her and included two top 20 NRC finishes. She’s killin’ it this year. Get her autograph now before it’s worth a pretty penny in the future.
Day 4- Cascade Lakes Road Race
Today was a new course for me, as last year, I was time cut after the time trial (which made my personal time trial ‘victory’ all the more rewarding!). The race started and ended at Mt. Bachelor, and although the week had fairly mild weather, at 7 am of the morning of the race, we received an email from the race organizers saying to prepare for 40 degree freezing rain. This presented a slight problem, as I had packed for the trip based on the weather reports—clear skies and in the 80’s all week. I felt like I total rookie not being prepared for the unexpected, as the extent of my warm-weather gear was warmers and gloves, but no clear vest or baselayer. Marcus and I ended up making an early target run on the way out to try to find whatever pseudo-baselayer option we could find in the ‘active wear’ section. We got to the ski resort, which was looking strangely like ski season, and was less than thilled. The race started with essentially a 15-mile descent, so the worst would definitely be the first half hour of the race. I sat in the car wrapped in a blanket until the very last minute, where I donned every warm upper-body item I had and slathered my legs with embrocation.
I started the race with minimal warm-up, as did pretty much everyone else, but it was a steep and straight enough descent that no one got away. After the initial descent, the air warmed and everyone began stripping off layers and passing them to their workhorse rider, who took them back to the team director in the caravan. I, on the other hand, with no such luxury, awkwardly stuffed the warmers and borrowed vest into my jersey. The next five miles was a gradual climb, where there was a string of back-to-back attacks, but nothing got away. Over the next 25 miles, the course was rolling, and the peleton moved along at a steady pace, with attacks continuing to launch. At this point, I will mention the prime frustration of the race—my shifting. At the time, I had no idea why, but my right shifter was supremely uncooperative, and would take multiple taps to shift into one harder gear, and even with repeated clicks would only ever shift to the middle of my cassette. I had to do most of the race spun out, as my hardest gears were unaccessasble the entire race, and my only encouragement was knowing that it finished on a climb. So if I could stay tucked in to the field and approach the final climb in the group, I would be ok.
Around twelve miles to go, a nine-rider breakaway formed, and the gap quickly widened to 3:30. Strangely, no one seemed concerned, even Kristin who was in the yellow jersey. I realized though that every major team was represented, and so the lack of interest in chasing made sense. As we began the finishing climb, the strong climbers started to drill it, and riders began to fall off the back of the group. I dug deep to hang on, as my goal was to finish in a group, not straggling off the back alone. I finished 54th out of 88, which I was fine with (neither ecstatic nor devastated). I immediately took my bike to the SRAM mechanics, where a quick examination determined revealed a completely shot shifter. We drove back to our host house, tired but content, and once again began the recovery routine for the next day’s race.
SIDE NOTE: We spent several hours that afternoon scouring bike shops for a replacement right shifter, with no luck. Marcus even offered to go to Portland to find one (he is seriously amazing… Portland is a good 3-hour drive from Bend). Finally, we decided to take the SRAM mechanic up on his offer to ride a neutral bike for the last two stages, and drove to their house to get it set up and fit to be as close to my bike’s position as possible. When we got there, he offered something I hadn’t even thought possible – strip down my dura ace components and switch my bike over to SRAM, to minimize the new variables I would have to adjust to. This was absolutely amazing, as it added several hours of work for him, but I was so thankful to have the SRAM support there. It’s hard in a race like this to not have the kind of support that the pro teams have, but this kind of help makes it so much more do-able.
Day 5 – Downtown Criterium
Today was the Downtown Twilight Criterium, which was a fairly standard four corner rectangle course. I woke up feeling fairly good, and after a morning ride to learn the ins and outs of SRAM shifting, got to the race course feeling confident and excited to race. My mother in law had come from Seattle to watch the race, and it was great to have that little bit of extra support and encouragement. The main technical challenge proved to be corner three, where the road narrowed from three lanes to one. Riders who weren’t in the top ten going into the corner were forced to slow considerably, and then sprint to regain speed going into the last corner, about 400 meters from the finish line. Basically, my goal in this race was to stay in the field, and as close to the front as I could both to avoid crashes and to be able to take the third corner. A big surprise for all came at the beginning of the race, when the announcer began to call up the top riders and then told the crowd and the field that Kristin Armstrong, who had won two stages and was in the yellow jersey, had left the race London-bound. Many people were surprised she had even shown up at Cascade at all, with her Olympic races less than two weeks away, but I could tell the news of her withdrawal just minutes before the start threw a bit of a monkey wrench into some big teams’ plans for the stage and race as a whole. Without Kristin, Alison Powers, Carmen Small, and Megan Guarnier would be fighting for the jersey.
Because of this, the race was aggressive and filled with attacks and counter attacks by rivaling teams, but despite their best efforts, no break got away. With several laps to go and the main field still together, I knew it would come down to a final sprint. The last few laps were hectic—there was a flurry of desperate efforts to get off the front, and the way the course narrowed going into corner three made it so that a rider could go from the front of the field to the back in a few seconds. Positioning was critical; being on the wrong side going into that corner could be the difference between a top ten and a 70th place finish. I knew this, and so did everything in my power to hold my position, fight for it even (which is hard to do in a field of seasoned pros!) so that I could go into the third corner on the final lap in an ideal position. I came into the corner in a decent position, and charged my bike all the way to the line, and ended up 18th. I was happy with that finish, as a top 20 in an NRC race with this caliber of racers is something I’m proud of. My coach was happy as well, and said I rode a smart and strong race, which made me even happier! From here the day finished the same as most before… a great post and pre race dinner with a glass of wine, a bone-chilling ice bath, ten minutes with the foam roller, and watching that day’s stage of the Tour de France before an early bedtime.
Day 6 – Aubrey Butte Circuit Race
Today was the final stage, and although I didn’t race this course last year in the Cascade Cycling Classic, I had raced the same course at U23 Nationals several years ago. However, although I knew the course, I was still a bit nervous for how it would play out. I knew the day would prove to be incredibly demanding, as NOW rallied to protect the yellow jersey (Alison Powers) and Tibco and Optum went into the race with clear objectives: take the yellow jersey (Optum’s Carmen Small was in 2nd, only 4 seconds back, and Megan Guarnier of Tibco was 3rd overall, 18 seconds behind Powers). Everyone went in ready and willing to race aggressively; the best chance the big teams had was for the race to hard, which would effectively prevent the field from coming to the finish line together.
The first lap of the race was kept at a quick and steady speed for the first ten miles, and then we hit the feed zone climb. That’s when the attacks began, and they were brutal. I remember thinking, “well, I’m going to give it all I have and try to stay up near the front of the field for at least this climb, and I’ll see what happens on laps two and three!” There was two main climbs on the course – one was the feed zone climb, and the other was the QOM climb, which came shortly after. The fact that there’s not much time between the two main climbs makes it an ideal time for teams to launch attacks, with riders getting shelled on the first climb and no time to recover before the second. I knew that if I could just hang on for those few miles, fight to stay near the front despite redlining, I would have time to recover after the QOM. From the top of the QOM to the beginning of the next lap (and what would be the finish on the final lap) it’s only about five kilometers of descent and fast rollers. For this reason, no attacks launched after the QOM amounted to anything, and the field came into the second lap as a large group. Near the end of the second lap, a small breakaway attempt formed and appeared to be sticking. Several teams attacked over the climbs to try to bridge up, and eventually the break consisted of only two riders, Amanda Miller, who had successfully dropped the other riders in the initial breakaway, and Kristin McGrath, who had managed to bridge up to Amanda without bringing any other riders. In the midst of these attacks and counterattacks, I was doing my very best to stay near the front to give myself a buffer if I did end up slipping back a few spaces, and stay protected from the wind.
The two-rider break off the front grew to a time gap that was dangerous to NOW, who would lose the yellow jersey if the two put too much time into Allison Powers. NOW realized this, and worked hard to bring them back coming over the feed zone on the final lap. The field went into the QOM climb all together, a final attack was launched in the rollers that followed, but the over the next several kilometers coming into the finish, all the riders in that group were caught except Kristin. The tempo was fast, and I knew it was the time to hold absolutely nothing back. I was now in the final minutes of the final stage, and I wanted to have no regrets. I moved up several positions, intent on going into the roundabout before the final stretch near the front. I ended getting slightly boxed out, but was still quite happy with my 13th place finish. This was my highest finish in an NRC race, one of only three top 20 finishes, and my first top 20 result in a road race. It was so encouraging to finish the stage race on a positive note, especially after my discouraging untimely departure of last year. I work hard to evaluate my performance based on where I’m at and where I’ve been previously, and using that scale, I’ve improved tremendously. I’m not at a place in my development as a cyclist where it’s a useful or even valid to seek results on par with Alison Powers or Carmen Small, but to see the gap closing, slowly but surely, between our respective levels and strength is so validating and rewarding. I am so glad my coach pushed my to go to the Cascade Cycling Classic when I was hesitant, and look forward to being even stronger next year.
FULL RESULTS CAN BE FOUND HERE: http://www.pros.cascade-classic.org/2012-pro-nrc-results/