After an extended winter break, I'm finally getting back to a regular commuting routine. It feels oh-so-good to be riding to and from work again. With all the racing action and my travels this spring I haven't been able to settle into a routine. I've only been ride-commuting once a week and sometimes not at all. But over the last few weeks I've been riding 2-3 times a week and I can feel that 4-5 days a week is just around the corner- Woohoo!
I live in a remote area north of Manhattan on the shores of Tuttle Creek Lake, so for the first 6 miles I traverse some pretty rough gravel roads just getting to civilization. Then it's 6 more miles of smooth winding hilly blacktop as I make my way away from the lake and out to a state highway. Once I jump on the ample Highway 13 shoulder, it's 8 miles into town and another 2 through town to work. I usually complete the 22 mile trip with a stop at Radina's Bistro for a fresh scone before heading to work for a shower and change. Then I've got all day to look forward to the ride home!
Home is 300 feet higher than work and I pass over 3 large hills each between 1/2 mile and 3/4 mile long with pitches between 6 and 10 percent. Then halfway through the gravel sector I have my favorite little darling- a 80 meter 20% kicker that has ever changing conditions between loose powdered gravel, mud, washboard, and hardpan. Then it's 3 miles across open range where I sometimes have to give a couple "yeehaws" to clear the cattle off the road. What fun.
I am truly blessed. It's a battle sometimes just getting on the bike at 6am but it's ALWAYS worth it.
It's not bad enough that the whipoorwills keep me awake all night with their incessant car alarm-like bleating. Or that the crows make sure I NEVER sleep in past sunrise. This morning on my ride into town I took a lark to the face.
It's burn season in the Kansas Flint Hills and that means the air is swamped with a smokey haze. Not so good for the lungs, but it makes for the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets. This morning I was JRA enjoying the bliss of a brisk morning ride under a beautiful multi-colored sky when... WHACK! --poof of feathers, then a limp body lodged in the crook of my shoulder. I brushed it off while continuing on but it left a nice little scratch along my cheek bone and my eye is a little puffy. Hope that little ____er didn't give me avian flu.
The rolling hills along the Missouri River with German vineyards occupying the steep-sloped hillsides makes a great backdrop for racing. Throw in cool temperatures and some overnight rainfall with sprinkles during the day and it was perfect!
Stage 1: Individual Time Trial, Saturday morning
10 miles of flat and straight out and back. I had calculated the time I wanted to achieve, based on last year’s results, at 24 minutes flat. I thought I could hit this number without digging into reserves that I’d need for the upcoming crit and road race and still get a pretty good result. That plan worked well except I came up 37 seconds short of my goal and the overall times were slightly faster this year- that was enough to push me waaay down the standings. I finished just outside of the points. I was disappointed with that but still felt good b/c I knew I’d saved a lot for the other races.
Stage 2: Criterium, Saturday afternoon
Wow. Wow. Wow. What a course. 1.2 miles of all up and down. The start/finish was located at the gates of the Stone Hill Winery situated atop one of many hills surrounding Hermann. The climb up to Stone Hill is short at just over 200 meters, but it’s 8% pitch (my best guess) was enough to separate out the true contenders. Once across the line, the road levels out along a ridgeline until the course turned 90 degrees and dumped us straight back into town at 45+ mph. Then, a couple of hard and fast corners brought us right back to the base of the Stone Hill climb. Awesome.
I got 2nd on the prime lap and crossed the finish in 5th. At three laps to go, two riders got away from us and were able to stay and finished 30 seconds ahead. So on the final climb, it would be a sprint for 3rd. I was with a group of 6 riders ahead of the rest of the field as we hit the base of the climb. When I jumped up to start the climb, I skipped my wheel. Immediately, I was at the back. But I was able to regain my momentum quickly and came around 3 riders. I gave it everything and was closing on the 4th placed rider but I blew out just before the line and settled into 5th. What a beautiful painful ride!
Stage 3: Road Race, Sunday morning
I wasn’t sure how my legs would race on Sunday morning after the TT and crit on Saturday but during our neutral roll threw town, I was enthused to be feeling pretty good. The parade ended at the edge of town where we hit the first of a series of relentless climbs. There was not a single stretch of flat road for the first 15 miles and this first climb just happened to be the biggest of them all. At the front, riders bolted and poured it on and the entire field of 50+ riders was immediately strung out. I hung on to the top 10 over the top and was feeling blown out but after a few more climbs I started to feel better and actually started to work with a few other riders to pull back a break of 5 that was getting up the road. All was good in the legs and the mind, but on each successive climb, my left cleat was slowly unscrewing itself until finally at around the 7th climb my foot began ejecting itself and I was unable to get clipped back in. I was on the front of the chase, so I pulled off and waved the others through. I continued to ride, soft pedaling with my left leg but I could tell that wouldn’t last long. I began begging for a screwdriver and when nobody had anything to offer, I stopped and waited for the wheel car, praying they had tools onboard. Unfortunately, after searching the truck for a few minutes, no luck. So, I threw my bike on and climbed into the back seat with a broken heart.
Looking back, I could’ve finished the ride but at the time I had tunnel vision of finishing at the front and watching the back of the 4’s filter past while sidelined at the wheel car just made me give up. Even with that bit of bad luck though, it’s my favorite race ever. So beautiful, so so hilly, and so much fun.
I felt lazy and unmotivated this weekend- not a good way to be going into a crit. I thought maybe I’d feel better once the race started but as each lap passed I just kept counting down to when it’d be over. It wasn’t as though I was struggling- I lead the group during several laps- but I just couldn’t shake the ‘care less’ attitude from my mind. Frustrated, I resigned myself to doing what I could to help Matt b/c he was looking his usual powerful self. I tried to pull for him and tried to give him some relief on the front and finally tried to spring him on the last lap, but the timing was so odd that I’m not sure I wasn’t just getting in his way. Brad didn’t seem to be enjoying his day too much either and we rolled across the line together near the back. Crits are something I haven’t decided if I love or hate yet and it’s looking like it might take awhile to figure out.
Looking ahead, I’ve got the Tour of Hermann this weekend and I’m VERY motivated for it. Like many of the races so far this spring it’ll be an unknown and a learning experience. It’ll be my first time trial as well as my first stage race and I haven’t any idea how I’ll fair in that situation. This year, there have been a couple of races where I felt I finished lower than I should have b/c I was too reserved. In Hermann, I plan to be more aggressive. It looks like the final 600m is pretty technical with 3 90-degree corners before the final sprint to the line. I’ll be doing everything I can to get to the front before that mess.
What a wonderful race… if you like riding in wind, cold, rain, sleet, and snow!
Before I talk about the race though, let me say CONGRATULATIONS TO NATE AND KAREN SCHOTANUS who were wed on Saturday. It was a wonderful wedding and a great reception (despite my MC’ing). I was honored to take part.
After a beautiful sunny spring day pondering love and celebrating nuptials, Sunday’s cold dark morning came hard and early. Actually, at 7am, it was as warm as it was going to be all day. The race started at 8:50am. The rain started at 8:40am. And the temps started dropping before that. I changed three times before the start and finally settled on fleece knicks with three layers on top- wool/longsleeve jersey/rain jacket. Incidentally, the rain jacket I just got from Volker the day before saved my day.
Wind was the order of the day, with rain- then driving sleet- and finally snow, mixed in. Brad W. and I briefly discussed strategy before the start and settled on: “Just Survive”. Unfortunately, Brad dropped a chain midrace and couldn’t get his fingers to work well enough to get it back on. Ask anyone in this race and they’ll tell you they had no feeling in their hands after about 20 minutes of racing.
It was a battle through the head and cross winds all the way out to Atchison. Then we turned around and had the wind behind us on our way back. As soon as we turned with the wind, two 360’s jumped on the front and started shoveling coal. Chris from Renaissance and a couple of SKC’s latched onto them and I got on their wheel. For the next several miles it was a matter of hanging on. Anyone still in the race was strung out in a line. I looked at my computer at one point while cranking hard to keep up on a flat section and it read 58kph.
Finally after 10 miles they let off the gas and nobody else wanted to take control. Then just after I saw the 10K sign, Chris started surging off the front and forcing everyone to chase him. At this point I was getting pretty deep and wondering if I’d last to the finish. Things were turning white in my periphery and it wasn’t snowing anymore.
Then, in a dreamy haze, I saw the 150m sign. At first I just kept cranking up the hill with everyone else while my frozen brain slowly processed it. Then it hit me: 150 METERS!!! I jumped up and lowered my head. I got around 4 riders but was unable to get up to a SKC and Bike Shack rider still in front of me.3rd place. My first cash payout. I actually left for home 10 bucks richer! As I write this, I am still warming up…