On the eve of the team’s departure for the Tulane race, I discovered a cyclist’s worst nightmare. My Cervelo’s carbon fiber frame was cracked around the seat tube, rendering my frame un-rideable. Instead of racing that weekend, I went back to the shop where I’d gotten the bike, and, thankfully, they took care of me. It took awhile to get the new frame in, though, so I rode the following race weekend at the University of Texas and Texas State on a borrowed Santa Cruz road bike, thanks to my teammate Andrew L.
Schedules had conspired to prevent me from riding my borrowed steed until the morning of the road race being held in Pace Bend park. The route consisted of laps of a 6 mile loop–the hilliest of the season, which made me nervous since I was riding with a standard crankset instead of the compact to which I am accustomed. As a result, I did not go into the weekend with high expectations for myself. Instead I was focused on doing what work I could for my teammate Jen, who had raced Tunis and wanted to upgrade to the Women’s A category with Kristen but had been denied. Kim and I were planning to work for Jen and help her to win so that she would be allowed to upgrade.
It was still cloudy when we lined up behind our lead car, though the forecast promised a hint of Texas summer. Along the roads, Texas wildflowers–especially the bluebonnets–were in full bloom. We rolled out of the staging area in neutral, and the race began after we climbed the hill to the finish line. I stuck near the front, pulling the pack when the occasion arose. When Jen threw attacks, I made others chase her; when other teams threw attacks, I made sure to cover them. Once, when an LSU rider decided to attack out of a corner and into a hill, I covered her attack and decided to launch a counter-attack when I shot straight past her. No one could get off the front, and, though we may have shed a few riders with our accelerations, the majority of the group remained intact. As the laps counted down, I started to push the pace when I was on the front, especially on hills.
Finally, in the last half of the last lap, we had worn the pack down sufficiently that when Jen attacked, only two riders were able to jump on her wheel. I was at the front at the time and was too strung out to jump on their wheels, but I caught Hannah from U of Houston as she went by, and a little chase group of Hannah, Kim, Elizabeth from UT, and myself went clear of the rest of the field. Since the lead group consisted of riders from A&M, UT, and MSU, Hannah sat on the front chasing while the rest of us held off. Once we were close enough to the line that we were sure the leaders were out of reach, the rest of us jumped into the fray. Jen finished in first; Kim and I took fifth and fourth, respectively.
By the time start times for the team time trial had arrived, the temperature had climbed into the 80s and shade was at a premium. Kristen, Jen, Kim, and I lined up for our first Women’s A team time trial together. We had just one lap of Pace Bend left to do. I led out of the start and around the first corner, all went smoothly in the rotation until halfway through the loop when I pulled too hard up the feed zone hill on the back stretch and we dropped a couple riders. After we regrouped, we continued through the second corner and back toward the finish with a tailwind. During one rotation within the last mile or so, Jen suggested that Kristen and I stay at the front since we were riding stronger. When I reached the front, I prepared myself for a longer pull. When the 1 km mark went by, I decided to give it my all. We were flying through the curves. The 200 m sign appeared at the foot of the second steepest hill on the course and I shouted for them to hold on as I accelerated up the hill.
Between the road race and the time trial, the officials had moved the finish line 20 feet or so down the road, and I have never experienced a longer 20 feet in my life than when I’d just sprinted up that hill. The rest of the team finished just behind me, and, though I felt like I was going to lose my lunch, I was happy with our ride. We ended up 24 seconds behind UT and a couple minutes behind MSU, but that was to be expected since they had more Women’s As on their teams. We still earned more points with a 3rd place in the As than we would have with a 1st place in the Bs.
We drove to San Marcos the next morning for the criterium, held by Texas State at San Marcos High School on a short, fast course with many turns, including a roundabout. It only took fields about one minute to complete a circuit, which did not leave many straightaways in which riders could attack. I began the morning with nervous circuits around a nearby parking lot, trying to accustom myself to cornering on the unfamiliar Santa Cruz, having felt very sketchy in a number of turns the previous day. Despite a good half an hour or more practicing on the parking lot and in a couple of laps of the course, I lined up at the start feeling very nervous. In fact, I just desperately wanted the next 30 minutes to be over with, preferably without me crashing.
The crit was a combined field of Women’s B/C, so we must have had close to 30 women on the starting line. I was in the second row behind my teammate Kim, and, when the whistle blew, I quickly got stuck halfway or even further back in the pack before the first turn. I didn’t feel great about the race, but I wasn’t about to let it be over already, so I started hammering past clumps of riders as I tried to reach the leaders. Despite my nerves before the start, I dove hard into the corners as I chased solo, just as I would have on my Cervelo. As I came up on Gabriela from UT, I encouraged her to work with me to close the final gap. We took turns for a couple of laps, including a memorable trip through the roundabout where someone yelled, “Go Gabby! Go Aggie!” to encourage us. Finally, we caught onto the tail end of the leader’s group and I was able to sit up and rest for a little while.
Soon, however, I found myself itching to move forward. I had four LSU women directly in front of me and my teammate Jen and Elizabeth from ACU were further up, taking turns pulling. But every time I tried to move forward, the LSU girls would block me out, leaving me with the choice of being caught out in the wind or drifting back to the back again. After a few tries, I gave up on trying to reach Jen. What little straightaways there were on the course were simply too short to let me move up. So I sat in on the end as the laps counted down. Even at the back, there was plenty to worry about, especially as we kept lapping Women’s C riders.
Heading into the final lap, the group accelerated and gaps started to form as the leaders tried to pass a clump of Women’s C riders in the roundabout while other riders hesitated. I jumped around several riders in order to latch onto the last LSU wheel coming out of the roundabout. Seconds later, we were through the second roundabout and headed for the final turn before the finishing straight. I knew from my previous chase that I could take this last corner extra wide and carry a lot of speed through it because the road was wide and the centerline rule was not in effect. As we came into the corner, the last LSU girl started to swing wide from where her teammates had been protecting her, clearly thinking the same thing I was. My first thought was “Leadout!” so I followed her. When we straightened, I found that I’d carried more speed through the turn, as my front wheel was about halfway up her rear wheel. I started clicking down my cassette, pushing the pedals hard in an attempt to get alongside her. Slowly we evened out, then I nudged my wheel ahead of hers and then, all of a sudden, I was in front and the finish line was passing beneath my tire!
Stunned, I realized I had unexpectedly just won my first race. I continued through the course once more to cool down, and, as I passed the roundabout, teammates yelled to me, asking for the results. “I just won,” I answered as I rolled past and into the parking lot. The other racers appeared moments later to congratulate me; I was still pretty much in shock. It turned out that Jen got boxed in at the last turn and hadn’t been able to sprint, so she finished sixth and Kim got ninth.
After the racing was done for the day, we hit up a local burrito joint that Texas State had assured us would give us a hefty discount for having raced. As luck would have it, my teammates ahead of me in line started a punchcard toward a free burrito, and I was the lucky recipient. The guys claimed that race winners are now entitled to a free burrito, and that’s just fine with me. (Photo credits: Kristen Kjellberg, Texas Cycling, Josh Robertson, TJ Nguyen)