After a string of mildly disappointed personal performances (despite all the reasons I had to alleviate those disappointments), I needed a confidence boost today at Clarendon Cup. The first of two crits that make up the Air Force Cycling Classic was only my second crit of the season. It was also only my second race with the team (since I pulled out of Joe Martin and didn’t start Gila due to illness).
I was legitimately nervous ahead of the start of the race – not shaking in my cleats nervous but anxious about what I would personally be able to contribute. I told Angela, my director, that it might take me a little time to work myself into the race as it did in Charlotte back in April. I told Jo Kiesanowski, our sprinter, the same thing. I asked them to have some patience with me at the start.
I was surprised that this requested patience wasn’t required. The field was fairly small, so it was easier to move around. It also helped that I got a call-up, which gave me the chance at a decent start. I honestly believed I would need a few laps to find my crit legs, but they were there almost immediately. I was able to move around in the bunch right away, so I got myself up front and began to cover moves. It was a hugely pleasant surprise to become reacquainted with good racing legs.
My nerves about the crit extended beyond the start. I hadn’t been doing a lot of race efforts that require that snap needed to attack and counterattack. Mountain bike racing does not require those short, sharp bursts of power crits demand. I was nervous about how my body would respond to what I would be asking it to do, but as soon as I started doing it, I realized that I was okay. My body recovered the way it needed, too. I put myself in a couple moves up the road and was able to cover several different attacks at different points throughout the 50K race.
Yes, 50K. It was a long crit – and rather technical, too. Each lap was 1K, so we raced 50 laps in total. The course included only five turns, but three of them were greater than 90 degrees. In general, I appreciate a hard, technical course, so today definitely suited me in that regard.
Kendall Ryan was the star of the day for Team TIBCO. She went into a move with Emma Grant (Optum Health p/b Kelly benefit Strategis) and Kacey Manderfield (Pure Energy) after 20 laps. Kendall and her breakmates gained somewhere around 20 seconds. We were blocking – and Optum was, too. Somehow the field managed to bring the move back. Kacey sat up as they were about to be reabsorbed, but Emma put in another dig and Kendall followed , which sent the two of them up the road again.
Having Kendall up the road definitely made the race easier on the team. We had a clear job to do, and we did it. We sat in and covered any bridge attempts. I repeatedly found myself jumping on someone’s wheel and waiting for my teammates to bring us back. It was near-perfect teamwork, and after weeks of racing solo on my mountain bike, it felt really good to be part of a collaborative effort again.
The gap between Kendall and Emma yo-yo’ed during their 30 laps off the front. Sometimes we could see them on the finishing straight. Other times several laps would go by without a glimpse of them. As the laps ticked down, it eventually became clear that they would stay away. Instead of worrying about bridge attempts, we began to switch gears and focus on the field sprint for third. We remained attentive to late race attacks because we didn’t want to let anyone sneak away and snag the final podium spot.
Jennifer Wheeler went to front with three laps left and drove the pace. I took over with two laps to go. At one to go, I kicked things up and went as hard as I could all the way until the fourth turn.
Pre-race we had talked about the importance of coming out of the penultimate corner as second wheel in order to win the sprint. I pulled off the front when I realized that Leah Kirchmann (Optum Health p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies), not Jo, had managed to find my wheel. The last thing I wanted to do was lead out Leah. I sat up in the corner, effectively allowing Jo to be second wheel and to force Leah into the wind. It was a good strategy in theory but didn’t work out quit as expected.
Jo came around Leah at some point, and it was a drag race to the finish. Up ahead, Emma had managed to drop Kendall during the final two laps, and she soloed to victory. Kendall easily held on for second place. Leah won the bunch sprint for third. Behind Leah, Team TIBCO took fourth, fifth and sixth.
Having drilled it during the last two laps and going absolutely full gas for the final 700 meters I spent on the front during the final lap, I was done. My teammates were clear across the line by the time I soft pedaled to the finish.
Would a win have been nice? Of course. Am I happy with how the team rode? Absolutely. I’m also pretty proud of my own personal performance, and it was been FAR too long since I have been able to say that.
It’s good to be back in the pack and surrounded by teammates. I put pressure on myself to contribute in the way that I expect that I can, but it’s totally different than the kind of pressure I feel when I mountain bike. I continue to maintain that I’m racing mountain bikes for fun (and it IS fun). I’m not expected to have any sort of stellar result, but because it’s an individual pursuit, I’m racing for myself. There’s not much to else I can use to determine how I feel about a race beyond my result – not much else that’s tangible, anyway. It’s very different from all the various ways I can contribute and feel good about my performance than racing on the road with my team.
Today I’m happy with my race. I’m happy because my legs felt good and my nervousness was unwarranted. I’m happy because I contributed more than I expected, and I’m proud of the way the team rode. We did everything right today. When it comes down to a sprint, you can’t do much if someone simply has better legs at the end. Emma is a strong rider, and she knew Kendall would likely beat her in a sprint. She did what she needed to do to get rid of Kendall before the finish. Leah is a smart, savvy sprinter. She’s tough to beat in a head-to-head sprint. Today we didn’t get her. We’re looking forward at having another crack at it tomorrow at Crystal City.