ToAD Shorewood Criterium: Best of the Rest

I headed to the midwest earlier this week to race the first four days of Tour of America’s Dairyland (TOAD) – all of which are part of the National Criterium Calendar (NCC). The series includes eleven days of racing. Two of my teammates – Sam and Skylar Schneider – will race the entire series. Rushlee Buchanan and I are in town only for the NCC races because we have to go to a convention with TIBCO next week in Boston.

Before my first race last night, Johs and I spent two days in Rockford, Il visiting with my parents, brother, sister-in-law, two nieces and family friends. I’m lucky that quite often I race in the midwest and my family is always more than willing to watch me race. It’s less often that I actually get to visit with my family at their homes. This trip was special because Johs and I were able to spend time with my family outside of a bike race!

My brother got into cycling via running, which turned into a passion for triathlon. Although he’s been training meticulously now for nearly two years and currently building up to his first Ironman, we have yet to ride together. Finally, I got to share the bike love with him on the farm roads around our parent’s house. And I can’t wait till I can cheer for him during Ironman Wisconsin in September!!

My four-year-old niece, Sophia, worked me harder than my brother. I think it’s fair to call our games of hide and seek, tag and duck-duck-goose my cross-training for the day. It’s impossible to say no to the cute little voice pleading: “One more time, Aunt Murph. Just one more time.” And my 12 year old niece is the sweetest and toughest young lady ever. She might be quiet, but she’s one tough competitor and athlete already!

With some much needed family time under my belt, I met up with my teammates in West Allis, WI. Together, we headed to the Shorewood Criterium Cycling Classic. Prior to seeing the course, we had determined that our objective would be to let the race settle during the first 30 minutes of racing and then see if we could get up the road in the second half during the second half of the race.

Neither the course nor the weather lent itself to our original plan. The course was essentially a rectangle. There were two long stretches and two shorter ends. A slight zig zag on the back end of the course offered the only interesting feature. Less interesting and more dangerous was the section after the first turn. It was some of the worst pavement I’ve ever raced on in my career, and it prevented any effort from getting into a good rhythm. Anytime I rode on the front, I would lead the field straight into the gutter in search of smooth concrete over broken, battered road. Between the bad pavement, the wide open course and the strong wind, a break seemed unlikely.

Nearly fifty women lined up for the first race of the series. Fearless Femmes and Colavita were the strongest teams on paper. Fearless Femme include two national criterium championships – Theresa Cliff Ryan (USA) and Kimberley Wells (Australia). Tina Pic (bajillion time US National Criterium Champion) and Jen Purcell headed up the Colavita squad. We also had Laura Van Gilder (Mellow Mushroom) and Cari Higgins (Exergy Twenty16) among the starters. In other words, there were definitely some strong sprinters we’d need to watch.

(photo credit: On the Rivet photography)

When we realized any break attempts were fruitless, we decided we’d keep Sam safe ahead of the finish and hopefully ride her onto the podium in the sprint. With two laps left, Rush patrolled the front. I slotted in several wheels further back behind Fearless Femme. I had Sam and Skylar on my wheel and thought it was important to bide my time. With the strong wind, I didn’t want to be left as the last one on the front too early.

In hindsight, I realize that I probably should have been closer to the front. Fearless Femme was strong enough to stay on the front through the last corner, so they were able to get a really good jump from prime position. They did a fantastic lead out to deliver Kimberley Wells to the top step of the podium ahead of Jen Purcell (Colavita) and Laura Van Gilder. Sam was best of the rest in fourth place, and Skylar surprised us to come across the line in sixth place. Honestly, her results are less and less of a surprise each time I ride with her. Our favorite 14-year-old has been turing heads for a long time already!

The goal was to make the podium, and we fell just short. Was it disappointing? Sure – a little bit. But we raced well, and it’s a long series, so there’s no big worries.

Personally, I felt good. I made a small mistake at the end, not bringing Sam closer to the front a little bit earlier. With a super light race schedule up until this point of the season, I’m happy with what I did with the racing I have in my legs and my head. We still have three days to go, and I’m confident I know how to play the lead out better over the next few races.

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