The Steel City SHOWDOWN

The Steel City Showdown is an absolutely incredible event, JR (the promoter) does an amazing job putting it on and I highly encourage everyone in the area to participate in the future.  The course utilizing the bridges across the Allegheny River makes for a spectacular venue and the race could probably get itself on the NCC calendar in the next couple of years.  I hope to do it again in the future, but I can say for sure that it will never be a day trip again.

The race is in Pittsburgh, 4 hours from Baltimore, so I first tried to make use of the MABRA and my team’s listserv to find someone who would go to the race with me, to no avail.  I had work on Saturday morning and even though I was offered a night in a house near the race, I decided to make this trip alone in one day.

Never again.

With my trusty iPod plugged into the Super-Ru’s dash, I headed west at 8a in the morning, arriving at the course at 12:15p after worrying about being pulled over for speeding for 4 hours.  I had just spent a whole morning driving to do just an hour and 45 minutes of racing.  With the big prize purse and a course that favors bulkier riders like myself, I thought it would be worth it.  My favorite quote from this season so far comes courtesy of Ezra, my teammate: “road racing is a series of expensive and potentially painful lessons” (that’s not the real quote, I need to find that…).

In the middle of my warm-up, Matt from WVU rolled up and explained to me how many times he had driven around trying to figure out where to park.  This had also puzzled me since the police seemed to be blocking the road into the parking lot but were really just standing there.  Either way, I thought that I nailed my warm-up, felt fantastic and was ready to lap the field in a race.  You see where this is going…

My warm-up protocol is great for just getting the blood flowing but it didn’t prepare me for the anaerobic efforts that the race demanded.  I was signed up to do the 3/4s first and since a lot of guys are still relatively inexperienced in the race, there was a lot of surging due to poor cornering (myself included in that group).  For example, after the second and fourth corners on this particular course, you are basically sprinting uphill into the wind to stick with the pack over the bridges, especially if you’re not that great at tight cornering (like me).  So that race went terribly with me suffering at the back most of the time and leaving me unable to even contest for any primes.

I had to do some real soul searching to find the confidence to do the 1/2/3s after that but since I had come all that way to race, might as well get in a second.  I lined up at the back and was actually feeling better than I had in the 3/4 race thanks to being warmed up to anaerobic efforts.  I also figured out how to corner by backing off and accelerating into the corner rather than after it.  I really thought I would be able to finish the race until a guy on my outside had his rear wheel slide out.  I grabbed a handful of brake for no reason and really got on my horse to accelerate but I just couldn’t match the acceleration as the pack blasted over the Andy Warhol Bridge.  17 minutes in, I was off the back and pulled myself after another 2 laps.

So, the expensive lesson from this trip was that warming up the anaerobic systems of your body is really important to crits with less space.  This wasn’t as big of a deal at Somerville since there was plenty of space to carry speed through the corners but it was much different in 2/4 of the corners at Steel City.

The real winners

 

Bound Brook and Somerville

When people say that the best reason to upgrade is that you get later race starts, they are absolutely right.  This benefited me greatly when I saw that there were no listed start times for the Bound Brook Classic Criterium races.  It was well advertised that the Juniors would be racing at 1:30p but with only distances listed, I had to take a guess and assume that we would be starting at 3p.

Thankfully, the calamities started well before I got to the race.  Soon after I merged onto 95, I hit a bump and all of a sudden my bike was hanging by one arm of the bike rack.  After quickly pulling off and tying the bike down with every loose strap on the rack, the rest of the trip was thankfully uneventful.

When I rolled up to the course in a very non-descript neighborhood, I rolled past a bike that looked like one that my friend Tess from WVU rides.  I couldn’t tell if it was actually her because she was wearing a sunhat so I had to make an awkward stealth approach to see.  Thankfully it was her and all of a sudden, I had a friend at the race which I hadn’t been expecting.

After pinning my number, I realized that the races were progressing much faster than I had expected so I hurriedly prepared myself and got on the trainer.  After 12 minutes of my usual 25 minute warm-up, I flagged someone down to ask them how much longer the race that was going on would be.  “You had better get your ass to the line.”  Understood.  After setting a record time for filling bottles (from my now-famous water jug), checking my tires and changing the lenses in my sunglasses, I rushed to the line to find that I still had to wait 10 minutes.

After joking around with Tess’s fiancee Duncan, who was in my race, we got underway at 2:45.  Thank god I like getting to races 90 minutes beforehand.  After starting the race and realizing that I felt not so great despite my rest during the week, I hit a bump on the backstretch of the finishing lap which left my saddle looking like this:
image

 

After some 4-letter words regarding the content of character of my seat-post, I re-focused on the race but it was very hard to coast through corners properly while sitting like this.  In addition, instead of just pedaling, my legs had to hold my body up and pedal. After a couple of unsuccessful bridges, I resigned my self to sitting in until the end and figured I would just take a pack finish.  I figured that until the rear skewer of my bike came unseated from the dropout and nearly faceplanted me into the surprisingly not that nice roads of Bound Brook.

I stayed to watch the P/1/2 race and it was won by a 19 year old.  I had to seriously restrain myself from begging him to tell me his secrets.  I made the short drive to my host house and met the couple that was taking me in for the night.  Chris, who is a total bro and a former NJ state road race champ, was nice enough to let me set up my air mattress in their very beautiful house.

I felt good the next morning, so with a tightened skewer and seat clamp bolts, I set off to Somerville very excited.  A podium at a race like Somerville would be huge to start the summer with.  Somerville was the first cornerstone american race that I have been to (it’s a 70 year old race) and I am so happy that I was able to be a part.

Not much of note happened before the race aside from some guys who had come from Buffalo complaining about the heat.  Then, just as I was about to leave for the start line, they asked me where someone I had never heard of was.  Last year, my team (Team BBC) realized that we had designed kits very similar to those of a club from New York but hadn’t thought much of it since most of us didn’t travel that far for races.  I finally met someone who mistook me for the wrong club club.  Thankfully, I had Ezra there to back up that I was indeed not from NY and to reduce my anxiety of being at probably my second biggest event of the year (I’ll be doing an NCC race in August)

Bike racing, it’s like wearing the same clothes when you’re a couple but with more spandex

 

After using the bathroom of a spinning gym in town, I was able to get myself on the front line of the race and into the action immediately.  I attacked the field to try and take an early prime from a guy who was a short way up the road.  Duncan had a different idea, following me and the sprinting to take the prize (he split it with me, so I ain’t even mad) and I scooped up second.

With 8 or so laps left, I crossed a small gap to a solo rider and we rode together for what was apparently a prime lap (more on that later).  Ezra and one other rider bridged and we had a decent gap coming into 4 laps to go.  Cooperation was not ideal though and we were pulled back 2 laps later.  With 1 to go, I was preparing for an attack when the field decided to go 6 wide into a corner that can really only accommodate 3.  So, 4 guys stuffed it into a curb and guess who was stuck behind?

Yeah, bad positioning=my fault.  But, the good news is that I apparently won more money than the vast majority of the field.  When I was up the road with that other guy, there was apparently a prime and since he happened to be pulling (he didn’t realize it was a prime either), he won $100.  When I asked if the primes were for 2 places, I was told no even though they had announced 2 numbers for the first one.  I was talking to Lindsay (Ezra’s girlfriend) 5 minutes later when they called my number.  The primes were actually for 2 places, so with the half that Duncan gave me plus the two 2nd places I got, it paid for gas and my lunch post-race.  Pretty sweet trip.  Oh yeah, and the kid who won the P/1/2 Saturday?  Won the 2 on Sunday.  Derek Cote, watch that name.

It was quite the atmosphere even though the race was taken off the NCC calendar this year.  Can’t wait for the Rochester Twilight Criterium in August and I’m looking forward to a fun season this year.

Back to where it all began

Back in 2012, I got my first road bike for my 17th birthday and it changed my life.  Forget girls, drugs and alcohol, I have to be up for a bike race at the asscrack of dawn.  Sometimes I think I should go back and smack myself.  After a little research, I found the closest race to me: Kelly Cup and somehow got myself signed up for the Juniors 15-18 category.  I had no idea what I was walking into.  I got completely smacked down and with such a busy summer, did not return until the next year.  I did some research and realized that it is normal for the Juniors categories to be much harder than the beginner categories.  Lesson learned.

I would be the little girl in this context

Fast forward to Kelly Cup 2015: I have just come off my second season of collegiate bike racing and am having my best season yet.  This year has already included five top 5s including my first win plus improvements in power that have made me very hopeful for my future in the sport.  And yet, I was in for another smackdown.

After some consulting with my coach, we concluded that I would probably be OK doing both the Category 3 and P123 races.  However, we failed to take into account the fact that finals can put even someone with ice flowing through their veins on edge.  This leads to some fairly heavy physiological stress that I have not experienced before but as I now know, that’s what 4 engineering courses in one semester does to you.

Thankfully, my discipline is on a slightly smaller scale

So, I got to the race and it was just brutally hot, it actually felt like someone had opened the door to hell after the freezing winter we had.  In his book, Phil Gaimon suggested getting tick marks on your upper thigh to indicate temperature based on how low your scrotum sags.  It would have been really easy to tell the differences using that method.  The day varied between 70 and 95 degrees depending on whether the sun was behind the clouds plus 70%+ humidity.  If my sweat had been collected, it would have been exactly an assload of sweat.

After realizing that someone had unintentionally (or intentionally, I’m gonna give Baltimore the BOTD in case of more riots) taken one of my gelbots, I got in a solid warm-up and felt really good.  For most people, that would be a good thing but I have never done well in races where I feel awesome right beforehand.  The Category 3 was first and during the race, I felt like every time I put down power to accelerate through the pack, I was unable to sustain any effort.  The pack was small too, so there was little chance to recover in the draft.  Thankfully, Ezra bridged to the right move and stayed away with his group of 3 to come in 2nd.  I worked with a 20/20 guy to slow the group and put in a move at the bell but couldn’t stay away.  Drifted in for a post-pack finish and congratulated Ezra.

The good thing about the day is that I had the foresight to bring my water jug (the 5 gallon type that goes in a water cooler).  I have that because at WVU, we were advised to not drink the tap water due to mine tailing and fracking and so we went to “Gucci Krogers” and purchased it.  I have had it since and it has been invaluable in providing hydration.  This summer, I am planning on building a rig so that it can be stable and pour out of a car and not move.

The time in between races consisted of eating food, laying down with my feet up and drinking most of the water jug.  As we were waiting for them to open the gates for the P/1/2/3 race, my dad showed up which gave me a huge morale boost after a poor showing earlier.  I lined up near the back, not wanting to get in the way of faster riders which turns out to not matter when you start on a downhill.  For some reason, I had poor clip-ins at both races and I almost watched the field rocket away from me.    You can get an idea of the rest in the video below.

The video doesn’t show it (youtube only allows 15 minute videos), but I was dropped at 17 minutes.  Overall, it was little bit of a disappointing day since I was hoping to get a top 5 in the Cat 3 race and at least finish the P123 but I’ve had terrible weekends followed by great ones in the past.  So, next stop: Tour of Somerville.

The road to the future

These past couple months have been interesting: helping run the cycling club, dealing with a 17 credit course load and trying to find an internship have not been easy even if I only fully succeeded with two of them (hint: I’m lifeguarding this summer). I really needed someone to look up to, so when I started reading “Pro Cycling on $10 a day” by Phil Gaimon somewhere in the early part of the semester, it gave me some incredible inspiration.

The book is the story about how an overweight kid utilizes a sport to transition from an unhealthy childhood to the top of the professional ranks while finishing college.  It made me realize that while my life may seem difficult, it is entirely possible to not only succeed but thrive in a college environment both educationally and athletically.  I finished it in about two days the first time and have read it two more times since then. It makes for easy reading compared to my statistical thermodynamics class and gets me through the times when it is difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The one huge lesson that the book taught me is that you have to be proactive in order to be prepared for certain opportunities.  Even though I didn’t get a technical internship this summer, I’m planning to prepare myself further for what I want to do in the future.  This will include learning basic coding, CAD, FEA and hopefully carbon fiber lay-ups.  In addition, I have the opportunity to make huge strides in fitness this summer since I’m essentially being paid to sit around and recover every day.  Although I won’t have the opportunity to work in a lab like I wanted, I do have an opportunity for growth that has not presented itself in a while and needless to say, I’m pretty damn excited.