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Amber Rais

Route de France:

My Kind of Heaven

By:
Cycling News
Published:
December 19, 2007, 0:00 GMT,
Updated:
April 22, 2009, 20:11 BST

My last races of the season were in Europe: La Route de France Feminine and Albstadt...

My last races of the season were in Europe: La Route de France Feminine and Albstadt Frauenetapperennen in Germany. After the chaos of packing, bike-bag checking, security lines and a zealous quest for Peet's coffee, I settled into my seat on the plane, relaxed by the thought that I didn't have to do anything for the next sixteen hours. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and let the full reality of where I was going and what I was doing wash through me. I took out my notebook to record the moment: "On the plane, flying out of Washington Dulles for Paris. I am nearly bursting with happiness and excitement – I have traveled all over the place with my bike, and now I get to race in Europe! All of this from dedication and joy in doing what I love, under my own power and motivation – it's beautiful."

La Route de France Feminine

At La Route I had the honor of racing with a phenomenal group: Amber Neben, Kori Seehafer, Mara Abbott, Katheryn Curi and Meredith Miller. Keeping us fine tuned and focused for the event were Laura Downey (Soigneur), Chris Franges (Mechanic) and Frank Overton (Directeur Sportif).

Every step of this adventure imbued a sense of exhilaration. I distinctly remember the first time I pulled the National Team jersey over my head. We rode out of our tiny host village in Normandy sporting red white and blue through sunny fields of haystacks and wild flowers. "We're in FRANCE!" I thought over and over, with increasing thrill. I soaked it all in – road signs in French, charming old barns with red brick exposed beneath tired plaster, and cobblestones everywhere. My excitement overshadowed the jetlag and the tiny catch in my throat, which I naively chalked up to a little heartburn.

The race kicked off with an explosive performance by Team USA. Kori Seehafer tore through those crazy cobbled streets faster than anyone, winning the opening prologue, and Amber Neben clocked a blazing time for third place. Two on the podium and the yellow jersey – not a bad start!

The next day, the tickle in my throat revealed its true identity with devastating effect: coughing, congestion, swollen sinuses and full body exhaustion. After the stage, I paid a visit to the race doctor, who recoiled in horror after inspecting my throat: strep. He immediately prescribed antibiotics and sent me packing with firm instructions to take it easy. Ha! I wasn't about to leave our team short-handed so easily. After discussing the situation with our D.S., I decided to hang in as long as I could, in hopes that I might feel better after a few days on antibiotics to be of help to the team in the later stages of the race.

Given our commanding position after the prologue, our job was to maintain control of the peloton. Stage races place enormous energy demands on racers. Putting over 850 kilometers of race intensity in your legs in eight days is no joke, so the key is to focus on the decisive parts of the race (in a stage race, these are usually the longer time trials and big climbing days) and to save as much energy as possible at all other times. At least, that is what you do if you want to win. If you are a domestique, as I was, your job is to do the work necessary to maintain control of the race and allow your team leader to conserve energy for the decisive time trials or climbing stages.

I did my best to help where possible, for the most part willing myself beyond the waning strength in my body just to stay with the peloton. And you know what? I loved every minute of it – the yelling and chatter in languages I didn't understand, the small triumphs of helping where I could and finishing each stage, the roundabouts and road furniture, the aggression in the peloton and the crowds in every town. I loved discovering a new level of suffering, and with it, a new depth to my will. At the end of each stage, when I could barely walk or breathe, I would think to myself: this is heaven!

By the end of the week, as the illness began to subside and strength began to return to my wasted legs, 'giving everything' began to mean more than hanging in by the skin of my teeth to race another day. I was finally able to seriously contribute, pulling through our echelon at the front, setting tempo between QOM sprints, and jumping after attacks. These triumphs might seem small, but it was such a good feeling to be making a difference again, to be racing and adding to the team effort when Katheryn, Meredith, Kori and Mara had borne the brunt of the work during the early stages.

At La Route, I experienced real transfers for the fist time. Sure we have occasional 'transfers' in the states, but these usually refer to driving 45 minutes to the start of a particularly far-away stage. After some stages of La Route, we would drive three hours to a new hotel. We quite literally raced across northern France, rarely staying in one place for more than a night, and if we did, it was a real treat to set up a semi-permanent camp and actually take things out of the travel bags. For the most part, however, we never bothered to unpack.

Over the course of the stage race, I noticed a remarkable change in the peloton. At first, I had to dodge elbows and hip-checks to maintain position. Upon noting my jersey, it seemed that other racers would promptly put me in the wind, or worse, the gutter, so I quickly learned to hold my ground. As the race went on, however, and we continued to successfully protect the yellow jersey (first for Kori and later for Amber Neben), other racers would actually make way for us in the peloton! Such was the respect garnered by the yellow jersey and our team's efforts. Having never experienced this before, I had previously regarded this aspect of cycling etiquette as urban legend, but not so!

We won the Yellow Jersey and overall Team Classification and two stages with the total commitment of every team member (and by 'team' I mean everyone – racers, soigneur, mechanic and D.S.). We celebrated by going out for pizza and enjoying a few hours of food and laughter, made even merrier by good French wine and the added company of Mara's older brother, Nate, who had rented a bike to follow part of our race. Very cool.

Albstadt Etapperennen

Our squad then met up with Lauren Franges in Albstadt, Germany, for the Albstadt Frauenetapperennen (Albstadt Women's Stage Race). After a beautiful drive from France into Germany (including rest stops with coin-operated WC's and self-cleaning toilets – wacky!), we were greeted in Albstadt at the Landessportschule by race organizers, who promptly helped us to get situated. From the moment we arrived, it was clear that the hospitality here would surpass all expectations.

That night, we joined race organizers and media folks for a very tasty Italian dinner, and when I opened the menu, I had no idea what a single word meant. It was a strange feeling to go from being able to read everything and speak easily with anyone in France, to absolute linguistic disconnection. Thankfully, almost all of the folks we met spoke excellent English, and I quickly learned the essentials: 'danke' means 'thank you,' 'bitte' means 'please,' and 'excuse me' is 'Entschuldigung.' Even if you don't speak any other words of a language, locals appreciate the effort, and these simple phrases can go a long way.

Before the race, we were treated by the race organizers to a field trip at Burg Hohenzollern, a medieval castle once home to the family Hohenzollern, one of the ruling families of Prussia. The castle was rebuilt twice during its long history, most recently in the mid-1800's in the English Neo-Gothic style, and presides over expansive green valleys from its perch atop Mount Hohenzollern – spectacular! We walked through the castle and grounds, taking photos around every corner. Having lived in the U.S. my whole life, I haven't seen many medieval castles other than on film!

My cold had subsided, but my body had not yet recovered from the combined stress of illness and an eight day stage race. A race is a race, though, and we got this one going with a 4k prologue in downtown Albstadt. Despite the rain, the crowds were awesome, and I felt really motivated. The funny thing with time trials is that when you finish, you really have no idea how it went. Invariably, I feel like I could collapse upon crossing the finish line, and that either means it went really well, or really badly: it could go either way. This time, it went well, especially considering how I was feeling. Unfortunately, this would be the last I'd see of anything resembling good legs.

The circuit race the following day took place under sunny skies and before throngs of spectators. Team USA had a great showing with aggressive performances by Lauren Franges and Kori Seehafer. Lauren got away from the field for a solo lap, but with the field chasing and no one bridging, the group came back together. I was a little overzealous in the first half of the race and despite encouragement from my teammate Meredith Miller, managed to blow myself to pieces with several laps of the circuit to go. Thankfully, I got to jump in with a group that included my Webcor teammate, Helen Kelly, who was racing for the Australian National Team there. Our small group rotated pulls to finish within the time limit, so we could race again the next day.

The last race of the Albstadt tour is filed in my memory under the heading: Longest Crit of My Life. Technically, I suppose it was a road race, but the short, technical course (the kind I usually love) felt far more like a crit, as did the speed. A few laps in, my body was thinking: Right on! I love crits! The problem is that crits in the U.S. usually last at most an hour and a half, which is what I think my body was expecting. Not so. This race would last over three hours. Normally, I would be in heaven, but my demolished legs were in no condition to 'race' a three hour crit, let alone 'survive' one. Besides, the point of racing is to race, not just to survive.

Several times during the race, I'd think "Okay, you have no legs, so give everything you have left to get to the front and do something – anything – to help, to race. Then, if you're toast, you're toast, but at least you raced." Then I'd throw down what would feel like a suicidal effort to move up through the group. I got close a few times, but never close enough, or with enough in my legs to make an impact. Then I would see the lap counter, and I'd think: "Okay, finish one more lap. You know you have at least one lap in you." These mind games eventually got me through the whole race. It was a true exercise of will; my legs had almost nothing to do with getting me to the finish.

On the other hand, my teammate Lauren Franges had great legs and went after this race with gusto, initiating and driving a break to the finish, while Kori, Meredith and Katheryn patrolled the front of the main field. With her courageous performance, Lauren finished fourth on the stage – an awesome result.

All of my teammates in Europe – Amber Neben, Lauren Franges, Kori Seehafer, Meredith Miller, Katheryn Curi and Mara Abbott – raced with guts, honor and commitment. My experiences racing with them taught me much and inspired me even more.

Racing at this level is an honor in and of itself, but it's not enough just to be there. The whole point is to be there and to make a difference. It was bad luck getting sick on day one of my first European adventure, but sometimes, that's just how it goes. My teammate Rachel and I have often discussed the importance of knowing when to let go of those aspects of racing over which you have no control. For example, when sick or injured, it's important not to dwell on being sick or injured, but to instead focus on what you can do about it, on healing and coming back stronger.

As I look to next season, that is my plan. I won't waste time worrying over things that I cannot change. Instead, I am focusing on what I can change, and I'm doing everything in my power to come back stronger and more prepared to make a serious impact.

Epilogue

After Albstadt, we drove to the team house in Italy, and from there, I took a train north to Graz, Austria. It would be the first time in my life that I would set foot in that country, and within nine days, I would be living there. It's been an adventurous year, and there is more to come. Check back soon for stories about the off-season from my new home in Austria!

Thanks for reading,

Amber

Go Green Tip #12

The holiday season is upon us, and as you consider your prospects for unbridled consumerism this year, take a moment to reflect on how you can contribute to the economy without compromising the environment. Perhaps try doing something special for your loved ones, rather than buying something for them. Second-hand and recycled items can also provide great options. For more on green gift-giving ideas, check out these websites:

1. Grist 10 Ideas for "Stuff-Free" Gifts: www.grist.org/feature/2007/11/20/stuff-free/index.html
2. NRDC Great Green Gift-Giving Guide: www.nrdc.org/cities/living/ggift.asp
3. CA Department of Conservation Green Gift Guide: www.greengiftguide.com/
4. Environmental Defense Green Gifts for the Holidays: www.edf.org/article.cfm?contentID=5616
5. Yahoo! Green 2007 Gift Guide: green.yahoo.com/holiday2007/
6. National Geographic Green Guide: www.thegreenguide.com/doc/123/seasonsgreenings

Team Webcor Builders happy after Tour de 'Toona Stage 1 win

Summer retrospective: Part II

By:
Cycling News
Published:
November 07, 2007, 0:00 GMT,
Updated:
April 22, 2009, 20:11 BST

I got to partake in some classic East Coast racing before heading to my first races in Europe. I...

I got to partake in some classic East Coast racing before heading to my first races in Europe. I grew up in the desert in Reno, Nevada, so unless I'm racing at altitude through sagebrush, racing conditions almost always feel humid to me. However, the East Coast is a different story altogether, especially in the heart of summer. I think we sweated so much that we actually ran out of sweat a few times. Even so, I love racing in the eastern states.

Another side-effect of growing up in the desert is being wowed by greenery everywhere (how do those lawns stay so green?), but Pennsylvania and North Carolina boast landscapes so lush, it becomes sensory overload. What beautiful places to ride!

International Tour de 'Toona

The hands-down highlight of Altoona occurred at the start of Stage 1, the team time trial (TTT). We had been looking forward to this for months. Not only did our team have a number of strong time trialists, but we also had a deep sense of connection among the riders – a key ingredient for successful team time trials, as I learned in my days of collegiate racing. In the US, we have few opportunities to race the TTT, which is sad, because it's an event that showcases the true intensity and quality of teamwork. While every bike race is an expression of teamwork and sacrifice, in no event is it so tangible as in the TTT. The team becomes one in an instrument of controlled fury. You concern yourself only with the speed and efficiency of the whole, and find yourself riding out of your mind, suffering on a new level to maintain the speed of this fierce machine.

As we lined up at the start, ready to explode with excitement, the bandstand speakers began to play a sappy, slow tune – not at all in keeping with the feeling among us, and in stark contrast to the warm-up mix Mara had prepared for the team (complete with such classic jock jam artists as Sir MixALot and Salt-N-Pepa). This slow-dance song just wasn't going to cut it. A minute to go at the start, without missing a beat and with booming volume, the whole team burst forth in the 80s classic "Baby Got Back": "I like big butts and I cannot lie; you other brothers may deny…" We were loud enough that the crowds started laughing along with us. The song got us grinning and pumped for the race, ready to rock.

A minute later, I was cross-eyed with pain as we thrashed the pedals in smooth formation at top speed. We made our mark with a win (by a small margin over powerful performances by Lipton and Colavita), and got to see Katheryn don the first yellow jersey of her career. It was an intense and emotional podium, not soon to be forgotten!

Charlotte and Hanes Park

Wrapping up the end of my season in the US, I raced with my team-mates Rachel Heal and Laura McKenzie at the one-day criteriums in Charlotte and Hanes Park. As most people know, our team focuses primarily on stage races, so we don't race too many one-day crits (which can be remarkably different in tactics and racing style from crits in a stage race). The time-compressed tactical microcosm of a one-day criterium offers many lessons in bike racing, and I learned a lot from trying something so different from the usual faire of our team's race schedule.

In a long road race, you may have some buffer if your focus wavers: losing position may not mean catastrophe if you're not at a crux point in the race, and you may have some time to recover from the slip (if you're lucky). The one-day crits, however, require constant, intense focus, a break from which means the end of your race, either by loss of opportunity, or worse, by a crash. I learned a lot by watching the more experienced riders position themselves and by working on my own focus. These lessons would serve me well in the coming weeks when I raced for the first time in Europe… but that is another story.

In Charlotte, I also learned that training in the mild coastal climate in California is not good preparation for racing in humid 100 degree Fahrenheit weather. On our ride over to the downtown Charlotte race course, Rachel and I were shocked to discover that the breeze against our legs as we pedaled did nothing to cool us, but in fact made us hotter, as though we were riding straight into a giant hairdryer. When we'd finished racing, we felt so hot and sweaty I would have thought a person would explode before reaching such thermal extremes, yet there we were. As Rachel and Laura laid on the ground in exhaustion, I went to Starbucks to load up on some cold drinks for everyone. I think I packed six drinks in all into my jersey pockets, joking with the folks in line about "going back for bottles" even after the race had finished. The three of us had a lovely picnic in the street, savoring the cold refreshments and the sweet exhaustion that follows a good race.

Most importantly during our stay in North Carolina, we learned about the legendary Booty Loop, a loop in downtown Charlotte composed of all right-hand turns such that one can ride for laps on end without stopping for lights or traffic. The Loop passes what used to be an all-girls college (hence the name) and winds along smooth pavement lined with enormous trees and lush greenery. Our gracious hosts, the Wards, shared this bit of cycling tradition with us, along with their splendid cooking (excellent burgers and smoked pork and chicken, as well as the tastiest roasted potatoes and home-baked brownies and cookies I can remember), and full use of their Play Station 2, with which we rocked Guitar Hero and discovered that John Murphy's mild-mannered alter-ego as a pro cyclist for Health Net is just a cover for his identity as a Guitar Hero mega-star. Seriously, that kid is off the charts on the GH Star Power Meter.

Stay tuned for more retrospective highlights covering my first races in Europe with the US National Team!

Thanks for reading,
Amber

Go Green Tip #11

Who doesn't love a coffee-shop ride? Some start at the coffee shop, some end there, others tour a series of coffee shops, and as we all know, many rides involve more time at the coffee shop than actual riding! Well, here's a tip for you coffee-loving cyclists out there: drink responsibly. Support brewing practices with social and environmental standards by looking for coffee that is organic, shade-grown and fair trade. Thankfully these ideas are catching on quickly, so you won't have to sacrifice great taste to drink responsibly.

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Amber Rais

Mara Abbot demonstrates how not to put on a pair of shorts!

Summer retrospective: Part I

By:
Cycling News
Published:
October 23, 2007, 1:00 BST,
Updated:
April 22, 2009, 20:11 BST

A long while has passed since my last entry, and I apologize for the silence. That time has been...

A long while has passed since my last entry, and I apologize for the silence. That time has been filled to the brim with constant racing and travel, along with the usual chaos and hilarity. I'll cover some highlights from the summer races to catch up a bit in the next few entries.

Nature Valley Grand Prix

I left off my last entry as I took a mid-season break to recover my legs just before the Nature Valley Grand Prix. Having no idea how my legs would feel in response to the rest I'd taken felt strange and slightly disconcerting, but I couldn't wait to race!

The NVGP is near to my heart, as it was the first stage race I'd ever done (and it happens to take place in David's hometown). I'd raced it solo in 2005 after winning the collegiate nationals, and it was the first time I'd sought guidance from Linda Jackson, who would later become my coach. At the time, she barely knew me but believed in me. (I have to admit: I was a bit star-struck!) She gave me her phone number to call for support and advice, guiding me through the whole race a day at a time. I fell in love with stage racing.

Two years later I rolled to the start of Stage 1 with a full team of green and could recognize most faces in the peloton. Reflecting on the past served as a motivating reminder of how far I'd come and calmed my fears about how my legs might feel. It took a few days, but the legs finally came around.

The St. Paul Riverfront time trial was the turning point for me. As I started the time trial, my head wasn't quite in it, as I had trouble clipping in and was unsure of my legs. Sure enough, however, the old killer instinct soon took over, and I was back in the game. Despite my hesitation early in the race, I placed fifth in the time trial that day, and that felt good, really good.

Rachel's result at Mankato proved to be a major highlight that week. The race finished on a circuit that included a brutally steep climb followed by a twisting descent to the flat finish at the base of the climb. The field shattered on the first lap of the circuits, with Kristin Armstrong (Lipton) countering the first QOM sprint and leaving the field behind. The next group on the road included several strong climbers: Felicia Gomez and Kristin Sanders of Aaron's, Alex Wrubleski of Colavita, and my teammates Rachel Heal and Mara Abbott.

After helping Mara chase Armstrong for awhile, Rachel started to lose contact up the hill each time, but every time, she fought her way back by the bottom of the descent. On the last lap, she fell off the group on the climb as they surged for the finish. Mara kept looking for her on the descent, but she was nowhere to be found. The group was sure she'd been dropped, but Rachel does not give up so easily (actually, she never does), and had fought back again, timing her reappearance with brilliant precision as she attacked and dove for the final corner, taking everyone by surprise and winning the group sprint for second behind Armstrong's (awe-inspiring!) solo victory. A moving example of tenacity and courage!

Another highlight of the week occurred just before the downtown Minneapolis crit. As we got ready to warm up, Mara whispered with furtive giggles in my direction: "Psst! Amber, look! You can't tell anyone!"

I looked up and it took me a moment to realize what she'd meant, by which time she'd decided against the need for secrecy and laughing uncontrollably, announced to the whole team: "Hey, look you guys!"

She had put her shorts on backwards. Classic.

US National Championships

The highlights of Nationals are too numerous to recount with any justice. We took home the stars and stripes with a strong team effort in the road race, and seeing so many teammates and friends grinning on the podium - knowing their dreams, dedication, disappointments, and comebacks - felt deeply inspiring.

I experienced powerful and mixed emotions at Nationals, as I'm sure many riders do. On the one hand, I have unwavering commitment to my team and our collective goals. On the other, I have deep respect and empathy for competitors in the peloton. We're all here for the same reasons - to chase our dreams, support teammates, and push one another other to new heights of pain, sacrifice, and accomplishment. In that sense, you're almost rooting for everyone's success, because you can empathize with your competitors in their struggles toward their dreams. In another sense, you want to tear their legs off and crush them in your quest for team victory. When all is said and done, however, these chaotic emotions settle into a larger sense of honor - feeling honoured to compete here among the most dedicated and talented American women cyclists and to be a part of the venerable history and tradition of cycling.

It was as much an honor to witness the courageous rides of our competitors (Amber Neben's unstoppable determination, even racing solo; Kristin Armstrong's indomitable aggression in pursuit of a team win; Kori Seehafer's fearless race after coming back from a broken collarbone) as it was an honour to see Mara in the stars and stripes jersey and to have raced alongside my teammates for that honour. It takes both sides to create the meaning and humanity in sport that make it so beautiful.

Keep your eyes on Jerika Hutchinson, a junior racing out of Shasta, California. I met Jerika last year at the Nationals and have had the pleasure of seeing her out at the races in Northern California. She is one tough cookie, and a lot of fun. A hard worker, she has shown her determination on the bike with steady and impressive improvement, in addition to being an excellent student in school. This year, she took home the stars and stripes, winning the Junior National Championship Time Trial with a fantastic ride. She then went on to win the bronze medal in the time trial at the Junior World Championships. This girl has heart, and it shows.

After the podium ceremony, Mara and I decided to celebrate with some cartwheels on the lawn, much to the amusement of onlookers. Jerika found this particularly funny and probably has some hilarious photos she's saving for blackmail purposes.

Next up: more highlights from the end of the summer in the US, and my first races in Europe.

Thanks for reading,

Amber

Go Green Tip #10

As cyclists, we all know that nutrition is important, and many are aware that Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids can help maintain good health in a variety of ways, including enhancing heart and brain function. One way to get these through diet is by eating fish. However, not many are aware of the dire state of our oceans (i.e., seafood supply). Scientists are predicting that unless we do something now, we'll see a worldwide collapse of fish stocks within 50 years (read more on this recent study - "Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services" - by internationally renowned marine scientists and economists in Science magazine: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/314/5800/787).

This is a scary prediction, but you have the power to do something about it: be choosy about the seafood you buy. The Monterey Bay Aquarium and The Blue Ocean Institute both publish free, printable guides to sustainable seafood (http://www.mbayaq.org/cr/seafoodwatch.asp or http://www.blueocean.org/seafood/ ). Print one up and take it along with you to the grocery store or restaurant, and know that when you order, you're supporting the health of our oceans!

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Amber Rais

Rachel, Katheryn and Amber

Rockin' Little Rock

By:
Cycling News
Published:
July 02, 2007, 1:00 BST,
Updated:
April 22, 2009, 20:11 BST

We arrived late at Little Rock airport in Arkansas, having flown straight from Tucson, AZ following...

We arrived late at Little Rock airport in Arkansas, having flown straight from Tucson, AZ following Gila. As we walked toward baggage claim, a fuzzy orange fleece streaked through the crowd and nearly knocked us over with enthusiastic hugs: Katheryn had returned from Europe! We loaded the minivans in the usual game of luggage Tetris and headed to our respective host family homes.

Merry (aka super-soigneur), Bob, Helen and I would stay with Russell Oaks and his family in the more rural outskirts of Little Rock. Little did we know they would soon become our extended family. Bernard had driven from Silver City and was somewhere in Texas. He would join us the next morning, caffeinated to the gills after that drive, no doubt. We phoned Russell, who told us to meet him at a gas station near his house, so he could guide us to the house, as it would otherwise be difficult to find in the dark. As we waited, Bob speculated (in his best southern accent) that Russell would probably arrive in a large truck, maybe with a big hat like the one Bob was now wearing. I think Bob wished he were in a big truck instead of the minivan.

Headlights appeared, and an enormous truck squealed to a stop alongside us with windows down and Russell hollering, "Y'all ready to go?" It was nearly midnight, and we were dead-tired from a long day of travel. However, Russell's enthusiasm already had me psyched for this week's adventures, so I hollered "Yeah!" through the passenger window, pumping my fist in the air.

"Alright let's GO!" Russell took off at warp speed, and Bob didn't hesitate to follow. Bob liked Russell already.

Russell and his wife Margaret made us feel completely welcome in their home, despite us barging in at such a ridiculous hour and exploding with luggage and bikes all over their barn and guest rooms. Russell is as southern as Bob is Aussie and is a huge cycling fan. Margaret is from New Zealand and further rounded out our crazy variety of English-speaking accents; her easy manner and humor had us laughing and talking constantly.

We learned a lot during our stay in Little Rock. Justin Slarks (our good friend and rep with Orbea) showed us the proper method for carrying a live turtle in one's jersey pocket while riding over Arkansas River on the longest pedestrian bridge in the U.S. Margaret let us in on her secret (and unbelievably tasty) oatmeal pancake recipe, which we enjoyed freshly-made each morning (and which has become a staple in my breakfast menu). Russell taught us the most effective hollering volume with which to ward off aggressive dogs in the neighborhood while riding, and we learned that the best steaks in Little Rock are found at the Faded Rose.

Russell and Margaret's two girls, Marie and Christina, also taught us a few things. At three, Marie already exhibits a strong, comic character. When not in a bathing suit, she wore dancing dresses and instructed us on how to wave our princess wands (with a narrow stick, hold gently at one end, swirl and swoosh), how to be a turtle (balance a pillow on your back), and how to properly apply hand lotion (let her do it). Her older sister Christina is a lot of fun and at age nine could already be a professional pancake chef. Christina taught me some sweet dance moves (she is much better at these than me) and a clapping game called "Double double" which requires more eye-hand coordination than I possess.

Joe Martin Stage Race

We raced five stages in four days at the Joe Martin Stage Race. For me, the highlight of this stage race came on Stage 2 at the finish. Webcor has a great reputation as a team of stage racers and climbers, but hasn't yet developed a strong name in lead-outs and field sprints. I say "yet" because we're changing that. After some great practice in the days before the races, we had formulated a good plan for our lead-out. Our Stage 1 lead-out didn't quite work as well as we had hoped, but we learned from the effort. On Stage 2, we were ready for the long flat finish.

We lined up on one another's wheels in the chaos of the finishing straight and wove our way up and through the group toward the front. The focus required for this execution is intense. You have two jobs: the first is to keep the wheel in front of you, and the second is to make it as easy as possible for the person behind you to keep your wheel. This is much more difficult than it sounds, and guarding your wheel requires ferocious determination, which is both challenging and fun. With elbows out, I followed Katheryn's wheel through the mess of bikes and bodies, while Rachel followed mine. When you are so focused on keeping a lead-out wheel, you find new levels of assertiveness and gumption, squeezing through gaps you might not otherwise even consider, finessing your line to make room for the teammate behind you.

Like clockwork, we each took our pull and delivered Rachel to the sprint. She finished third in a field full of pure sprinters. Our little lead-out train seemed tiny compared to the nine and eight- rider trains of Cheerwine and Aaron's, and looking ahead in the sprint, we could see a speck of green surfing in the sea of red jerseys at the finish. We always race for the win, but you can't be disappointed with a podium finish, especially when no one expects you to be there! The great feeling of teamwork in a lead-out is among the aspects I enjoy most about the sport.

From Spandex to Silk

After Joe Martin, Rachel, Katheryn and I stayed in Little Rock again for a couple of nights before driving to Russellville for the Tri Peaks Challenge stage race. Since we'd been living in spandex (clean spandex!) for the last couple of weeks, we decided (rather emphatically, I might add) to ditch the bikes and spandex to have a real girls' day out on the town: no riding, no race talk.

We enjoyed manicures and coffee and went wedding dress shopping for Katheryn, who is getting married this coming November, much to our delight. Being in excellent shape, Katheryn's svelte figure made every dress look absolutely stunning. After glowing radiantly in several gowns, she confessed, "It's going to be really hard to choose my dress. I can picture myself walking down the aisle in all of these, and I'm not the kind of girl who will see a dress and think ‘this is the one.'" We could offer no argument: every dress looked amazing on her.

She stepped into the dressing room again, donning the next gown. As she stepped in front of the mirror, tears came to her eyes. She turned to us and said, "I need to try a veil with this one." She looked absolutely gorgeous, and we knew, as she knew, that this was the dress. She chose a veil, and flushed with emotion, whispered, "This is the one." What a moment to share! As Katheryn made arrangements to buy the dress and have it shipped to California, Rachel and I immediately began texting our teammates the good news: Katheryn found her wedding dress in Little Rock!

Tri Peaks Challenge Stage Race

The courses at the Tri Peaks Challenge are beautiful – lush, varied and challenging. The races are well-organized and showcase the surprising and breathtaking beauty of the Ozarks and the state of Arkansas: smooth, secluded roads wind beneath a lush, majestic canopy of trees and up through abrupt and rugged rocky outcroppings of the Ozarks, while others meander along idyllic rivers and ponds across wildflower meadows and farmland. Those of us racing there constantly marveled at the landscape and at why there weren't more teams knocking down the door to participate. The riding in Arkansas and the Tri Peaks Challenge Stage Race are perhaps the best kept secrets in domestic cycling, and I'd recommend marking it on your calendar for next year!

Katheryn, Rach and I had a great time racing here. We were "unsupported" but enjoyed the full support of nearly everyone at the races. The organizers offered us a ride home after Katheryn's crash, the guys from Team Rubicon (fellow Orbea racers) loaned us a wheel to replace Katheryn's broken one so she could ride home one day, Andy Stone of Shimano made sure our bikes were dialed before each stage, Shane Fendon of Toyota United helped us pump up our disk wheels before the time trial (perfect tire pressure for the win, Shane!), Jim Williams of Colavita offered to feed us from his team car in the caravan when we had none there, and David Rendon (one of the amateur men racing) drove our rental minivan like a pro in the caravan one day to help feed us and get us home from the finish. We were quite grateful for the gracious help of everyone there.

We had a blast racing with no radios, and our results just go to show how well we race together as a team. As soon as I took the lead on Stage 1, Rachel and Katheryn committed themselves to keeping the lead and taking the win. We stacked the top five (Katheryn 4th, Rachel 5th, and me 1st), with a lot of hard work and focus by all three of us. For me, this was another breakthrough race. Bob had half-jokingly told me that I think too much about what to do in a bike race, so at his suggestion, I limited my thoughts to just one: win the bike race. This focus translated to the best race of my life thus far. I won Stages 1, 2, and 4 (one mountain-top finish, one field sprint, and one time trial), and thanks in large part to the tireless and selfless work of my teammates, won the GC.

On another note, if you're ever in Russellville, AR, I highly recommend visiting Sherri's downtown shop, called III's Company. We stopped in briefly to check it out before leaving town. It was a good thing we didn't stop by when we had more time, or we would have had no room in our luggage for everything we probably would have bought! Next year, I'll pack an extra bag just for the shopping.

Thanks for reading,

Amber

Go Green Tip #8

This one may seem simple, but it's an easy one to forget: as much as possible, carpool. If you're heading to a bike race, get together with teammates or friends and carpool to the race, or the airport, depending on your destination. Carpooling will make the ride more fun and will reduce emissions, traffic congestion, and not least of all, cost of gas. Another way to stretch that prime money a bit further!

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Amber Rais

Images by Bob Kelly

Images by Margaret Campbell

Haute Couture

Le Coupe du Monde a Montreal

By:
Cycling News
Published:
July 02, 2007, 1:00 BST,
Updated:
April 22, 2009, 20:11 BST

We stayed in the dorms at the Universite du Montreal, where the plastic mattress and pillow...

We stayed in the dorms at the Universite du Montreal, where the plastic mattress and pillow combination "make funny noises when you sit on them," as my teammate Mara observed. Our week long user study also concluded that these furnishings contribute to vicious night sweats and are not conducive to itchy patches of poison oak (I had an enormous patch of poison oak on my face, which, as you can imagine, was as fun as a barrel of monkeys).

We rode the course the day before the World Cup, and testing my legs a bit on the climb, I noted my heart rate would not respond, i.e., my heart rate remained low compared to what it would usually be given my effort. For me, this usually indicates that I'm either very tired, or very sick. A quick process of elimination led me to conclude that I was not as fresh as I'd like to be, so I took care to ride as easy as possible and to be vigilant about recovery. I hoped that taking it easy that day would enable my legs to come around by the next day.

The day of the race, we met to discuss our plan. In discussing the possibility of a breakaway, our DS Karen named several good breakaway partners who would be present. Those of us newbies unfamiliar with the European peloton remained slightly confused.

Rachel simplified for us: "If you're chewing on your handlebars to stay in the break, you're probably with good breakaway partners who will make the break stick."

Helen clarified: "Yes, and if you're able to sing while you climb, then you're riding with a bunch of nuff-nuffs."

Nuff-nuffs! We had another brilliant addition to our international slang vocabulary, to be filed along with other hilarious Aussie terms. We resolved to use the term "nuff-nuff" as often as possible in all team race reports thereafter.

Riding into the crowd and general hullabaloo of the World Cup start/finish area gave me goosebumps of excitement. I felt like a kid in a candy store. All the top teams mingled in a sea of bright color, helmets, radios, cheers, announcements, photographers and languages. The finish banner loomed above in grandiose style: UCI Coupe du Monde. I breathed in deep and soaked it all in, grinning from ear to ear. I couldn't wait to race!

After giving myself two laps to find a good rhythm, it became clear that I still had bad legs. Well, that's that. You've still got to do everything you can with what you've got, bad legs or not. I made my way toward the front of the pack and covered attacks. Unfortunately, nearly every attack I covered happened near the 180-degree turn leading into the climb. Ouch. The bumpy roads, high speed, and technical course made me reluctant to remove either hand from the handlebars, so I didn't eat or drink as much as I should have. I started to cramp on lap 4 (of 11), but manage to ride through it for a while.

I ended up in a little break and led up the climb briefly. A little kid shouted to me from the side of the road: "Vous ete la premiere!" It made me smile to hear the cheering en francais, and I thought with a little chuckle to myself: Yes, but not for long! The cramps set in each climb, and near the base of the 8th lap, I found myself falling off the back of the group. I chased down the descent with the hope of catching on again before the climb, if only to be useful a little longer, but the group was gone. At this point, clawing my way back for a top 50 finish and further compromising my legs for the upcoming Tour of Montreal didn't seem like a very good idea, so I pulled over in the feed zone and opted to ride down to the finish to watch the rest of the race. Lauren Franges (Lipton), Laura Kroepsh (Lipton), Iona Wynter (Colavita) and I all rolled down the course together to watch the finish.

As we rolled toward the base of the climb, the crowd began cheering enthusiastically, until we pulled over and stood among them. They looked very confused, so Laura said, "Yeah, we're just going to jump back in when the group comes back around!" We cracked up, but many onlookers still seemed confused.

Shortly thereafter, Mara bombed down the hill in a break with Fabiana Luperini (Menikini), and I began jumping and cheering wildly. Amazing! Their gap to the field was huge, and I could hardly contain myself. We rolled further down the hill to the start/finish, where we lined up on the curb along the finishing straight. Slowly we accumulated a longer and longer line of DNFs, riders from all different teams who had done their jobs earlier in the race. I got on the radio to offer encouragement to Mara as she rode through this section of the course.

Everyone on the curb offered advice and encouragement, rooting for our young American up the road. In the end, Mara heard practically none of our brilliant advice. Thankfully, she is already a wily racer and did her best to drop Luperini on the climb, but her breakmate (clearly NOT a nuff nuff), stayed strong and managed to nip her at the line. Mara came second in her first-ever World Cup! Holy smokes! After Mara's break had been established, Judith Arndt (T-Mobile) put in a huge attack from the main peloton, gapping the field to finish third and complete the podium of the day.

Christine, Rachel and Katheryn finished strong in a field considerably thinned by attrition. Rounding the last 180-degree turn (only 400 meters before the finish), Katheryn slid out in exactly the same fashion as Judith Arndt had done just previously (Arndt had quickly remounted and managed to stave off the charging field to keep third). Katheryn also got up and back onto the bike, at which time Rachel's group was rounding the turn as well. As her group launched a sprint for 40th place (!), Rachel dropped back to Katheryn, and placing a supportive hand on her shoulder, rode alongside her as the two crossed the finish line together in a touching display of solidarity.

As the media swarmed a glowing Mara, she politely excused herself and slipped behind a tent to jump up and down with pure glee. She confessed to us later that she simply could not contain the jubilant cartwheels and jumps of joy, and indeed, as she smiled on the podium, she looked as though she were about to burst with happiness. We felt the same as we cheered, watching her beam with her armful of flowers. Way to go Mara!

Later as we talked about the cartwheels, I remembered a theory a swim coach shared with me years ago. I had been working diligently on a specific aspect of my stroke, and had finally got it just right. As I described how the stroke had just "clicked" for me, my coach said, "Okay, now - quick! - do a couple of flips and jump around!"

"What?" I asked, not sure I'd understood, "Why?"

"You've got to celebrate!" he said. "Every time you get something right, you've got to celebrate! It teaches your body that what you've just done is a good thing and reinforces what you've just learned." So I jumped around and flipped like a dolphin on Zoloft. From that day forward, my stroke had transformed for the better, infused with elated power that it never had before. Mara highly approved of this concept and later performed several more cartwheels down the hall.

I'd also like to highlight what an impressive race Helen rode. She has been diligently coming back onto form after recovering from a life-threatening blood clot in her leg over the winter. Watching her progress has been a constant source of inspiration this season. There was a time not long ago, when her doctors predicted she'd never race at this level again. Well, here she is – kicking butt and taking names! She gives everything to every race, no matter what. I aspire to be the kind of teammate she already is. Congratulations on your comeback Helen. I think it's time for some cartwheels in your honor!

Tour of Montreal

I finished Stage 1 of the Tour of Montreal after chewing my handlebars to stay connected to the main field for the whole race. I had nothing. My legs simply would not respond when I pushed; I was absolutely cooked. I had just finished three stage races in a row: Gila, Joe Martin and Tri Peaks, and had clearly not recovered from that block of racing. I had a choice: keep racing and dig an even deeper hole, or drop out immediately to begin a much-needed period of rest.

My teammates and director didn't leave me much of a choice; with their extensive experience, they knew that digging a deeper hole when my legs were already so cooked might compromise my entire season, so they strongly encouraged me to stop. This was tough for me, because while my legs were burned out physically, I felt anything but burned out mentally. I still felt mentally fresh and excited to race and was sorely disappointed not to be able to contribute more to the team effort.

I didn't start Stage 2, but rode in the team car instead, offering encouragement to my teammates via radio and doing my best to liven up the feed zone by leaning out the car and cheering wildly each time we passed. Most probably thought I was crazy (I won't deny it), but I think a few appreciated the enthusiasm and entertainment. After the tour, I flew back home to California to rest up before Nature Valley.

Thanks for reading,

Amber

Go Green Tip #9

Send your old bicycle parts to Resource Revival (http://www.resourcerevival.com/), a company using old bicycle components to make creative and stylish new gifts and home furnishings. If you don't have old parts to send in right away, check out their selection of eclectic, bike-related art and home accessories. Think of them when you're shopping for birthday gifts and support them in reducing waste from bicycle parts. If you work with a big team, consider setting up periodic shipments of old components (http://www.resourcerevival.com/recycle.htm), so you know your waste isn't just headed straight for a land-fill.

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Amber Rais

Images by Mara Abbott

Webcor takes first and second on general classification

Cadillac Desert

By:
Cycling News
Published:
June 07, 2007, 1:00 BST,
Updated:
April 22, 2009, 20:11 BST

Our trusty mechanic Bernard had driven the team car - crammed with trainers, chairs, tents, wheels,...

Our trusty mechanic Bernard had driven the team car - crammed with trainers, chairs, tents, wheels, parts, tools, and a year's supply of Coca Cola, which would likely be consumed in less than a week by said trusty mechanic - ahead of us to Tucson, so when we landed at the airport, he was there to greet us. He gave everyone a hug, except for me. I think this is because he did not want to be associated with me after I ran across all of baggage claim toward Mara in melodramatic, pseudo-slow motion with arms outstretched (i.e. huge dork).

We loaded up our vehicles: a rented minivan and Bob's Big Red Truck, the only vehicle that would fit all of our bike bags. Bob is Helen's husband, and he would be our director for this race. Bob is about as Aussie as they come and had perfected a drawling, Western American accent, which he used to claim ownership of the Big Red Truck, as well as at every other possible opportunity.

The drive to Silver City proved more entertaining than expected, thanks to team radios. We enjoyed clever (well, debatably clever) banter - most of which involved jokes about Brits, Canadians, Aussies and Americans in a sharp-witted repartee. The Americans bore the brunt of the abuse, though the Canadians came in a close second.

The drive followed a seemingly interminable and desolate stretch of road through what I found to be a familiar landscape, as I grew up in the deserts of western Nevada. The endless colored layers of sprawling saguaro plains, colorful soils and wide-open cloudscapes revealed the stark, subtle beauty of the desert. Arroyos punctuated smooth plateaus, cut sharp and rugged by intermittent rushes of water.

The desert has a raw feel. It has not been slowly smoothed over by gradual or constant rain: instead, the coarse rocks and soils have been violently carved by flash floods and cracked by freezes and drought, extremes which embody the raw intensity and power of the desert, a fittingly fierce backdrop for this throng of athletes pushing one another to the limits of human performance, suffering and will.

Gila Stage 1: Time Trial

Our clan arrived in high spirits, laughing and joking despite the gusting arrival of a large storm cloud and raindrops. This is one of our secrets to success: we have fun no matter what! We love what we do, and we love racing together. And we live in a magical world of rainbows and puffy clouds. Seriously, though, we do have a good time, and I believe that's why we perform so well and so consistently. The Gila time trial was no exception.

The relentlessly rolling and windy course proved a good one for us. Rachel won the stage over Colavita's Dotsie Bausch, who also put forth a fine performance. Mara placed third, I placed fourth and Beverley finished eighth, so we stacked half the team in the top five and the majority of the team in the top ten. We celebrated that evening with wine and chocolates. Excellent.

Gila Stage 2: Mogollon

The speed for the 'neutral' rollout just about matched the speed of the 'neutral' rollout for Sunset at Redlands. Ouch. Once over the hill and on to the course proper, the pace slowed considerably. We went for the first intermediate time-bonus sprint, and I led out Rachel for the line. Dotsie threw down the gauntlet, though, giving Rach a run for her money, but Rach got the sprint. One down, one to go.

Expresscopy attacked the field in a good imitation of rapid-fire artillery, and Bev, Laura and Helen covered all of it without hesitation, making an extremely difficult task look effortless. For bonus sprint number two, I again led Rachel out to the line. Two for two. More attacks. Jessica Phillips (Expresscopy) got away solo. Our hesitation allowed the gap to expand too quickly and too much for comfort. Helen, Laura and Bev began an organized chase. I soon joined them, and together we brought the gap down from three and a half minutes to under a minute.

Near the base of Mogollon, they drove the pace yet again, closing the gap to Jessica Phillips even further and giving us a perfect run into the climb. We caught Jessica, and unleashed the Mara. Mara disappeared into the ether, climbing into the leader's jersey with a well-earned stage win, leaving the rest of us to fight it out through the gritty, winding ascent. Brooke Ourada (Cheerwine) climbed into second place on the mountain with a stellar performance, followed by Dotsie in third and Rachel close on her heels. A little tired from chasing, I knew I had to focus on climbing my own pace. I tore myself inside-out to keep the highest possible pace, but couldn't afford to surge. I finished eighth on the stage, just behind Leigh Hobson.

At the finish, we were all hugs and breathless smiles, cheering wildly as everyone finished. Laura had raced so hard that even her thumb cramped! Even bonked, cramping and oxygen-deprived, our attention remained on mutual admiration, thanks and celebration. Together, we owned this accomplishment. We celebrated that evening with wine and chocolate, again. Excellent.

Gila Stage 3: Inner loop road race

One of my favorite cycling memories occurred during this stage.

After leading Rachel out for the first intermediate sprint, (three for three!), the attacks began, and in the chaos of a highly aggressive race, we lost Bev, Helen and Laura. Rachel, Mara and I rode diligently and remained confident that we could play our cards well, if only with three of us. I ended up off the front in a break (for the fourth time that day) for the next intermediate sprint and sprinted for the bonus (four for four!). The peloton came back together as we approached the base of the final climb.

Suddenly, we heard a joyous announcement over the radio: "Webcor is back! We're back!" Sure enough, Helen, Laura and Bev flew up the side of the group, and - not content just blending in - swept across the front of the peloton, turned, smiled and waved. They had chased for over 80 kilometres to catch back onto the group. I was so excited to see them that I thrust my hand in the air and cheered. This was to become my favorite cycling memory to date. Seeing that strength of heart and fight and commitment in our teammates gave us all an enormous burst of energy and motivation.

Our teammates didn't just tack onto the group, either. They covered everything to the end, and even attacked going into the finish. These are the moments I cherish: moments of feeling completely connected, committed and selfless. We are in this for each other - all of us. I won't soon forget that picture of those three waving from the front of the peloton: we're baa-aaack. For me, this memory embodies the heart and determination that grow from selfless commitment to a team goal - working with teammates like these makes me a stronger, better rider.

I don't want to detract from how well other teams rode that day: everyone contributed to a highly aggressive race, which is always a treat. Dotsie won the stage after several courageous earlier attacks, and after smoking attacks by Bev and Laura inside five kilometres to go, with a lead-out from Helen and me, Rachel sprinted into second on the stage, followed by Gina Grain (Expresscopy).

Gila Stage 4: Criterium

We continued our podium sweep in the criterium, with Helen working an early break, from lap two, to the finish. Jill McLaughlin of Touchstone won the stage - a surprise to many, but not to those of us who know how strong she is from the local Northern California racing scene! Helen sprinted to the line for second after closing a gap to Jill following an attack in the last few hundred meters.

After the race as we warmed down on trainers, the TIBCO team realized they were parked into a corner, blocked by our team cars and trainers, as well as a line of very large cement barriers. Bernard, team mechanic and apparently a former (perhaps current?) World's Strongest Man contestant, hoisted the enormous cement block out of the way, freeing the TIBCO van and staff. Not wanting to leave downtown Silver City in disarray, he then shoved the cement barrier back into its original position. We half expected him to jump into the nearest telephone booth and emerge with a red cape, but no. Don't be fooled by his mild-mannered alter ego in the grey Webcor shirt: we have the buffest mechanic around.

That night, we ate at Jalisco's, a great Mexican joint downtown in Silver City. If you're ever in Silver City, I highly recommend the chocolate cake at Jalisco's - epic proportions, and epic taste. We couldn't finish a stage without chocolate now, could we?

Gila Stage 5: The Gila monster

The last stage is the crown jewel of this tour, finishing on a grueling climb into Pinos Altos. At the start, we heard that it had been snowing at the finish that morning. We rolled out through the neutral section with our whole team at the front. Helen had to get a last-minute radio swap at the start (very smoothly handled by Bernard), so as we rolled along through the neutral, Bob came over the radio to test the new earpiece: "Helen, talk to me." In response to her husband, Helen said, "Oh baby!" We could not help but crack up in hysterics, always a good way to start the race

I led Rachel out for the first sprint, which she won (five for five!). Soon after, I covered an attack by Sarah Tillotson (Colavita) that initiated the break of the day. I was instructed to sit on, as our GC leaders were back in the main field. Sarah was also sitting on, so we took the opportunity to discuss the history and implications of the Gila cave dwellings as we passed the sign. She imparted some fascinating observations and historical facts (for example, earlier dwellings were constructed in open plains, suggesting a time of peace, whereas the cave dwellings are more defensive structures, implying unrest among ethnic groups and a need to protect against aggression by other peoples during the time of their construction). I like to think that I learn something from every race, but today's cornucopia of knowledge proved far more bountiful than usual!

We soon came up on the last intermediate sprint. I moved near the front, as did Sarah. Soon, it was just the two of us at the front, wheel for wheel in a bit of a drag race. It was clear we were the only two going for it, and we found it a little funny that we were so obviously half-wheeling one another as we ramped up our speed for the sprint. We actually laughed out loud briefly, and I jokingly mimicked the theme song from Jaws as we approached the line: "Duh-nuh. Duh-nuh. Duh-nuh-duh-nuh-duh-nuh…." Then we sprinted. I managed to squeak up the right in a good-natured tussle for the sprint bonus (six-for-six!).

The break stayed away to the climb, and my job was to mark Brooke Ourada (Cheerwine), as she was highest on GC in the break. Marisa Asplund (TIBCO) attacked out of the break on the climb, and I continued to mark Brooke, as Marisa was over seven minutes down on GC. In a very strong performance, Marisa stayed away to win the stage. Given the way the tactics played out for the stage race, Brooke was left to set tempo to the finish, whittling our little group down to four: Brooke, Sarah, Melissa and I. Sarah jumped first for the final sprint, followed by Melissa, then me. I won the sprint out of our little break to take second on the stage. My teammates Rachel and Mara had attacked the group behind to bridge up to us, and nearly caught us by the finish. Taking first and second on GC, they rolled across the finish line hand in hand, grinning from ear to ear.

Our gracious and gastronomically gifted hostess - Sue Schiowitz - baked us homemade brownies, which she gave to us at the podium ceremony. I can't think of a better way to end a stage race!

Later, she made us a decadent meal of home-cooked beef brisket, roasted chicken, salad, potatoes, and polenta. We ate until the onset of food-coma prevented any further movement, then laughed our way through a little celebratory wine. We found Bob a cowboy hat to go with his western accent, both of which suited him very well in Bob's Big Red Truck as we drove back across the cactus-dotted landscape to the Tucson airport.

Stay tuned for stories from Joe Martin and Tri Peaks, as I continue catching up on all the crazy fun we've been having on the road.

Thanks for reading,
Amber

Go Green Tip #7

Play the Planet Green Game at http://www.planetgreengame.com: it's full of interesting facts and helpful suggestions, all of which are based on sound economic and scientific research.

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Bob Kelly

Images by Helen Kelly

Author
Amber Rais

Relatively new to the sport, Amber launches into her second season racing at the professional level for Webcor Builders in 2007. A former collegiate swimmer, Rais found her passion in bike racing during graduate school, where she earned a Masters degree in Earth Systems. Throughout the season, Amber will give an up & comer's perspective on racing, as well as some suggestions for becoming more environmentally conscious with her 'Go Green Tips'.