Germany, March 30, 2006
Where am I now? I think Im in Langawehe, Germany. What a whirlwind couple of weeks. Im loving it. After a super fun and successful campaign in Australia and New Zealand, I was finally able to go home for nine days. Home home. Not home away from home, but real home. That felt good, as I hadnt been home since Christmas day. My husband had arrived home the day before after racing Tour of California so it was a blissful, if somewhat busy, week together at home. Of course the weather didn't cooperate as we got stuck in several blizzards that week. But I gained even more respect for Tyler Hamilton as we rode home one day in a crazy snowstorm and he was riding a flat tyre the last 10 miles like it was nothing.
I met up with my T-Mobile team in California again, albeit a different squad. This time the gang was made up of Kim Anderson, Mari Holden, and Christina Becker. Christina had spent the past month in California for racing, and had expected beautiful California weather. It had to beat the winter weather of Germany. But alas, I think it rained every single weekend that she raced. Shes not impressed. We kept telling her that honestly, California usually beats out Germany hands down for nice weather. But I dont think she believes us.
The first weekend, we raced the San Dimas stage race and all things considered, it was a successful campaign. Despite the pouring rain during the uphill time trial, Kim finished sixth and I finished second to Kristin Armstrong. In the road race the next day, both of us made a break that held all the GC contenders except one, Dotsie Cowden. Knowing that she could make up a lot of seconds in time bonuses, we drove the break and without even realising it, drove Dotsie right out of the race. In 45 degrees and driving rain, we raced the criterium on Sunday - unfortunately, our team missed the key break. But it wasnt a threat to overall GC so nothing ventured, nothing gained.
The next weekend we raced the Redlands Classic. Redlands used to TRULY be a classic with between five and six days of hard racing. Unfortunately, due to lack of sponsor money, this years classic was the shortest on record. Im just thankful the volunteers were still able to put it on! Fridays time trial was 5km but tough. The big question was whether to go with road or time trial bike. The first 2/3 of the course was definitely TT bike, no question. But the last part of the course was a steep uphill grade maxing out at 23%. I dont climb so well on my TT bike so I chose to go with road bike, aero wheels and clip-on aero bars. Amber Neben, who came out on top of the TT, was the only woman to ride a time trial bike. But I know it was her legs that made the difference, not necessarily the type of bike she chose.
I was really hoping to make the podium but just missed out, finishing fourth to Amber, Kristin Armstrong, and Christine Thorburn. My husband asked me later if I went all out 100% and when I assured him I did, he reminded me that I should be happy with that since I did what I could. It helped that my parents were out there on the hill cheering me on. I had given them a start list so they knew when all my friends were going by too and cheered for them as well. They are true superfans.
Historically, (at least in my own history) the Redlands crit has been one of the fastest, toughest crits all year. Forgive me if I already wrote this in a previous report, but I will never forget the first year I raced the Redlands crit. I was racing for the Cox cycling team. The 60 minute crit felt like it was taking absolutely forever. I was barely hanging on. And when I looked down to my cycling computer to see how long we had to go (I was sure we only had about five more minutes to go) I was dismayed to see that we had only been racing a whole 12 minutes. (Ok, I just read my race report from last year and realised I told this story already. Sorry about that!)
Well, Saturdays crit didnt feel quite that fast, but it was still hard. Our sole intent was to get Ina to the line first. But she needed a bit more of our help. Mari, Kim, and I did all that we could but didnt have much left for a proper lead out for our sprinter. Tina Pic went early, the strong horse that she is, and Ina couldnt quite come around her. Ina finished second on the day. I think it spiked her desire even more to go for it in the Sunset road race. Kristin Armstrong took over the leaders jersey with her time bonus sprinting ability, too. Shes becoming a true sprinter!
After the criterium, I wandered over to the Toyota-United Pro Cycling expo tent. Its my husbands team; one of my closest friends, Suzanne Sonye, is their soigneur, and our T-Mobile mechanic from last year, Steve Kiauslas, is their head mechanic. So I definitely have a strong affection for the red, white, and blue. In the expo tent were life-size cardboard cut-outs of all the team members. It was crazy seeing my husband standing there looking so life-like!
The team was leaving for Germany immediately following the road race on Sunday, so we did as much packing as we could Saturday night. No, we werent flying United or Lufthansa. We were trying out a different airline this time...Air India. It was a direct flight from L.A. to Frankfurt and it was cheap. A great deal as long as you get there. My problem, as it has always been, was with weight. The Air India website said that bag limits were 70 pounds. I was having an extremely tough time with that. Since I was heading to Europe for two months, I felt like I needed to pack absolutely everything, including my own coffee. I dont know how much overweight charges will be but Im hoping theyre not too steep.
Before the start of the Sunset road race the next morning, I was lined up next to my other closest friend Jessica Phillips. I was telling Jessica about the life-size cardboard cut out of Chris at the Toyota-United Pro Cycling booth and how I wanted to steal him. Id sneak him away in my bike bag and put him up in my room in Germany. She was all for it.
The scenario that played out in the road race was none that I could have imagined. After an 8km neutral section that always feels as freakin' hard as the race, we raced 9x10km of a very hilly circuit in the beautiful Sunset neighborhood before racing 10km back into town and the finish line. The first time up the climb, there are bonus seconds and QOM points at the top. So its always mass mayhem as soon as they drop the neutral flag. Amber Neben drove it up the climb and although I think Kristin Armstrong won the sprint and the bonus seconds, that was all it took to split the field. We were down to 10 riders in the front break; Kristin and Amber, Grace Fleury, Alisha Lion, Dotsie Cowden, Anne Samplonius, Christine Thorburn, and Kim, Ina, and me. Both Ina and Kim tried attacking off of the group, but it came back together on the descent.
Then as we went into the climb the second time, I dropped my chain. This wasnt just a simple shift and adjust. It was banging against the frame and wasnt going to get back on until I stopped and tried to do it myself. In my panic and frustration, I was glad that the Mavic guys came up behind and helped me. But I was afraid the group had gone on without me. Good grief! Was this the end of my race already? I went up the climb as fast as I could and although I could see the group, I couldnt catch them. As I rode by my mom, and then my dad, and then my team director, I yelled to them that my chain dropped. I wanted them to be assured that it wasnt just that I sucked, but that I actually had a mechanical. My director was probably thinking, Whatever, Kimberly...just ride your bike.
Then team work came through. Ina dropped back out of the front break, waited for me, and pulled me back on. By the time I got up there, I noticed that Amber was missing. While I had been back there chatting with Mavic, Amber put in an awesome attack that no one could go with. Being that she was only a few seconds behind Kristin in GC, Kristin and Grace had to chase. They chased for two laps, but when we realised the time gap to Amber wasnt coming down at all, we started to attack. Thorburn and I had just gone on the attack when I heard Ina come over the radio yelling to me to drive it, that we had dropped Kristin.
I drove it up the climb but when I turned to look back, it looked like our whole group was still on. It wasnt. Kristin and Grace were gone. Ina and Kim came to the front and absolutely drove our group for two laps. They were so impressive .like motors. I think they dropped Anne Samplonius in the process too. They brought the time gap to Amber down to 60 seconds while increasing our advantage over the GC leader to minutes. Finally they could go no more and dropped off the pace with three more laps to go. How many laps has this been? Ive lost count. Anyway, the last three laps were Thorburn, Lion, Cowden, and myself. Since no one was truly interested in working to catch Amber, the time gap to her grew again. Amber was definitely going to win the stage and the overall at Redlands. Thorburn was second and I moved up to the final podium spot. It was a great show of team work. Unfortunately though, due to our flight, we couldnt stay for the awards presentation. We had to rush off straight away and pray for light traffic to LAX.
After the race, Jessica came running over to me before I left. She told me that as soon as her race had finished, she had headed straight for the Toyota-United Pro Cycling expo tent intent on stealing Chris. She wanted to give him to me as a going-away gift. But she soon realised that the whole cardboard team is connected in one piece, and to take Chris meant taking the entire team. I really appreciate the thought and effort, Jessica. Maybe Toyota will make me an extra copy for Germany? Now its on to Air India!