July 17, 2007
The start of my team's, ValueAct Capital, month-long race campaign began at the Mt Hood Cycling Classic, a six-day stage race based in and around Mt Hood in the stunning state of Oregon. The race stats were impressive, actually boot-shaking: six days, 300 miles and 26,500 feet of climbing. The weather was forecasted to be hot and dry all week. This was going to be one long, hard-fought week of racing.
The stage race began with a three-mile opening time trial with our own Katie Mactier posting the fastest time, while racing on a road bike with clip-on bars! With Katie as the race leader starting Stage 2, the rest of the team had the task of defending the yellow jersey. This was the first time most of us would find ourselves in the position of defending yellow. I found myself both excited and nervous - wanting to make sure I did the job properly as there are no second chances in bike racing.
After the excitement settled, we got down to the business of planning our strategy for Stage 2. The second stage is the Columbia Hills Circuit Race and is referred to as the flat stage because in comparison to the coming days, the climbs are not really a factor. While the Queen of the Mountains competition on each lap slightly splits the field, the relatively flat and open terrain that dominates the course enables most to rejoin the group. Unless a team is really motivated, this stage ends in a field sprint.
Our goals for Stage 2 were two-fold: keep the yellow jersey and win the stage. Looking ahead to the coming days of racing, we knew keeping the yellow jersey through the pure mountain days would be tough, so we wanted to do all we could to hold onto the jersey up through the start of the mountains. In order to do that we decided our goal would be to win Stage 2, as there were some strong sprinters just a handful of seconds down from Katie. If one of those sprinters got the win, they would have jumped into yellow with the finishing time bonus. So if we wanted to control our own destiny, there was no option - we had to win the stage to keep the yellow.
Our job was to ride on the front and deter anyone from attacking. As the four of us kept on the front, we could hear the pack behind us happily chit-chatting away biding their time until the QOM sprints. As the first QOM approached the climbers started getting in position and it was an all-out fight to the top. I was able to stay close to the climbers the first two times up the QOM, but the last time up I found myself absolutely shattered and, as the pace picked up, I shot back through the pack faster than a rock thrust into the atmosphere by a sling shot.
I found my teammates in the same predicament as I - all of us were cooked from working the front all day. At about the same moment we all realised that Katie was at the front - alone - having to cover moves herself with just half a lap to the finish. We'd failed her for the moment, but we weren't going to give up without a fight. We fought strong, worked together and reconnected just past the QOM sprint line.
In races past it was good enough just to reconnect to the back of the group if I popped, but not this time - we were still useless to Katie at the back. Up the side of the pack, fighting the hurricane-force winds - reality check: I think maybe it was just a slight breeze but it felt like a hurricane at that point - we arrived back at the front. Katie smiled.
The 10 kilometre run into the finish was a fast and technical approach. This is one of my favourite finishes on the NRC circuit, along with the Inner Loop stage at Gila and the Johnstown stage at Altoona - which, sadly for me, has been replaced for 2007. The speed, the length and the corners allows for one train after another to rocket past one another. You've got to be agile, fast and fluid to keep at the front of this 10 km run into the finish.
Our team worked hard to keep control, to keep any of the other teams from dominating, and to get Katie to the line with matches left for the sprint. It was a thrilling ride and as we approached the 200m sign to the finish the sprinters let loose, and Katie unleashed her sprint to win the stage!
What a thrill it was to accomplish the goals we laid out for ourselves the evening before. I look back at the stage and see it as a turning point for our young, first-year team. Before this stage we talked about how we wanted to race as a team and since this stage we talk about how we are racing as team. That evening we toasted the day with our wonderful host family who cooked us up two delightful casseroles of lasagna.
A Bit about the team:
Our team - ValueAct Capital - is a woman's cycling team in its first year traveling the US contesting the National Racing Calendar and the Women's Prestige Series. The team is currently ranked sixth in the Women's Prestige Series. The dedicated and accomplished ladies of VAC who worked so hard carrying and defending the yellow jersey at Mt Hood are: Hannah Banks, Courtenay Brown, Katie Mactier, Martina Patella, and Sharon Allpress. The glue that kept the team healthy, organized and always on time are: super team director Lisa Hunt, the most patient mechanic and San Raphael race promoter Wil Matthews, and team radio controller Mike Smartts. For more info about the team visit: www.teamvalueactcapital.com