Nature Valley Grand Prix - Minneapolis, June 8-12, 2005
The team arrived in Minneapolis still on a high from our Philly win. Although it wasn't quite as high as the day before, after a night of partying and an early morning departure for the airport. Immediately upon stepping outside the airport, I was quickly reminded of why I left the Midwest. Too much humidity. I don't deal well with humidity. I turn very cranky and am not a nice person. And I knew the mosquitoes couldn't be too far away either. But I've never raced Nature Valley before and I was looking forward to racing it.
Seven T-Mobile girls made the trip from Philly to Minnesota. Katie and I were the first ones to arrive, so it was our job to pick up the rental van and drive to our host houses. I'd like to think that I'm good with directions, but we got so turned around so many times trying to find Deephaven. We felt like we were doing circles all day. By the time we finally found our house, it was time to drive back to the airport and pick up the other girls. Poor Andrzej kept having his flight cancelled and ended up not arriving until over a day later. Our mechanic and soigneur who DROVE the 1000 miles from Philly arrived earlier than he did!
On Tuesday we woke to some massive thunderstorms. I had heard of tornado threats as well, which would really add to the excitement of racing. Katie, Ina, and I hung out on the rocking chairs on our host's beautiful covered porch and sipped (gulped) our coffee. Once the rain stopped and the sun came out, we got out on our bikes to work the cobwebs out. But holy cow, the humidity was oppressive. I felt like I was being smothered in a very wet blanket. If I'm going to have trouble breathing, I prefer it to be because of a lack of oxygen in the air.
Nature Valley is a five-day stage race that started out with a 4.5 mile time trial along the riverbank of downtown St. Paul. When we arrived at the race start, we noticed a number of cop cars with lights flashing. It took us awhile to figure out what was going on. Cops were standing next to the river, looking into the distance with binoculars. Turns out there was a guy threatening to jump off the bridge and they were trying to stop him. It would have been a very long fall from that bridge into the river too, so I hope they were able to stop him in time.
The time trial was a straightforward out and back...a good opener to get the legs back in race mode. Katie had the pressure on her too...most of which came from her Kiwi friend Greg Henderson. "No pressure Katie. You're only the reigning World Champion in a race just a little less than this distance." Katie and Ina had a little contest going on between the two of them too. We had to motivate Ina to ride fast again after Philly.
Christine Thorburn came out on top, winning the tt in 9:32. I came in second at 9:45 and Kori Seehafer pulled off her best tt yet, finishing just one second behind me. I think I was most excited though to see my husband take the win in the men's race. My friend Kristy Scrymgeour kept me posted with text messages. We had already left the race site, but I had first hand information. When I heard Chris won, I texted Kristy to kiss him for me, and I believe she did!
Stage 1: Mankato Road Race
Today's road stage took place in Mankato. You know how I know Mankato? Little House on the Prairie. Charles Ingalls and the family always travelled to Mankato from Walnut Grove for the serious business, like buying grain or picking up the winter's supply of bacon. I haven't seen re-runs of Little House on the Prairie for years...until I arrived in Minnesota on Monday. Katie, Rebecca, and I watched Little House the last two days. That show apparently even made it across the ocean to Australia!
Our race was almost 88 miles long and didn't start until 2pm. We raced 78 miles along the roads around Mankato and then came into downtown Mankato for four finishing circuits. 110 girls were on the start list, so we knew we had a big field to deal with. The course profile said the race was flat until the circuits, but I should have known better. Minnesota is never flat, but constantly rolling. Unfortunately, at one sharp right hand turn, the inevitable happened. One rider went down in the corner and there was the ensuing pile up behind her. Once I swerved to avoid the crash, I quickly looked behind me to see if any of my teammates were in it. I was horrifed to see a pair of our custom-made pink Pearl Izumi shoes sticking out from the bottom. All I saw was the shoes though...not the legs that were attached to them. At that time, Kori, Brooke, and Rebecca were off in a large break and I kept yelling to them to NOT drive it, that we had a rider down. But of course, my radio didn't work, so it was useless.
I looked around and had a sickening feeling when I didn't see Ina OR Katie. Did we really lose two in that crash?? All I could do was wait for Andrzej to talk to us on the radio. FINALLY he came back on and said Ina and Katie were chasing about 50 seconds behind us. Thank God they were up. It took a while but eventually they made it back to the field. Katie came straight to the front, bruises, tread-marks and all. Her arm was ripped and bleeding, and there was a big tyre tread across her back on her race number. "It was Teute's wheel," she said. When I asked her if she was ok, she said the first thing she heard at the bottom of the stack was Ina saying, "Katie, don't freak out and don't move. I'm laying on your head right now." When I saw Ina, her arm was ripped as well and she had a hemotoma quickly forming on her elbow. But they were up and still riding, thank goodness. Now we just had to get them to the finish safe and sound. Katie was worried because her legs were really cramping badly, but she's a tough b**** and still patrolled the front as we came into the circuits.
It wasn't as hot as it COULD have been out there, but it was still hot. I think Kori said she went through almost 10 bottles. At one point, Lara grabbed a water bottle and sprayed it all over her body to cool herself down. It wasn't until it started dripping in her face that she realized she had just sprayed E3 all over herself...not water. Yum.
We had four finishing circuits of 2.3 miles. And it had a HARD climb in it. Not quite as steep as Philly, but close...and longer. Oh the burn! Every time up the climb, I heard this guy yelling for me. "Go Kimberly!" Every lap...it was awesome. I have no idea who that was. I never got to go back to that spot and check. But whoever you were...thank you! The third time up the climb, Christine Thorburn and Annette Buetler got away from the remnants of the field in their quest for QOM points. Kori and I crested with some other girls, but no one really wanted to put in much of a chase. Unfortunately, Annette thought she was on the final lap and raised in her hands in victory as she crossed the finish line. Christine rode right by her and kept going. The final time into the climb, Annette faded back into our group, but we couldn't quite catch Christine. She stayed away to take the win and the precious 15 bonus seconds. Nicole Freedman sprinted for second and Tina Pic was third.
Meanwhile, a little bit back, Katie was suffering from some MAJOR cramping in her legs as she tried her best to get up the circuit hill. She said she looked down and her legs were just solid masses of muscle, totally strung out in cramps. Mind you, this is a World Champion pursuiter, an Olympic silver medalist. I have no doubts at all about her ability. But she's been thrown to the wolves here in these road races. Before Philly, her last road race was Worlds 2003. So to come off the track and be tossed into the heat and the distance requires something special. So the World Champion, in her T-Mobile jersey with the World Championship stripes on the sleeves, had to resort to getting off her bike and walking up the hill. She was so determined to finish that she did not care about any humiliation. She heard a guy yell to her, "There's no shame in walking!" You're right Katie. At that point in the race, after crashing and having a teammate land on top of you, leaving tread marks on your back, there's absolutely no shame in walking. You'll kick our butt the next time around.