February 20, 2009
It's still hard for me to believe that our road season starts so early out here in California, since I grew up and went to college in snowy places, where there's a good chance of a blizzard in April or May. But indeed, we hit the ground running in February, with the NRC opener for women at the Tour of California Criterium on February 15th.
My team, SugarCRM, has been working hard in preparation for the season, spending a lot of hours on the bike together, and we knew that our first real race weekend would be this past one – the Downtown San Jose Criterium on Saturday, and the Tour of California Crit on Sunday. And just a few days earlier, SugarCRM director Liza Rachetto shared some big news – Laura Van Gilder would be guest riding for us for the two races! All of us were excited to have the chance to race with the winning-est woman in US Cycling!
Saturday was threatened by rain, but the sky was pretty clear as we toed the line with about 50 other women - Tibco, Webcor, Proman, Touchstone and Colavita were all in the mix. Our team's job was to cover moves going up the road, to make sure SugarCRM was always represented in the mix, but ideally have the race come down to a field sprint.
I was feeling OK during the race, but not great, and when a couple of raindrops started to fall, I was less than thrilled. Coming around the 180-degree corner of the course, I was positioned behind Brooke Miller and Tina Pic, when the slippery roads got the best of us and we all three went down.
Fortunately, no one was hurt, and we got back into the race. But after that, my head wasn't in the game. And bike racing – sure, it's a physical game. There's bumping, sliding through the pack, technical skills, and so much raw strength required, but it's also a mental game. It's so easy to forget that if your head's not in the game, there's no way your body can be. Fortunately, Laura Van Gilder has such an amazing wealth of skill and experience, and she came down to the wire ahead of Gina Grain and Brooke Miller, putting SugarCRM on the top step of the podium.
After the race, we celebrated for a bit, and then our guest Director, Matt McNamara, talked with us about the mental side of bike racing and encouraged us to work on it in preparation for Sunday's race. A few tips from LVG over pasta at our wonderful host housing in Santa Rosa didn't hurt either.
Sunday morning was pretty rainy, but our host's workplace was right on the course, and she let us warm up in the lobby. Soon, we got out onto the course to get a feel for the corners and the bot dots in the rain. I had just gotten my Blue Rc8 a couple days before, and I am really happy with the handling. This bike is a big step above any other I've ridden – light, snappy, and rock-solid in the corners. It didn't take me long to get used to the SRAM shifting either, and I love it.
Our mechanic Steve Stewart had my tires at 95 psi for the conditions, so I felt good on the course, and I kept myself calm with a little bit of simple logic: "If it's a downpour for me, it's a downpour for everyone. If I'm wet and cold, they are too. If I can't see much because there's so much water and dirt in my face, they can't see much either. If the bot dots on the course are in my way, they are in everyone's way." And before I knew it, we were on the line peeling off our jackets and waiting for the gun. Our overall strategy was similar to the day before – cover moves, keep Laura comfortable near the front, and do anything to string out the field and help free up her position coming into the final sprint.
The race started fast and frenetic off the line. After the first lap, I knew that it would be safest somewhere near the front, so I moved up into the top 20. I could see that LVG was also sitting comfortably, and several of my teammates were nearby. After just a couple laps, I saw a couple riders attack off the front of the pack and get a sizeable gap.
Pretty soon, a couple more launched in hot pursuit, and seeing that none of them were SugarCRM, I figured I better test out my legs and get up there with them. I jumped at the exact same time as a Value Act rider, and we quickly bridged up, with a few more riders joining us. Pretty soon, we caught the initial break and looking around, I saw that we were about 12 girls with a sizeable gap off the field.
Seeing as it was only about 10 minutes into the race, I didn't really think we'd get very far, but all the major teams were represented – Tibco (Meredith Miller and Lauren Tamayo), Columbia (Kim Anderson and Emilia Fahlin), Value Act (Robin Farina and Kristin McGrath), and Touchstone (Sarah Bamberger and Olivia Dillon) each had two riders, and there was one from Webcor (Katheryn Mattis), Proman (Rachel Lloyd), and Colavita (Kelly Benjamin).
I just needed to hang tight in the break and not get dropped, since SugarCRM had Laura Van Gilder back in the field. And I can honestly say that I had the time of my life doing just that. I followed the repeated attacks from Tibco, Value Act, and Columbia, and tried to just stay comfortable and calm.
At one point, a Vanderkitten rider (Jen Reither) bridged up to the break, and I thought that we might be getting caught, but somehow the field never caught us. Finally, after about 45 minutes in the break, it was two laps to go. On the final lap, Meredith Miller put in a huge attack, and we were strung out single file for the rest of the race to the line. I tried to get into the best position possible, and then sprinted for the finish, behind Emilia, Lauren, and Rachel. Fourth place in an NRC race! I couldn't believe it.
Team SugarCRM has worked hard over the past year to get to a point where we can compete on the national stage, and although I just missed the podium on Sunday, it was an amazing weekend where we started to show that we can. A huge thanks to everyone that has helped us out this year!