Summer retrospective: Part I

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

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