International Tour de Toona - Altoona, July 25-31, 2005
Altoona, Pennsylvania - home of one of the hardest stage races on the NRC calendar, and our home for a week during seven tough days of racing. The racing is great here, the volunteers amazing, and the fans are fantastic. It's the only race in the States where the race distances for men and women are equal, as is the prize money. I, personally, have never had a problem not racing as far as the men. Let them race 250km in Philly. Yes, I wish our race was longer, but I don't need any 250km distances, thanks! But equal prize money? Ok, well then I'll race a bit longer. T-Mobile brought seven women to the race with Katie Mactier, Ina Teutenberg, Kristin Armstrong, Kori Seehafer, Mari Holden, Brooke Ourada, and myself. Stage 1 started out with a 5km prologue and with Kristin and I finishing 1-2, we thought we were on our way to a good week. The good vibes continued the next day with the Johnstown circuit race. We did three 20-mile laps and true to form, the race ended in a field sprint with Ina taking both the win and the points jersey. The next day was the longest of the week at 96 miles. The start was in a shopping mall parking lot, and we did two neutral laps all around the mall before they sent us out on our journey. They should have thrown in a JC Penny preme to get things moving! I thought we were going a lot faster than we actually were, as my SRM was freaking out. The first sprint of the day was at 20 miles and it seemed to me that we reached 16 miles pretty damn fast. When I asked Katie what her mileage was at, she told me 9 miles. By the end of the stage, my SRM said I had ridden 185 miles, twice that of anyone else in the race. I did the whole stage twice.
Anyway, the first QOM came just as the skies opened up and the rains came pouring down. Kristin and I were the lucky ones that day and had been given the super light, super fast carbon wheels. Unfortunately, in the rain, you lose all braking ability. So on the descent, we were both going backwards, completely freaked out by our inability to slow down. Luckily, after a thorough washing, the rain stopped and we were able to brake again. Thank God! The second QOM of the day was the really tough one, the one everyone was anticipating. It was only about 5km I believe, but steep. Genvieve Jeanson drove it up the climb and with 1km to go, there was just her, Willock and Thorburn from Webcor, Lynn Bessette, Annette Beutler from Quark, and Kristin and I. With 200 metres to go, I saw Kristin falter in her pedal stroke - a move she does not do often. I've only seen it twice actually, but I know it since we know each other so well. It's not a good sign. So I dug and knew I had to hang on those last 200 metres to the QOM or it was all over for us. I think I blew a lung doing that. Perhaps both. It sucked because as soon as the other girls saw that they had dropped Kristin, they all worked together and drove it. I sat on the back, and even though we still had 10 miles of up and down and all around to the finish line, I was trying to figure out how I was going to win this. Unfortunately, I had the least amount of fast-twitch fibres in the bunch, so my chances in the climbers' sprint were not good. Big time bonuses were on the line too, so it was really imperative that I get at least SOME seconds. But no, my one fast-twitch fibre was not enough against the other faster climbers, and I finished fourth, just out of the bonus seconds. With Kristin chasing alone or with one other girl from the top of the climb, she finished over three minutes down. Not a good day for us. Christine Thorburn did a great job taking the win on this day though, putting her into the much-deserved leader's jersey.
The next day, the Holidaysburg circuit race, was a bit more promising for the team. We came out firing after having lost the leader's jersey. Well, the other girls fired a lot. I can't speak for myself. Kori attacked first lap of three 20-mile laps and established a break that the rest of the field seemed content with. But that didn't mean we rested easily in the field. It was up and down, sprint, and chase all day. I don't believe there is a single flat road in this entire county. Kori did a kick-ass job in attacking her group over the final QOM just about 2km from the finish line and taking it home for the win. That definitely put us in a better mood!
The Martinsburg stage is a mind game. The 20 mile circuit (which we do four times) is all out in the cornfields. There's not much going on out there. We were not allowed to throw our water bottles in the cornfields either. I heard it was a $500 fine if you did! Apparently, some cows died last year after the corn was ground up with all the thrown water bottles from the race. The plastic made the cows sick or tore their insides or something like that. We'd hate to inflict any pain on animals so no one dared throw a bottle this time.
As we came through the start/ finish line the second time, two girls locked bars in front of Brooke and she crashed badly onto the pavement, landing straight on her tailbone. Mari dropped back to see if she could help pace Brooke back to the field. But when she realised it was a lost cause, she worked her way back up to the field alone. Just then, Kristin had a badly timed flat, just as attacks were going. She got a bad wheel change from neutral support, and was stuck far behind the caravan by the time she got another wheel. Andrzej was screaming into the radio for Mari and Katie to come back to help. Unfortunately, Katie's radio didn't work so she had no idea that she was supposed to drop back to Kristin. All I kept hearing was Andrzej screaming. I finally found Katie in the field and told her Andrzej needed her to drop back and go get Kristin. Then thankfully, the horrible noise in my radio would stop! The three girls finally paced themselves back to the field, but I swear it took them almost 30 minutes to do so. They had been so far out of the caravan. It looked like this circuit was going to come down to a field sprint too, until Nicole Freedman took a flier with about 10km to go. She almost held it to the finish, but the speed of the fast approaching teams took her over as the sprinters lined up for the final kick. Tina Pic from Quark took the win with Ina in second and Gina Grain in third.