April 15, 2008
It started and ended with a burrito. Most good stories should start like that. Michael Engleman, my coach and founder of the USWCDP, picked me up from the Ontario airport and we headed straight to Redlands for two important stops: burritos and groceries. After consuming a burrito's worth of calories and buying enough food to get me through the week, we headed out to Colton to drop me off at our host family, the Gentili's. Team Aaron's stayed with Dick and Carol last year, and we wouldn't pass up the opportunity to have some of the best host parents the Redland's Bicycle Classic has to offer.
I was sure about several things going into this week: I was excited to see and race with my teammates on Aaron's and I was excited to see what kind of results we could produce. "Third time's a charm" seems to ring true for me in certain NRC races, as the third time I raced Athen's Twilight and Joe Martin, I finished in first. Would I have the same success at Redlands? I was hoping to have some sign from above, or below, or from my body...any kind of sign...that my legs felt ready for this race. No luck. It would remain a mystery until after the prologue.
I woke up the morning of the 5k uphill prologue and did my best to choke down my cereal at breakfast, not knowing that eating would be one of my biggest challenges all week. The prologue was hard. As always, it didn't feel good...in fact it felt really, really bad. I felt like I was doing lots of paperboy like weaving on the final pitchy part of the climb before the finish. With the help of cheers from our host family, I rolled across the line in a time good enough for a podium spot. I was the Aaron's "meat in a High Road sandwich" (nice caption, Mitch) that day, with Mara Abbot winning the top spot, and Kim Anderson just a second behind me for third place.
After the prologue the team loaded up the van for a road trip to Beaumont, or Blow-mont, to check out the new stage for Friday. I was pretty excited for the new course at Redlands. It was no secret that Oak Glen wasn't my favorite way to end a bike race. I prefer a long drag, with maybe a slight 1-2% kick up at the end. Stage 1 in Beaumont offered exactly that! As we covered the new course in the van, I started to think that it could be a very could opportunity to score a stage win for our team.
Because Mara would be wearing the overall leader's jersey, for the first time in my career, I would don the red climber's jersey in Stage 1. When the race volunteer asked me what size I needed, I said medium. They must have heard extra large because I got the biggest jersey I've ever worn in a race. How "fitting"! I pinned my numbers and filled my pockets with Powergels, which quickly fell below my waste because of the size of the jersey. It felt like a giant sail.
My teammates rode a fantastic race on Friday. From lap 1 we were the aggressors with Meredith Miller initiating the day's longest break of 5 riders. This put the pressure on High Road to chase and the rest of us in the front group sat in while they reeled that break back. After getting caught the third time up the climb, Meredith hung on to the front group which had shrunk considerably from the start of the race. At the start of lap 4, she attacked again, this time riding solo until about 4k to go.
After Kim Anderson did some major work to bring her back, my teammate Kristin Sanders hit the group of 13 again with another attack going into the final turn. After she was brought back we had a little over 2k to go. I thought our young talent Julie Beveridge was our last rider left with me and it would be a long leadout for her, so we kept it as mellow as we could.
As she was pulling all of a sudden Meredith and Kristin both returned to the front to do one more pull through for us. They were amazing! They got us about 500 meters to go and then it was just me and Julie. A combination of nerves and misjudging what stoplight we were at made me have Julie jump early and I was "dropped off" with about 300 meters to go. I jumped and hoped I could hang on for the win. I made it across the line just in front of Alex Wrubleski and Leigh Hobson and was super glad to deliver the Aaron's team their first NRC win of 2008 season.
We went on to race well in the crit on Saturday and the Sunset circuit race on Sunday. Each year this race starts out crazy fast with time bonus sprints and QOM points on the first lap. I stayed with the moves until the end. I had gotten spit out the back in year's past, but felt a new found sense of confidence to be climbing at the front with this group. The race splintered apart by the end, but I found myself in a lead group of 16. After several attacks and counter attacks in the last 3k, Kim Anderson attacked with a move I couldn't follow. I held on to 4th on the day, and finished 3rd overall in the GC.
After the race there was the typical podium presentation - flowers, medals, kiss, kiss, hands raised - and then off to the house for another challenge on the day, packing. I managed to shove my clothes and extra bike parts and food into Michael's car as we went into town for a post-race, post-weekend burrito. It was a great weekend for me and the whole Aaron's team. I think we realized what we're capable of and then some. Its going to be a fun year.