And We're Off!

March 28, 2007

The first big NRC races are celebrated reunions. We check out the new kits and equipment (lot's of compliments on our new "Go Green!" logo; and Cheerwine is looking as effervescent as ever), swap winter training stories (funny how many of us were caught in the Fort Collins, CO, blizzard; too bad we couldn't have all joined up for a good trainer session) and catch up with everyone we haven't seen since the last races in September.

It's all great fun, especially seeing everyone smiling and stoked to be back in action. Whereas last year I arrived at this race a bundle of nerves facing my first off- to on-season transition, I felt far more confident and relaxed this time around. I'd raced a few times prior to Merco this year, though without a full squad, and nothing beats racing as a team. I had been looking forward to this part all winter.

Getting the season going, we had our first two NRC races: the Merco Credit Union Classic p/b McLane Pacific and Bentley's Central Valley Cycling Classic.

Merco Credit Union Classic

After some requisite socializing before the crit, we got down to business, readying ourselves for warm-up. The cool breeze called for arm-warmers, and just as we were all geared up, our director Karen Brems came back from reg with our numbers. We quickly lined up along the curb, removing jerseys to pin on the numbers.

Imagine: six of us seated in a line of spandex with sleeveless undershirts, arm-warmers and helmets, resplendent with glowing white shoulders - anything but flattering! Sure enough, this was the moment photographer after photographer stopped to snap us in the height of glamour: the lycra needlepoint club. I was sitting next to Christine, the main target, so I'm afraid I ended up in a fair share of the shots.

I was still nervous for the crit, mostly because I had crashed here last year. Thankfully my coach, Linda Jackson, has a gift for helping me stay centered and positive. She gets me to focus on small goals (e.g., stay at the front in the crit) to keep my mind from dwelling on silly fears. With a good-luck hug from her, I lined up to stage, doing my best to stay relaxed and focused on the job at hand.

The crit was fast, and our team rode an aggressive race; for me, it felt like redemption after last year. Everything stayed together to the end, and TIBCO's Brooke Miller took the win, sprinting out of the field for a close finish. She is a great athlete and a good friend, one who has worked hard and whose success is easy to applaud.

Unfortunately several crashes punctuated the last laps of the race, and our sprinter, Laura MacKenzie, was caught in a crash with two laps to go. She had the wind knocked out of her, and a volunteer ran over asking, "What is your name? Are you okay?" She tried to respond that she was "winded" but only managed to wheeze out "win…" He nodded reassuringly, "You're going to be okay Winnie!" As soon as she caught her breath, she had a good chuckle over that one. Thankfully, she came away with nothing more than road rash, which is painful enough, but you'd never know she was hurt how she handled it.

For the road race, I felt much calmer; I seemed to have spent all the jitters on the crit. Again, we raced aggressively, and again, the race came down to a field sprint. As the pace slowed near the finish, I launched to string out the field for Laura. Through the chaos of the bunch sprint, Laura took 7th (road rash and all), and Brooke again took the win, continuing an impressive roll.

Sincere thanks to the Merced community for their support of this Northern California classic. Their enthusiasm, Merco Credit Union's sponsorship and the continued support by McLane Pacific kept this race on the calendar and the tradition alive.

Central Valley Cycling Classic

After only a few days of rest at home, we were back on the road, headed to Fresno for the Central Valley Cycling Classic. After a three hour drive in the car (and a quick stop in the appropriately-named Los Banos), we met up to preview the time trial course. The CVC time trial is one of the longest on offer in domestic stage-racing, so it would play an important role in the General Classification.

We got about a kilometer up the road when Mara realized she'd been riding a completely flat tire since we'd left the parking lot; she was relieved to discover the problem was the tire, not her legs! After a repair and some good-natured wonderment at how one might not notice a flat for so long (Mara, you know you won't live this one down anytime soon!), we were off, or rather, Christine was off. Apparently, she only rides her TT bike fast (thank goodness).

The first stage was the road race, and with the GC in mind, we went to work. The first lap proved uneventful, though the second lap made up for it as a solo break was caught and countered on the main climb. The peleton surged with aggression, and with about 10k to the finish, a break finally got away from the group. With Mara there to cover, we kept the break on a short leash. Into the final kilometers, attacks within the break splintered the group until we were grupo compacto for the field sprint finish. Colavita's Tina Pic - a perennial podium presence - took the stage that day in fine fashion.

Our post-race dinner proved a gastronomic delight, and a model of teamwork and efficiency. Within a few minutes of returning from the grocery store, the whole team was busy chopping, boiling, sautéing and grilling. We cranked out a phenomenally good meal in no time: fresh baguette with hummus and a hearty pasta sauce of ground turkey, mushrooms, zucchini, onions and peppers over penne with a decadent salad of veggies, walnuts, goat cheese and fresh orange vinaigrette (courtesy of Bev's ingenuity and the ripe orange tree just outside the hotel). If we race as well as we cook this season, watch out!

Our post-dinner clean-up, on the other hand, encountered a brief and billowing hiccup, when someone (I shall protect her identity here) mistook the liquid dish soap for dishwashing detergent (granted, the liquid dish soap had been kept in an old Jet-Dry container). The dishes came out quite clean, though not before the dishwasher began spewing foamy suds from all sides. Let it suffice to say that we left the kitchen floor much cleaner than we found it!

The time trial the next morning had me fired up. Our team is a time-trialing powerhouse, and I'd had a decent result here last year. We were set to go with our fleet of Easton deep dish fronts, ultralight rear discs, spiffy TT frames and crazy astronaut helmets. Alas, this was to be the day of my spiritual depantsing. I missed my start. Doh! As I settled into a rhythm (a couple of minutes behind), I thought, "Don't panic; there's nothing to do about it now, except to have a good ride." I quickly redefined my race goal: 1) get in the top 20 to make a little extra prize money for my teammates, and 2) get a good time-trial workout. The new motivation produced a good ride, though the highlight was our team performance. My teammates rode exceptionally well: Christine won the stage, Katheryn podiumed in 3rd, Rachel finished 6th and Mara 8th. I accomplished my goal, finishing 16th to add a little to the winnings.

In celebration, Christine took the team out for dinner. We filed into the restaurant, twelve of us in matching Patagonia green fleece hoodies. Helen looked over at me, and with perfect deadpan execution exclaimed, "Oh! You've got the same shirt," eliciting an eruption of laughter from the family next to us. As all eleven women seated themselves at the table, our mechanic Bernard found himself at the head of the table (and the recipient of raised eyebrows from the wait staff). We decided he needs a t-shirt that says simply, "The Man."

The next day, the crit was aggressive from the start. I covered a few moves, but had strained a muscle the day before in the time trial. The repeated power starts out of the 180-degree turn each lap finally became too much, and I had to pull out to avoid further injury. This is a tough call for an athlete to make, but as my wise teammate Bev assured me afterwards, part of being a great athlete is to know when to stop. With an ice pack in place and abundant moral support from our soigneur Merry (aka walking sunshine), I hobbled over to watch the rest of the race and cheer on our squad. Like clockwork, they got to the front for Christine on the time bonus lap, protecting her lead. Watching them, I fairly brimmed over with pride, feeling incredulously fortunate to be part of this team.

We won the GC, Christine atop the podium and Katheryn in third, just behind Dotsie Bausch of Colavita, who also had a phenomenal time trial on Saturday. Watching Katheryn climb onto the podium was very emotional, as this time last year she was in a hospital with tubes and IVs every which way following what might have been a career-ending crash. But this is Katheryn Curi. What could end careers for some doesn't stand a chance against her heart and determination. She is a fighter - a bike racer who indomitably comes back stronger and never gives up. Just take a peek at her handlebars next time you see her.

This week calls for a little R&R before the next road trip (got to heal that pesky muscle strain). They say that laughter is very healing, and I firmly believe that it's a vital component of recovery. Thankfully, I laughed more with my team this past weekend than any weekend in recent memory. This is going to be a good season!

Next up: Quad Knopf Sequoia Classic and Redlands.

Thanks for reading,


Go Green Tip #2

During races, cyclists strive to conserve energy. Apply this principle to your home and/or office for a simple but powerful way to green your lifestyle. You'll use substantially less energy by turning off appliances (TV's, computers, radios, lamps, microwaves… you name it) while not in use, rather than leaving them running all day.

For example, your phone charger still sucks power even when not charging your phone, and your microwave spends an enormous fraction of its total energy consumption on the little digital display that persists even when you're not nuking your leftover pasta. To help with your new energy-saving habits, you can use a power strip to turn on and off groups of devices where the outlet may be out of reach. All it takes is a little awareness to develop a great new green habit, so here is a friendly reminder. Plus, it'll save you money and reduce your impact. (Thanks to Erin Kassoy for her input on this Go Green Tip.)

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Relatively new to the sport, Amber launches into her second season racing at the professional level for Webcor Builders in 2007. A former collegiate swimmer, Rais found her passion in bike racing during graduate school, where she earned a Masters degree in Earth Systems. Throughout the season, Amber will give an up & comer's perspective on racing, as well as some suggestions for becoming more environmentally conscious with her 'Go Green Tips'.