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Following Wheels

September 21, 2008

In 10th grade, I was on the swim team – it was a pretty tight-knit group of people and we watched Austin Powers on the bus' television on the way to just about every swim meet. We weren't actually that good at winning swim meets, but we certainly were having fun being on a team and doing everything that goes with it.

And now, at age 25, I've found that I'm part of a different amazing team in a different sport – racing bikes! I joined the Sugar CRM Women's team in late 2007, having just upgraded to a cat two. At our first official team meeting for the 2008 season, I didn't share with the other girls my personal goal of upgrading to a cat one by the end of the season. More important was that I wanted to contribute to a team effort and learn to race on a team.

The early season women's P/1/2 races in Northern California were kind of like being thrown into an icy lake after a hot sauna – that's what we do where I'm from, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. As in, you sort of know what to expect, but it's still shocking and great at the same time. Team High Road was training in NorCal, so they showed up to a bunch of our "local" races, along with superstar racers from Value Act, Tibco and Proman. It gave our SugarCRM team a good chance to learn each other's strengths and weaknesses and figure out how to best work together towards actually winning some races after the big girls moved on.

Then in April, my coach, Laurel Green, asked if I wanted to do Redlands. At first, I just laughed – "Me? Are you kidding?" – but she was serious and I decided it would be a great time to try out NRC stage racing. It was the hardest race I had ever been in, although one of my teammates declared that giving birth was far more painful. I managed to finish all four days – not pretty, but not too bad either. In the following week, I suffered a bit of pseudo-depression as I realised that I didn't have enough vacation time or money to do a bunch more stage races.

After Redlands, I settled into a couple months of solid, consistent NorCal racing – our team gelled incredibly. It's hard to put my finger on what made us all work so well together, but I think it has to do with the fact that we are all unselfish in our races. Of course, we each have individual goals, but we have been so committed to working towards them together, that they all end up being shared goals. All in all this year, we achieved 30 top-three podium finishes, from seven different team members.

My first win as a cat two came at a pretty small race, but it was a great demonstration of our teamwork – we went in with a plan and executed perfectly. My second win of the season came at Superweek in Illinois, when I didn't actually have any teammates. But the intricacies and subtleties of bike racing that I learnt over the first half of the season allowed me to race smart, even alone. With several large teams in the race, I focused on following dangerous attacks and only chasing when I had to. About halfway through the race, I followed a solid attack from another rider and we got away in a two-person break that stuck until the end. It was not without drama – she slid out in a corner with 10 laps to go and re-entered the race a couple laps later with new wheels and renewed determination. What a race.

By September, I had learned so much about racing on a team – racing in breakaways, positioning for a sprint, leading someone out, and being led out. I won two races as a cat two, finished an NRC stage race, competed at Crit Nationals – with five laps on a neutral bike, which is a whole different story – and had a ton of fun doing it all. But I had only gathered up 27 points, three away from the cat one upgrade, so there was still work to be done. With two races yet on my schedule, I knew that the Benecia Town Race was my chance to get points.

It was a criterium, with a nice roller on one side and a downhill to a flat sprint finish. I liked the course, but last year I crashed out at this race in the second to last corner and dislocated my shoulder, so I was a little wary of that. Once the race started though, I didn't think about the crash any more, my thoughts were only focused on getting a top-three finish.

I had awesome teammates in the race and everyone knew what they had to do. I went up the road with one other person in an early break, but we got pulled back in a few laps. Then there was a counter-attack, and a break formed with my teammate Mary Ellen Ash in it. Eventually that break came back too and the field got antsy again. I managed to grab a prime in there somewhere, and it was right on that lap that the next break was established.

I was a bit cross-eyed trying to hang onto a wheel, so I didn't quite notice, but then I looked back and the field wasn't there anymore. So off we went, a break of six. We rode hard for about three laps, but then settled down and I knew my teammates in the field wouldn't be chasing.

Pretty soon it was two laps to go and it was time to think about sprinting. I sat fourth wheel until the last corner and then moved up with Liza Rachetto's lead-out. With a couple hundred metres to go, I jumped and sprinted hard, just barely beating second place to the line. It was a great win for me and got me the rest of the points I needed for the upgrade.

With my season's goals accomplished, I'm working on setting some new ones for next year – and I can't wait to race with the SugarCRM/LGBRC team in 2009!

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Follow the program's young female cyclists as they embark on their journey to the top of the pro ranks

The US Women's Cycling Development program was founded by former pro rider, Michael Engleman, as a way to help promising young women cyclists reach their full potential as athletes.

The dedicated and well spoken women of this program provide thoughtful, compelling and sometimes hilarious anecdotes of their experiences in this diary. For further reading about the program, visit the USWCDP website.