Road Report: Cherry Blossom Stage Race
April 23-25, 2010. Women’s Category 4.
by Elaine Bothe
Cherry Blossom. A festival in The Dalles, Oregon, where one of my teammates live. There’s a road bike race associated with the festival, an epic three-day, four race extravaganza. Our Sorella Forte team hosts the event along with the promoter. It’s a fundraiser for us, as well as outreach and a general good time. Even though I don’t race much on the road, I figured I’d have a go at it to support my teammates and to test my fitness and race smarts.
I sign up for the “beginners” road racing category, Women’s Category 4, since there isn’t a masters group and I’m new-ish to road racing. Beginners at racing, maybe, but that doesn’t mean they’re new on bicycles or in fitness. These women are strong. And most of them have some pretty nice equipment to ride… the latest and the lightest, gorgeous bicycles, one for the road and another for the time trial. Or at least, aero handlebars and wheels.
I dust off my cyclocross bike and put some bigger chainrings up front and slick tires on and call it a race bike. It’s the lightest bike in my fleet, and it’s pretty comfortable so what the heck. It’s heavy compared to the competition however, and not nearly as aerodynamic. But it’s mine… run what ya brung as the saying goes.
Stage 1. Road course, two laps, approx. 40 miles. Even after getting all fired up with talk of tactics and working together as much as we can, none of us Sorella Cat 4’s really know how to employ any of the tactics, or if our fitness would even allow us to think about it. Our default tactic was to provide a show of force early across the front without any dramatic moves which might tire us out for the long haul. I think all of us did a great job of working hard, working smart and challenging ourselves. My goal emerges on the fly, to stay with Alanna, probably the strongest cat 4 of our team, and the lead pack for as long as I possibly could.
At the start I position myself four rows back, within the first third of the pack. The first couple of miles are pretty easy but I brace myself for anything. There’s some shuffling around at the front as the speed picks up and I match every surge. I watch teammates peel off one by one as we climb the big hill to the feed zone on Lap 1. The view forward from my place in the peloton stays the same… butts and freewheels… I look back once and there wasn’t anyone there! We’re now a pack of 15 or so, splintering from the group of almost 40. Alanna and myself are the last Sorellas in the lead group. After the hill Alanna is a little ahead of me, so I worked my way up to see if I could be of some assistance. I say hi, and she seems happy to see me hanging on valiantly.
Lap 2, I stay in the group sucking wheel for all I’m worth, working my way to the leeward side of the peloton, far right, then far left, full on survival mode, as the wind direction changes, just keeping myself protected. At that same big hill on Lap 2 the pack finally grenades into small pieces, two, then three, then I’m not quite sure but now I’m alone. I think all I did to help Alanna was moral support, as she seems to be doing just fine motoring on past up the hill with the leaders. I latch onto another wheel for a bit but can’t hang. Maureen (ex-Sorella, now Hammer Velo) catches me and we work very well together, the two of us, nice short pulls for the last half lap. We pull off into the wind providing a wee bit more protection for each other on the descent. As the course flattens out, her pulls last longer than mine… I’m fading. I’m giving it everything I have but I don’t have a sprint to save my own life. I tell her I won’t challenge a sprint because I don’t have one to spare and because she’s doing most of the work.
I survive, in 16th place, just under 3 minutes down from the leaders. Wow. Oh yeah, my chain fell off three times during this race but I managed to feather it back on without upsetting the group or even losing my place. Not bad, for a mountain biker!
Stage 2, five laps, just under 30 miles. My goal for this race is to stay with the lead pack again, for as long as possible. The peloton is three columns wide. Teammates Christine, Tonya, Leigh and myself make a nice sturdy block in the first third of the pack, and I think Alanna is just to the left of us, well protected from the wind. Apparently she was having troubles with her cleat and fell off the pace right away. Booo!!! Eventually, Tonya, Christine and Leigh peel off the group, Tonya, too, had to quit with a mechanical. Rats!!
But I don’t know any of this yet and I just work really hard at staying up with the lead group. I work my way to a bolder position toward the front, doing a little more work windward side and second row, but I still didn’t venture any proper attacks. I match surges along with everyone else. I notice Alanna is nowhere to be seen, and the lead group is now only seven of us. By Lap 3, the two on the front are surging frequently (what, they want to lose the rest of us?) and the rest of us struggle to answer. Three or four of these, and they make a slow break, oozing away. Five of us, I’ve never met any one of them before, all on different teams, try to organize a pace line in the heavy crosswind section through the top of the orchards. It’s not working very well, and between a big gust of wind, and trying to avoid other rider’s wheels overlapping mine and I end up off road, in the gravel.
OK, I’m a mt biker, this is a cross bike, I should be able to handle this. I almost make it safely back to the pavement twice, but then my wheel catches a deeper section of gravel or something, I’m still not really sure what happened, and I go down. I’m not going very fast, and no one else goes down with me, thankfully! But I hurt my finger and skin the heck out of my knee, along with some other miscellaneous bruises and scrapes. Owwww, it hurts to shift but I don’t think it’s broken.
It doesn’t occur to me to stop racing. But by the time I’m back aboard, blood streaming down my shin, the other four pull their act together and I see a nice neat pace line fading down the hill. I hit the nitro boost and ride as hard as I can but I can’t catch up to them. All alone in the wind, it just isn’t going to happen. I’d say I TT’d it for a full lap by myself, but since I’m definitely not a TT’er, I’ll say I just rode hard. A group of three catch up to me, and we form a pace line. I rest for a bit as we go through the rotation, then I take a pull and we drop two of them! So then Anna from Bend and I work together nicely for a lap. Three more catch us, Maureen, one of the Canadians and somebody else. We all work together for the last half lap and attempt a sprint up the finish hill, and, again, I can’t find one. But I pull a 13th place finish out of I don’t know where.
Stage 3, TT time. Ten miles total, out and back, hilly out. No aero anything, it’s freezing cold, I figure just because it’s a Time Trial (my least favorite bike discipline) I don’t have to be completely miserable. I have on leg warmers, a long sleeve base layer and I wish my shoe covers would stay zipped because they’d also keep my toes warm. I rip those off fearing they’d catch in my chain or something. But the road is fun, I impress myself with my effort. I stalk and catch Susan who started 30 seconds in front of me. I wave to the oncoming teammates, start noticing the scenery then Susan shows me a wheel. I decide, oops, I have a job to do so I gun it and drop her like a hot potato. I catch one more rider, and the only two to pass me are the two women (including Maureen) who started 30 seconds and 1 minute behind me. 20th place. On a cross bike, I’ll take it!
Stage 4. Criterium! 25 minutes of guts and glory. Way more fun than a TT but I’m really nervous. There was a big crash last year and some pretty gnarly injuries... like punctured spleens and broken pelvises. (Pelvi?) I want to go hard but be safe. I preview the course spotting all the bumps and holes, even riding over them to see what would happen. Not too bad. Nice open corners. I start my warmup slow and on the inside, picking up speed and figuring out the faster lines. If I was all by myself there would be only 2 wide sweeping corners (not 4) that I could pedal all the way through, no brakes, and accelerate hard out of.
I want to be near the front, jockeying for position on the front line for the start. I get the hole shot… then decide I did NOT want to be on the front because it would fry me. Two Ironclad riders seem to be jonesing for the front anyway, so I back off and let them have it. I lose more space than I anticipate but I bridge the gap and hang onto 3rd place for a few laps, matching surges, anticipating sprints for primes and sprinting myself just enough to not get dropped. I’d rather survive the race near the front rather than drop off after a big prime effort. It’s plenty hard just staying near the front, five or six riders in front now. I hang on, and end up 11th and with the lead pack, my best finish for any of these stages.
13th overall in the General Classification, about 8 minutes back… not bad! All in all, I had a blast. What a weekend, what a challenge, riding with friends, making new ones and generally having fun.
In addition to all our team, a huge thanks to Team Captain and Coach Anne, for being a fabulous inspiration by winning the Category 3 criterium!! A triumph for our whole team.
And Hubby Mark made his debut as a volunteer driver, driving the lead car for the men’s masters race as well as my Cat 4 races in Stages 1 and 2. It made me smile every time I caught a glimpse of our car because I knew he was inside it. Read his report here.
Am I getting a road bike now? Are you kidding… I still think I’ll stick to dirt!