Sunday, June 13, 2010

Race Report: 2010 Kern County Stage Race

I had meant to post this earlier.  Here it is, although it seems long ago now.  I originally wrote this up for my team back in May and have left it pretty much the same.

Race: Kern County Stage Race (Bakersfield area, CA)
Date: May 14-16, 2010
Category raced: 4
Weather: sunny, some wind, warm to hot
Number of starters: 22
Early Birds present: racing: Deanna, Michal, Anne; supporting: team director Laurel Green
Other teams present: Dolce Vita, Tibco II, Los Ranchos, Metromint, Velo Allegro, Los Gatos, MetalMtn, Lenovo, DudeGirl
Your goal for the race: Do my best to place high in the GC (general classification or overall finishing placement).

Short story:
We raced 4 races in 3 days and took 2 ice baths.  The races went: good, good, bad, great!

Long story:
Stage 1: Bena Individual Time Trial (ITT), May 14, 2010, 9 AM, warm to hot

We lived up to our Early Bird name by arriving before Velo Promo had even set up the tent, and were perhaps the second group there.  The parking area was next to the train tracks and also the road to the local dump, so there was a pretty steady flow of trains and trucks.  I had pre-ridden the 10-mile (10.2 mi according to my computer) course the day before a few times, and noted some pretty strong headwinds on the return leg.  The course starts out flat, then has a pretty steep and short descent, followed by a barely perceptible rise for a few miles.  Towards the turnaround, there is a mild climb for a couple minutes, which levels out as the road turns right.  I had borrowed a Zipp tubular front wheel and worked out my paranoia about getting a flat the day before.  I used my time trial bike and aero helmet.  I warmed up for about 40 minutes on the trainer and then rode some on the road to get a feel for the wind, which seemed similar to, although not as strong as the day before.  We started every 30 seconds in alphabetical order (the same order as our bib numbers).  I went off at 9:21:00 behind another category 4 woman; there were 2 gaps ahead of her from no-shows.  I would use the riders ahead of me as targets.  My goal was to pass but not be passed by anyone.  I worked pretty hard on the way out and tried to go harder on the way back.  I was able to pass the rider ahead of me after about 2.5 miles and got close but did not pass a group of two further ahead.  I could hear someone behind me on the hill but was able to pull away on the flat before the finish.  I finished in a time of 29:01 and came in 6th.  I felt that I could have been more consistent in my effort and that I wasted some time by veering around the road a bit, trying to find a smoother path.

Time trial staging area.  A train full of cars passed by right before this one.

After the TT, we found the local Trader Joe's (HOORAY for that) and then relaxed for the rest of the day, aside from our stage race ritual: the ice bath.  I apologize to the other hotel visitors who tried to get ice after we were done...

Stage 2: Walker Basin Road Race (~30 mi), May 15, 2010, 9 AM, warm, some winds

Again we scored prime parking spots (next to the graveyard of course) by our early arrival after winding through some narrow canyon roads.  It was fairly cool when we arrived and I contemplated putting on knee and arm warmers and maybe a jacket; but after warming up and by the race start, it was a jersey-only kind of race.  The finish was on a climb similar to Snelling Road Race (as I recall) and we pre-rode that a few times.  We would do 3 laps with time points possible for each lap for the first three across the line, and one final, 4th lap with more points awarded for the top 3 finishers.  The course started on a mild downhill over some rough roads (but not "Madera rough"), and then turned right onto some rollers, straight into a pretty decent headwind.  It then turned right and looped back through some mild turns to the start/finish at the top of a hill.  Centerline rule was in effect (which means all racers must stay to the right of the yellow line).  Before the right turn up the finishing hill, there is a straight-away, then a left turn and brief descent.  Laurel had pointed out a road sign on the left that might be a good place to start the sprint.  The hill was longer than one might guess.

Walker Basin area. No, the race was not on the dirt road. Photo courtesy of Jill Eyres. 

We started off and made our way through the first loop.  The pack was staying together although there were surges now and then.  On the outbound long stretch, the pack really slowed and often, no one would pull through to the front.  There was a strong headwind here.  I went out as did Deanna and also riders from Tibco II, Metromint and Dolce Vita (and probably others that I missed).  But once someone started pulling, there were not many willing to take the reigns it seemed.  After taking a turn pulling, my approach was to just keep slowing until it was semi-ridiculous and someone would eventually pull through.  I felt comfortable in the pack, moving around.  I wanted to be near the front for the first lap while we got used to the course, and also wanted to stay close to the front in order to try for some points and test a finish strategy.  We made our way around and were starting on the short descent and I decided to just go for it to get ahead at that point.  Well, I was ahead at the beginning of the climb but you know how this story ends... I was passed by two then more people right before the finish line. Dang! There was a gal from Metalmtn who stayed back and then just powered up that hill like she did hill sprints in her sleep.  Anyway, I decided that the effort was probably not worth the few seconds I would gain, and decided to try and conserve a bit more, working for a better finish for this race and saving energy for the afternoon.

The pack stayed together and I tried to work up toward the front on the last straightaway stretch.  People were jockeying for good spots and I was probably in the front third but not as far up as I would have liked.  We got to the hill and I was jamming it, feeling pretty good, but needed to shift to my small chain ring.  I tried and tried but it was stuck and the hill was getting steeper then BAM! it dropped and it felt like my chain had come off.  But it hadn't.  Some people passed me and I was mad but I got it going and worked to keep ahead of the gal beside me.  She had contested the first hill points and I had passed her then.  Everyone finishing with the pack was given the same time, which was A-OK with me.

Michal, Deanna and I warmed down and then jetted out of there pretty quickly to get to the Havilah Climb race site.  We had about 4 hours to recover before the next race.  We found some prime parking in the shade and started refueling and resting for stage 3.  I was sort of guessing on how to manage my blood sugar since I had never done two longer (longer than 1 hour) races back to back like this.  Before I got on the course, my blood sugar was a little on the low side; I was hoping I didn't have too much insulin buzzing around.  I ate a chocolate GU and headed to the start.

Pinning my number while resting up for stage 3. Photo courtesy of Jill Eyres.

Stage 3: Havilah Hill Climb (~11 mi), May 15, 2010, 3 PM, hot in the sun, cooler at the top

We staged the race on the dirt road at the entryway to the ranch where we had been resting.  No one seemed able to tell us exactly how many miles we had to go. 17? 13? 15? No one seemed to know, although we were pretty sure we would have 4 miles before we got to the base of the main climb.  We started on a gradual climb--someone had said it was a neutral roll out--with Deanna setting a manageable pace.  Because of this, the pack stayed together for about 3.5 miles on what was actually a pretty steady climb (as I noticed more on the return trip).  Some people eventually got impatient and the pace took off.  We turned the corner and started the real climb.  I stayed with the main pack for a couple turns but then decided to focus on holding my own pace.  I lacked some zing in my legs and so ate a bit.  I stayed with a couple riders for a couple miles and then felt myself fading.  I ate some more but just felt crappy.  I wondered if my blood sugar was low but thought it might also be high.  I should have checked it but I didn't want to stop.  I think I ate some more but with about 3 miles to go I felt really horrible.  Michal passed me, motoring up and looking strong.  I was happy to see her having a good race.  Our good friend Julie Nevitt (category 3, racing masters) passed me around 1 or 2 miles to go and asked how I was.  I knew from my response that my blood sugar was low, since I could just barely mumble out, "Okay."  I was so happy to see Laurel around the last corner and finally made it to the top.  I finally pulled out my Dexcom and saw "45" and that it had been like that for the past 30-40 minutes.  Ugh, no wonder.  I think one reason I didn't check coming up is that when I see that, it totally deflates any remaining motivation since I start to get scared.  On the other hand, my doctor would probably pull me out if he saw that.  I should have stopped to check.  Michal took care of me at the top and helped me fuel up on watermelon and I recovered okay.  I was glad to see Deanna finish and we took some time to relax at the top a bit.  The total distance was 11 miles or so, I believe, with about 7 miles of serious climbing.  I was disappointed that I hadn't been able to give it my all, and felt like perhaps the race was over for me, in terms of reaching my goal to place well in the GC.  At least there was some great practice descending for 7 miles on twisty, gravelly roads!  I pounded out my frustration on the final 4-mile, fast descent back to our cars.

Trying to put on a smiley face after a frustrating race.

We all more or less willingly took an ice bath that night, knowing we had one big race to go.  While I was reflecting that evening, I decided that I should just try and forget about whatever time I had lost.  Who knew what would happen?

Stage 4: Iron Hill Road Race (~46 mi), May 16, 2010, 8:45 AM

I had taken a look at a course map from and from what I could tell, we started on a longer descent.  Because of this, I really wanted to be in the front.  We started about 15 min late and people were huddling under the shade.  It was hot.  Soon enough we were off and I was on the front down the first hill.  Surprisingly, to me, though, it was more rolling the first several miles; I stayed in the front trying to set a good pace, expecting a longer descent at the top of each roller.  I felt like I was working pretty hard to keep the pace up as we climbed each roller.  Finally I moved back although I tried to stay close to the front.  We rode over the cattle guard (that could "kill you" if you rode over the middle according to the race official) and could see that the real descent was imminent.  Jill from Tibco II went to the front and set the pace down the hill.  I had not been quite at the front and was about 10 riders back, with a little separation and taking the inside line.  I came around a corner and saw a cloud of dirt off the side of the road, and then another rider down in the middle of the lane.  Oh no.  "Don't stop don't stop" was what went through my mind as my urge to stop and help kicked in.  (What I realized later is that in the moment, I was not thinking at all of anyone behind me, but only the rider who was down in front.  Thus it was crucial that I remembered and followed the "don't stop" rule that had been drilled into us by the mentors.  It made me feel totally inhuman at the moment but that was because there was not time to process the danger to those behind me as well.  Once I passed I remembered that there was a follow car behind us and that they would be given assistance.)  I slowed to avoid the rider and water bottles but was able to navigate around since I had taken the inside line.  I moved quickly to catch the group ahead and we finished the descent in silence.  Once it leveled off, everyone started talking about the crash.  One gal admitted to taking a line too wide and brushing the rider who came around her to the outside and who went down after the encounter.  The conversation continued, focused on the crash.  It was getting a bit negative and icky for me so after a few minutes of this I felt like it was time to move on and get things going.  Talking about the crash was not helping us to have a safer race at this point.  Jill from Tibco II, Christine from Dolce Vita and I set up a paceline; I wanted to take advantage of our break, which I felt had not been caused by the crash since I was behind it when it happened.  Still I sort of wondered if doing so at that time was a negative thing to do.  We had been riding comfortably for about 5 minutes, though, and still had a break and so it was time to get going. 

It took about 10 minutes to get things moving more smoothly in our rotating paceline.  One gal would pull off but not drift back and then the whole line would stall.  After this happened a few times, I rode up to her and just asked if she wanted to participate in a paceline. "Oh! Okay!" We increased the pace on this flatter section and our group of 8 continued until the next longer descent, where we dropped one rider.  I tried to hold up the group a little, but it didn't really work.  The momentum was moving fast and I didn't want to get dropped, too, so I picked it up again.  I had seen a really huge-looking hill on the profile and I kept expecting it at any moment.  It was when we started on the last big descent of the first loop that I realized we had already gone over the hills and that this course had a lot more flat and descending sections that I had thought.  Being in our paceline really helped make the climbs easier, since they weren't so steep that it became a truly individual effort.

Photo from the course by Jill Eyres.

Everyone chatted about the descent on the second loop and that we would all take it single file.  I wanted to be in the front, since I felt like I would naturally descend faster and wanted to keep it a comfortable but fast speed.  We all made it down safely and moved through the second lap.  I was a lot more conscientious about drinking water and eating every 40 min or so, since I knew it was hot out.  I was able to check my continuous glucose meter, and could see that I was in an okay zone.  What a huge relief.  We made it to the feed zone and I was so excited to see Laurel.  "Laurel, Laurel, I'm in the break! I'm in the break!" was what I was thinking but instead I yelled out "My bike computer is in the dirt!" since it had fallen off on the short dirt section right before.  Thank goodness Laurel picked it up! It would have been a super long and annoying trek out there otherwise, on top of a super long drive back to San Francisco.  The second time up the longer hill was tiring and felt never-ending; we could hear some music playing in the follow car behind us and someone asked them to turn it up.  So momentarily we were treated to some 90s rock music?  I can't recall the name but it I enjoyed the mini-party.  I had no computer and had no idea if we had 5 or 10 miles to go, so was so happy when he called out, "4 miles to go!" Hallelujah! Finally, we hit the descent, which had a lot of cornering but was not too technical, and rolled in close to Woody.  I knew the finish was a long climb and thought I would get dropped.  But then, in some effort at positive self-talk, I thought, "Hey Anne, you stayed with this group the whole time.  You belong!"  But I got dropped anyway (ugh!) and didn't have the energy to really push it harder.  I think there was one gal I could have beaten but knew from riding almost two laps with everyone that we had some super strong climbers in the group.  I also knew I wouldn't beat any of them for the GC, since the next time closest to me coming into this race was about 3 minutes faster.  (Thank goodness I had looked at the results beforehand.)  But I didn't want to slack too much because I had no idea how close people were coming from behind.  I just pushed through the interminable last 1 km and finally, finally reached the finish.  Lina from Metromint saved me by giving me a full bottle of chilled water after the finish.  My legs were ready to start a cramp fest.

Coming into this stage, I was about 11 minutes back; I noted that no one else seemed to pull in for about that time, or a little more.  Everyone in the break was ahead of me in the GC so my big hope was that we put enough time on the rest of the field for me to move up to 7th place.  And when it was all said and done, I finished with about a 1-min gap faster than 8th place and so was very happy to finish 7th in the GC.

I think stage races are my favorite road events, since the multi-day strategy adds a fun twist.  Also, with the various types of races, Kern balanced out peoples' strengths and weaknesses.  This particular event had a very friendly atmosphere and I got to know the other women pretty well by the end.  Of course it also provides a great opportunity to get to know each other on the team.  Also, Bob Leibold really makes the award ceremony special.  I would highly recommend this for everyone next year!  It takes 100 women for them to break even financially.  He currently puts this event on at a financial loss--it would be awesome to be able to support someone who is doing so much for women's racing in Nor Cal.

Early Birds Deanna, Michal, myself and team director Laurel (back) relaxing after a tough 3 days.

More photos from Jill can be seen here and the rest of my iPhone photos can be seen here.

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