Monday, April 30, 2007

NMBS#2: Firestone Santa Ynez Valley MTB Classic: April 28-29, 2007

Although I felt like I had hardly been home, off I go again for another racing road trip, but this time I flew! Thursday I flew to Santa Barbara and picked up my rental car and headed to Santa Ynez, or actually Buellton where the hotel was. It was a gorgeous drive and although I had mixed feelings about being there by myself w/o my Timmy, I couldn't help but to be thinking how lucky I was. The ocean was beautiful and the drive was quite spectacular. I shouldn't have been in such a hurry and should have pulled off the road at one of the beaches and gotten my feet wet. But the drive alone reassured me that this was going to be a good weekend.
I hooked up with my teammate Emily and her gang and the weekend fun began. We rode the course on Friday. It was damn hot! Dry, dusty and hot. And we moved slow. At least it was announced the we were only doing one long lap and one short, instead of 2 long and one short. Whew!

Race 1: Short Track
You would think that at 10:45 a.m. it would not be too hot. WRONG! I think it was 100 degrees. At any rate, it was wicked hot. Emily and I warmed up in the shade of the Cannondale canopy, but sweat was dripping even before we lined up. Our main goal was going to be "to not get pulled". I wanted to finish my first stx race and I knew with the longer lap, it shouldn't be a problem. I had an o.k. start position and an awesome start. I got right up in the lead group and then dropped back to the 'chase' group, and then dropped back to the third pod and then my final drop was on Emily's wheel, hanging on for dear life until the end, when I sprinted to the finish for a 17th place. After the race, Ray met us with cold towels and I was practically gagging from the dust. A quick cool down and then back to the 'high quality inn" as we had dubbed our overpriced accommodations, for an afternoon of MTV hell. Yes, I watched more TV than I have in the last year in 3 days at the hotel. I was going a bit crazy.

Race 2: Cross Country
Yes, it was cooler by at least 10 degrees, but that did not make it cool. It was HOT. I tried to focus on how much cooler it was and how nice that brisk wind would be, but with a 2:45 p.m. start, there was no way it was going to cool down during the race. My call ups are getting better and I lined myself up where I was for short track, pretty much 3rd row behind Katerina Nash and others. I figured it would be a fast line. I couldn't have been more wrong. Immediately after the start, which I had been in good position for, down went 3-4 girls directly in front of me. Who knows what happened. I got off my bike and walked over those still down and then tried (key word: tried) to jump on Katerina's wheel to work the way through the dust and the tail end of the pack. It was extremely difficult and I took risks, going off to the side to pass slower people on the climb and before the 's' turns. It sucked. And needless to say, I was on no ones wheel but my own. It was dusty, dry and hot and I was working way too hard to get back where I started. But the pace was amped and I fought to go faster. I was gaining time on some of the climbs and finally finding my pace. The highlight of the race was coming up on Marla Streb and being behind her on a descent. Granted, she gapped me pretty quickly, but on the next hill, I went by and kept motoring. The second lap the heat caught up with me. I started to suffer. I was drinking all of my liquids and hoping for no melt down. After the feed zone on the second lap, we had our short cut for the half lap. Little did I know how short that lap was going to be and although I had 5 girls in my sights, I didn't have the momentum to catch them, nor the time. I was suffering and I suffered myself right into a 24th place finish. I think our new strategy will have to be to keep the heat at home at 90 to acclimate. HMMMMMM? Sounds lovely... Oh well, Fontana should be cooler. I sure hope so.

Post race thoughts: I really don't like the heat. I know I don't do well in the heat, but then I think, who does? Why do I suffer more in the heat? Is it all in my head. I really wanted my body to go faster. I need to learn to transcend this barrier, because I don't think this will be the last hot race. Post race, I left and drove back down the coast to Claremont where I am staying with my dear friends Gina and Hal until Fontana. Well, Santa Ynez was done and I hoped for a cooling trend by the weekend. I would even take some rain. I must be crazy...

Mudslinger: Blodget, OR: April 22, 2007

Although I felt that I wasn't totally recovered from all the travels and being gone for 3 weeks, Tim and I ventured south a bit for some fun in the mud. We went down the night before and stayed with my teammate Karen and her family in Corvallis. This meant a little more sleep in the morning. It didn't, however, get us there any sooner. We got to the venue a bit later than I would have liked. No time to warm up, but then again, it was long enough to get a warm up in. We had a neutral start and headed down in a big pack to the real start. Out of the gate, I went out hot. Had a great start, but it wasn't long before Karen and Alice were right there with me. A game of yo-yo with them, but it wasn't long before Karen got away. I had Alice in my sights, but the legs just didn't go when they were told. She got away a bit on the gravel road descent with the wicked waterbars, but by the last climb, on the gravel road, I saw her, but couldn't close the gap. So, I relaxed and finished third. It is great to have so much depth in our local races to push harder and hopefully go faster in the future. It was a muddy one, but fun in a very strange way...

Sea Otter Classic: Monterey, CA: April 12-15, 2007

I arrived in Monterey on Wednesday (4/11), registered and rode the course. It was a blast! I knew this was going to be a good weekend, but Mel was still at "Specialized Bike Component University" and Tim didn't arrive until the next day, so luckily Coach Kendra was there working and I was able to hook up there with her and crash so I didn't have to camp alone. Thursday I set up camp and tried to find parts to get my NEW Cannondale Taurine assembled. Chris Moor, our team mechanic, was instrumental in helping me out and getting it done! I was sooo excited to try it out! and Tim arrived earlier than planned. And then the racing began...

Race Day 1: Time Trail
Well, at least I had done one of these before, but this TT was much shorter than Arizona. Just a quick lap, less than 5 minutes. Out of the gate the hammer fest was on. Up the hill with Tim yelling on me to stand up and hammer! I came up on several casual riders on the course and I yelled for them to get out of the way. Up and around the back through the 'tricky' turns. I bobbled at one of them, with a huge crowd to witness, including Mel. Catching the person in front of me, I tried to get by her through the ruts, but was delayed to the last corner, sprinting for the finish. I placed 20th. Although not an amazing finish, my name was ahead of Shonny's on the list. Not often I will see that, so it was pretty cool.

Race Day 2: Short Track
I awoke fairly early, and the rain hadn't started. I was able to make some coffee and have some breakfast, just before the pouring rain arrived. Needless to say, I was not happy and scrambled to get motivated after I had gone back to my warm sleeping bag and dry tent. The race was originally on the schedule for 12:30. I hadn't bothered to confirm this. Well, by 11, I figured it was time to get motivated, but the storm seemed to had gained some momentum and it wasn't just raining. I reluctantly changed into my cycling clothes and then asked our camping neighbors if I could set my trainer up under their canopy for warm up. It was great. I warmed up easily and was getting psyched. I am from Portland, after all. Rain is normal. Camping and getting ready for a race in it may not be, but it was going to be fine. I finally worked my way down to the start line around 12:15, only to find out the women's start was actually at 1:15. There went my warm up. Well, I pre-rode the course once and then meandered down to the Cannondale tent. It was then determined that the Michelin dry2's would not be the best for the muddy conditions, so Mike at Michelin did a quick change for me to the AT's. They rocked. I, however, didn't. I had a pretty rotten start, but the trouble began at the first corner with the climb. Somehow when people started going down, I ended up pinned and unable to move. Wrong place at the wrong time. It sucked. My teammate Jenna was right there with me. And away rode 25 people right by us. I think we were pretty much in the very back once recovered from that debacle. What I thought would be a great race, being that I love the mud, ended up being a hard, dirty fight for 29th, getting pulled with 3 laps to go. Oh well. You win some and lose some...

Race Day 3: Cross Country
After missing Tim's start in the a.m., I was at least able to see Mel take off. Then back to relax until our afternoon start time. It is a lot of anticipation with races later in the day, but 12:25 wasn't bad. The weather looked like it was going to cooperate, despite the wind. I made a trip to the Cannondale tent and changed my tires back and the tried to relax. I warmed up at the campsite and then made my way down to the track for the start. Of course, I could have come much later, b/c once again, I was one of the last people for call ups. But it wasn't so bad, b/c Sue Haywood didn't get called up for some unknown reason. There we were. I just asked her "What is up with that?" She didn't know, but it was the first and last time I would probably be lined up next to her. And with her to follow, I had a great start. She made an attack around the right hand side right out of the gate and got up to the front of the pack. Not the very front, b/c it seemed that was not the place to be with the frightful headwind. It was one of the most mellow starts I have experienced in a mountain bike races, pretty mellow until the climb on the track, and then we were back in business. I rode my race and kept a consistent pace, packing it in on the sandy descent on the first lap. I got up close and personal with the manzanita and when I got back up a volunteer was there immediately making sure I was o.k. I was fine. I just got up and kept riding. I kept picking off people and making darn sure no one was going to pass me. On the second lap I started passing people I knew. When I rode up on Katie Compton, I marvelled that this may be the only time I would be passing her in a race. I finally caught up with my teammate Emily and we worked together a bit until I turned around and she was no longer on my wheel. I knew we were doing o.k. when we caught up with Chloe Forsman (Luna). I kept telling myself I was feeling stronger and stronger and that wind didn't matter. I tried to work with whomever I could find in the headwind, sitting on a wheel until I knew I had to make a move. I worked my way up to 17th and was thrilled with my finish! In fact, Tim and Mel were sitting on the sideline at the finish and didn't even see me come by. They must have not expected me so soon...

The cousins 3 showed up to cheer us on!!! Caroline, Jack & Leta.

Race after thoughts: Well, that was only my second time doing Sea Otter and it felt much better this time. I like the longer races and the course suited me, as did the weather. I could have dealt with more singletrack and less poison oak, which I managed to acquire at some point on my left arm. The worst part about it was the 11.5 hour drive home the next day. I don't think I will camp at Sea Otter again. It just adds another difficult dynamic to deal with, but the benefit is being on site and not having to deal with traffic. Maybe an RV??? That would be luxurious, but definitely not as hard core. Oh well, who says I need to be tough?

the ROAD TRIP continues...

With the first NMBS race out of the way, Mel and I were headed to SoCal for some training before Sea Otter, which was less than 2 weeks to go. We recovered for a day with a nice easy ride with Papa Gundy back towards McDowell in a totally different part of the park. Nice and flat, easy spin.

Our gracious host "Papa Gundy" and his girls.

And then off to the land of smog! Mel and I stayed one night with my dear friends Gina and Hal in Claremeont and then on to LaCanada/Flintridge. What is here, you ask? Well, about 35-40 relatives that we would celebrate Easter with the following weekend. Mel would miss out, flying to San Jose early Sunday a.m., but she got enough time with the Pfluegers. My brother Paul was there with my niece and nephew, Abi and Alec, from MN. My parents continued their journey west as well. It was good times and seeing many people I had not seen for a long time! My grandma Jo, great aunts and uncles, my dads many cousins and their kids, my cousin and my aunt from MN. It was awesome.
Mel and I also got to sample some of the local singletrack. We decided to escape the smog and fog and go higher. After acquiring some maps and local knowledge, which was a task in itself, we did end up on an epic ride. See her post at SoCal redeemed itself, as the riding was pretty fantastic. I was even scared more than I would have cared to be.

Mel on Strawberry Peak trail. Awesome ride!

I didn't spend my whole time riding... I managed to sneak in a trip to Disneyland with Paul and the kids. I hadn't been there in 30 years, and I now think I never have to go back. That is another story for another day...

Paul, Alec, Abi & Me

But the training continued and the family time was a great way to fill in the weeks between the 2 races. On to Sea Otter in Monterey...

NMBS#1: Nova National: Fountain Hills, AZ: March 30 - April 1, 2007

I must be very convincing, because I convinced Melanie Lewis, a gal from Seattle who I had raced with and met during the TransRockies last summer to join me for a 3 week adventure, starting with a 30 hour drive to Fountain Hills, AZ for the National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS) first race. Early Monday, March 26th, we overloaded my Subaru and headed south on I-5 for more miles than I would ever care to drive again. We had a brief overlay in San Jose and arrived on Tuesday to the home of Paul Gundlach, often referred to as "Papa Gundy". He is our good friend Mikes dad and lives in Oregon for the hot months, but was gracious enough to put up with some racers for the week! He was a great tour guide and we had a fantastic ride on Wednesday to get our legs back under us. We took the long way into McDowell Park, the venue for the race over the weekend. I thought we could get acclimated to the heat, but it remained rather cool. Thursday brought us back to McDowell for registration and more pre-riding and then the fun began. Tim arrived on Thursday evening. His plane was late. Late plane = less sleep = grumpy Susie. But our races didn't start until noon on Friday, so it was fine.

Race Day 1: Time Trial
Time trials are the purest form of racing, b/c it is you against the clock. I had never done one, so I guess now was a great time to start. Plus, I really didn't have to be too nervous, since I was just racing against myself. Start times were finally posted in the morning, and I think mine was at 12:52. They were starting us every 30 seconds. Of course, I was towards the end of the pro women, b/c this was my inaugural race. Well, about 3-4 minutes into the 6 mile race, I had already passed the gal in front of me, and it wasn't too much longer until I pegged off the next one. It was hot, but I rode flawlessly through the course and ended up 16th. I guess I will take it. A good way to ease into my new career.

Race Day 2: Short Track/Fat Tire Downtown Criterium
This was not your typical short track event. For one, it was at 7:30 p.m. and under lights and then half of it was on pavement. Well, again, I was in the very back for call ups and I think about 70 girls were lined up for that race. After about 200 meters, the course took a sharp left into a gate about 5 feet wide. Well, needless to say, I didn't get the hole shot and by the time I got through the gate, the leaders were half way back to the pavement. It was a mess. Stop and go over bumps with people on the breaks. I was shocked when about 10 minutes into it, I was pulled. Apparently only about 14 women finished the entire race. It was just silly. But I exited the course and enjoyed watching the women finish as I cooled down and then watch the men. I still don't know how I did, b/c for some odd reason the results are not posted. But I was at least in the top 3rd and in the last group to be pulled. Is that supposed to make me feel better?!?

At the line in the back of the pack! My first national PRO race!

Race Day 3: Cross Country : THE REAL DEAL!
Wow! D-day had come. I was sooo nervous, yet not at all. I knew there were no expectations and I just had to go out and do the best that I could do. I really relaxed when I was called up pretty much last and was in the very back of 71 people. I figured I only had one way to go, and that was up. Although at the time in the 100 degree heat, I didn't know how difficult this task was going to be. First, I suffer horribly in the heat. I'd take rain and 55 any day over the scalding sun and dry heat of that day! But the gun went off and I sprinted carefully through the back and 500 meters later we funneled to the singletrack! This was the most frustrating thing, b/c there is really very limited passing on the course with dangerous cacti on each side and very limited room. I had my teammate Becca on my butt cheering to go around, so at every opportunity I had, I worked my way around a few more girls. It was exhausting. The first half of that lap was spent getting around people and then it thinned out and I just had to keep up my pace and pedal faster. They were 10 mile laps and we had to do three. My parents, Steve and Sigrid, were there to watch too and dad was in the feedzone with Tim handing me bottles. It felt so good to get a cold bottle, but just 10 minutes later it was lukewarm sweet yucky crap!!! Tim poured cold water on me each lap, which helped, but not for long enough. I suffered. And then suffered some more. Going through my head was how much I wanted to quit and how miserable I felt and how much I wanted cold water. The course was a non-stop pedaling event! No resting. After 2 laps I figured I just had one more, so why not finish? I held on for a 26th place finish and figured it was a pretty good start to my "professional" bike racing career. Especially considering I wanted to vomit afterwards and had a bit of heat stroke. It wasn't pretty, but I survived!

Thoughts post race: It wasn't until the miserable feeling of overheating and pushing my body to its limits had dissipated that it really set in: I had just raced against all the women I have read about for years. It was a strange realization, because even 3 years ago I had no idea I would be where I am. And I wasn't last. 72 people started, only 60 finished, so top half. I was just over 18 minutes off the front. A lot of work to be done, but I have fulfilled part of the dream and I will continue to follow it. And of course, there is only one way to go and that is up...

Catching up from the beginning... Hornings Hustle: 3/25/2007

Mountain bike race season arrived!!! And it was muddy. Our first local mtb race of the season was eagerly greeted by over 200 racers! 10 women in the pro/expert category. Not bad. It was awesome seeing new faces and I had the pleasure of meeting one of my new teammates from Bear Naked/Cannondale that had recently relocated to Oregon, Karen DeWolfe. She proceeded to beat up on me at the race, but it was a lot of fun and extremely muddy! A great tune-up before heading off to my first national race at the pro level!