Northstar Race Report

We headed for St. Paul on Tuesday, rendezvousing with the entire squad and support crew in Milwaukee, and packed up the Sprinter Van provided by Milwaukee Cycle Center. Got a quick pre-ride of the TT course with Alison before dinner and headed for bed. Or so we thought.

Christine tried to open her window for fresh air in the middle of the night and it came slamming down in her finger, requiring a trip to the ER and 12 stitches. The rest of us were restless, with our thoughts on Christine, the major storms rolling through, and the power going out  (thus our AC and fans were off). We headed into Wednesday and these 5 days of racing with less than 3 hours of sleep.

Alas, we woke ready to race and do our jobs. Christine was a champ and decided to race despite her injury. The TT is a 5 mile out and back course and this year was time trial bike legal which was announced two weeks before the race. Kermit {my TT/Triathlon bike} somehow passed inspection and we were off. My legs felt good despite doing no training on that bike. Everyone did well and made the time cut; a running theme for the week’s results for me, but Lily killed it every day, staying with the lead pack.

TT on Kermit PC: SnowyMountain Photography
TT on Kermit PC: SnowyMountain Photography
Wednesday is a double day, with an evening criterium in St. Paul. The location has moved around in recent years, and this year was another new, untested course. We were staying close enough to ride to the course and get a few laps in for warmup. The race started off pretty fast, but I didn’t feel like I was going into the red. Most of the field tried to move up on the backside with the tailwind and downhill, which caused the race to really fan out rather than string out. There was a short, bumpy downhill into a left hand corner and every lap the pack would slow significantly into that corner. Unfortunately one of those bumps/slowdowns took out Annie and she went down hard. I was right behind the crash and Christine and I watched the whole thing unfold. We walked back to the pit/rode on the sidewalk, hugged/cried together, and then got put back into the race which was then neutralized to a stop at the start/finish. The race restarted, but I had a really hard time getting mentally back into racing. I did see my mom on the sidelines as I hadn’t passed by for a couple laps while I was still in the pit, so she was obviously relieved to see me still upright. The rest of the race was a blur. A mix of a hold on, keep breathing, stay safe, stay vigilant, type of mindset. There were more crashes, including one in the final sprint, which gave all the finishers the same time. Cathy spent the night in the hospital with Annie and her mom and it was a pretty restless night for the rest of us. She spent 3 nights in the hospital and was released on Saturday and came back to Chicago with us on Sunday.

NorthStar Grand Prix Day 1-275-2
pc: SnowyMountain Photography
Thursday I woke up knowing I was going to have to dig deep. This was the first road race of the series, in Cannon Falls, MN. Goal for the day was to see the front of the race, and after the neutral roll out, we did just that! I moved my way backwards and just tried to stay steady, but those first 10 miles were pretty difficult, and included a QOM. I got to the front on the descent before the climb, but it still proved to be too much as I was popped off the back. After surfing through the follow cars and redlining, I ended up solo for almost 5 miles. Excerpts from my dark thoughts:

You didn’t come all the way out here to quit now. What will you do the rest of the week? Sit around? You have a ton of people coming to watch you tomorrow, so you have to make it! Get yourself into a tempo mode. Just below threshold until you find someone. Keep going until they pull you. They aren’t going to pull you. Just make it to the feed zone. Then re-evelauate. Pedal harder. You should’ve trained more; nothing you can do about it now. Get your cadence up. Keep eating.

Luckily a group of 3 girls came up from behind me, and one of them and I started working together as the other two pulled the plug. Her and I worked together through the feed zone and up the second QOM climb where we saw another group of 2 and we went for them. Now as a group of four, we were increasing speed, and getting more rest. We saw a group of 3 up the road, which included Christine! Our group was growing, the paceline was effective as I was calling out any switch in rotation based upon wind direction. We grew to 10 by the end of it and as we were making our way into the town, we got pulled right before the finishing circuits. It looked like we’d make the time cut!

pc: SnowyMountain Photography
pc: SnowyMountain Photography
I was done. I’d eaten 4 gels, 1 sleeve of shot bloks, 1 bottle of Skratch and 3 bottle of water. Plus I had a banana and downed a Coke right before the start. The house across the street from team camp had a pool. I asked to join/told them I was jumping in. Temps were sunny, 85 and windy which is not ideal for me. Luckily we had some time to recover before the next stage.

NSGP - Uptown Crit-007-2
pc: SnowyMountain Photography
Friday we woke up for an easy morning spin and got a chance to visit Annie in the hospital. The rest of the day I spent eating and recovering. Friday evening’s race was in Uptown Minneapolis and we had about a 24 hour turnaround between races. The course was a flat 6 corner course with varying widths. I loved the course and started out feeling surprisingly good. Felt confident in the corners and was carrying as much speed as possible. There was a crash early on in front of me just past the first pit that I had to unclip for, so I walked over to Bobby and Alison who watched the scene unfold. I told them I was okay {more like trying to convince myself that I was okay, mentally} and that I’d get back in. The following lap we were pushed back into the craziness, right before corner one.

NSGP - Uptown Crit-095-2
pc: SnowyMountain Photography

NSGP - Uptown Crit-052
pc: SnowyMountain Photography

NSGP - Uptown Crit-010
really trying not to tailgun. pc SnowyMountain Photography
I got back in but kept finding myself giving up positioning. I’d try harder, move up, and then decide the move was no good, and give it up again. I had to work hard on the longer stretch into the headwind and try and recover on the start/finish stretch. I knew tailgunning wasn’t the solution. My legs wanted to move up. My mind didn’t. I coasted into the finish with Christine and headed immediately towards Alison, Kevin and Bobby. I broke down. I felt like I wasted an opportunity. I felt like I didn’t do my job. I felt like I let everyone down, including myself. I felt like I should’ve raced harder for Annie, and Jenny who would’ve loved this course. Of course they were only ever more than supportive.

emotional. pc SnowyMountain Photography
emotional. pc SnowyMountain Photography
Friday to Saturday was a quick turnaround. With the late crit and an early road race with a 90 min transfer in the morning, we knew recovery was key. I had my recovery mix after the race, and a brat from my cousin who lives on course! I had a chance to thank everyone who came out to cheer for me, as it really did help! My mom, brother, best friend from high school Annie and her family, and my college roommate Katie, and Uncle Al and Claudia were all hanging out on cousin John’s front lawn right on the course! We had another dinner prepared at home, and after a quick shower and session in the compression boots, I was off to bed.

Every morning we had the most delicious spread for breakfast. Hot oatmeal with a ridiculous amount of toppings, scrambled eggs and toast. Liz and Cathy did such a good job with the food prep, presentation, and cleanup, it was ridiculous. I never went hungry on the trip, and that was a goal that my coach and I had set for the week. Being behind on calories was not an option as I knew I’d suffer later on in the week.

Stage 5 was a road race in Mankato, MN. The weather was about perfect, with low winds and cloud cover for most of the race. The route featured 2 rural laps, and 4 city laps, all of which had us climb this steep ass hill every lap. The neutral roll out was much more kind than the first road race, as were the first 18 miles! The first time up the hill really broke apart the peloton. I got a “free” {read: I worked my ass off to stay on the girl’s wheel who towed me and 2 others back to the peloton} ride back to the pack where we connected after the feed zone.  I was hanging out in the back wondering if I should call for a feed, as we blew through the feed zone and my water situation was about to get desperate. The pace picked up and I didn’t want to get caught back at the car, so I stayed put. A New Zealand rider started heading for the front so I gladly accepted the free ride up there. I pulled in front of her and then I realized I started feeling alone. There was a break up in front of us, and it wasn’t my intention to chase it down. But the pack wasn’t staying on my wheel, and I found myself in no mans land! I no longer wanted to be on {or rather off} the front so I let the small rise in the road bring the peloton back to me and I got back in and recovered. Luckily, Mor and Nathan were there to capture it!

free ride. pc SnowyMountain Photography
free ride. pc SnowyMountain Photography

on {or off} the front. pc SnowyMountain Photography
on {or off} the front. pc SnowyMountain Photography

hi! pc SnowyMountain Photography
hi! pc SnowyMountain Photography
After the 2nd time up the hill I was near Christine and Lauren. We were with a small group working hard to catch back on. I managed to actually slow enough to get some bottles in the feed zone and after almost getting hit by a rogue driver, we managed to catch back onto the group. This was the first of the shorter loops, thus that hill came up on us really quick and I was way more into the red. That 4th time up was the hardest. Christine and I were back together, but knew it’d be difficult to catch back on. We rode the 4th and 5th laps together with a few others and were pulled (within the time cut!) with 1 lap to go.

Feeling thankful to have made it. pc SnowyMountain Photography
Feeling thankful to have made it. pc SnowyMountain Photography
We rolled around for our recovery drinks and a coke, and it was so great to be able to cheer Lily, Heather, and Lauren onto their finishes. The day had felt more successful than previously, being able to mostly stay with the field for 45 miles of the 60 mile road race and seeing the front of the race which was a goal Alison set for us.

go Lauren! pc SnowyMountain Photography
go Lauren! pc SnowyMountain Photography
After the long transfer home we had another delicious dinner and Annie came by! It’s incredibly hard to see anyone in the hospital, and especially your teammate. But having her back out so soon was pretty remarkable. A couple of us went down the street for a celebratory “we made it to the final stage” drink and had fun, bonding as a team.

steepAF. pc SnowyMountain Photography
steepAF. pc SnowyMountain Photography
Sunday felt like a celebratory stage for some of us, and an incredible opportunity and chance to prove yourself for one. Lily was 8 seconds down on the overall amateur jersey and she’d have to find a way to summon the energy to make it 15 times up that steep ass hill with the main field. I survived 5 laps before getting pulled, and the field dwindled from 69 riders to <25 who completed the entire race.

not a champagne carrying champs elise type of final stage. pc snowymountain photography
Not a champagne carrying Champs-Elysees type of final stage. pc snowymountain photography

NSGP - StillwaterCrit-071
not easy. pc snowymountain photography
It was amazing to be on the hill, cheering for her lap after lap. The energy from the crowds was incredible and having my mom and brother yell at me each time was motivating. Watching Lily dance up the hill with focus and intent, but with an ease about her was incredible. And, she did it. The green jersey was dropped from the main group. Lily moved into the overall amateur lead and placed 6th overall in the race.

LILY!! pc SnowyMountain Photography
LILY!! pc SnowyMountain Photography

Go Lily! pc SnowyMountain Photography
Go Lily! pc SnowyMountain Photography
We headed back home after our race for the long journey back to Chicago. It’s incredible how one week can change your life. This week has been an experience I’ll never forget, and one that indebted me to many people. Every day we had a hot breakfast and a delicious dinner ready for us. Every day we had a clean and working bike, with the tire pressure of our asking, loaded and unloaded from the van. We had a mechanic in the pit or follow car who knew our bikes and was ready for anything. We had shelter set up, hundreds of bottles filled and cleaned every day, ice socks prepped and loaded. We had team camp set up and ready, or at least the chairs unloaded first so we could watch as it all unfolded right in front of us. There was always water and ice for us on the start line and at the finish. Our laundry was done every day so we had a fresh kit ready for the next. Every day we had amazing photos taken of our journey, and uploaded every night.

Every day all I had to do was pedal my bike, consume delicious food, and sleep. Every day I went to bed feeling like a professional. For all of the self doubt I had coming into this, and the little bits that would creep in each day, I’m so very thankful for our amazing support staff that helped me make it to the finish. Bobby, Cathy, Kevin, Liz, Mor, Nathan and Alison – thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to rise above. Thank you for raising the road.

 

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