Monday, May 18, 2009

Three for Three

Apparently my back wheel is some kind of magnet that draws other bicycles into it. Or perhaps it's a vortex, I'm not sure. What I do know is that in three weeks, I've done three races, been involved in three incidents, and had three wheel repairs...

Saturday was the Lake Sunapee Bike Race. The first seven or so miles are flat, and then the hills start. After what happened at Sterling last week, I kept thinking about those first few miles and wondering how sketchy it was going to be, especially with a women's Cat 4 field of 34 pre-registered riders. That's a really large field for Cat 4.

I felt a bit sick to my stomach the night before the race, and that feeling carried over into the morning as well. When the race started, I didn't feel like I wanted to mix it up in the front, and I was sort of hanging back a little, hiding in the middle of the field.

There was a lot of nervousness: the pace was fast, then slow; people were moving around a lot, and then randomly you'd hear "slowing, slowing"! At one point my teammate Katherine S. got a gap on everyone else, but she got reeled back in.

After about 4 miles or so, I heard crashing noises from behind me, then I felt major impact on my back wheel, and something pulling me over on my right side. There was a rider to my right and slightly ahead, and as I started to "fall" towards her, I shifted my weight, controlled my bike, then regained my balance and kept going. I heard weird sounds coming from my drivetrain, and looked down to see my derailleur in a strange position and the chain rattling around in it oddly. I wasn't sure how badly it was damaged or if I should continue, but I shifted through all the gears in the cassette and they all worked.

The noises were especially bad in my easiest gear (25), but other than that it seemed stable. I couldn't see the derailleur hitting the spokes, but that's sort of what it sounded like. Anyway, by this point I had drifted off the back of the pack, but decided to continue and chased back on with several other racers who had been delayed by the crash.

After we turned onto route 11, we started to overtake the other women's (Cat 1-2-3) field. They were racing two laps to our one, so they were probably going easier at the start. The same thing happened last year.

When we hit the big climb they started passing us back. It was a little awkward. One of the riders in my field dropped her chain, but reacted to it very safely, told everyone what had happened, and people just went around her. I worked really hard to get over the crest of that hill more or less in the middle of the main pack of riders. I passed a lot of people and I was really happy about it untill I realized that the crest wasn't the top - there was still more climbing to do. Oh no!

Most of the folks that I had passed started to overtake me and I jumped on Leah's wheel (Cambridge) as she came by. I managed to stay with her until the middle of the second hill, but my legs had turned to mush and she just rode away from me.

I pushed hard to try to catch her on the downhill, but couldn't. After a while I looked back and saw a group behind me. One of the riders was teammate Loraine, and I was really happy to have them join me. We had a group of five for a while, but at the next big hill, one woman rode away from all of us and sadly Loraine popped off the back.

I worked with the two other women for the rest of the race, Jill (Cambridge) and Carol (Portland Velo). We got a nice double rotating paceline going and it felt good (although the noise from my derailleur was annoying and I was really missing the 25 on the hills). About a mile from the rotary before the finish, we caught a Noreast rider who had been dangling in front of us for about 10 miles. The four of us entered the rotary together, but Jill and Noreast climbed up the finish hill much faster than I could, with Carol finishing just behind me.

I was both pleased and disappointed with my result. I would have liked to have placed better, but all things considered, it wasn't too bad. I sort of wonder what would have happened if my bike hadn't been damaged, but in reality, stuff just happens.

I completed this race 3 minutes faster than I did last year. So that's some measurable progress, at least.

Huge congratulation to my teammate Shannon who got 2nd place! She's riding super-strong this year.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sterling Classic Road Race

Cat 4 - 3 laps - 24 miles - 33 starters - 30 finishers

Sterling was my first "real" race of the season (although I've done 1 B and 3 A/B races at Wells). I was a little nervous but also excited. I'm trying to not have expectations that are too high, but I've lost some weight and have been hoping that it will help me with the hills, so I figured this course would be a good test of my fitness and competitiveness for the season. I was still in the pack when we got onto Route 12 (about 2/3rs of a lap) and was working hard, but didn't feel like it was killing me yet. At this point people started jockeying for position, setting up for the first time up the start/finish hill. There were some squirrely riders and I had to yell "hold your line" a few times. It was making me a little wary.

I was on the left side, mid-pack when a crash started on the right side near the front. Having crashed at Wells only 6 days prior, I was determined not to hit the deck again, braked hard, and came to a stop. As I slowed, I felt a serious impact on my back wheel and after stopping, looked back and saw handlebars though my spokes. Holy cow! The rider apologized profusely and untangled herself, but my chain had come off, and on further inspection, my skewer was open and the wheel was starting to drop out. Before I could even react, one of the Mavic guys was there and he reassembled me and sent me on my way. My bike computer says I was stopped for 1:11. Sigh.

The rest of my race was either in TT mode or working with other riders. I rode on my own to the start/finish, then for 1/2 of the second lap, I worked with Emily C. (Gearworks) on the rolling hills on the backside of the course. We were trying to catch a group of about 6 or 7 just ahead of us. Unfortunately, I could not stay with her up the last roller before the turn onto Rt. 12. She joined that group and I was on my own again (but trying to catch them) until the start/finish, when teammate Joy and the other Emily C. (Bike Alley) picked me up. The three of us worked together for the rest of the lap (and race), continuing to pick up riders until we had a group of 7, including Leah (Cambridge) & Carmen (CVC). As we all got to the end of Rt. 12, Emily (Bike Alley) attacked hard, the rest of us followed, I screwed up my shifting coming into the hill and sadly finished 6th from our group, netting 23rd place overall.

I'm really glad that I was able to control my bike and not fall. I don't know how those handlebars got through my spokes - but I was certainly feeling a lot of movement and pressure on my rear wheel. I think that volunteering as an instructor at the NEBC Intro to Racing clinic every spring is a wonderful refresher course on bike handling skills and the importance of not panicking in those situations. Teaching others reminds yourself what to do and how to do it. I wish every beginner racer was required to take that clinic or one like it. There were some very sketchy people in that field who looked like they had never ridden in a group before. It's scary.

I feel so bad for my teammate, Michele H., who was injured in the crash and had to go to the hospital to receive 15 stitches in her ear. Heal well Michele. We will miss you while you are recovering. Teammates Lexi and Joy were also involved in the crash, but luckily their injuries were minor enough that they were able to finish the race. I give Joy credit for getting back up and finishing her first non-training race, in spite of a bloody elbow and a bruised hip.

After crashing last week, I don't really feel very trusting of other riders at the moment. I guess we'll see how it goes at Sunapee. At least it'll give me another chance to see if I can get over the hills any faster than last year.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The magic of icing

Well, it happened. My first race crash. I debated posting about it because my mom reads my blog, and she and Dad already think I'm insane for being a bike racer. The good news is that I'm largely uninjured. My worst injury is a huge bruise on the outside of my left thigh. It's really nasty. Unfortunately, I didn't discover it until I got home.

My other injuries were a banged up and slightly scraped knee and what I first thought was a sprained thumb. Luckily, my teammate Cathy R gave me an ice pack, which I applied to the knee and the thumb and after a while they didn't hurt any more and the swelling had gone down. The end result is that the places that got iced didn't really bruise, didn't swell, and barely hurt later that day. The places that did not get iced are still swollen and tender 3 days later. So my advice is this: ice immediately, and you will feel better for it.

So, how did it happen? Well I was racing the A/B race at Wells Ave on Sunday, and the guys started off really slow. People were chit-chatting in the field, things like "Hey, good to see you again!" and "Yeah, this is my first race of the season". There was a bit of sketchiness and people were probably not giving the race their full attention.

After about 4 laps I wasn't even breathing hard, so you know this was just a walk in the park on a Sunday morning. Anyway, in the first turn, all of a sudden a guy in the row in front of me and a couple of places to my right starts losing it. (He later said that the rider in front of him grabbed the brakes.) He fell to his left, which was basically right in front of me. I was in the middle of the pack, there were riders on both sides of me, and I didn't have an exit path. I braked as much as I thought I could and the next thing I knew I was on the ground.

I felt something brush my shoulder and instinctively ducked and covered my head with my arms. Apparently this was the right thing to do because Cathy later told me that someone went flying over me and landed hard. I feel fortunate that I walked away with such minor injuries. The original guy apparently broke his collarbone. There were at least 7 or 8 people that were taken down in the crash.

Geoff stopped to make sure I was okay, as did Cathy and possibly one or two other teammates. I remember Christine asking if I was all right. We discovered that my rear wheel was a taco, so there would be no more racing for me that day. I'm not sure I would have wanted to continue anyway, I was feeling a bit shaken at that point. Cathy decided she was done and she told Geoff to jump back in. He checked that was ok with me, and I told him to go ahead. Cathy walked me back to the start/finish, gave me ice, and I hung out with some other teammates and friends and watched the rest of the race.

Patrick gave me and my bike a ride home (so Geoff didn't have to cycle home to get the car and come back for me). Then I took the bike up to the Loft in the afternoon to get the frame checked out and have the wheel rebuilt. I'm bummed because that powertap wheel was my birthday present from September and I haven't had it very long.

But I'd rather have a wrecked wheel than a wrecked leg, arm, collarbone, or head. As much as I love my bike, it's just a bike and I'm happy that I walked away with minimal bodily harm.

At least this gets my first race crash out of the way. ("First and last," Rebecca said.)

I'll be racing Sterling on Saturday and I actually think I'll enjoy a smaller field with just women for a change. ;-)