Well that was a surprise!
I have a lot of self doubt when it comes to pavement and I. I’ve quite settled into the “I’m not a fast roadie” label for the last two years since my first road race. My mind has been boggled at how everyone else is so fast, but I didn’t really care I was in the back, as once again, I’m not a fast roadie. Being fast is for the girls who ride insane hours and miles every week. Not I, as I am (beats chest) mountain biker! (Never mind the fact I’ve been training 8-9 hours a week, ahem…) So at the Boulder Roubaix when I crossed the finish line in 5th place out of 30 entrants, it was surreal. Maybe I need a new title: I’m working on becoming the fastest roadie I can be, and diversity of racing skills is important!?
The Boulder Roubaix is a 37 mile, two lap race for the cat 4 women on just about a 50/50 split of pavement and relatively smooth and extremely fast rolling dirt roads – just my kind of road race! I really like riding gravel and dirt on skinny wheels, as it’s part ridiculous and part insanely fun! Mountain bike and cyclocross handling skills come in handy, and sometimes it’s really obvious during races who falls into those two categories. Plus hey, I’d rather crash on dirt any day over pavement if I really had to choose.
I was front row at the start, learning from experience in past races where I either got shoved to the back by hordes of gals on large teams, or didn’t get there early enough to be in the front. The start was incredibly painful, my legs burned and I wondered how long I could keep up the pace, though I found myself warming up quite quickly and after the first 5 minutes I didn’t even remember how painful the start was. I stayed in the front pack, and we sped along at quite a fast pace. For once I felt comfortable in a peloton, and didn’t mind being in the middle with racers on all sides of me. The hardest thing for me was on the punchy climbing when the pace would lurch suddenly to a slow grind. I’m very accustomed to maintaining momentum on climbing (the mountain biker in me for sure) so several times I had to remind myself not to run into the racer in front of me in when the pace dropped. This lead to me moving through the pack on several of the climbs to gain a few more spots.
I was having a lot of fun as we cruised between dirt, pavement, dirt, pavement, and so on. My teammate Natalia was up front a lot, and Helen, Wendy, and I about mid pack in the front group. Wendy had asked me before the race started what our tactics could be and I had no idea. I’m not use to having teammates in a road race, and since I’m usually quickly dropped road races are mostly time trial efforts for me. I think I told her we’d just wing it!
The peloton continued to spit people off the back as we surged out of corners and confidently sped along on the dirt roads. About 3-4 miles from the completion of the first lap I dropped ever so slightly off the back of the lead group, maybe about a 30 foot gap, which I managed to close. I tried to eat a gel and ended up with it everywhere but my mouth, so I learned I should probably stick to chews during road races, especially when trying to eat on the roughest dirt section! We rolled through for the second lap as a group of 11 (Michelle would quickly rejoin us). Errin, LeeAnn, and I – the three cross nuts, were the caboose and were having fun chatting. I almost crashed myself out in the excitement of seeing Shawn, my favorite race photographer, but survived that mishap – whoops! LeeAnn and I both commented in amazement about how we were still in the lead pack. I never expected this would happen and now I began to set the Top 10 as my goal, but was worried about the pace longer the race was going.
This is where I know training and longer rides have helped, so whereas in the past where a 20 mile road race ran me ragged, I am now more capable of handling 2+ hour long efforts and the longer miles. The peloton wasn’t too feisty, and we were all sticking together still quite well. On one downhill dirt corner some sort of mishap occurred and several racers went down. Luckily I was behind the crash and had enough time to brake and swerve around the bodies and bikes. It shook the peloton, and I found myself in a group of 5 or 6 once I put forth a big effort to latch back onto the racers who were in front of the crash. This put a bit more fire under me, though more and more racers were able to rejoin the group.
Then came my moment! The biggest climb of the day is a decent little hill with a turn. I just surged past everyone! I guess if there’s one thing I can do, it’s climb relatively well, especially on dirt where I just stay seating for best traction and just pedal pedal pedal. I crested the hill in front of everyone and I had the biggest grin on my face. At that point, I won the race for myself. I was in front of a road race. A ROAD RACE. Who would’ve imagined?! Natalia joined me in front, and we lead the peloton for a little while, though there was grumblings about our “slow” pace. Wendy was thankful we slowed things a bit, as it gave her a chance to recover, and I didn’t want to burn all my matches pulling everyone else around. Natalia asked if we wanted to go for a break, but I was nervous as we were still 4 miles out from the finish, and I didn’t know how much I could hold onto something and keep it over that distance. I can sprint and lay down some power when I have to, but have never done it over 4 miles. So we finally pulled back and let others pull out front.
Once we turned onto dirt for the final stretch, it was pretty much on and the pack broke. The final straight stretch, which is a mile or so (maybe longer), I found to be the roughest part of dirt. Rough enough I had trouble pushing a harder gear and keeping the power steady. I was in a group of 5 or so, and on the final punchy climb I went past everyone and decided this was the time. Errin and two others were way out front, with Wendy and Natalia behind them. I wanted to latch onto my “Naked Train” so I tried, switching from line to line trying to find a spot that was smooth. I kept glancing over my shoulder, knowing I still had a long way to go until the finish and the pack would have the advantage of aerodynamics (maybe?) and some strong power riders. I caught Natalia, who had fallen off of Wendy’s wheel. The finish line arch was nearing and damn it was painful, but I knew I didn’t want to get caught.
I crossed the line at 1:52:48, ten seconds back from Wendy who was four seconds back from the sprint finish, for 5th place! 5TH PLACE!!!!! In a road race!!! ROAD RACE!!! Like, I get upgrade points now and stuff. UPGRADE POINTS… in a ROAD RACE!!!
Natalia would finish 7th, and Helen for 14th, so we had a strong Naked Women’s Racing showing in SW 4, and also our SW 3 gals did well, with Marissa on the podium in 2nd and Brittany in 4th. It was surreal, and for the first time I realized I should find out how deep the podium went (some races are 3 places, some are 5) as it actually mattered. I’m so use to finishing mid to bottom pack in road stuff it was something I didn’t have to worry about until now (it was a 3 place podium, for what it’s worth). Malcolm congratulated me with a hug and of course some sips of his beer, bringing back the cyclocross vibe I do love. Yay for dirt road races, staying upright, and surprising the crap out of myself!!
So I learned a few things… I’m better on the road bike than I probably give myself credit for and don’t try to eat gels on rough roads (or maybe at all unless standing still). I think the best thing I’m seeing is my progression on the road – I think it’s easier to see my gains in fitness on the road than on the mountain bike, actually. I feel like I’ve plateaued with mountain biking (or the changes are more subtle, and sometimes I need the big obvious changes to keep me excited for me), so it’s exciting to be experiencing new things on a road bike in races! I was debating doing the Clasica de Rio Grande next weekend (the new name of the Weld Country RR, which was my first road race two years ago!), and now I think I’ll definitely do it. My 2015 race season is shaping up to one of semi-spontaneity and one of extreme flexibility and going with the flow (more on that on another blog post perhaps – let’s just say my “A” XC race of the year was canceled), and I’m curious to explore more of this roadie that is shaping up inside of me!