Would a rare snow day in Portland keep us off our bikes? Heck no! We rounded up a crew and explored the local snow day scene on Mt. Tabor.
Song “Ice, Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice.
365 days ago I entered my first bike race. I picked the last day of the Mt. Tabor Series as a birthday challenge to myself, just as the previous year I decided to complete Seattle to Portland as a challenge.
Sure, I’ve done plenty of brutal, long, hard rides in the last year, but I’ve never ridden for 57 miles without stopping. Like, not even a little stopping. No 15 minute rest breaks, no slowing down to wait for your friends, to bathroom stops, no freaking stops of any kind. None.
I’ve never raced a criterium before, and while I know circuit races and Monday PIR have prepared me a little bit I’m still apprehensive. It’s a tough course with a wicked, badly banked, sharp right hand turn that threatens to take upon out if you pedal at the wrong time; the locals call it Carnage Corner for a reason. Plus there are 24 other women riding it at the same time, and the road is only so wide.
We have 25 minutes to sprint our legs off on the 1k course. My goals were to stay with the pack and not crash. Success! As a crit newbie I decided to stay toward the back and watch how other people rode the course, see what lines they chose, figure out where to move and what was dangerous. What I learned is that I need some practice! Trailing the pack is tiring work, especially on a course with some climbing and a straightaway into the wind.
In the last lap I decided to try my trusty “jump the pack from the back” trick at the finish but I was too far behind and came in 13th. Not quite enough sprint it seemed. What worked in Stage 1 has little effect here, but no matter since my time in the race is the same as the pack’s and my position overall doesn’t shift. I guess I need to learn some new tricks.
But first, I need to survive 57 brutal miles of Stage 4.
We remembered our Garmins. Jenn brought us a skewer for my trainer so I could warm up more easily before the race. I brought clothes to change into. 5:15am still came far too quickly, just 15 minutes before sunrise and about two hours before I really wanted to be awake. But with an 8am start time we had to be up so we could force down some food and coffee, muddle our way through race prep, and warm up.
There was wind. A lot of wind. I’d rather ride in the rain, all things being equal. 15-24mph gusts all morning that threatened to blow me off my bike, off the road, off a cliff, off a bridge, that ate my legs up when I thought I could rest. The kind of wind that makes you grateful for a course with a climb, because at least there I can be strong.
18 miles and 1,400 feet of climbing into the wind, on my own, no hiding in the pack, no break from the effort, just me to pull through. I was glad to have time trial bars and a helmet borrowed from friends. I’d pick up speed around a corner only to be slapped by the wind, but being more aerodynamic in descents really helped. At least everyone had to suffer through it the same. At least I passed a few people.
My unofficial time is 1:05:20. I should still be in the top ten, but now I’m 6 minutes behind the leader. We have a few hours to rest, then we race the Hood River Criterium – my first crit ever. Yikes!
We forgot our Garmins. We forgot the skewer for my trainer. I didn’t bring clothes to change into after the race because it wasn’t supposed to rain. At least we remembered our bikes, jerseys and race numbers, right?
It rained. A huge black cloud appeared right before our start time and loomed for the first 5 miles before dumping on us for 15 more miles. At times the spray from the wheel in front of me was oddly warm from a sun break heating the water on the road. My feet swam in my soaked shoes. I hadn’t brought a change of socks for after the race, either. By the last 3 miles of the race the road was dry, the sun came out, you’d never even know it had poured. And that’s spring in Oregon for you.
25 women lined up for the 24 mile stage 1 Cat 3/4 race, most of them I didn’t even know, many from out of state, some of them familiar faces from this season. It wasn’t the blistering pace I’d anticipated, everyone conserving energy for the next races. We have to do this again tomorrow, twice, and again on Sunday. Today I learned whose wheel to follow, who has a strong climb, who I can beat in a sprint.
I finished 4th, coming from the back of the pack up the little hill finish. I need to work on my placement and learn how to move up in the pack, especially heading into the finish. My rookie ways cost me a win for sure. I’m two seconds behind the lead rider, we’ll see if I can make that up.
But now we rest, eat, hydrate, sleep. For tomorrow we go again. And again.
Not one to take things slowly, I embarked on a week of more racing than I’d ever done in one month let alone in just 7 days. The day after our Otto Miller ride, Courtney and I noticed the Eugene Roubaix on the OBRA schedule and were inspired to register. This in addition to the three races I’d already planned for the week. Yikes!
Monday and Tuesday PIR marked my last races as a Cat 5. Winning races with few to no other racers really isn’t that satisfying, and the powers that be at OBRA felt I’d paid my dues and earned an upgrade. After winning my second Rose Garden Circuit Race (and third race win of the week) I was ready to put that new Cat 4 sticker on my racing license.
And so I entered the Eugene Roubaix as a brand new Cat 4 in a combined 3/4/5 & Masters women field. I had no expectation that I’d do especially well and was prepared to get my newbie butt put soundly in its place. The 13 mile race route featured some lovely rolling hills, a little climb, and a 1.3 mile gravel segment I knew would be a challenge in a 3 lap race. We did some route recon in our warmup to determine just how bad the gravel would be only to find that there was just one clear line through the whole thing, which meant no passing, no attacks, no shenanigans until we were back on the pavement. Good to know.
14 women lined up for the race, including 5 from West Coast Women’s Cycling, 3 from Sorella Forte (including Courtney) and our pal Daphne from Hammer Velo. When you’re a solo rider in a race it’s good to find friendly faces, and I knew I could hang with the Sorellas and Daphne. It was clear from the start that WCWC had a plan to win and a protected rider in the pack. The first few miles were flat and gentle, everyone looking for their place in the pack and eventually lining up for a good position heading into the gravel. I made the mistake of getting behind someone I suspected would be nervous on gravel but had no time to find a new position. She let a huge gap open up between us and the lead group and I was afraid I’d lost the pack completely. By the time I hit the pavement again I had to sprint to catch up on the punchy berg that is Oak Road.
After the quick climb was a fun swooping descent, then a sharp right turn where we lost Sorella Cristine to a loose rear skewer that caused her whole wheel to seize up. Courtney, Daphe, Sorella Karin, and I held with the pack, letting a woman who turned out to be a triathlete pull us along the flat miles before we hit rolling hills. She pulled a lot in the race and I was glad for it! The rollers reminded me of Dutch Canyon, the kind you can punch through all day long. Then it was back to the start point for two more laps.
This time into the gravel I followed Courtney, a reliable steady wheel I knew I could trust. We lost a few more women to deep gravel and tactical errors here, including Karin, and found ourselves in a breakaway of 7 for the second lap. WCWC was down to three riders, but the triathlete, Daphne, Courtney and I were riding strong. Along one flat stretch we all looked left to see huge turkeys in one field, then several bounding llamas in another. It was like a cartoon! By the time we hit the rollers this time everyone was friendly and chatty, making light conversation and a few jokes as we enjoyed the sun and what was turning out to be a really fun race.
We stayed together solidly through that second lap and survived the gravel one more time to take on the final lap, losing one more WCWC rider along the way. I was surprised at how well everyone worked together to hang tight and it was clear that this would be a sprint finish. We weren’t pushing the pace too hard, pedaling comfortably at 20mph heading in to the rollers when Courtney decided we just needed to get moving. She pulled us for two miles in a slight headwind and added a more competitive tone to what almost became a friendly fast-paced group ride. I was third in the paceline, giving me plenty of protection from the wind and placing me behind WCWC’s protected rider. She was one point away from her Cat 3 upgrade and was positioned to win.
As we crested a tiny hill about 1k from the finish, Courtney looked back at me and yelled, “Go! Go!” I poured on the gas heading downhill and gapped the rest of the field a little bit, being sure not to lay too much out just yet. The right turn into the finish stretch took some speed out of us all and the WCWC rider caught up enough to have a chance to beat me. That was my cue to hit the GO button on my sprint finish, shift into a higher gear, and bury myself for 300m to take the win!
I couldn’t believe I’d won the race! I figured I’d finish in the top 10 at least, and it was clear the WCWC team was just as surprised they didn’t take the win. Their rider still got her upgrade points for coming in second, and they were all super nice to chat with afterward as we cooled down.
I know I couldn’t have won without Courtney on my team, even if we’re not on the same race team. When you’re an unattached rider you have to count on friends in the race to help you out, and you have to help them too. But it’s truly awesome to race and ride with your partner, and that’s not something a lot of people get to experience. That we get to experience races and wins and losses together is so cool!