A few weeks ago The Bike Rack Road Team had a strong showing from the women at the Road Warrior 50 rolling road race. The 26.2 mile race, which took place in Howard Country, Maryland and benefited the Wounded Warrior Project, was a good opportunity for the ladies to strategically to break away from the peloton and work together to pull off place first- and second-place finishes for Shelley Devereaux and Liz Whiteley. Leah Nichols finished in the middle of the pack with a solid effort to close the peloton gap that didn’t quite succeed, but kudos for the effort! Get their first had experiences below through the rider’s race reports:
The women’s 4 field did two laps – 26.2 miles. Reports from the morning race said there weren’t a lot of great places to get away – no huge climbs, nothing too technical.
The pack mostly stayed together for lap 1, with no real attacks and some skittish cornering. Liz and I agreed we needed to get away, since no one really wants a crowded uphill sprint or sketchy riders forcing you on the wrong side of the road. Conveniently, the same 4 riders stayed in the wind the whole time, and I was not one of them.
So lap 2, and Kirsten from Artemis starts to move. Liz and I respond, as do ~5 other riders, but it wasn’t very clean or seemed like it had much of a chance to stick. But the gap continued to grow, and we tried to get some hastily organized pace line going. As the efforts became more coordinated, a group of 6 formed and we started to hammer. Eventually one rider was dropped, and we were down to 5: Liz and I, Artemis, an NCVC rider, and a woman who was actually from the area + knew the roads.
No moto ref came to let us know what our gap was, so the with the fear of the peleton behind us, we cranked it the whole way home. Perfect rotating pace line, everyone taking strong pulls, and the local rider calling out upcoming turns + tricky corners. The final climb to the finish came into view, and it was go time. Liz and I had a very strained conversation through gasping breath about one of us leading the other out, but neither of us felt strong enough to do the other justice (or at least that’s how I felt). Instead, I pulled the old “I’m not a sprinter so I better move early and see what sticks” trick out of the bag. And it worked! My first win in a road race.
Road Warrior–two 13-mile laps. Some rollers, but pretty flat overall, decent climb to the finish line. Small field, only cat 4, and not many faces that we recognized. Shelley and I strategized, like we always do, also acknowledging that we have never <ionce executed on the plan. But this time, we even had a code word! (Not that we ended up using it)
Neutral roll-out. Erin lost a spoke about 30 seconds into the race (Major bummer! But she finished!) Pretty steady, not-too-grueling pace for the first 13 miles. I pulled for a bit. Happened to be in the lead coming down to a left hand turn. Somehow I momentarily convinced myself we were in England, and turned onto the left side of the road in order to obey the yellow line rule. Yep, I was fully cognizant of the yellow line rule, and in that thought process, managed to f*ck it up. So yeah, spent the next 20 miles or so figuring I was probably DQ’ed since they were enforcing yellow line rule hard core, no warnings. Anyway, kept riding…came up to the finish line hill, not too bad, made note of a few women who were not strong climbers. Cross the lined to start lap 2, and the Artemis girl (Caitlin? Kristen?) starts pushing the pace a little. And some how that develops into a psuedo-break. I’m still perplexed over how, exactly, but a few of us were vocal, and prompted the group to ride hard for a couple of minutes.I think we might have been 8 riders or so. Over the next three or four miles we manage to drop down to just five of us in the break (yep, that includes Shelley!) And then we started a ROTATING PACELINE! For reals, it was the most efficient and effective rotating paceline I have ever been apart of. Nice work. Cat 4 women have their shit together (for once).
We keep the paceline rolling, and soon enough we’re approaching a decent looking hill (you can’t see the top). And someone says, “hey, is that the last hill?” (I wonder what kind of moron doesn’t recognize the one hill real hill on the course after riding it once all ready…Yes, that was me…my computer is broken and how else was I supposed to know we were at the end. We had only done one other loop!) So yeah, we’re cruising up the first part of the hill. I ask Shelley if she wants me to lead her out. She says something about leading me out, and just explodes (in the good way). I tried to grab her wheel and fall into the slipstream, but couldn’t, because, well, it’s Shelley, and that girl is FAST. I’ll let her give her finish line recount, but the end of the story is she won, I got second, Leah was 10th (after making a wrong turn), Jenn finished with a solid climb up to the line, Erin broke a spoke and STILL dominated….good times. And the plan–which was to initiate or be part of a break and then dominate up the hill to the finish, securing podium finishes for The Bike Rack Road Team–was executed pretty damn well I’d say!
Without further ado, here’s the report from the back, I mean middle,* of the field:
When Shelley and Liz report that the field stayed together on a moderately paced first lap, that just illustrates how fast and strong they are. First of all, 7 people fell off the back of the pack during the first lap–more than 1/3 of the field. Second, the women’s Cat 4 field had a faster first lap than the women’s 1/2/3 field. Fine, it wasn’t a hammerfest, but it sure wasn’t slow.
Then again, maybe I’m just saying that because of how hard I had to work to stay in the pack during the first lap. But hang on I did, albeit at a sustained high heart rate. Now, I don’t have a heart rate monitor, but let’s just say I was breathing pretty hard for big chunks of that lap. When Kristen of Artemis tried to accelerate off the front near the beginning of the second lap (on an uphill), then, I was already basically at my limit, and I just couldn’t hang on. So that’s what blowing up feels like! I wasn’t the only one–about four or five of us fell off there, leaving a very decimated pack up the road.
There was one woman between me and the pack, and as she rounded the next corner, the guy with the flag yelled, “It’s a downhill. You can catch them!” She responded in no way, but I decided that I should at least give it go. I settled into my drops, ticked up to a bigger gear, and passed the rider ahead, who promptly pulled into my slipstream.
For a glorious moment, it seemed like this plan might actually work. I was gaining on the pack on a slight downhill, and I was with someone who might be persuaded to trade pulls with me.
And then there was a corner followed by an incline (my Kyptonite!). And my body remembered that it had just blown up. So yeah, that was the end of that, and I never saw the pack again. (No one did–turns out, there were ultimately only stragglers behind Shelley and Liz’s group.) The woman just behind me sat on my wheel until she got tired of my slow climbing and passed me. I was still recovering from earlier big efforts and couldn’t catch her wheel.
Soon we approached the biggest climb on the course (I think), on which I was passed, seemingly effortlessly, by this rider. As she passed, she said something along the lines of “You’re doing great.” I glared at her through gritted teeth. At the top on the climb, the guy with the flag said, “You killed it on that hill!” I replied, “No I didn’t.” Obviously, I do not take encouragement well. Whatever, I’ll just close my eyes to it all.
Still in shaking/recovery mode, I approached a T intersection at which a flag guy stood with his arms crossed, and a police officer stood with his arm out. I followed his arm, obviously. That, however, turned out to be the wrong direction. He yelled at me, I swore loudly, and I clumsily turned around, unintentionally clipping out on both sides and dodging cars in the process. I lost enough time for the woman behind me to make the catch (and, shortly thereafter, the pass).
Eventually, my breathing and heart rate slowed to a reasonable rate, and I felt good. I was able to pass the woman now just ahead (on a climb, no less). Having her within possible striking distance kept me motivated to work hard for the rest of the race, and at 100m to go, I decided to solo sprint for the line. Yeah, that lasted maybe 50 meters.
Yes, I need to learn how to climb more efficiently/faster. Yes, I need to be more fit and spend my energy more wisely. So what did I accomplish this race? Well, at the very least, I left it all on the road.
*I finished 10th out of 19 starters. I’m calling that the middle.