Wednesday, 6 May 2009

2 Days of Bedford Women's Stage Race Report

(Click on the photo to see the slide show)

This past weekend I did my first ever stage race. My Surrey League team with 6 members made our way to Bedford on Sunday morning, staying over Sunday night and racing again Monday: a total of 4 races over 2 days. The British Cycling preview for the race listed some strong riders, but in the end the Belgian team pulled out, leaving the best teams to be Squadra Donne, MaxGear RT and Altura Patterson.

Day 1

We started out in the morning with a 9.7km team time trial which was cool. Our team of 6 was quickly whittled to 5 early on, but the rest of us pulled together quite well for a solid through-and-off (considering we've never raced together!) I felt quite strong and did a huge pull at the front in the final km . Our end time was 15:50, which was 1:17 behind the lead team. Looking back, I think we could have gone a bit harder, but seeing as some of us had just met for the first time and we were on a mix of TT and roadbikes in windy conditions, I think we did well just to put in a solid performance and finish together. We ranked 9th out of 14 teams.

In the afternoon was a 80km (5 laps of 16km) road race, complete with hill points and sprint points. I made the crucial mistake of not eating enough between -- thinking that I hadn't done that much in the morning to warrant eating tons -- and by the end of the first lap I was already starting to feel the elastic being stretched. Just had no kick in my legs and my stomach was complaining about lack of food. The sprint for the prime points on the second lap stretched out the field considerably, and I was lucky to hang on. A crash happened soon after that which left about 30 in the front bunch, myself included.

Between the hills prime (on the finish line of laps 2 and 3) and the crosswind/downhill section immediately following, and the sprint prime right after that, things were really strung out and I was finally shelled off the back with a few others. Five of us managed to work together pretty well, however, and we got the bunch back with a few km to go before the bell lap. I must say my heart sank a little bit when we caught the bunch because I knew by then I would just have to endure another confidence-busting shelling out the back when the hills/downhill/sprint sequence came around again.

And so it did, and so I was. I spent the first 10km of the last lap by myself, working as hard as I could but gradually bonking, running out of water, and dying a slow death. Cramping up as well. Basically it all went wrong. Finally I was caught by a group of three including one of the crash survivors and we worked together til the finish. I ended up 32nd, four minutes back from the bunch. Not too badly considering how awful I felt, but disappointing.

The winner was the very strong Natalie Creswick of Twickenham CC. She managed to bridge over on the last lap to two girls who had gotten away, and the three of them rode together well til Natalie dropped them on the final climb. The bunch was another minute or so back from them, then there was my little group. Several teams had race radio and worked really well together as a team, with many of their riders strongly in the front bunch.

Day 2

It was a much better day Monday, despite not sleeping well and feeling rather unmotivated due to the rainy weather and general tiredness. From the moment I woke up, I started eating and never stopped the entire day, and this meant a huge improvement to my performance.

First up was a 3.4km time trial. I did a reasonable warmup but should have ridden more, and definitely should really have ridden the course -- lesson learned for next time -- as I'm sure I could have shaved 15 seconds off just through familiarity with the course. Still, not too bad, I finished in 5:43, good for 26th of 73 overall, which kept me in 32nd place.

The rain went away in time for our afternoon race, 70km in 4.5 laps around Bedfordshire. The race leader Julie Cook had 1:20 up on the 2nd placed rider, so it was just a matter of her team protecting against attacks to win it for her. The course was very fast through the lanes, both downhill and tailwind, but as soon as we turned onto the busy main road into a stiff headwind, things slowed to a crawl. Later I reflected that the first 2.5 laps were a perfect warm-up for my old tired legs, what with the 3-min hard, 2-min easy, 5-min hard, 10-min easy nature of the course. I really do seem to get better as the day goes on, even more so after two days of racing. I suspect I've always been a bit like this, though now that I'm nearly 35, it's just showing more and more when I'm up against the youngsters.

I sat in towards the mid/back of the bunch until the third lap, when I saw a good opportunity to move up during the lull after the sprint prime. Just as I did (and if only I had done it a few seconds earlier!), an attack with two strong riders went off the front and I jumped to join them. A bit late I think, as a few more jumped on me and the bunch was dragged back. Nevertheless I was now on the front after gunning up a short hill. Had a glance at the powermeter and saw I was well within myself so gave it some go and managed to string everyone out. The hill prime was 2km up the road and given how I felt on that hill in the previous laps, I thought I'd try for some points this time. Figured I would get overtaken early up the hill but then could sit on wheels and put in a big effort near the top again and reel people back in, as is the norm for me on hills it seems.

Coming around the corner with about 700m to go before the hill prime, some horses and riders were walking along the right of the road. I blew by them staying as left as possible, but I could see them start rearing up and then heard cries from the bunch. A few other girls joined me as the bunch slowed behind us, and we started to go hard up the hill, but suddenly the red flag came out of the race car. Apparently they were neutralising the race and actually wanted us to come to a complete stop on this 8% hill! We protested this loudly, all the while riding up the hill at 10km/h, and the bunch followed. At the top we all finally stopped and waited for the race to restart.

I was disappointed that I never got to go for my hill prime and a bit confused as to why the race was stopped -- given the carnage in the form of crashes and general complete disruption of the race by cars, parked cars, giant recycling trucks, etc. on the roads, I wouldn't have thought horses were any different. Turns out nobody was injured, one girl came off her bike but that could have happened regardless of the horses. Thinking about it now, I'm not sure what I should have done -- were we just doomed to wreak havoc on the horses whether I saw them and slowed, or not?

The race restarted and I resignedly resumed my position at mid-pack, not to be seen again til the finish on the same hill when I nipped a dozen girls on the way to a safe bunch finish about 25th or so. Ended up about 31st overall, 6:33 back from the GC winner. Still cursing my poor fueling from the day before that cost me so much time, but what to do. Better luck and better preparation next year.

I was definitely glad to regain some confidence on Monday after Sunday's disaster, but I'm feeling a bit fed up with the whole road racing thing for now. It's just so generally unsafe-feeling... cars everywhere, holes in the road, bad bike handling skills, horses even... think I'll stick to some traffic-free circuits for the next little while. My only other major issue with Sunday is that my Garmin 705 malfunctioned while saving my data from the race, meaning I lost all speed, power and HR data after 10 minutes into the race. The lap averages were saved, but that's it. Grrr...

Londoncyclesport's report and results here, British Cycling's is here. Jim took tons of photos which we're planning to throw on flickr or somewhere.

Jim's Race

Jim raced the men's support version of our road race on Sunday, a cat 2/3/4 on the exact same course, and did very well for his first road race ever. He was a bit disappointed to be dropped from the main group with half a lap to go, but considering that well over half the riders had been dropped in the 1st and 2nd laps while Jim hung on and even managed to try and bridge to an attack, I think he did pretty well. His report is on the Kingston Wheelers forum.

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