Last stop on the June calendar was the US National Championships in Augusta, GA. When we walked out of the airport at 9pm on Monday night and it was still 90+ degrees, we knew we were in for a HOT, almost cruel, week of racing. Luckily before the racing got underway, we had a couple days to get somewhat acclimated to the heat and humidity. We were pushing the fluids continuously from morning til night to replenish the sweat that would drip from our skin as we stood still just breathing.
The first stars and stripes jersey to be awarded for the week was for the time trial. The course was a straight forward 30km (18 mile) out and back trip that included several rollers along the way. I didn’t have high expectations for the time trial, although when we were pre-riding the TT course a couple of days before the race, I felt good enough that I thought maybe I could have a strong ride. We ride the fastest TT bikes out there, the Specialized Shiv, and mine was going so fast without even trying! I felt like I had no chain – it was that easy. However, on the day of the TT we woke up to lower temperatures but 100% humidity. It was absolutely suffocating. During my ride all I wanted to do was sit up to take a deep breath and peel off my skinsuit. I felt awful. I didn’t feel comfortable at all, but I gritted my teeth and pushed as hard as I could to the end. Needless to say, I didn’t have a great result. I’ve done well in time trials in the past, but I am by no means a time trial specialist so I didn’t let myself get too wrapped up in the result.
The following night was the criterium. We knew that our best chance of winning was for any one of us to get into a break to hopefully eliminate some of the stronger sprinters. From the gun we started throwing bombs to get the break we wanted. Then just 15 laps into the 45 lap race, imminent storms caused the officials to call out five laps to go. We immediately had to reel back a break that had snuck off the front without us, which under normal circumstances wouldn’t have been so threatening, but with only five laps to go we had to bring it back together right away.
After we brought the break back, it was complete mayhem in the peloton. After what should have been 50km of racing, there would have been tired legs and probably a smaller peloton, but after only 20km of racing there were still a lot of fresh legs wanting a chance at the stars and stripes jersey. People were darting here and there to get in the best possible position for the finish. With half a lap to go there was a crash causing a little shakeup in the front of the field. Rides went down on both sides of me, which opened up a small gap that was too hard to close so close to the finish. My race was over, but several of my teammates were in the front still fighting all the way to the line. The stars and stripes jersey stayed on the back of defending champion, Shelley Olds, but we did the best we could given the situation.
On Sunday we lined up at 8:15am for the 75 mile road race in Fort Gordon. The mercury was already rising and it was only going to get hotter. We started the race with cold bottles on our bikes and panty hose filled with ice on our backs. Within the first two km of the race an attack went up the side of the peloton and one of my teammates was on it right away. Another rider tagged on and the three of them went speeding away and out of sight for three of the five laps. Having a teammate in the break took the pressure off the rest of us while other teams had to work hard to change the race situation to their favor. All we had to do was follow wheels to make sure that nothing went up the road without another one of us tagging along.
During lap four we heard that our teammate had been dropped from the break and there was one rider by herself, a very strong rider and time trialist at that. I dropped back to the team car to discuss the situation with our team director and he gave us instructions to take the gloves off and start racing as if we didn’t have a teammate up the road still. Boom, we hit the peloton left and right with attacks. The pace stayed high as many people were anxious to get going. Soon two of the riders from the break had been reabsorbed and there was only one rider out in front. At the beginning of lap five the lone leader was back in the peloton. It was game on for everyone.
Midway through the last lap there was an attack that I followed and before I knew it there were five of us motoring away from the peloton. The gap wavered between 20-40 seconds over the next 12 km. I was struggling with the heat and needed more water but was unable to get any from the team car. I started to feel goose bumps coming on, which was not a good thing, but I was able to hold the pace. Several kilometers from the finish, the gap was holding and we knew that the next road national champion was going to come from this break.
With just over a km to go we hit the last climb. I was expecting there to be attacks at the bottom of the hill but they didn’t come until about three quarters of the way up. I hesitated and missed the jump as three riders rode away to the finish about 400m away. All I could do at the point was watch how the sprint unfolded in front of me. Two years ago it was me who crossed the line with my arms in the air as the 2009 national champion. I knew what the thrill of winning this race felt like and now I was experiencing the disappointment. More than anything I was crushed for letting my teammates down. Not only did I want the win, so did the team. I have replayed the finish over and over in my head wishing I could go back and do it differently for me, for the team.
The past is past. It’s time to look forward to the next opportunity to win a race! July is another month jam packed with racing so there will be plenty more of them to come.