Tuesday, June 19

Just call us the Wonder Pets!

Nature Valley Grand Prix has finished, and as we blend back into our "normal" lives, I thought I better get the remnants of the story out into the blog-o-sphere before the next adventure begins! Now looking at it though, this blog is more of a blog-o-vomit. Much too large, but oh so important.

I have lots of "small friends" meaning 6 years old and under. They really like the Wonder Pets.

And who wouldn't? Their theme song goes something like this: "What's it going to take? Teamwork!!" (I double-dare you to click the link and watch the video. Do it.) 

And we, our Nature Valley Pro Team, rallied like the Wonder Pets and made it happen.

After binging on cheese curds and photo-bombing our director Michael, it was back to business with the remaining three, and very serious stages of the event.

Crit #2 - This was a day on the bike! We still had the amateur jersey to defend, and Lindsay was in good form to land another top 10 performance. I'm not sure what the deal was, but the energy level was spun on high and maybe the peloton was too amped up from a "rest" day, but holy crash-fest. Bri C went down on the first lap as another rider slid across the pavement. From then on, it was nothing but a battle for me to find my way to the front and to Wee Brie. I had made the inevitable rookie move (wiat, it's not a rook move if I have done it like 5 times...) of not clipping in well at the start which instantly put me in the back-half of the pack. 3 laps later, I was able to tack onto Brie's bright green shoe covers and finally shield her from the menace that was the pack. But a few turns later, as we were coming through the start/finish, the ripple affect began at the front of the race, 15 or so wheels ahead. Wheels started to rub and cross, and the dominoes started to fall. Brie went down right behind me in what I hear was a spectacular crash, which actually neutralized the field. Lindsay, Bri and I got together and rode back to the start.

Here I found Brie heading to the pits for a bike. Problem: Brie is Wee. The bikes were not. This champ rode a 53cm from for the rest of the race. She usually rides a 48cm. She never once complained, whined, or blamed her misfortune on anyone or anything. She rode like a champ, with blood on her elbows and knee, on a bike a few sizes too big.

The last 2 laps of this race was like dodging land mines. Lindsay stayed safe at the front to finish with a spectacular 9th. I literally attacked and sprinted for 2 laps straight just to stay 30th in the strung-out field, with Wee Brie and the jersey on my wheel. Going up to the finish, she was able to come around me and sprint for a top 20 result, and remain in the amateur jersey. I was cracked. I had ridden the gutter lap after lap, trying to keep the Jersey out of the crash-cluster in the middle of the pack, and raced heads up for 28 laps, tongue hanging on the top-tube with Brie on my wheel saying "a little bit more, more to the front, just a little bit more" and Bri C close at hand for more support and protecting of the jersey. What a rad ride with 2 teammates within talking distance the whole time.

Finally - a road race!! In the rain. Remember San Dimas? With sideways whipping wind, freezing temperatures and horrific downpour? Well this was close. But it was warm and muggy, and the rain was scheduled to depart. 40 minutes into the race, the sky began to come back to blue, and the pelting downpour abated. But what a blast it was to race in the rain. Sketchy has heck, but a bit more exciting than your average neutral roll out.

The day before we had ridden to a coffee shop, and the ride home with a latte in my bottle cage had put more latte on my bike frame than in my belly, so I was lucky to get it washed in the race. I soon realized I should have washed my sweaty helmet in the shower the night before, because I getting a steady stream of the nasty gunk mixed with rain, coming down my face. Awesome!

We still had the jersey, and a good shot at another top 10 finish. My work was surely cut out for me. I had been given the assignment of road captain, which elated me because I am a busy-body and what better to do than mother-hen 6 other riders? I was also excited because I am starting to be able to see things that need to happen on the road, but the legs aren't ready to follow the directions. But with able-athletes ready at hand, this could be good.

Looking around the group, I realized we had most of our riders still in the pack. There would be 4 horrible QOH climbs, that made the hill on the San Dimas circuit race look and feel like a bunny hill. These girls were going to rip it. We were able to stick together for the most part, and keep Brie and Lindsay near the front, without being on the front.

My life on wheels is a sort of comedy of errors, and I was glad to have partners in crime this time. The ripping climbs seemed to not agree with Bri C and I, and we found ourselves doing my least favorite race tactic: attacking from the back. This means we got dropped, but I like to pretend we are off the front and going somewhere great, like winning, instead of digging into the depths of our quads just to make contact with the rear of the peloton. I like to visit my friends in the caravan, drop my empty bottles in random team cars, and practice drafting off of foreign bumpers. So I gave myself a few opportunities. Why not!

When I would get back to the group, I would pretend I had been messing with my shoes at the back of the peloton and ride to front, find the homies and temper my breathing so it was like I never left. Then I would get dropped again on the next QOH. Cool. On one return to the crew, I was informed that Lindsay had a mechanical and needed some assistance ASAP. Come to find out, she couldn't get into her big ring. I said, well, let's practice our skills from Super Secret Squirrel Training Camp, and go back to the car. Some of the trade teams had been getting feeds from their cars as I came back to the group, so this was as good a time as any. Lindsay and I drifted back, I filled up on 6 bottles and headed back to be the lunch lady for the team. Lindsay ended up finishing in the lead group of the race, riding the small ring the whole. Time. Slightly ironic, she and Michael had been talking about cadence work at dinner a few nights before...

Then I got dropped for real. As Michael drove by I grabbed the coke he was handing out the window and told him I was pretty jacked, let the funeral march begin. Bri C was able to make contact up ahead with the main group, with Erin, Wee Brie and Lindsay. Cat was in between, and I was tail-gunning with some highly unmotivated partners. I usually have a my garmin, but somehow had let the battery die, so was riding by braille. This was actually really cool, and when I had been in the group, I had just talked to my teammates about where we were on course. I asked one of the girls with us where we were at and she said "107k"....ok Cool. This is Minnesota. In America, and we are dropped. Tell me in words I understand! The circuits would begin at 112k...some of the chasers wanted to drop-anchor so we would get pulled before the circuits which would entail 4 x 3 mile laps. NO WAY! If I got pulled, I would have ridden the 4 laps on my own, on the sidewalk! (If you think I'm joking...think again!) Into the circuits we went and motivating the group became a full-time job. It felt like teaching last period high school PE on the last day of school. Begging and pleading for just one small effort towards our progress. Somehow we latched onto another chase group containing teammate Cat. On the last lap, one of the chasers had the awesome (please note slight sarcasm) idea to attack after doing moderate to fair work load. This is always "cool" to attack for 40-something-ish. But I'm not going to just let the group ride away, so I sat just close enough on her wheel to expend my last match of the day.

Lindsay had stayed in the front group, Brie had only lost a minute, and Bri C and Erin were in the second group. And the amateur jersey stayed with the team. Another awesome day for the Wonder Pets!

Stillwater - This was like a race you see on the TV. Straight up, lined with Santa Clause and silver spandex boy, kids ringing cowbells and racers names scribbled in chalk up the 22% grade. THIS was REAL bike racing! NVGP had excellent start music - I forgot to mention the Metallica at the start of the crit 2 days prior...it made me want to bang bars, so maybe that's where the crashes came from. Anyways, the atmosphere was electric as the jersey wearers were called up and the race began.

We had to make 25% of the race to be counted. Goal #1. Goal #2 - make it half way. I got both done. And it was horrible and hard. I was disappointed that my legs wouldn't get me up the climb with the group, but I put that in a box and hid it away so I could enjoy the experience that was Stillwater. The fans, the noise, the amazing course, the chalk on the road with strangers running next to me as I flogged myself to try and stay on the wheel, any wheel ahead of me. Once I was pulled, I jumped on the sidewalk to cheer on my teammates and other friends remaining on the course. I was so proud to see Erin, Wee Brie and Lindsay dicing it up like true warriors, and Brie and Lindsay making it to the last lap and one final time up the climb. Brie still had bandages on her elbow and knee, and Lindsay was channeling all her positive energy to stay in lead group.

The Finals Stage...

A great experience indeed. Final stats, I was able to move up from 90th to 47th after my "exciting" yet unfortunate flat in the time trial. This was the first time I have done this NRC event, adding it my list of favorites.

Riding with a cohesive team and having the honor of being the road captain is an experience I will cherish for a long time.

Lots of lessons learned - some the hard way.

Way too many laughs to count - but I think they will help with my 6 pack project.

Great friends made - host families and teammates at these events quickly get boosted to "family" status as we get to share and experience a bond that nobody else really gets. So sorry about the "PIZZA" joke.

Because in fact, we are the Wonder Pets. "What's it gonna take? Teamwork!" 

Thursday, June 14

Cancelled stages doesn't equate to cancelled fun!

Cat Johnson (Boulder), Trina Jacobson (San Diego), Lindsay Bayer (Washington DC), Bri Clark (Illinois), ME, Erin Burton (S. Caroline), Bri Walle (Oregon) 

Here in the midwest, things get a little crazy. Yesterday was a double day, meaning a time trial in the morning which was awesome...minus a solid flat rear flat I got the 2 mile mark. Out of 7.7 miles. You know the sound. You know the feeling. The feeling deep down in your belly that covers all spectrums, and the feeling as your rear rim quickly collides with the asphalt surface below. The culmination of these things gives me a belly ache.

However, with our nifty Pro Chase team camp, we talked a lot about what to do in such dire straights. A moto official was behind me and saw the flat, as it was on the one and only descending turn. He waved at me, drove the 1 mile + ahead to the turn around where there was a wheel pit. A few minutes later he came back the opposite direction (it was an out and back) and told me a wheel was ready for me. By the time I got to the turn around, 2 fast fast chicks had passed me, but a nice Shimano mechanic was waiting for me with a wheel. I rode so hard on the way back I almost puked at the finish. I guess that's what you are supposed to do in these things.

I got 90/95...I could speculate for days about where I woulda-shoulda-coulda placed minus my mishap, but at the end of it all, it's just the way racing pans out sometimes. I'm not going to lie, I was pretty disappointed and upset about not starting the event out on a high note.

Our videographer (yeah, that's right, we have one of those here at the team) decided to follow me around at the TT. So here's his take on my event. Brian says I sound stressed, but I was warming up on the trainer and well, stressed haha. There is also an interview of me at camp, that has something to do with "Awesome."

Crit time was rad! We have 7 teammates, and we got a clutch set-up on the infield with our mechanics ready to rock. The crit was fast and flat, with some choppy pavement and lots of turns. We had a few options to exploit and we did a dang good job of it. Our girl Lindsay is hilarious, and got 10th. For some great insights into our camp and life here in WI/MN, check out her blog!
Me, followed by Wee Bri (spotted by neon shoe-covers) and Amazon Bri - we spent the majority of the race together!
We have 2 Bri's. Lil Bri and Amazon Bri - because she is my size. Big Bri and I kept Wee Bri safe all night, because she in fact got 8th in the TT, thus securing the Amateur Jersey for the first 2 stages. This was a huge honor for us and a great acheivement for our team. We were able to finish 5 of the 7 on the same lap as the winner, and all 7 moved on to todays stage. (which never actually happened)

So, here's the deal. We got BACK from our crit at like 9pm, these chicks are hungry, spun-out, excited, dirty, and hungry. So bedtime lands well after 12am. Thankfully, race time today was like forever later, so we got up at 9. Which of course is my normal rising time.

The late start time allowed me quality time to eat, check facebook, wash kits, do some work-work, eat a few more times. and be late for the van ride to the race. All in a torrential downpour. But the rain, here in the plains, is not quite SoCal status. There is thunder that cracks through your skull, lighting that hits houses, and tornadoes that transplant cows. Our race times required us to prepare our bodies and our bikes for battle in these conditions, with the premonition that the event would in fact be cancelled. The stage went from an awesome, 74 mile course with a few gnarly dirt/gravel sections, to a 15 lap circuit race with points laps and no free laps. Shockingly...the team directors balked incessantly and race was cancelled.

Out of the freshly chamois-buttered bibs, back into the van with my soaking wet yoga pants and sneakers for the 1.5 hour drive home. One would think that we would rally and go straight home and jump on the trainers in the garage. But instead we went to the grocery store and bought Wisconsin Squeaky Cheese (which Wee Bri promptly asked the other shopper lady "what would you pare these with?), chips, and microwave mac-n-cheese. Duh.

Our team of 7 is shaping up awesome. Besides the fact the this is the first race I have been able to put my hair in teeny-tiny pigtails since like 2008, things are shaping up quite nicely.

Trina - you always need a mom in the group. She's up before the sun, baked chicken and made rice and keeps us on schedule.

Wee Brie - She is addicted to the YouTube and secured a jersey. And laughs more than 5 of you combined. Look into it. She's also from Oregon, so could double as a fixie-type person.

Amazon Bri - She's a lawyer. And my-size. And we pretty much ride the same. Creepy.

Cat - Cat's from Boulder, climbs hills faster than most, and is vegan and gluten-free at the same time. That takes some effort. Don't look into it.

Lindsay - OH Lindsay - bundle of nerves and laughs and has the legs and guts to back it all up. Hilarious and moving up fast!

Erin - The Sleeper. She said her TT wouldn't be that great. She is our 3rd highest rider. She said she was scared of the crit (this was her 5th, yes FIFTH crit ever) and she stayed in until the end. Ball of muscle and tenacity, legit.

And me. And you know enough about this one.

With our results on the first 2 stages, we are sitting 4th team GC - behind Optum, Exergy, Lululemon....then us. Very exciting and lots of racing left.

With 7 laptops, a few old jerseys, tons of laughs and a sprinter that has an uncanny resemblance to our DS Michael Engelman. Such a blast. 

Thursday, June 7

NVGP - 1 day away!

Boy does time fly! I am grabbing a latte at a small coffee shop before I drive Brian to the airport to head to Tulsa, OK for Tulsa Tough. Between bike-packing and food prepping, he took a few minutes to interview me about my new adventure. This is one of his "secret" fun things to do. Back when we met he was racing cat 3 and announcing for the Redlands Classic. That year Ina won, and he was so pumped to interview her.

This vlogging seems to be slightly above my pay scale, but until I figure it out better, here is the link to the vimeo video!

Joy McCulloch, NVGP Introduction

We are here to entertain! And to say thank you to all the NVGP sponsors and my teammates and sponsors at Helen's here at home for all the support and great opportunities!

More entertainment to come!!

Monday, June 4

Chasing Unicorns

I have been on a quest of sorts. But first, I have to mention a Unicorn Brian caught yesterday. I say unicorns, as they really don't exist. They are mystical creatures, and even in that world, quite elusive. When stuck in dreamland, you can chase unicorns for hours and come into a meadow just as you see the beast dissolve into a thicket.

Brian caught his unicorn. He wrangled him and rode up all the way up to the finish of the State Road Race Championships. 100 miles in 100 degree heat, the conditions that he thrives in! His team is amazing and they have won so many races together over the past 2 season, this one fell on him. And it was a great success. He has strived to win a Bear jersey since a cat 5 racer, and this victory was quite delicious. Not gonna lie, I got a bit misty eyed!

This month will bring quite the chaos for us. Thursday Brian flies to Tulsa, OK for Tulsa Tough. I fly to Minneapolis, MN on Friday for Nature Valley Grand Prix which Brian is skipping. I will fly home on the 17th and he leaves a few days later for Atlanta, GA for Road Nationals where he will meet up with his team who is driving to all these events. Phew. It's gonna be nuts! And I haven't told Moto yet...

Off to my unicorn....

My Colorado trip was rooted in a unicorn chase. I have had on my "shoot for the moon" goal list since last year to qualify for the Nature Valley Grand Prix Pro Chase - 6 races across the country where the top amateur finisher, male and female, each qualify for a spot on the Pro Chase team for the NRC event. The week would begin with a training camp and include a professional set up. A director, swanny, mechanic and the works. Now this chase was lofty for me! I am a well rounded rider, but my results haven't catapulted me to the top of the rankings. I am a worker by nature but we wanted to give it a shot this year.

Since CO is full of family, a trip there and an attempt to qualify at the Superior Morgul Omnium event was the solution. But for me, these paths are never straight forward and simple. I lack the ability to just ride away from people, so strong arming it just won't work. I was in CO without teammates which is never brilliant and I created a few more barriers for myself. I went to a horse show and twisted my knee in a pasture. Cool. I then found I was having a difficult time in the altitude. Although we live at 2,500ft, the 6,000ft of our ride to Lyons left me sluggish and just plain slow. The altitude was setting in!

I took 2 days off the bike. And opened the flood gates to illness. I hadn't taken a true "break" this year, and we have been going consistently since February. I was due getting sick. Back in the MTB days I used to race sick all the time. Must have been working in Junior High, someone is sick all the time and passing their ick onto me. Working from home must have made me a weenie again! The gunk settled in my lungs and head and created for quite the snot fest mingled with a ton of fatigue and feeling just really really bad.

The event began with a fun time trial. I finally dialed in my position and my mental approach to this event. Although my head and chest didn't cooperate, I was very pleased success with all the other aspects of the TT. It is such an art form, it is really exciting to gain improvements. And the landscape was breath taking!

The crit was wet. On the first lap a rider t-boned my rear wheel as I turned right and she kept going straight. She crashed as other riders started screaming. Here we go! The ins and outs of the crit and road race were pretty standard. Minus the fact that I had FAMILY at the race! Cousins with their kids, cheering me on! I sure hope I didn't hit one with my snot!
Gnarly steep climb "The Wall" is part of a legendary race course!
Highlight of the event: A rider leaned over, shook my hand, and said "Hey, you must know Suzanne." She recognized my jersey from Suzanne's facebook and was instantly a friend. I love this community!! Gwen and her husband and teammate invited me to lunch post road race, quickly embracing me in their cycling family. This was a much needed "hug" on a really hard weekend, mentally and physically. My brother and his wife had needed to make an emergency trip to WA on Thursday and I almost headed home at the same time and skipped the race. Having new friends in the peloton and grabbing some food together while rehashing funny race stories and the oddities of our sport was truly a highlight. Brian and I would totally do that for foreign racers in our peloton and it was very refreshing to have the offer handed my direction.

And here's where I found my Unicorn! I received the first ever Coach's selection to join the Nature Valley Grand Prix Pro Chase Team! For me this is a huge honor and nods to my work ethic and dedication to the sport.

I am extremely excited to take part in this event and be able to go to training camp this weekend! My eyes are wide open, ready to accept new information, make new friends of my new teammates for the week, and to become a more well-rounded cyclist, racer, and teammate!

I will do my best to document this new adventure and share the wisdom I have the honor of learning! And I will ride my Unicorn as well as I can!