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!" 

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