Stage racing: Going ‘completely insane’ & getting hooked
By Katy Pranian
THE DALLES — One year ago I had never entered or even considered entering a road race. I had just experienced riding in a paceline for the first time at the Monster Cookie Metric Century and was a brand-new member of Sorella Forte.
And so as my friend and teammate Zan Gibbs was preparing to race Cherry Blossom Cycling Classic and describing to me what a stage race was, I was not only blown away, but thought she was utterly and completely insane. I swore up and down I would never do such a thing, let alone be capable of it.
Then when summer came around I was convinced to race a handful of PIRs, and I just about died “racing” at Silverton. But that was about the extent of it. I did pretty well racing novice at PIR, but I didn’t really give much thought to doing anything beyond that. This past winter, osteoarthritis set into my wrist from an old injury, I was working full time and in grad school, and so I had sort of given up on the whole notion racing at all this year.
But sure enough — leave it to going through a difficult break up — a couple of teammates started in on me, and next thing I know, not only am I convinced to start racing again, I’m actually signed up to race the 2010 Cherry Blossom Cycling Classic and officially joined the ranks of the completely insane.
Summer Camp For Big Girls
Perfect, I thought, something to work toward and look forward to. My Sorella teammate Judy Richardson, the convincing force, said “Cherry Blossom equals cycling summer camp for big girls. Camp schedule: race, eat, sleep, race, eat, sleep, all the while feel like a rock star and hang with the black ‘n blue armada.”
Once I agreed, it was “51 days to peak Moxie, get crackin’!” To get crackin’, I was told I needed to do some races as training for CBCC, so I jumped right in and did the Banana Belt #3, Piece of Cake, a couple crits, and in the meantime soaked up training advice from my teammates. I also just put in as many miles as I could when I could.
Because Sorella is a sponsor of the CBCC and we had large contingent there, we had multiple houses where team members (both racers, volunteers, partners, husbands & kids) were staying. The house I jumped on board with couldn’t have been anymore amazing. All of us could not believe our eyes when we arrived. The house is located in Rowena, about 10 miles west of The Dalles, right on the Columbia River. It has a private sandy beach, attached cottage, gorgeous sprawling deck with twisting wisteria and Japanese maples framing a stunning view of the Columbia River. It was straight out of Sunset Magazine. They even had a Lance Armstrong autographed & framed Sports Illustrated magazine hanging on the wall in one of the bedrooms. Suddenly we felt like we were a professional race team. And we lived like it all weekend long. …
I arrived on the day of Stage 1 with horrible nerves and enough food to feed an army. I met several other Sorellas at the team house with enough time to get some things in the fridge, fuel up a bit and head down to Petersburg School to warm up on my trainer under the Sorella tent. Our Cat 4 race started off fast, and word has it that our lead car had to drive up to the Cat 3 ladies who had started 5 minutes ahead of us and tell them, “You ladies better pick up the pace otherwise we are going to let the Cat 4 women lap you!”
I hung onto this fast moving peloton until the first big climb, right after running over a dead cat (yes, a dead cat) and could not keep up with the chase group that formed on the big hill, so I proceeded into TT mode. Around near the start/finish, I managed to pick up friend and Sorella Sage Fuller. We rode out the second lap and finished off the race together.
Back at the house on the first night, I had pre-cooked a huge gourmet meal for everyone. I absolutely love cooking for and feeding people, and we ate very well that first night. Teammates who weren’t staying at “The Rowena House” came over for dinner, which included chicken Marbella, parsleyed rice, wild rice, a big green salad and loaves of bread from Grand Central Bakery, complete with olive oil and finishing salts.
I had been really looking forward to hanging out and bonding with my team, some of whom I hadn’t spent any time at all with before this weekend, and I totally sold myself short imagining how fun and rewarding it was going to be. When Judy called it “summer camp for big girls,” she sure was not kidding. I had no idea! All of us piled into this luxurious waterfront house, taking ice baths in the river after our races. Teammate Colleen McClenahan (licensed massage therapist) was staying with us and provided massages all evening on her heated massage table in “the media room.” We stretched and rolled out our muscles on foam rollers and layed around in compression tights with our feet up, laughing, eating, checking the weather and OBRA results on our laptops, telling stories, sharing tips, and for me, genuinely having the best time I have had all year long.
The morning of stage 2 started off with rain and hail at the Rowena house, but according to Judy, The Dalles were (was?) sunny and dry as a bone. We still incessantly checked NOAA every five minutes throughout the morning, making weather predictions and stepping outside to look at the sky. I had been warned that stage 2 would be harder than stage one, and I was definitely nervous because there were several points during my solo TT time on stage 1 where the fear kicked in and I thought to myself, “WHAT on earth did you get yourself into?!”
Turned out stage 2 was my favorite race of the weekend. It was a 30-mile circuit race comprised of six laps. We raced in wind, wind and more 30 mph wind, with crosswinds and headwinds. There were also hills, more hills and a steep uphill finish. I was able to hang onto the pack for the first three laps around the circuit. The course was gorgeous and hilly, the sun was out, and the descents were an all-out blast — especially in a pack. Even when I got dropped from the pack, the descents provided me an opportunity to gain time and pass other racers.
Things that helped during this course were words of advice from other teammates. Rhonda Morin told us to keep our arms loose and limber and let our bodies absorb the wind and not our bikes. Jen Akeroyd told us that it is only six committed, hard pedals in your big gear to catch back onto the pack, and Anne Linton said not to give up even when you want to. By the fifth time around the circuit, my legs did want to give up, and then my strategy of literally yelling out loud at my legs to “GO!!! You are NOT done yet!!!” came in very handy. That last 200 meters really was the hardest part of the whole course. Turning myself inside out, almost riding side to side with my head all the way down just to go 7 mph across that uphill finish line was quite humbling.
With no official TT experience and no areo set-up of any sort, I gathered what advice I could for the Stage 3 time trial. Demetri from Veloce Bicycles had given me some advice earlier in the week, and also the night before the TT, Kenji and others at the Rowena house gave me tips about riding as aero as possible without the fancy bars & helmet. My start time was 8:06 a.m. It was early and it was cold. I was so disheveled from not being able to get much sleep the night before, that I didn’t even make time to check the pressure in my tires, and off I went on a guestimated “low” pressure of 120 psi (I was hoping for 140). As Sage Fuller passed me up the hill (she started a minute after me) all she managed to mutter was, “tough times.” Tough times indeed. I did not do well. I did not feel strong. I could not breathe and I pretty much hated it. Clearly I need practice and a TT set up.
Stage 4: The Criterium. What a blast! I felt strong and held onto the chase group for the whole race. The corners were fun, the energy and cheers from the crowd — along with loud music and announcer on a microphone blaring through the speakers — made for quite the thrilling time. But the biggest thrill of all had yet to occur. High on cloud nine after finishing off the weekend strong, I ran back to my truck to get a quick change of clothes just in time to come back and watch the last few laps of the women’s Cat 3 crit, where Anne Linton, our team captain and coach, managed to be put in position by other Sorellas to have an extraordinary final sprint, landing her in first place!
The moments on the sideline during that final sprint were those of time standing still. All of us Cat 4 Sorellas gathered and pressed up against the barricades, going bonkers, jumping up and down and flat out loosing our voices screaming for Anne to win. Everyone was beyond ecstatic after her win, even women from other teams. On top of the whole weekend, I honestly can’t think of any other feelings that have ever come close.
A dedicated handful of Sorellas stayed in downtown The Dalles until the end of all the rest of the races, until the bitter end of the whole tearing down of each barricade, each fold up tent and each strip of yellow caution tape. I wouldn’t have left any sooner in the day, as I knew that detaching from Cycling Summer Camp For Big Girls was not something I was looking forward to.
Out for burgers, fries and chocolate espresso milkshakes, across the table from me, Anne shoots over a smile and a question. “So Katy, next stage race is Elkhorn. It’s in June. Are you in?” I look over to my left at Judy, mouth full, smiling and nodding her head up and down, and once again I easily agree to join the ranks of the completely insane because of course my answer is, ”Count me in!” I am hooked.
PREVIOUSLY — Diary of a novice rider: Am I made for racing?