‘Where the air is thin like L.A. skies are blue…’ This about sums up the blanket of humidity that greeted us cyclists lining up in Fort Gordon, Augusta, Georgia the morning of Sunday, June 24th to contest the 2012 Elite National Championships Road Race. With an 8:00 am start time – a contrast to the 8:00 pm start time for the women’s criterium the previous Friday – we were lucky to at least get a head start from the rising temperature. But I must say, I have never experienced such humidity in my life. I had been warned, however, nothing could prepare me for racing in such conditions – imagine riding the trainer in a sauna packed with 50 people, ew. I digress…
The players were as would be expected; the top US women represented by Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies, Tibco to the Top, Exergy Twenty 12, Specialized Lululemon, NOW and Novartis for MS, FCS-Rouse, Vanderkitten, and then a host of single riders such as myself. After the typical call-ups, Dave Towle ‘launched us into orbit’ and the 75 mile march began.
My strategy, based on advice from my coach who contested the race last year, was to sit in and wait for the moves towards the end of the race, as it was likely that an early break would not stick. So that’s what I did. And when the first move was launched shortly after cresting the initial climb through the feedzone, I was hiding mid-pack, barely able to see over the wheels in front of me. Thus, I did not realize the break had grown from two riders to at least eight, with all big teams represented. I quietly panicked as the gap quickly grew, and the likelihood of bridging across was slim.
Nonetheless, I kept my calm, hummed one of the many songs stuck in my head, rode my way towards the front of the field and let the race play out. And to be honest, I felt it rather boring and uneventful. The break held a consistent gap of about one minute and thirty seconds for three of the five, fifteen mile laps. NOW and Optum, whose best interests were not in the break, had their work cut out for them as their attempts to either bridge or shut down the move were thwarted by riders from Tibco and Exergy. However, as my coach had predicted, coming into lap four, riders began falling off the break and rejoining the field. By lap five, the break was swallowed up by the field and the real racing began. And, I must say, I am thankful the first four laps were as slow as they were, because lap five took everything left of me. Attack after attack began as we crested the feed zone climb for the final time. Roller after roller, the pressure was on, and I gritted my teeth as a few of the moves began to shatter the field.
A few times, it crossed my mind that I would be lucky to finish with the field. But, I did my best to keep my head in the game, and found that as the attacks continued, my legs felt better and better. And before I knew it, we were rolling up to 1k to go. Sitting about mid-pack, I followed wheels and made a few short efforts to move up the left side, finding myself behind the wheel of Exergy rider, Theresa Cliff Ryan, who was on the wheel of a teammate. In my mind, I was content with this setup, as I assumed the newly crowned National Criterium Champion would be interested in sprinting for a second title. However, I realized too late that her motivation was lacking as the race made its way up the 800m climb to the finishing strait. I jumped around to the left, but the winning effort was already up the road. I unleashed all of the Jammer I had left, passing a handful of gassed riders as I pedaled my way to the finish line for 12th. I let out an exasperated chuckle, as I surprised myself with the effort that put me well ahead of the 48th place determined by USA Cyclings Race Predictor.