May 6, 2013
A Reflection on Gila
Another attack. I can barely see it. It must be a mile in front of me. Perhaps I have one more gear. I tap my right shifter– nothing. I need water. When is the last time I had a sip of water? I’m sure it’s been over an hour. I reach down to my bottle. I know it’s empty as I lift it, but I try anyway, in vain. I’m on the wheel of the Columbian National Champion. Just stay on her wheel, just stay on her wheel, I tell myself. She takes a sip of water, and a few drops splash back to me. I open my mouth to see if I can catch just one drop, thinking it might buy me 30 seconds of survival. I can’t believe how hot it is, wasn’t I just in the snow at home in Steamboat? My legs are screaming at me, I think I’m having an out of body experience…
That was Gila 2012, as a Cat 2, my first NRC race. Exactly one year later, I walked out of work at 5:30pm on Monday to begin the 14-hour drive from Steamboat Springs, CO to Silver City, NM. My boss/training partner, Will’s, parting words were “Hey Amy, how about carrying a camelback for the race this year?” I laughed, half heartedly, as I knew he might be onto something.
Joining a pro team, Vanderkitten Racing, for 2013 has been a dream come true, especially as I had a glimpse of what it’s like to have a team and support racing Redlands. Unfortunately, Gila didn’t work out this year for our team due to other calendar commitments, so I was flying solo again at Gila in 2013. On day one, at 7am, 60 minutes before the 73 mile Mogollon road race, I b-lined for SRAM. “Hi, I’m Amy. I might need some help this week.” I blurted, with no clear request or objective. Chad graciously introduced himself, grabbed my bike, put it on the stand, and calmly and patiently stated “Nice to meet you. Let me ensure everything is working properly.” Little did he and the rest of the SRAM crew know how essential they would be to my Gila survival.
In addition to ensuring I had some SRAM help, I incorporated a few more learning’s from the previous year. The first was not to worry about the mean girls. In every peloton, regardless of size, team, skill level, there are some feisty women (to put it very nicely). On stage two, towards the end of the grueling Inner Loop, I found myself in a group of 10, chasing a 2-person break. We’d left the rest of the pack. I worked hard to stay right on the wheel in front of me. Another girl, vying for the same wheel, looked at me and said, “Get out of here. What are you doing here anyway?” What?! My only response was to laugh, and work harder. Don’t worry, I remember you…I’ll see you next year.
Consistent with that fighting spirit, the big teams sent their interns (the term I coined for the domestiques) back to the caravan to collect and deliver bottles. As a solo racer, my only hope for hydration was in the feed zone. So, what does a team caravan fueled group of women who don’t need to collect bottles do in a feed zone? They attack, of course! I sensed a pattern, on feed zone two of day one (very perceptive of me, I thought), and the pattern continued during every single feed zone in all three road races. Ugghh, why didn’t I bring that camelback?
Prepared for chaos, determined to survive and improve from the previous year, I embraced the energetic scene of Saturday’s criterium in downtown Silver City. I made every attempt to remain calm. True to any proper crit, the music blared, the enthusiastic crowd cheered, and the announcer reminded the audience of just how talented the field was…”There are more Olympians, World Champions, and National Champions than we’ve seen at Gila. Ladies and Gentlemen, this field is stacked. You are looking at some of the strongest female racers in the US, or even the world…” he carried on. My heart rate increased. Incidentally, my heart rate would increase more during the crit, but not to its highest point until after the race.
With the crit finished, feeling dazed and disoriented from the intensity of the race, I slowly maneuvered my bike around the chaos on the street, aimlessly looking for my car (nope, no team van to track me down). I noticed the Pro Men scattering away from the start. How odd, I thought, they should be starting any minute. I asked 2 of the Pro men what was happening. “Bomb threat,” they told me. “Delayed start, suspicious package at the start/finish line.” As their words begin to sink in, I heard a loud BANG, a small explosion below me. Certain I’d just triggered the bomb, it turned out that my tire, at that inopportune moment, exploded. At that point, my heart rate reached its peak.
Unable to bear the thought of walking one more step in my cycling shoes, undeterred by the bomb threat, I began the endless, barefoot walk to my friends at SRAM. The SRAM guys greeted me with their warm smiles, coupled with their amusement with my disheveled state. They took my bike, committed to having it perfect by the morning, and directed me to my car. “Anything else for tomorrow?” Chad asked. As if he hadn’t done enough already, I pushed my luck and replied, “An ice cold coke when it looks like I really need it tomorrow.” He smiled, nodded, “Bike will be ready. See you tomorrow, Amy.”
…10 miles to go, 2013 Gila Monster Stage, this is it, I tell myself. Jeff (coach) said to get in with the top 5 girls, get up there! You’re not worked- you have this. Top 10 GC, that’s the goal. You need that wheel in front of you. Just as my mind begins to drift and my confidence wanes, the red SRAM car appears, “Here’s your cold coke, Amy. Nice work, keep it up.” How things have changed since 2012. It turns out I didn’t need the camelback after all.