Sometimes you can really surprise yourself when you take a chance. That definitely was the case for me going to Bend.
By Suze Sonye
This race is our elite crit championship put on by LaGrange in Brentwood, California. It’s a posh area with lots of restaurants and shops. Always plenty of spectators in this very busy part of the city, given its proximity to Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and Venice Beach! I look forward to this event every year. It’s very well organized and this year the women were given equal prize money as the men. I addition to that, Stan Goldich and Rick Gruber of the Pachulski Stang law firm gave two $500 primes to our field of women! Wow! So generous!
Helen’s team plan for Sunday was actually quite different than it turned out. We were going to set up Priscilla Calderon with me being the last lead out girl just as last year, but Shelby Reynolds would be sweeping PC’s wheel. It’s hard to take the pressure of going for the win at a championship event with lots of money on offer, and I was very pleased that PC wanted to take that on. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I like giving everyone a chance at winning. How can anyone learn if she isn’t given a chance? It also gives them perspective to the pressure that the better finishers have on them every time they race, it can be crushing at times, at least it is for me.
The race was filled with single strong riders, which makes it pretty clear in my mind that a break will not stick. We decided to have Emily be the rider that would try and get in a break if she could, but I also followed some moves. The announcer kept throwing out primes and Julie Cutts was laying down the law in that department. They rang the bell for a $100 prime and Julie hit out with a huge gap after the first turn. I went after her after turn 3 and had a sizable gap, but as I started really gaining on her I threw my chain off the chrainring, and at first thought I was going to rip my derailleur off I was freaking out in my head. I looked back saw the only rider coming was Joy, so I got my chain on and continued after Julie, I finally caught her going into the last turn. I waited a couple of seconds. I was smoked and jumped but I eased up too soon and Julie passed me at the line. I won’t lie after that huge effort it was a waste of energy and I was disappointed.
As the race progressed, PC started moving up. Michelle came up, and Shelby was helping PC. Then 4 laps to go they rang the bell for a $500 prime. This time it was not a consideration for our team. Emily was on the front and I called her off. It’s always been my thought if you are going for the big prime right before the finish you are not going to win. I was really surprised that no one was motivated to go for it. Holly Breck attacked coming into the last turn, and no one followed her, so we let her go and brought her back after turn 3. I knew that attacks would start happening, and it started to get really fast with girls knowing the smack is about to go down. PC’s job was to find my wheel. Going into the last lap, Emily and I were riding at the front. I saw Michelle as we were heading to the last technical section. I was on Emily but was getting nervous as everyone was fighting for my wheel, so I moved in front of Emily. We were sitting in 3rd and 4th position behind Kristabel Doebel-Hickok and Julie Cutts. At that point Kristabel had to go HARD or she would be totally swarmed, so she gunned it and as we rounded the last bend Emily noticed someone trying to squeeze through on the barrier and she screamed “go Suze,” so that’s what I did! In all the frenzy of the last meters of the races my thought was I’ll go and if PC was there she would know what to do. It got a little chaotic before I hit it hard. The rider on the barrier was screaming at me and after last weekend I was not falling for that again. Scream all you want, but I’m not moving if you are in a bad position. I kept the left closed down so that I could take the shortest line to the finish, if anyone was to come around they would have to go to the other side and take the wind, it was a long sprint and I held on to win. I threw my bike just to make sure I wasn’t getting pipped at the line. Two years in a row winning this race was an amazing experience and hearing all the cheers and spectators yelling for me and my team was awesome. I would like to thank all of our sponsors–Helen’s Cycles, Oakley, iRT wheels, and Powerbar–for supporting us through the years and thank you to my awesome teammates and my family. I would like to give a huge shout out to Julie Cutts for cleaning up with primes and getting 4th.
By Suze Sonye
We loaded our Helen’s team van and I headed out to Boise for the Andersen Banducci Twilight Criterium with Emily Georgeson, Shelby Reynolds, Michelle Ignash, Priscilla Calderon. We arrived on Thursday so we would not be stressed out for the race and have some time for fun. Kristen Armstrong was very helpful and set us up with rides suggestions, restaurants, etc. We ended up doing a great ride with the gang from George’s Bike Shop. Well, not just the gang. It was Tom and Mike, the owners, and Frank, the general manager. We actually just showed up for Frank’s birthday ride. They did not know who the heck we were, but they let us tag along with them and then bought us coffee! We felt very welcomed and it just so happened they were the promoters of the race. Lucky us!
As Saturday rolled around things got a little more serious and I spent the day being nervous (but equally excited) about this race. Everywhere we went people would stop us and ask us if we were racing The Twilight. It’s a big deal in Boise. For me, it’s extremely hard to wait around until 7PM to race, so I was the first dressed in my racing whites andready to hit it! We didn’t have a real plan for the day other than “let’s race!” As they completed the call-ups I was excited to get going. I wasn’t nervous. I just wanted race my bike and kind of prove to myself that I could still do this racing gig at the level I once had.
With $15,000 on the line it would be an aggressive race. As we started racing and attacks started to go I noticed Emily and PC present at the front, which meant to me they were not intimidated by the crowd and riders. Emily was covering attacks, I bridged up to Liza Rachetto and we rode in a move for a couple of laps. Of course we couldn’t put too much effort into it because Exergy and Colavita were not in it, so it would for sure be doomed! As we came back Primal attacked.
The announcer rang the bell for a $100 prime. Emily and I were riding at the front and, much to my surprise, she attacked really hard on the backside and got a gap. I thought, “wow, cool,” then an Exergy rider hit out after her hard, so I jumped. Emily had a bit of a gap going into the last turn. She drilled it and as we caught her I jumped to her right and heard her scream my name. I held on to get the prime. When I glanced back and noticed it was Lauren Tamayo who was on me I thought she was going to attack hard. I sat up because there was NO way I could hang with that. I did not want to even try. Lauren got quite a gap and I slid back into the group to recover. Lauren was brought back and immediately there was another attack. Priscilla came to the front and tried to bring it back.
As the laps were winding down and the crowd got louder I was getting excited for the finish. I was able to keep good position all race and Emily was on a good ride as well. As we crossed 1 lap to go I was in a very good position, or so I thought. Kristin McGrath was off the front and caught on the backside of the course. The group bunched up for a split second. I tried to jump again and Shelby and Emily were able to get by the mess. Going into the last turn an Exergy rider completely stopped pedaling. Not the safest move in the world, but her job was over and so was my race. I was able to manage 19th with Shelby and Emily 12th and 15th. Our results certainly did not reflect our efforts. We were very happy with our race and the girls big smiles after the race said everything. Next time we will race the finish a lot differently. Big thank you to Kristin Armstrong for helping us out and to Georges Cycle and Fitness for putting on an amazing event that we will be sure to attend next year! It was well worth the trip, and, to all the Boise residents for being so welcoming, it was amazing!
by Shelby Reynolds (Helen’s)
The Helen’s girls traveled up to Boise, ID to race the Andersen Banducci Twilight Criterium. As a team, we had never raced such a large-scale and stacked race. We were all a little nervous, but more excited that our power team of five was getting to play with the big girls. Our traveling squad consisted of Suzanne Sonye, Emily Georgeson, Priscilla Calderon, Michelle Ignash, and me.
Friday, the day before the race, we met with a couple owners and general managers of George’s Cycles, a sponsor of the race to do a miniature group ride. I would have loved to know what they were thinking as they went to start their ride and five random girls from Los Angeles started to tag along. Nonetheless, they were extremely welcoming, like all the people in Boise. They gave us a tour of their roads and bought us coffee! That night we were invited to a VIP meet-and-greet where most of the riders and sponsors came together to talk and get to know each other in a less chaotic scene than the race.
Finally, race day began with an early morning spin on the gorgeous bike path through the city and a detoured stop at Boise State football stadium down into the infield to see the BLUE field. Then, of course, another stop for coffee at the end of the ride. The race was not until 7PM, so we sat around the hotel room playing Candy Crush and lurking Facebook (don’t act like you don’t do it!) until it was game time. We rolled down to the course, and before we knew it we were on the start line and the whistle was starting our 60-minute race.
The course was awesome, with swooping turns and long straightaways. It was a little surreal in light of the amount of people who came out to watch the race. There was not a single spot along the course that did not have a body, and most places were three people deep. The sound that came from the ten-thousand cheering spectators was thrilling to the core. Even with all the noise I could still pick out my name almost every lap from a few people, so thank you to whomever made me feel like a rock star every lap! About midway through the race there was a hundred-dollar prime that Suzanne won after a lead out from Emily. After the race we asked Emily what made her go for the prime and her reply was, “Well, why not?!” Good enough for us!
I tried to stick at the front with Suzanne, Priscilla, and Emily, but I struggled a bit to stay up there as the Exergy girls constantly had a rider up the road. Michelle kept me safe about mid-pack. With two to go I found Emily’s wheel, Emily found Suzanne, and we made our way to the front. Coming down the back straight there were girls falling back left and right. As we approached the final two turns there was a lull in speed, Suzanne and Emily got stuck going on the outside, but I found an opening on the inside to move ahead of them and the fading riders. I tried my hardest to get Suzanne on my wheel to take her through the final turn, but there was just too much chaos. As we closed in on the final straightaway there were girls everywhere sprinting for the line. Helen’s girls finished with three people in the top 20. (me in 12th, Emily 15th, Suzanne 19th).
We learned a lot from our race experience in Boise and we look forward to coming back next year. Not only did we have a great time racing in a new atmosphere, but it was a great bonding trip. I got to learn so much about my teammates that only brings us closer on and off the bike. I can honestly say I have not laughed that hard and that much in a very long time.
by Suzanne Sonye (Helen’s Cycles)
We were super excited to race the 805 Criterium Weekend. Mike Hecker does a great job of putting on super classy bike races with flowers, medals, great prizes and money, and the community is so welcoming! Except for the guy who threw tacks on the crit course Sunday morning. The Lompoc police went straight to work, caught the guy, and threw him in jail.
We brought 5 girls this weekend:me, Emily Georgeson, Priscilla Calderon, Michelle Ignash, and Dara Rogers.Its really important to support these races and it can be a bit much for people to travel to, but this area is a great place to stay for the weekend, with vineyards, Firestone Brewery, and a bunch of bike racing with so many friends!
Avenue of the Flags Crit:
We all knew the weekend, especially Saturday, was going to be a scorcher and it did not let us down. 102 degrees when we started. The field was small, but stacked with talent. Most of our local pro women showed up. I really love to race with all of them. They are so feisty! Katie Donovan, Alexis Ryan, and Amber Gaffney–I’ve watched these girls develop over the past couple of years and it’s really great to see them go on and be successful. Alexis is just 18 and is our future. What a little talent that young lady is. Lagrange had 4 girls with fast girl Julie Cutts, Joy McCulloch (CashCall) was there. SC Velo had Pam Schuster, who you can never count out of anything.
Our feeling for the race was that Alexis Ryan was the fastest sprinter there, so I would have to watch her, and if a break went with her in it I would have to be in that move. If it came down to the sprint, I would be the sprinter for the day! Pressure..ugh. Katie, Alexis, and Joy were all really active in attacking. Amber is solid and was following the moves, as was I. My teammate, Emily Georgeson, got in a move with Katie Donovan but she got dropped out of that move so Dara Rogers had to chase a bit. Attacks kept going, but nothing was working. I think the heat really got to the riders (except for Dara).
The field busted up and we lost some riders. I was just trying to stay close to Alexis, as I knew it would come down to her and me in a field sprint. Then, boom! Joy attacked and we all looked at each other. No one went after her and the gap grew and grew. I had Dara and Emily still in the group with me, Alexis had Katie. Since I was not the fastest sprinter in the group, I did not feel it was our responsibility to do all the work to bring Joy back, so we didn’t. We waited for Now/Novartis to work. I felt Alexis was the faster rider in the group, and it was not our race to lose, it was theirs. We waited.
Finally, about 6 laps to go, Katie went to the front and was really trying to bring Joy back. We contributed, but not full gas. I was not going to give Alexis the lead out for the win. It became clear with 2 to go that Joy was going to make it, so I started thinking about the sprint. My thought was not to jump too early because it was super windy finish with a strong crosswind. Dara and Emily helped me get into position as Amber lead us into the final turn. I was waiting and BOOM there Alexis jumped early. I hit out after her, but could not catch the young fast girl! Joy won and I think all of us were pretty darn happy for her. That was a great way to win! Alexis was 2nd and I was 3rd.
Valley of the Flowers Crit:
A cooler day and a REALLY fun course with 8 turns in a cool little downtown area! We had fewer riders, but it was great bike racing.
Our plan was pretty much the same, as Alexis was on her own and we were not going to let Joy go off the front. It would be a day for Alexis and I to battle it out in the finish. We were a lot more active as the heat was not affectin everybody. There were plenty of attacks by everyone. When a little group would get up the road it would always get brought back. We did split the group with the speed and turns. Priscilla was hitting out for a bunch of the primes. Emily, Michelle, and Dara were covering most attacks, and I was staying around Alexis. As the laps came closing down, we did have a plan to do a lead out but we changed it up a bit and let Michelle roll off the front with 2 laps to go. Coming into the final lap, Joy hit out after her. That brought the speed up to where it needed to be and we scooped up Michelle with 1 lap to go. Emily, PC and I lined up. I was thinking, ‘it’s a long way for Emily and PC to take me to the finish.’ The course is 1.1 miles and the speed needed to be high! BOOM Dara Rogers was there going into turn 3.
“Sue, here I am,” she said.
“Ok. Go straight to the front and hit it,” I told her. She did just that and took us into turn 5, literally! She went a little wide and almost into the orange fencing. PC had to take me the rest of the way, which was still some real estate. We hit out and PC was going awesome. All I could hear coming out of turn 7 was Emily yelling at PC. I told PC to keep going and dig hard, hard, hard. I jumped to the left before the last turn. I knew I had to jump Alexis first or she would beat me! I busted out as fast as I could and just kept clicking down until I was in my 11. I felt good. BOOM! I won with Alexis close on my heels. Pam Schuster was 3rd. I was really excited because Alexis is a rising star in cycling and I’m at the back end of my career.
I think a lot of people are surprised that I get nervous or that I am completely surprised that I win, but I do not take anything for granted in this sport and I feel if I lose those nerves before a race it’s time to hang it up. Now is not that time. My hope is that I can inspire women who are not spring chickens any longer to realize age is not a limiting factor. I appreciate every win that I am blessed to achieve with my awesome teammates, because I know through the years of racing and on every team I’ve been on I would not have been successful without them! I would like to thank Helen’s Cycles, Oakley, iRT Wheels, Powerbar, and my mom–who made me the tough little girl I am today!
by Michelle Ignash (Helen’s)
Sunday was the 26th annual Barry Wolfe Grand Prix, the second time for a new course in Westlake Village, but a first time for me. Arriving early at the race gave me an opportunity to take in the wonderful atmosphere and view the course.
Before the race the Helen’s women’s elite team meet to discuss strategy and determined that in order to pull out a win we must race aggressively (as always) and try for a break. Some of SoCal’s finest toed up to the line and we were off for a 50-minute race. It appeared that everyone had it on her mind to race aggressively, because attacks started from the second lap. A good looking group of five riders went up the road for a lap with Suze Sonye and Priscilla Calderon from Helen’s. Unfortunately, that break was brought back and Lisa Campbell from SC Velo attacked as the peloton was going through the start/finish. I followed her wheel and we were off the front, but brought back after five laps. Just one short lap later another, break went with another Helen’s rider, Dara Rogers, and a LaGrange rider, Alicia Silvera. They kept a constant 10-second gap on the field for five or so laps. Coming through the start finish, Danielle Garcia from Ice Sportswear Cycling Team decided that she wanted to bridge up to the break and I followed on her wheel, along with my earlier break mate Lisa Campbell. Coming out of turn one, I came around Danielle and with the help of Lisa we closed the gap to the break.
For the remainder of the race the five of us worked together. The field got as close as 10 seconds, but with the help of my teammates Shelby Reynolds, Suze Sonye, Priscialla Calderon, and Emily Georgeson the peloton was not able to bring us back. With three to go I had a good feeling that we were going to stay away. While in the break, my teammate did a great job of doing extra work so that I could rest as much as possible to save what little I had left in the tank. I knew I was up against two sprinters and I had to figure out a way to use my power to outsmart their speed.
With one to go, at the start/finish line Dara saved the day, going to the front of the break and ramping up the speed as much as she could. She held onto the front of the break going into the third corner, and then Lisa took over the helm coming out of the last turn. I knew that I didn’t have a long sprint and I had an idea of where I needed to start from, however my starting point was very different from Alicia’s. With about 400 meters to go, Alicia jumped from behind me and cut from the left side of the course all the way to the right side. We were in a drag race. Alicia gained about two bike lengths on me, that’s what a good kick will do to a slow and steady rider like me. I jumped out of the saddle and gained as much as I could, but I knew I wasn’t going to make it out of the saddle. I had to sit back down for one quick second and then try to jump again. I was out of the saddle and gaining on her. As I tried to come around Alicia on her left side, she moved bit to left and the next thing I knew we were crossing the finishing line with less than half a wheel between the two of us. Alicia timed her sprint perfectly and took the win!
Despite taking second, it was a win for the team. Although I was disappointed with my finish, I rode one of the best races of my life. I have many people to thank, including my supporting cast of characters (my teammates), Helen’s Cycles, Cannondale, IRT Wheels, and all the fans that came out to cheer us along!
Dana Point Grand Prix
by Suzanne Sonye (Helen’s)
I LOVE doing this race! The city is awesome. The course is awesome. The spectators are awesome. The competition is always awesome. Our field size may not be as large as the masters races or the other categories, but our racing is just as exciting in my opinion and I felt we tried to put on a great race. The unfortunate fact about Dana Point Grand Prix for women is the that you have Tour of Gila and Speed Week going on at the same time. I believe that if these conflicts were not there this race would be HUGE for women because the atmosphere is so awesome! [Read more…]
LA Circuit Race
by Priscilla Calderon
Sunday was a beautiful day for riding, let alone racing! The LAX crit provided us with warm weather and clear skies. Best of all the day provided the course with a nasty headwind on the false flat section which we used to our advantage. Having some of the fastest girls in the race, we knew we had a very good chance to go 1,2,3 should the race come down to a field sprint, so we played those odds.
Michelle Ignash and Dara worked extremely hard to keep the race together. They were completely focused on staying in the front of the peloton to keep everything in check. Our team captain Suzanne had no problem taking the first prime, and Emily decided to test her legs on the second. Her legs were good.
The plan for this year’s SDSR was simple, keep a couple of us within a minute and a half in the TT, make the break in the RR to secure a top ten GC and then set up our sprinter to win the criterium. Despite my poor time trialing a top ten seemed an achievable goal. I’ve enjoyed good results this year due to my fantastic teammates and great support from Helen’s. I don’t have to stress about my bike or other equipment, Helen’s takes care of it for me. I don’t have to think about nutrition, Cytomax and Bonk Breaker keep me covered. This lets me focus just on the racing and that makes all the difference.
The plan worked as far as the TT went, I kept thinking about close finishes I’ve had in stage races and repeated to myself “Every Second Counts” the whole way up the mountain. Team Helen’s put Olly Hutchinson in 11th and myself in 13th, not too far back but definitely off everyone’s radar. [Read more…]
San Dimas Stage Race
by Suzanne Sonye
I decided to start this race in 2012 for the first time ever! I had been support for this race many times and when I was a professional it was never on my schedule, so at 49 I decided to give it a go! It was a disaster for me for various reasons. The weather was horrible, the results got sooooo messed up it was beyond stressful, not to mention all the world class ladies out racing pre-Olympics who were fired up. Starting in the pouring, freezing rain, I didn’t make one lap with the group, but I was able to make time cut. Then I got shelled in the crit 3 laps into the race. Needless to say, my ego took a huge hit as that’s my thing, even at my advancing age.