News From Joe Martin and the Gila
by Robin Farina
It’s been a couple of weeks since my last column and I’ve recovered from the racing and travel, so I am back to give loyal readers and women’s professional cycling fans some insight as to what has been going on in the stage racing scene in the USA.
As I mentioned in earlier articles, I ride for the NOW and Novartis for MS women’s team. The team has had quite an aggressive early season schedule so far and has already secured an overall win at Redlands, stage wins, and podium spots. After coming off the win at Redlands, we took 2nd overall and the young rider’s jersey at the Joe Martin Stage Race. Then, last week at Tour of the Gila, the team finished with another 2nd overall in the general classification, which has helped Alison Powers hold onto the lead of the NRC’s individual competition. As it turns out, because of the solid team performances, NOW is leading the team NRC competition too. So all in all it’s been a pretty good two weeks. Now I will give you a little insight to how it all went down and update you on our adventures.
Two weeks ago, we all left our homes and started another racing block with the Joe Martin Stage Race in Fayetteville, AR. My teammate, Alison Powers, has won this race two times in the past and I have won it once in 2008 so we felt it was a good warm up for the Tour of Gila…and a chance to win it again. Since JMSR was so close to the Tour of Gila and the travel logistics make it difficult to get from Fayetteville to Silver City some of the bigger women’s teams decided to skip Joe Martin and prep for Tour of Gila instead. Thankfully, Tibco with their savvy and quite animated director, Manel Lacambra, showed up and put up a hard fight for the yellow jersey.
Stage 1 started off with a violent, 3-mile, uphill time trial. I don’t care how fit you are or how well you climb, this TT is never EVER fun. In fact, sometimes I wonder why in the hell the US promoters always want to start races with these. Just like in years past, we got there early and went to bike check to receive the news that our bikes, along with most riders,’ were too light. So, instead of having the advantage of having a nice sleek light race bike, our trusty mechanic, Erik, had to get all creative-like and tape multi-tools to the seat posts so our bikes could make UCI weight standards. Wow, the UCI is so brilliant to have such an antiquated rule…when will they ever learn? Probably NEVER!!!
At the end of the day, Tibco’s German rider, Claudia Haussler took the fastest time uphill and put us on the offensive to try to take the yellow jersey off her back in the next two road stages or the final criterium stage.
Ultimately, the Tibco women raced a hell of a race and defended the jersey successfully. Solid team racing on their part left us empty handed by Sunday. As much as I love the fans in Fayetteville, we were ready to get the heck out of dodge.
As soon as the criterium finished up, we packed our bikes and bins (which is the extra piece of storage team management allows us to travel with, which is never enough because of my hair dryer and multiple shoes that I need for every occasion) and we hit the road to Silver City, NM. The 18 hours of driving over the next day and half was enough to crack even the most uncrackable person. Our entourage included the van/trailer and team car. Since the van/trailer combo drives slower than my Mom (which is agonizingly slow, bless her little heart), the more “mature” riders claimed the team car. The race to the race was on to beat Tibco and their team car to the Tour of Gila. It started off innocently with some tweets about the race and how “you better enjoy it now cause we are gonna spank you in a couple of days at the Gila.” That provided about a whole hour of entertainment. At that point we just counted down miles til our next “pee-break.” The goal is try to make team director crazy by asking to stop for pee-breaks at least once an hour. You do the math! That’s a lot of stops. Luckily, Kurt doesn’t listen to us anyway and makes us sit there tortured until we threaten to pee all over the FORD C-MAX team car, and NO, women can’t pee in bottles!
Finally, after thousands of team “snapchats” (check out the app on the iPhone), and the creation of the #selfiecup on twitter (check it out and get in on the fun), we rolled into Silver City with one day to spare til race time.
The Tour of Gila started out once again with a long, rolling road race that ends with a 6-mile climb to the ghost town of Mogollon. Are we seeing a recurring theme here? Steep climb on the first day, which sets the final GC from stage 1? Yes, you can read the aggravation in my writing. Why can’t I be a SKINNY Little Climber? Oh yeah, that’s right, it’s because I like to eat actual food, drink beer & wine, and not feel guilty for enjoying it. Racing is way too hard to deny yourself basic life needs. So, as you can imagine, the very tiny Exergy racer won the stage and had a whopping 2 min over the 2nd and 3rd, which included NOW rider and funny girl, Katie aka Kathy Donovan (@katied).
Over the next few days, with the challenging Inner Loop race, the ITT, and the criterium, teams like Tibco, Optum, and NOW battled and threw down just about everything we had to make Mara and the Exergy team chase. They held it together and were able to deliver Mara to the base of the Gila Monster on Sunday with only 3 of us up the road.
The last stage of the week is a long road race, which rolls until you hit mile 50.5. NOW’s goal was to get a break off and get someone over the climb to help Alison Powers once she got to the QOM. Lucky me, I got to go in the early break. At mile 30-ish, all the teams were persistent to get a break off and to make Exergy chase. Finally, we got one and it rolled away quickly, gaining 2-2.5 mins for a while. My breakaway companions included Rushlee Buchanan from Tibco and Joelle Numanville from Optum. We were set and ready to ride. All three of us worked hard to get our NOT-so-Skinny butts up over the climb before the charging lightweights came flying up to get us. To our surprise, we made it all the way to the QOM before the select group of climbers caught up. At some point on the climb we were told we had 1:45 min on the group. That simply was not true. Rushlee and I looked over to see the leader of the race in the red jersey, Mara Abbot, go dancing by us like we were standing still. We decided it was not in our best interest to try to go with her, so we just kept about our business riding as hard as our little lungs and legs would take us up that climb. Mara must have gotten bored at the bottom of the climb and decided she was going to attempt a very daring solo move to the finish with 20 more miles to go.
The select climbers joined us and then it was a race to the finish. After an attempt to pull the move up the road back, it was Alison’s turn to go and try to win the stage. She attacked, taking only Janelle with her, with Claudia just a little bit ahead of them. They chased hard to catch Abbot and nearly caught her on the run into the finish.
Mara kept the leader’s jersey and Alison held on to 2nd overall. The attack over the top moved Janelle into 3rd on GC and moved Claudia up to 4th.
After everything was said and done, we were sad about not winning the race but some races just give the “Little Skinnies” the advantage, and this is definitely one of them. We gave it our best shot, raced hard, and surely got some fitness out of it for the upcoming Amgen Tour of California time trial on Friday, May 17th in San Jose, and for Pro Road and Time Trial Nationals, which will be held in Chattanooga over Memorial Day weekend.
I encourage you to keep following! With the upcoming races on the calendar like the new version of the Philly race, Nationals, and one of our favs, Tulsa Tough (@tulsatough), I am confident NOW and Novartis for MS will be back on the top step and hopefully wearing some new Stars and Stripes for 2013!