by Joy McCulloch-CashCall Mortgage Cycling
Nothing says foreshadowing better than listening to our CashCall Mortgage Cycling teammate Chris Barton rock out to Johnny Cash’s “The Ring of Fire” as we prepped for the SCNCA District Road Race Championships in Bakersfield, CA. Sadly, I had the song in my head for the 50 miles of the elite women’s race. Brian tells me he was actually singing it during the elite men’s 100 mile event. The heat does make you do crazy things.
OK, just to get you off the edge of your desk chair, I did not win. And to put frosting on the cupcake, I lost the sprint and bike throw (read slow-mo slog to the finish) for 2nd place by half a wheel. But, those things aren’t why I race my bicycle.
I am traveling to Tulsa Tough and just finished listening to the audio book “Born to Run” By Christopher McDougall. It’s an amazing adventure into sport, culture, and why we are driven to run/ride/swim/dance. The author made an extremely compelling statement near the end of the book that encapsulates my passion for continued floggings on the bike: “The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other, but to be WITH each other.” Bingo.
My passion for competition began in junior high and has been fanned, nearly snuffed out, almost out of control, and just right. I am lucky enough – wait, “lucky” is too trite and has nothing to do with it – I am blessed, honored and grateful, to be part of an amazing cycling team and family. But Joy, you say, you have no teammates! I beg to differ. With the CashCall Team, I have 9 male teammates including my husband Brian, an amazing team director Paul Abrahams, a soigneur Mike Ward, and the most committed sponsors in the region. This support network is 100% why I get to follow my dreams on the bicycle.
A quick side note as to how awesome my teammates are happened at Sea Otter in April. The circuit race was the 4th stage of a very difficult and discouraging event for me. The men completed their race before mine began, yet they all stayed in the feed zone cheering me on as our laps ticked down. Just like having teammates in the peloton, I wanted to do them proud, follow their directions to spin an easier gear, stay in the draft and relax on the punchy climbs. I could hear them from the start finish line as we climbed towards to cork screw on the Laguna Seca Raceway and I could spot each of them out of the corner of my eye. As we approached the finish of the race there were three riders up the road, I mustered all I could from the horrible-awful-nasty weekend of racing and got 3rd in the sprint. I did that because my team believed in me and were literally screaming and jumping up and down for me to sprint and awaited me with cold water and high-fives. On paper I got 6th. In my heart, I got rejuvenated to continue racing.
OK, back to Bako. Thank you USACycling Race Predictor, I was predicted to win. My bright blue-kit and shiny white KHS Bicycle now had an even larger target on them. I knew the registered riders I would be going to toe to toe with would be Julie Cutts (LaGrange) and Tracy Tilton (Spy/Giant). Julie always beats me. I’m not being a baby, I am stating a fact. Whether if it’s by half a wheel or over a minute like she did when she won the SCNCA TT Championships a few weeks back and I got 3rd. She is a force, crafty, and would be directing a team of at least 5 other riders on the day. USA Cycling must not have known that. Tracy is new to our peloton, an up and comer and part of the Spy/Giant team that is wrecking havoc on the SoCal road racing calendar. Although she had no teammates with her, she is known for her solo riding prowess, so that wouldn’t be an issue. Funny, because that’s your podium. My goal was to make it hard – I have to ride hard and make everyone else do the same. I wanted to go to the line with a small selection of riders. I truly dislike racing slow for a lap then sort of going hard, and taking everyone to the finish. I was convinced that making it a hard-women’s race was in my favor and it worked.
It wasn’t hot. Well, my Garmin says average temperature 106, max 111. The crazy thing was though, I never felt it. I did think once about how gnarly my helmet-strap tan was going to be on the right side of my face as the sun was relentlessly beating down on it. I did, however, feel the dragons breath heat like a backdraft when I crossed the line and stopped pedaling. The relentless stiff, hot wind was no longer evaporating the sweat off of me and it began to pour down my face, arms and legs like I had walked through a waterfall. The upside to that? I was hydrated. Worst job in the business is working the feed zone and days like that. Our director Paul, along with friend Oren Mitz and Ryon Cooke were strategically placed in the two feed zones with ice cold water, Hammer HEED, and socks filled with ice. These guys truly saved the day for us.
We had a really fun group for the race. All friends, former teammates, and even clients of Big Wheel Coaching, my company. Lots of LaGrange girls, good number of wild-cards, Suze and Emily from Helen’s, Becky and Holly from SCVelo and some very strong cat 3 racers. Coming around the start-finish after lap 1, the field was strung out and we just kept riding hard. Somehow on the flats after the descent, the field sat up and I found myself 10, 50, 100 meters off the front and just kept going. Hmmmmm, this could be a problem. But it could also be my only hope. I flashed back to 2012 when Amber Gaffney (Optum) attacked and rode away solo for the win. But Amber is a different breed with amazing power and fortitude. Plus, my “attack” was much too early in the lap. I hunkered down, hugged the yellow line until the road started to twist up the climb. I started thinking about Nature Valley Grand Prix which I will be racing next week. It begins with an individual time trial on road bikes – so why not practice? Let the power settle in, pick the straightest lines, relax the body.
The course is in the design of a boomerang so we criss-cross other fields and pieces of our field through out the race. It’s a bit of a “ride of shame” for those who get weeded out early – tailing off the back, staring at the fog line and hoping the others think you have a mechanical or flat. I only say this because I have been there over, and over, again. On this day, however, I was off the front. I could see the mens peloton crest the climb and start the descent. I could also see a blue train forming in the middle, then to the yellow line, then to the front, of my CashCall boys. Rallied my non-other than my husband Brian, who could spot my tell-tail riding style from the moon, he yelled “that’s my JoyJoy, boys, get together!” The whoops and fist-pumps came not only from the blue-train, but from some of the other racers was so rad! I for sure gained 7 watts for that climb. Brian said they tried to discourage the hard chasing peloton, but to no avail.
After about 20 minutes (perfect practice for NVGP TT) I heard Julie behind me, “Joy, we are here!” It’s about time! Their chase had blown the field to pieces and along with Julie came 6 other riders. My plan had worked, we had thinned it down and eventually the break would consist of 5. We climbed, attacked each other, descended, rode easy – you get the picture. Going into the final 1K up the hill to the finish, I knew I had to be patient. I was with sprinters Emily Georgeson and Julie Cutts, climber Tracy Tilton, and wicked strong cat 3 Jo Celso. I am not a climber or a sprinter, I am a sufferer. That’s it. The attacks started and I just tried to match all the accelerations until Julie broke the rubber band for an impressive win, adding to her SCNCA Championship wins of the season. Tracy went after her as I expected and I did my best to stay on the wheel. I had been told prior to the race “If I see you not in the draft and not sprinting, I am going to pull you off your bike!” Haha OK OK I get it! Use the draft! The last 200 meters felt like the finish of a Mud Run, slogging through chin-deep mud with 10 pound sneakers going nowhere. I shifted and did my best to come around, but missed the line by half a wheel. I will take it!
Kudos to the race promoters for having Ez-ups, a cooler filled with ice socks, multiple cots to relax on and electric fans with water misters ready for us to collapse in front of. A number of racers were gathered here and Suzanne Sonye and I were hanging out checking Philly updates on a cot when the coolest thing happened. The finish line was right behind us, so we got watch everyone come through. The finish of the cat 3 men was won by a tire, driven by a whooping and salt-covered rider. Moments later he came in, dropped his bike, and collapsed on a cot, yelling. He was elated, it was his first win and he told us how nobody though he could win, especially a road race or one like this one, so hard and so hot! I couldn’t tell if he was crying or sweating, but what he did do was truly inspire us and remind us that this is why we do it. Suze took his photo and said congratulations, but more importantly ‘thank you’! Gotta love the passion! Congratulations Tim Woo of Rocksport Racing on your win – many more to come!
“The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other, but to be WITH each other.” See you soon again soon in the Ring of Fire!
Thank you to my sponsors CashCall Inc, KHS Bicycles, iRT Wheels, Jakroo Custom Apparel, Velo Saddles, Hammer Nutrition, Xpedo, Praxis Works, Shimano, Kenda Tire, Rudy Project, World Oil Corp, Bike Religion, Chamois Butt’r, Finish Line, Serfas.