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.
So this year I came more prepared, but still fearing getting dropped. It’s an ego thing for sure. Here I am, racing against girls that I had raced against 10+ years ago on the top-ranked team, at 50 coming back (again). What was I thinking? What made it different for me this year is I was bringing girls who are developing as riders and it gave me a different outlook on the race and being a leader. I’ve been doing this long enough to know a bit about myself and have had to take an honest look at myself many times. I for sure am outspoken and opinionated, there’s no denying that, but I also have a deep respect and love for this sport, so I’m here to stay! This year, Helen’s/Cannondale brought 7 riders: Michelle Ignash, Emily Georgeson, Priscilla Calderon, Shelby Reynolds, Hayley Edwards, and guest rider Flavia Oliveira. This race was all about learning, even for me.
A 4+ mile uphill time trial has never been my thing and it would be no different on day one. I had to laugh when I looked at the start times and realized all the girls stacked up behind me were super fast going uphill, including my teammate Flavia who started 2 minutes behind me. My goal was to do my own thing and try not to get extremely bummed when I got passed because it was going to happen! I was pretty stoked that I didn’t get passed by anyone until 4k to go and super-stud Gillian Carleton (Olympic bronze medalist) passed me at 3k to go. I was stoked I held on that long when she had started just a minute behind me! Then came little Flavia, freaking ripping it up. I could not help myself, I had to scream for her as I knew she was going good. Screaming may not have been great for my TT, but she ended up 7th!
I woke up SUPER excited it wasn’t raining and knew the road race would be a super day! I just knew it. It did not fail to be just that, but not for the reasons you all might be thinking. When I showed up at the start line I received such a warm welcome from my peers and during the race so much respect, it just about brought me to tears. I was extremely touched at the many kind words spoken to me. I was able to make it almost halfway with the group, helping Flavia a bit. I was super excited to be able to ride at the front a little and be part of the race while I was there. I got a little excited one time up the big hill and that was it…BOOM..old lady out the back! I was in good company with a group of 6 and we made the time cut with no issues. Flavia finished 4th and PC stayed with the main group. Unfortunately, we lost 2 riders to the time cut and one to a crash. We would start the crit with Michelle, PC, Flavia, and me.
I was really nervous about this crit for many reasons, mostly ego-driven because this is my thing, right? Sprinting technical courses. I was thinking, “Oh my god, I got dropped last year. Oh my god, Frankie Andreu is going to make fun of me if I get dropped again! Oh my god, some of my old teammates watching are going to think I’m pathetic.” Believe it or not, these things go through my head sometimes. ”Oh my god, Kurt Stockton is going to call me an old lady again! What if my wheels are SO fast I go flying off the course?” Seriously, the thoughts I had were crazy, however I was able to stay really focused as my main goal was to help Flavia if I could. I was determined when we started and actually I was excited to race once the whistle went off! I had a great time. It was apparent early on that it was going to come down to a field sprint. The only team that seemed interested in a break was Now/Novartis, as they had no one in the top 5. My thought was Gillian for LuluLemmon as she is super strong, fast, and along with Loren Rowney would be hard to beat. Our Flavia seemed to ride the entire race 2nd wheel. She had 2 riders that were 3 seconds behind her, so we didn’t want them to overtake her. The truth of the story is that while I rode in the front of the race Flavia didn’t need my help. She kept herself up there. Can you imagine what would have happened if she had let me help her save a little energy? Flavia ended up 4th for the day and 5th overall!
There are many reasons why I wrote this report, one being that everyone has their own doubts about themselves and bike racing is not an easy sport. Through the years I’ve been pushed, yelled at, punched in the side, and crashed out. I’ve cried, laughed, and lost teammates. This sport is not easy but the rewards that this sport has brought me have far outweighed the difficult times. Being a bike racer at 50 isn’t so bad! Thank you for a great weekend. Special shout out to Chris Black; awesome job, dude! Much respect! And thank you Cycling Illustrated for always being interested in all of us.