Philly to Tulsa
It’s hard to believe I am already a week in to a month of traveling around the country to race. Even though there is a lot of down time, it always feels like there is something to be done. Always preparing.
We’re currently sitting here in Tulsa waiting for 7:10pm to roll around when the Blue Dome crit goes off, the first of three races at Tulsa Tough. Our host house is quiet for the first time in a bit so im taking this opportunity to share last weekend’s race in Philly.
It was my first time racing at Philly. I have watched this race on TV, heard first and second hand accounts and dreamed of the day I would get to race it.
Leading up to Philly I was told stories of the Wall, Strawberry hill, and Lemon hill. Fear, excitement, worry, disbelief, and confidence were all emotions I had leading up to actually getting to see the course for myself. People love their stories. And we all know stories become grander as our memories of the actual event start to fade. So which stories was I to take as truth, and which were just a well told scary stories?
I arrive in Philly a few days before the race. I take this opportunity to settle in and ride a little a day before the short drive to the hotel we will be staying in for the next two nights. The day before the race, the team of Jazzy, Emily, Vanessa, guest rider Nicky Wangsgard, and myself – plus director Jono Coulter pre-ride the course along with several other teams. Philly is a beautiful city, and the course is spectacular. I am excited for the opportunity to see the course at this pace because during a race I often miss the view…
We head out along the river and make our way towards the wall. I am told it’s not so much the wall but the lead up to the wall that gets you, and now I see why. It is a long a rolling drag through a super cute neighborhood soon to be filled with cheering fans. The long drag of 4 lanes narrows as we take a sharp right hand turn in to three lanes, then into another right hand turn onto a single lane road that quickly turns left in to the bottom of the wall. I try to take it at race pace speed to see what it will take out of my legs. The first part feels great, and think “not a problem.” But then I make a slight left and the road kicks up even more, and it is a long 18% or so drag up to the top where it continues on uphill not at 18%, but about the same grade as as the course grinds up towards the QOM line. I hit this second grade and think “OK, this is a bit harder, and I’m losing some steam, but still getting on well enough.” I make it to the top and cross the QOM ( queen of the mountain!) line and start the fall from the wall catching my breath, and shaking of the leg burn. Thinking the whole time, “That wasn’t so bad, well not so bad at my pace, but what if the pace is way harder?… I was not in the red… what would happen if i was in the red? What will the pace be like? Will I be able to hang? If I get dropped can I catch back on, on this descent? Ah this descent is fast and fun!” Thoughts of the wall start to fall to the wayside as I navigate the bumpy fast fall from the wall.
Back at the hotel I was talking to some other girls who were talking about being nervous. I could honestly say I was not nervous. This surprised even myself. I felt fit on the pre-ride of the course, the wall was not what I had feared and Strawberry and Lemon Hill were both grades and lengths of climbs I could tackle.
This i knew. What was an unknown was how fit the competition was, how fast we would go, how hard it would be, and how I would measure up. With so many unknowns I could only think “I won’t know until I am in it, so what is the point or worrying?”
Morning came and I have to say the buzz and grandeur of it all was quite exciting. It took me back to racing in Belgium. Then seeing some familiar faces from when I raced there reminded me this is going to be something.
We line up. The field is stacked, and I’m still not nervous. What is wrong with me? We are off, the pace is fast but with this large of a field it is easy to stay protected. I concentrate on staying protected and staying calm and remind myself not to worry about moving up to early, as there is plenty of road to be traveled before the wall.
As we get closer you can feel the tension and the nerves in the field as we get closer to the wall, every one wanting to be first, and no one wanting to be last. I start out top 20 going into the wall. There’s a small crash at the bottom and Jazzy is taken out.
I gain ground on some, and lose it to others, but stay with the pack first time around. I let the other teammates know Jazzy was down and looked ok, but not sure if she would make it back on. I wonder should I wait up to help her back on. That was not so bad, but not so easy either. I know the last lap will be a lot harder than this one, and it might be a waste of effort. What if her bike was broken? I decided to keep going with hopes that this was the right decision.
The second time up the wall my front tire starts to go flat, “No, No, No, of all races, of all places, ( a few colorful words may have run through my head as well, but I will spare you)…” I put a hand up to signal to the moto that I have a flat and for the support vehicle to make its way up. I’m next to Vanessa and let her know. I think to myself it will take them some time to make it up to me, and I don’t want to try to start again on this hill, so I keep riding the flat to the top just before the QOM. I keep my hand up and keep looking back for the vehicle.
I spot the yellow of the Mavic Neutral support car. Girls are still rolling past me, but I may still have a chance to get back in the race. I get off my bike, pull off the front wheel, and before I know it I am back on the bike being pushed forward by neutral support, sprinting towards the fall from the wall. I catch on to a group of girls who have been dropped, and we work together to get back to the field. It was frustrating as hell because some girls knew what they were doing and were motivated, while others rode as if it were the first pace line they’d ever been in.
We spend the next lap working our way through the caravan, charge up Lemon hill, and as I’m cresting the top another girl had punctured and the Neutral support came to a dead stop in the middle of the road right in front of me as I’m out of the saddle sprinting to crest over the top of the hill. I react in time to turn and smear my self down the left side of their car keeping it upright and continue down the decent. How I did not just got through the back of the car is a small miracle.
Our small chase group becomes smaller as we make it back through the start/finish with two laps to go, and continue to make it through the caravan back into the field. I make it to the back and continue on up to the front until I find Vanessa and let her know I am back. She lets out an excited welcoming burst and I felt accomplished for making it back in. My race was not over.
But the wall was quickly approaching.
My legs are cramping and I am going backwards up the wall. We crest the top, and I find my self chasing again with a small group including Vanessa. This time the group works better together, and we work our way through the caravan again, and catch back on to the field again with one lap to go.
It’s the final time up the wall, and I go into it too far back and with not enough left in the legs. The field is shattered, and people are all over the place trying to chase back on. There is a small crash on the descent from the wall, and I lose contact with the field. I see any hopes of a finish with the field end at this time. But I continue to chase. I am in no man’s land, and can see a group ahead of me and a group behind me. I put my head down and keep going until I cross the finish line. Vanessa finishes just ahead of me in a group, and Nicky ahead of her. Emily was in the sprint but was pushed around and came in 16th.
I rolled across the line with out too much disappointment. I knew I fought hard but had some bad luck. I finished. My goal was to sprint; that I did not get to do, but I finished. Now I know what I’m in for next year.
It’s funny as I write this report of Philly race time is quickly approaching… Another story to tell, hopefully one of victory.