Photo by Nick De Pasquale
Last year, I had a TERRIFIC race at Sterling, finishing 6th in the Women's P/1/2/3 field. I have convinced myself for a year that it was a fluke - happened my accident - nothing like that could possibly happen again - EVER. While I reveled in that result all last year, I also questioned its validity for an equal amount of time.
My focus this year is on the MTB racing, but I needed to do Sterling to prove to myself, one way or the other, that last year was or was not a fluke. I was going to be racing with the NEBC Elite Women, so met up with them for pre-race meeting and warm-up. All the while, I was casual - excited about the race, but no nerves. And then BAM! Slammed in the gut by a 2x4 right before the start. Butterfly Olympics? Forget about it - this was WORSE. What if it was a fluke? ACK!
I nervously lined up with the team as well as the likes of Anna Milkowski and Mo Bruno (no wonder I was intimidated!). There were about 25 of us at the start as we headed for the neutral climb up THE HILL (including one racer who started our NEBC Intro to Racing Clinic, but clearly didn't finish since her number was pinned on upside down...).
The first lap of a race always makes me nervous, and this time out was no different. At the beginning of the season, I am always wary of the handling skills of the other racers. With Rebecca doing a good amount of work on the front of the pack, I decided to make a move up to the front to help out - which also let me lead through the fast downhill sections of the course, and back onto Rte 12.
The headwind on Rte 12 slowed the pace of the pack, and I quickly found myself at the back. I knew that I needed to be closer to the front going into the hill, so surfed forward, only to get swarmed and end up once again in the back going up the climb. I still managed to pass riders going up the hill, but this year the climb seemed harder than I remembered from last year. Multiple laps I ended up chasing back onto the back of a group after cresting the hill, and all of that chasing extracted a toll.
Eventually we ended up with a break of three up the road (which included Rebecca - yay!). With only about two laps to go, Brooke told me that she wanted to potentially put someone in the middle. Unfortunately, with all of the chasing I had already done, that wasn't going to be me this year.
With one lap to go, a second group of five got a gap on the remainder of the group we had been racing with, leaving Brooke, Susanne, Nat and I with Mo and a Williams racer. Brooke told me that she thought we should set Nat up for the bunch finish, for which I was grateful - the seventh time up that beast was going to do me in! Coming onto Rte 12, Susanne and I were so pro - rotating between the two of us to keep the pace high as we approached Sterling Center. Knowing that my race was just about done, I worked all for the set up...
So, imagine my surprise, when just as I am thinking they can take it from here, I hear Brooke screaming at me to GO! GO FASTER! GO! What?!?!? Wasn't it Susanne's turn? Wasn't I finished? What do you mean, GO?? I'd been going and my legs were toast. But, I cranked it up as much as I could into the center and into the final turn before the hill. Finally, Brooke came by me shouting that this was it, DIG! GO! No way, Jose - my legs were waging an all out revolt at that point, and I was shutting down.
The Williams racer got past me as we approached the line, and I finished 11th - one out of the money. I promptly found the first driveway out of the road, and fell over - still clipped into my pedal! What I hadn't realized was that I had ended up gapping some of our group as we came into Sterling Center, and Brooke was trying to get me to give it all I had... I did - there was NOTHING left in my tank.
So, after a great result again this year, I have concluded that last year's performance at Sterling really wasn't as much of a fluke as I had thought. The funniest thing was having Susanne refer to me as the "hill climber" the next day :).