Us Penn people met at 6am and drove out to Trenton. My dad was down visiting for the weekend, so he got to share with me the pleasure of getting up at 5:30, tossing on some clothing, and heading out the door barely awake.
The weather was cool and damp. It had rained the night before, but was just cloudy by the time we got there, and the race course had already begun to dry up. We weren't expecting huge numbers of college folks -- they were all going to be in Ithaca for the weekend, attending Cornell's races. However, we learned that on Saturday snow hit Ithaca, canceling that day's races, and they weren't sure whether they'd be able to do Sunday's races or not. So several people left Ithaca and came here, where it's significantly warmer, for our race.
The race was a criterium, along a 1.1 mile loop thru' the park. The course goes like this: from the start/finish line you go down a hill (which includes a gentle left curve), then along a slightly downhill section. Then you make a left turn which is not bad at all -- at least not bad for me now. The first time I did it, on the way back from one of our NYC races, I was nervous about it, but it's a piece of cake in comparison to the sharp left on the Bloomsburg course. Then there's a slight uphill, then a left curve, then a steeper uphill, but still not bad at all, especially in comparison with the Bloomsburg torture course, and then you're at the finish line. The course was freshly sweeped (Dad was drafted into helping with this) so we didn't worry about gravel on the turns.
There were 6 women all together. Two were doing the A race -- our superwoman Tiffany and a Bucknell woman; the B riders were Lauren, Amanda, and me from Penn, and a Bloomsburg woman. Yep, I'm riding B from now on. I'm tired of getting ditched in the A races and riding pretty much alone. The B race was supposed to start at 8am and consist of 8 laps, and the A was supposed to start at 9:30 with 12 laps. But with as few people as there were, Pete decided to combine them at 9:30 for 12 laps. I didn't mind, since it probably warmed up and dried out a bit in the extra 1.5 hours, and the 12 laps certainly wouldn't hurt me. Anyway, even tho' we'd start out together and ride the same distance, we'd still be ranked separately.
The Men's C/D and B races went off, and we rode around warming up. My bike worked beautifully. After getting my chain stuck between the middle and big chainrings in the race at Penn State past week, I knew something had to be done about it. I took it to Paul Molino, owner of Bike Addicts, 5548 Ridge Ave, for some expert help. Paul is one of our sponsors: he provides the technical support to keep our bikes in top shape. He checked my bike out and fixed the problem by removing the spacers between the two chainrings. Now there isn't enough space between the two rings for the chain to get caught between them. He also adjusted the rear derailleur, and as I rode home from the shop I thought: I haven't had it shifting so nicely in quite some time.
Finally, 9:30 rolled around, and it was our turn to race. Pete gave us Penn people our instructions: us four B riders should make attacks, trying to tire out the Bucknell woman, and then Tiffany could take over and crush her. I suspected that us Bs wouldn't contribute much to the A race, since we wouldn't be able to keep up with them, but I figured we could give it a try. The race started. I started my timer. Tiff and the Bucknell woman started out pretty quickly. I grabbed a wheel and hung on. I stayed with them thru' the downhills, and then after coming around the left turn into the slightly uphill section, I felt I had some energy and I made an attack. I knew I'd get get caught, but I felt I had to try to help out Tiffany. They passed me at the base of the hill, and gained a bit on me going up the hill. After the hill I worked hard and caught up with then, and rested thru' the downhills. Again, after the left curve I felt I had some energy, so I made another attack. Again I got caught, and they passed me at the base of the hill. But this time they gained alot on me going up the hill, and I was too tired to give much to the chase, so they were gone. Oh, well, I didn't expect to be able to stay with them anyway. At least I was with them for 2 laps, while the rest of the B riders got dropped pretty quickly.
I went thru' the downhill sections alone, and then after the curve, Lauren and Amanda caught me in the slight uphill -- the Bloomsburg woman hadn't been able to keep up with them. I caught their draft and rested. Trying to stay with the As had tired me. After a lap or two I'd recovered and was able to take pulls. We alternated in a random way -- wherever one of the people in back felt we weren't going fast enough, she took off and the rest followed. I found that I was better going up hills: if I wanted to I could make it to the top faster than they did. But often I'd just relax and sit behind them, following them up to the top. Since we went slower up the hill, Dad (who was stationed right before the finish line) got lots of opportunities to take nice pics of us.
About 5 laps from the end I got to thinking -- how could I win this (the B) race? Of course, it was against my own teammates, so it was pointless as far as team standing, but I couldn't help wanting to do as well as I could. I made a plan -- I'd noticed that Lauren and Amanda were taking the left turn wider than I do -- that is, they'd go thru' the sharpest part of the turn at the left edge of the road, but then they'd swing out into the middle of the road, while I could hold to the left of the road, keeping the distance shorter. I thought -- on the last lap, I'll pass them in this part of the course, and then if I can stay away, I've got it made.
About 3 laps from the end, both Lauren and I stayed back, letting Amanda lead. We had the same idea -- we want to win, and we want to be fresh for the end. Lauren was behind Amanda, and I behind Lauren. On the last lap, I kept my eyes open, waiting for Lauren to take off. She did, on the slight downhill before the left turn. I caught her wheel and stayed with her. She took the left turn wide, as she had before, and I zoomed by on the left. I pedaled hard, doing about 23 thru' the slightly uphill section. I worked at keeping up the speed, wanting to put some distance between me and Lauren. And then I glanced back, and she was right behind me. Oooops. "Oh, fuck" I said, resignedly. At that point I knew she'd beat me. I had expended my energy reserves on the burst of speed after passing her, and she had had a free ride, sitting in my draft, and so when we got to the hill, she'd pass me and there wasn't much I could do about it. And that's exactly what she did. There wasn't any competition at all on the hill, she flew up and I tried to muster some energy at the bottom, but when it was clear that she was well in front of me, I eased off and sort of limped across the finish line.
We did a cool-down lap, and towards the end of it we saw Tiff and the Bucknell woman. We asked how they did. They ignored us... At the end of the extra lap, we stopped, found Tiff's dad (her family was visiting her for the weekend), and asked him who won the race. Bucknell, he said. Drat!
Another drat -- I again forgot to turn off my timer at the end of the race. I have only successfully timed one race. Maybe I should just give up...
We talked with Pete a bit, and then us Penn women gathered for a team photo, with Pete in the official coach position on the right end. Lauren and Tiff were going to race again, in the USCF races, but I didn't feel like paying an extra $10 registration fee for a 5 mile race, and so, after checking that no more help was needed for registration and marshaling, Dad and I headed out. In retrospect -- it's alot more fun to have people to ride with than to ride alone, and I will stay with the B races. It would be nice if I could win a race at some point, tho'. On Sunday I made a plan, executed it perfectly, but the plan failed, since Lauren caught my draft as I passed her -- I wasn't able to go fast enough to lose her. So, obviously, it wasn't a good plan. In order to be a better racer, I'm going to have to be smarter, or stronger, or, probably both. There's lots more to learn...