Moving on UP!…And down, and drifting a little bit, and jumping over rocks. I love the surprise and constant jostling of stage racing. For a type A personality like me where control is everything, stage racing allows me to let go just a bit. While I may still seem more calculated than most, with lists, piles, and even breakfast made the night before, this is me going outside of my comfort zone.
I don’t know the competition, what the course will be like, what obstacle is around the next corner, or how my bike will respond to the terrain. When I’m on my bike I’m on my own to figure it out, make decisions, and grit it out for the next 3.5 hours.
And in all of the unknown moments of stage racing today felt like absolute bliss. I found my heart smiling through my furrowed brow and anguished face. I committed to myself today and I reaped the rewards of it for miles.
After waiting in line to ride descents yesterday, today I decided to throw everything on the line from the whistle. I tucked my fears and pride away and I jumped from the gun. I led the women through the initial start turns as I weaved through the men calmly convinced that every man I passed was one less minute I would wait in line.
Even as I was passed and positions jostled, I committed to my strategy and I kept my head down for 30 minutes using all of my power to find position. After 30 minutes I found myself sitting somewhere around 5th or 6th. I was cracked and soon to be dropped but I only had 15 more minutes to the top of the climb. I could fake it for 15 minutes. As I crested over the first climb of the day with a trail open for riding I felt every muscle in my body suddenly ready for more. This motivation changed my whole day.
Today’s stage featured 38 miles and over 6,000 feet of climbing. With hundreds of racers on course it’s a bit difficult to really know what position you are in as a female. 2 hours into the event I was moving with the pace and found myself sitting somewhere around 10th. I could see the girls up ahead. The climbs were grueling gradients. I had recovered from the initial effort and was charging.
The hills were so steep that I often found myself in my easiest gear just barely able to turn the pedals over. The false summits felt as if they were designed to continually get your hopes up that the climb had come to the end and then crush you with a gradient steeper than the last. The men around me repeatedly called me “La maquina,” which I have learned is a common saying for calling someone a machine. This was compliment I was happy to receive.
Between the brutal 15+% gradient climbs, the scenery was incredible. We bombed down sketchy asphalt paths, through farmer’s fields, vineyards, through forested areas, down descents completely covered in rocks, and even through 3 foot wide alleyways of a small Spanish town.
As I entered the final descent and six or more race volunteers yelled, “tecnico” and “despacio” all I heard was the sound of my dropper post engage. My confidence on the downhill had shot drastically up over the course of the 3.5 hour race and I knew I could handle anything that came my way. This was one of the big reasons I decided to come here (SUCCESS!).
The final descent featured tiny rocks covering larger rocks creating a maze with sliding wheels underneath. It felt incredible. I just kept thinking how much I love to ride my bike.
The end of the race finished after 2 miles on a flat wide open trail. I was on the limit riding with one other man and no one was in sight- ahead or behind. After about a mile, a group of 20 men (and one female) caught up. The draft immediately made for an easier ride, but now I had serious strategy to consider. I jumped onto the wheel of the other female and planned to allow her to lead me out into the sprint (a common racer tactic.) The only problem: I didn’t know where the finish line was. I was looking far ahead but could see no sign of the finish. All at once we ducked into a tunnel that I could barely fit through and when we emerged on the other side it was the finish. I didn’t get to have my big sprint moment, but maybe I’ll get my moment to shine tomorrow.
All in all, I finished 11th on the day but my race was executed so much better, with some many more valuable learning moments, and with much, much smaller time gaps between me and those ahead.
AND! Because of my consistent result and others jostling around I have now moved into 9th place in the overall standing. In a stage race the final results are determined by times of each day added together so the overall standing is the most important.
Here’s to consistent results and even bigger chances tomorrow!!