Coming back from an injury always takes time, especially when one is a #professionalslashbikeracer as many of us are. My career as an architect and adjunct professor has kept me busy, to say the least. Those base miles have been as elusive as the wispy fronds of dewy mist carpeting Fairmount Park as the sun rises…
Every race this season, I’ve been dropped from the peloton. Every time it takes just a little longer for the peloton to drop me. Several of my younger racer friends were appalled by my incredibly modest goals, eg “I’d like to stay with the main pack for 15 minutes out of the 90 min of racing.” They tell me: “You have to believe in yourself! Don’t be so negative!” My response was: a) I ended up staying in that particular race for 8 minutes, not 15, b) I’m giving myself realistic goals that I can achieve. My first race was in 2005, and there was a point when as a cat 4 I was strong enough to contend in Women’s Open races. I do absolutely believe in myself, but I also have a very realistic sense of where I am, and how far I have to go. How devastated would I have been if I had targeted staying in the race for 90 min and then got dropped at 8min? Instead I say: my abilities are limited now, but I know I’m getting stronger, and I will get to where I want to be if I keep working hard.
When I first brought up Women’s Woodstock Cycling Grand Prix to the team, there wasn’t much of a response, actually, because not many of us are pursuing road racing this season. Having previously raced without teammates frequently, I expected that this year, like many other years, I’d be driving alone and racing amongst strangers. To my big surprise though, a huge group of women decided to head up from Philly because of the enthusiasm and camaraderie built up with the help of Laser Cat Elisabeth Reinkordt and Arrow Racer Michelle Lee’s WBPHL Devo Racing program. Also, with all this rain, a MTB Race got cancelled, and at the last minute, Laser Cat Taryn decided to join after all!
I wanted to support Women’s Woodstock Cycling Grand Prix because there are few instances when a race goes out of its way to put on a women’s only race when the majority combines women’s categories altogether as an open, or somewhat better as a W123 and W4, or perhaps as a W12 and W34. Sometimes a W4 race is not included at all, sometimes the W Open is combined with Masters Men’s fields causing friction between the racers. Either the cat 3 women get the short end of the stick by having to race several categories higher than themselves, or cat 4 women get dusted trying to race even more categories ahead or they are chasing more experienced cat 3’s. WWCGP not only had a separate W12 field, but also separate cat 3 AND a cat 4 field. We women see what you did there, and we really appreciate it, as evidenced by the size of the fields! 23 women in the Pro12, 26 women in cat 3, 38 women in the cat 4!
Aside from any goals related to finishing at what point in the pack, my goal in every race is simply to finish. This might seem like a tiny enough goal, but it’s something I take pride in, the fact that I don’t give up, that I see things through to the finish, even if it is DFL. I go down fighting.
The course is has one pretty decisive factor in it, which is a giant hill climb, approximately 2 miles of 1000’ (maybe more?) elevation change. Most people play it safe until then, although I heard we dropped a few people on the one small kicker that comes as a little warm up to the Big Climb. I began the climb at the front of the pack, as I had wanted, and the pack slowly dropped me as the climb continued … with families standing on their driveways to cheer on the racers, and encouragement from these strangers to keep me pushing so incredibly hard up that mountain monstrosity. I thanked as many of them as I could through gasps of air. And then finally, the crest.
Here is when things started to go really wrong though. After the descent, I heard the cat 4 lead car pull up and pass me, as did the cat 4 women lead finishers. When we came to the intersection of where the cat 3 course turned, the volunteers did not realize that I was a cat 3 racer, and there wasn’t any clear signage for the women who were paying attention to realize that the course split there. They waved me through with the cat 4 women, and I finally realized that something was very wrong when I started to see signs for 1km to go … By the time I crossed the finish line much too early, I was frantic, I didn’t want to give up, yes I was far behind the pack, but being strong on the flats, I knew I had a chance to claw back some places. I started screaming the question at people on the sidelines: please help me find my way back to the cat 3 course – but no one could understand what I was asking. At one point one of the officials said to me: “Well, you finished too early, and I’m going to have to disqualify you.” Which broke me down into a flood of tears. Because, as I mentioned above: I. Don’t. Give. Up.
I had not driven 3.5 hrs one way and put in precious vacation time to be told that I got disqualified from a race that I did not intentionally quit. I had 20 miles left in my legs that I felt I could use. I had done training rides specifically geared towards racing for 50+ miles, I had been looking forward to this race for half a year at that point, etc etc. The disappointment crushed me down. I did manage to convince an official to at least put me in as last place because again, it wasn’t my fault that I got misdirected.
This may have been the end of a sad story, but I began to feel better as I got numerous hugs from my friends who could see my obvious dejection. AND THEN, Meesh (Bicycle Revolutions Racing / WBPHL Racing) handed me the most beautiful hand printed envelope filled with more hand-printed cards. The WBPHL Racing team had created for me a bundle of love and expressing thanks for words of encouragement, advice, maybe some drill sergeant-ing during a race, that I had given them. Considering the huge amount of time commitment by Elisabeth and Michelle and the other mentors, I did not feel deserving of this at all, and this brought on a fresh set of tears, but this time from gratitude, humility, and such an emotional roller coaster it was, actual happiness.
To give the WWCGP promoters credit, they could have shrugged and blandly apologized and said something really obnoxious like: well, mistakes happen, most of the racers were fine, etc. etc. However, they sent someone around actively collecting feedback, and people even asked for me by name to hear me out. If the promoters had been dismissive, if they had shown any signs of self-righteousness along the lines of: how dare you, do you have any idea how much work this is (a familiar refrain from other race promoters) – I may have simply given up on this race entirely. However, given their commitment to women racers, and given their commitment to improving their race protocols through constructive criticism, I have faith that next year will be better. WWCGP, I plan to come back next year, and I plan to come back stronger!