Madera Stage Race Women 35+
Michele Heaton 3-12-11
It was a fun experience for my first Stage Race. I decided to race the Masters 35+ and was excited to see a very strong field of 24 women registered including the Crit. and TT District Champ last year, National Track and Crit. Champs, 1 World Champ MB, and an all round group of solid and experienced racers. I knew going into it I had no chance for the overall with no TT equipment or training. My goals were to do my best in the Crit. and Road Race, get to know my competitors and get in some good training at the end of a 3 week block of Build.
I found myself pretty nervous before the Crit. My mind seemed to shift from “wanting to finish well” to just “not wanting to crash.” As it turned out the race felt pretty safe and had fun dynamics. We had 1 team of six, 1 team of 5, 1 team of 3 and 1 team of 2. I actually got to experience race dynamics in play! On the last 5 laps I moved towards the front where the team controlling the race was sitting. I heard them talking to each other, one launched an attack and the others immediately started blocking. I waited for a bit and watched the gap widen. I decided this may be their tactic for the win and decided to jump. I bridged up, recovered a moment and pulled through hard for 1/4 of a lap. When I signaled for her to pull through she just sat there. I said, “Are you going to work?” No answer. So I eased up a bit and had to think about what to do now. I sincerely doubted I was going to have any chance of beating the pack with 3 laps to go. If I did make it I would be dragging her to the line for the win anyway. I waited for the pack and tried to recover as we now were down to 3 laps with her and now another woman off the front. The pack reeled them in on the final straight away and I finished 5th (same as winning time), which I was happy with. Unfortunately there was a crash early in the race when a woman in a 3 person break clipped her wheel in a corner. I find this part of racing to really go against basic human nature. It’s very hard to ride by a woman in the road not moving. It feels horrible. Shouldn’t the race stop, make sure she is taken care of and then go again? After a trip to the Hospital we learned she had separated her shoulder and they were still looking at her brain for a head injury. She may need surgery on her shoulder. She had just returned to racing after a broken pelvis from a crash last year.
On to the TT. Yikes! Saying you don’t stand a chance without a TT bike and gear is an understatement. Only 2 of us in the race were on our regular bikes. I didn’t have any gauge to measure my effort. No speed, heart rate or power info to focus on. I don’t think I would go so far as to buy a TT bike next time but I would maybe borrow some wheels, a helmet or get some clip on arrow bars. At the very least I would use my power tap or heart rate monitor. The last time I did a TT effort was Swanton 1 year ago. It really hurt the hamstrings and low back so I just tried to keep the cadence high and not hurt myself too much for the road race the next day. Needless to say, no one needed to worry about me after the TT (17th place.)
Next day’s road race I rode pretty conservative. I was my third night of practically no sleep and I didn’t know what to expect from the race. I was too tired to be nervous. It didn’t feel hard and I never felt worried about getting dropped. I focused on safety through the bumpy section. After watching 1 woman drop out with a flat and then the woman in 2nd place by 2 seconds drop out because her bottle cage came loose and fell into her chain ring I just didn’t want to flat, crash or ruin my bike/new wheel. Women began to gap on the final rollers to the finish. Down to about 8 or 9 I found myself in 2nd wheel and launched my final effort at the bottom of the last roller (200 meters.) Too early for the win but I gave a great lead out to Amy’s team mates and they got 1st and 2nd. Good pay back after the winner’s husband saved me with my wheel change when I found a wire in my tubular after the Crit. I finished with the lead group in 7th. This netted me 14th overall.
All in all I felt good about my effort. I was happy to gain 3 more race experiences and I hope it was good training. So far I love racing with the Masters women. They seem to have a bit of a different mentality. It’s strong, competitive, dynamic and safe racing. Very experienced and good bike handlers. Mostly Cat. 1&2’s unconcerned with upgrading and wanting to make it home to their families in one piece. The atmosphere is respectful and supportive. I like the attitude. I think maybe I found my nitch!