And now, the long anticipated race report....
Tela, Wheeler and I flew down on the Saturday before racing started on Wednesday to get some track time before the big day. Even though I have gone to nationals 4 times in LA, the track still freaks me out! I probably averaged at least 25 mph during our first "get calmly used to the track" session. Why, you might ask? At 250 meters and 45 degrees in the banking, you have to maintain a minimum speed of about 17 mph or face the humiliation of sliding down the track. It also helps to have new, gripping tires - wearing the same tires you've raced all season at Marymoor simply won't work. Add that with nervousness of the event and a week of taper - you bet I had the fastest warm up of my life! (And yes, I did spend hours of gluing with Jennie by putting on new tires on all of my race wheels.)
A couple more days of track time definitely calmed my nerves and by Thursday I was ready to go. First up - scratch race heats with the top 10 of each qualifying into the final. Shelley Olds proved the right wheel to be on in the final laps and we easily cruised through for top placements. But as long you achieve a top 10 placement in the heat is insignificant.
Next up - the 3k team pursuit. This is the event we've been focusing on. Unfortunately with Kendi away at Whitman for the past month, Wheeler and I had been doing the efforts minus one person. Once Kendi arrived in LA, we were able to nail down our exchanges in the training sessions a couple days before and went into the race confident and ready to go.
I started, Kendi second and Wheeler third. Call it nerves or something but my start was blistering fast and I looked back to see I had created a small gap. I toned it down to make sure we didn't blow up in the first lap. This is an event where you have to finish with all three women - if you have gaps between you then it makes it that much harder and slower. Toward the end of our go, a little gap started to open between Kendi and Wheeler once I pulled off - so I slipped in between them, giving Wheeler a little more time to rest the finish. We posted a time of 3:54 - a 3rd place podium finish! (First consisted of World Champ Sarah Hammer, National and Pan/Am champ Dotsie Bausch and National Champ and Junior World medalist Kim Geist with a time of 3:34, setting a national record. Second was the Proman squad (Higgins, Olds and King) with a time of 3:41.)
We still had business to do - the scratch race final. I'm not sure what the rules are as far as team tactics in a track race - but if you could have seen the scratch race in person you might have mistaken it for a crit. Proman was countering attack after attack and sitting in the chase group and slowing down any forward progress of catching those off the front. In a well timed attack, Shelley Olds went off the front of the group solo and lapped the field, securing a consecutive scratch race national title. Even the announcer was calling the obvious team tactics and as a rider in the field, it was frustrating. But that's racing and lesson learned - if you can't beat them, keep trying.
On the way back from the track, we gave Bobby Lea a ride back to the Redondo Beach house we were staying at and he offered some amazing advice into track racing. Coming from an Olympian and Scratch race winner that night, I really took to heart what he said. I find myself in complete amazement of being surrounded by such accomplished track stars - I can't think of any group of people who could possibly lend more insight into this sport.
Friday was the individual pursuit. I had a good ride and did a personal best - placing me in 5th! A couple of things to note though - my opening lap is as fast as Sarah Hammer's. I've tried and for some reason can't dial down my opening effort. I have two options - either figure out a way to start slower so I can have a more consistent effort for the entire 3k or build up my capacity so I can maintain the blistering fast pace I start out with. Option B sounds better, what do you think?
After a solid night's rest, it was back to the track for the 50 lap points race heats. The first heat was stacked - with Hammer, Olds, Cliff-VanRyan, Williams, and several others battling it out for the top 10 spots to qualify for the final. Kendi and I were also in heat 1. A decisive mid-race move containing 5 women who lapped the field, left the rest of us to qualify by sprinting for points. With 3 laps to go, I came up to the front of the field alongside Hammer. I could sense her getting ready to take off and as she sped up, I fell in line right behind her. Rounding corner 2 seated right behind Sarah in the last lap was the hardest I think I have ever gone on my bike. The last few laps were definitely a highlight of my season.
The 100 lap points race final was a few hours later and the plan was to watch the main players and wait for the move. With 10 chances to gain points, I sat in for the first couple of sprints and then watched as a perfectly timed attack from Sarah and Shelley went right before my eyes. I was on it - but with the slight hesitation I had, couldn't quite close the bike length gap between myself and Shelley for a decisive move that cost me the podium. I spent 3 laps in la la land - spending a HUGE amount of energy and couldn't quite close the small gap. Sarah and Shelley ended up lapping the field. I drifted back to the field exhausted, deflated and generally bummed out. Negative thoughts started drifting into my head - I was emotionally ready to break. But then I was able to gather myself back up, thanks to Jennie shouting encouragement from the side line, and scored a few more points. I ended up getting 9th. Looking back on it now though - I was so close to the podium that the woulda coulda shoulda's have been played over and over in my head. But at least I went for it.
The final day of racing had a demonstration women Madison. Another 100 laps. Christine and I partnered up for the event and, how do I put this lightly, got creamed. We finished 6th out of 10 teams. Unfortunately we weren't really in the mix with the top 5 teams to contend for any points - so it came down to the final placement on the last lap. It was fun participating in the first event for women at Nationals but my competitive edge has left me hungry and eager for more.
All in all Nationals was very successful on multiple levels. I made the podium in two new events, had several personal bests and learned some tricks to stay calm while inside the 'pressure cooker.' I also had the opportunity to watch my teammates express their abilities on the track and cheer them on. Wheeler's first go at it was amazing - she definitely has a future in this sport. And Jennie's support and coaching was world class - she deserves a National Championship for that in itself.