Our last race in France... this was a two day, three stage race in Burgundy. The plan: drive (without Chris) for seven and a half hours in one van with seven girls, eight bikes, seven duffles, seven backpacks and three CDs to a town about an hour past Dijon where we would meet Megan's French team. They were to show us the TTT course and then take us to dinner and finally lead us to our dormitory. Information known about the courses: 0!
At 7:45 on the dot we all piled our bags into the back of the van which was already spilling over with frames and wheels. We squeezed in the six-seater van and headed off. Before we even left Limoux, ALL six girls were passed out. Poor Megan. She had to drive in the silence (or maybe that was nicer?) for two hours until our first stop. We stumbled out, took a natural break, and then piled back in to fall asleep yet again for the next leg. This continued until drivers were switched and the sleeping became more intermittent and tensions began to increase from the sardine of a situation we were in. 6 hours straight overlapping shoulders is exhausting!
Finally we found ourselves in the town that we would find out is the central race location with the starts and finishes to all three stages. Our trusty translator, Ashley, called Megan's only-French-speaking director and we found ourselves parked in a parking lot in front of an elementary school. We were told the plan was to ride at 4:30 and we were there at 3:45...perfect! We all jumped out and unloaded our bags to change. Ashley had disappeared and we finally figured out that not only was the French team not yet here, but we weren't riding until 5:30. Ok, we roll with the flow. I mean that's half of bike racing - adaptation. We waited patiently, fixing our aero bars and pacing around. But then come rolling the hunger growls.
As we decide to start stripping in this open parking lot, school lets out. More than a few kids had their first lessons in human anatomy! There were only two doors to change behind so the rest of us just dropped trou in the middle of all the commotion. Have to do what you have to do...
We eventually saw not only the TTT course but the "crit" course. The "crit" was 3.7km around and we were to do it 20 times. So this "crit" was really a circuit race. The course was cool. The front stretch was flat with a short drag until it flattened out again and we turned a sharp right under an overpass and uphill. The backside had a stair-step feel with two relatively tame hills and then a steeper kick before a screaming downhill into a very sharp (and gravel containing) right turn. After the right turn there is about 500 meters of flat into a round-about where we turn right to find ourselves on the finishing straight about 600 or so meters from the line. The course was complete with three cobble stone barriers on the front stretch (1 mini roundabout and two curb like things) that were ridable but that everyone avoided like mad. The TTT course was AWESOME! The first third was straight and flat with parts of false flat (uphill and downhill). This section was a very high speed section. Then we take a right hand turn to head back towards town and the technical fun begins. There are several turns, short bridges that must be crossed (two turns total) and little power kickers including the last three hills of the crit course and the fast right hand corner that follows.
Dinner was good, albeit, late and we finally discovered information about the road race which was the first stage. Up until now our only information on the RR was that it was hilly and 107km. Now we find out that there are 8 significant hills, 6 of which are QOMs. Whoopee. So now we head back to see our mystery accommodations...
Apparently dormitories are a toss up. They can be VERY bad or decent. Luckily we found ourselves in the latter. They were situated 18km away from the race town, Montbaurd, in a separate little village. We literally changed and fell into bed for a good 9 hour night of sleep. The next morning we were again to follow around Megan's team to breakfast which was not in our town but in Montbaurd. That wasn't until 9:30 and then we were to race back to our dorm to change for the race. Boy were we grumpy today!
When we came back Chris had our bikes all numbered and checked over and we headed back yet again to Montbaurd. It was my turn to have a working mic so we got set up and rolled around a bit half-heartedly as our minds were focused on getting good spots on the start line. We were the first to line up, again, and secured six spots on the front line. Then the announcement came over that Jeanne Longo showed up. Woohoo! One of the best climbers/time trialists in the WORLD is here. That's going to be fun!
There was a 3km neutral rollout so when the race started I immediately grabbed the bumper of the commissaire car, learning from last time that this is the best place to be. I was fighting girls for about 1km until I had established that I was NOT moving from my spot. Over the radio I hear Amanda go, "that is Jeanne Longo, just so you guys know". Out of the corner of my eye I see the French National TT skinsuit on my left out in the wind. She pulled up next to the car and held on for bit. Then she squeezed next to me. Dilemma: show respect by letting Jeanne have some of my much-desired bumper, or hold my spot and keep her out in the wind. I decided on the latter for two reasons: 1) she was soon going to be tearing my legs off on the climbs so in my mind, I needed that bumper more than she did, and 2) if she REALLY wanted to bumper, she would take the bumper (and I would have no say in the matter). So I held my position and when the race started I found myself on the front pulling the 85 or so starters. That was a new experience! I had Jeanne Longo sitting on my wheel while I set tempo. Terrifying but oh so cool!
I held good position for the first 10 or 12 km. Then, just as I was in the middle front of the peoloton, someone on the front shot across the road to the left and caused mayhem. The girl in front of me got her front wheel slammed and her rear derailleur proceeded to get caught in my front spokes. We both managed to keep it upright amazingly and caught the field before the first climb. I made it up this one with the group, check! Then hill #2 came... the first QOM and one of the steepest climbs of the race. Kaboom!! I went as hard as I could and found myself getting dropped by the front 25 or so. I made it over the top and started this long descent where I could see the front group way ahead of me (how torturous). I was pounding on the pedals and tucked as much as I could and got my speed up to about 55km/hr. There was still no oxygen in my brain and at one point I looked down at my SRM to see if I was putting out any power at all AND RODE RIGHT OFF THE ROAD. Note to self: keep your eyes up when the brain is not working and you are flying at 50+km/hr. I managed, again, to keep it upright and onto the road.
Then I settled in for a chase. I caught and ESGL93 rider who proceeded to suck my wheel for the entire 85km left in the race. We were caught by another smaller chase group included Ashley. We started a rotating pace line but were quickly getting worn down by a few riders who were too panicked and didn't understand how to pace line. Eventually we were caught by more stragglers and Jo ended up in our group as well. So now we have 3 Americans and about 20 other girls. All three of us started working on the front - we had to make the time cut. The entire race was like this (basically a TTT for 85km, or so it felt). We were definitely the smoothest team and we controlled quite a bit of the efforts.
At about 25km to go we ended up riding away from the group on this climb. They were slowing us down and we decided to go for it. We were joined by four other riders: the same ESGL93 rider, a Futuroscope rider (UCI team), a Beglian rider and some unknown French rider who we lost soon after to a flat. We had a good rotation going but all three USA girls were definitely tired. After getting lost about four times (we were abandoned by all motos and corner flagspeople) we made it to the 10km mark and were caught by some girls from the group we had dropped 15km before. They completely screwed up our working pace line and I got pissed. I went to the front and started to drill it.
We saw 3km to go and Ashely comes up next to me and asks if I want a lead out. For 50th place??? I said no but then girls started to act like they were setting up for the sprint and I was like, well hell. I pulled this whole race, I'll be damned if they sprint me for 50th. So I yelled to Ashley to go for it and at 1km to go she put the hammer down. Immediately the ESGL93 rider and the Futuroscope girl grab her wheel. Perfect! I was still pissed that the girl who had sat on my wheel and this other girl who hadn't done nearly as much as I had were sprinting me but now I had them right where I wanted them. My legs felt dead but I was motivated. At the 200 meter mark both girls jumped off to either side of Ashley. I followed the Futuroscope rider to the left and waited until 150 to go then jumped off her wheel and smoked them. Booya! I took 42nd place! (?) It felt good to sprint but I was disappointed with being 26 minutes down from Jeanne Longo (who soloed for the win, shocker).
The next day our TTT time was 9:58 so we decided to ride to the start for our warm-up. It was very cold and we got to the start a little early so we waited around for a bit getting radios set up etc. We lined up, the back 5 girls holding the fence and the first rider getting a seat hold. We started off really, really well. We got our speed up quickly without gapping and started rotating. Our speed was very consistent and our rotations were smooth. Chris was delighted on the radio. Unfortunately Jo's legs were really tired from the day before so when she was done, she dropped off and the five of us continued. Honestly I thought that might be me but for some reason my legs felt really good. The rest of the TTT hurt like hell but was SOOO much fun! We ended up taking third place behind Longo's team (shocking again) and a UCI team. This secured us 200 or so euros and a follow car for the circuit race.
We ate lunch in the elementary school's cafeteria and then lounged around resting until our 2:30 start time for the circuit race.
Again, we all got spots on the front line (behind the jersey holders) and were all over the front of the race.
We covered attacks and made several of our own. Amanda trailed around behind Jeanne to cover her and the rest of us monitored anything else. We were all tired but I'm proud of the way we rode. At about 8 laps to go some girl attacked and although I knew she wasn't a threat I jumped to bridge to her. I was near the front and the same girl who I went off the front with in Chamery (the TT champion) came with me. She had other intentions: a break away with just us two. She pulled around me and encouraged me to go with her. I sat on her wheel for maybe 10 seconds.
My teammates were encouraging me over the radio and I came on saying I had nothing. My legs were COMPLETELY shot and there was no way I could sit on her wheel doing 300+ watts for 8 more laps. I shot back through the peloton yelling in the radio that someone needed to go with her because she was going to go for good. No one had the legs so she soloed to the win followed by another rider who attacked on the last lap. Chris told us to become a sprint team and do a lead out. I found Amanda's wheel and her and Devon pulled an amazing lead out. Unfortunately I was unable to keep their wheels and got swallowed up. I stayed on until the last corner and then got jostled around. This was my first experience with a lead out and I feel that if we had had a few more times to practice I would have gotten it down.
Overall it was a long two days (and my first double day, excluding Madera, which in this case cannot compare - sorry Dan). I was happy with Sunday and still a little disappointed with Saturday but I now know what work I have to do and how fast I need to be. This was a tremendous learning experience and an absolutely fun time.
Thank you all for being interested and reading my VERY long reports.
I am back in the States now but am looking forward to returning to Europe in the future. For all of you riding, keep the rubber side down. For everyone else, enjoy the spring and (hopefully) better weather!