I was just getting comfortable again back at home, enjoying time with friends and family, when my race bike started calling my name again. This time I was flying back east to North Carolina for a 3 week racing block. I’m always excited to see a new place, I had never been to the east coast, so I was excited to get a splash of the southern culture and hope I didn’t have too much angst or uncontrollable eye rolls when encountering the stereotypically conservative American southerner. I’m happy to report Charlotte is a great city with vibrant culture and well worth visiting again.
Of course, it helped that our host family guy, Jeff, had an energetic and magnetic personality and loved to bust out his banjo and guitar for some bluegrass jam sessions any time of day. My teammate, Annie, asked “what is this? Blue what? grass?” Such a youngster .
I also realized that my style of “dressing up” which amounts to putting on a slightly tighter pair of jeans and t-shirt back home, is basically inappropriate and somewhat embarrassing by Charlotte standards. Almost every person on the street, men and women, were fully dressed up like they were going to some gala event, but I think they were just watching the bike race and enjoying walking around town struttin’ there stuff. I liked the pride they took in their style and vowed to step up my own when I get home.
On to the bike race. The Presbyterian Hospital Criterium offers the biggest prize money all year. This translates to the race being very hard, fast and aggressive. With our 2 sprinters racing in Europe, Rachel (team director) figured our best bet was to get in a break and win from the break. So we attacked our asses off to try to form breaks and we worked our asses off to reel in breaks that we weren’t in. Big money crits also mean a lot of prime laps. these are like hot laps where they ring a bell and the first across the line in the next lap wins a prize. In this case a lot of money.
In the middle of the race they rang the bell for a $500 prime. That sounded pretty good to me and perhaps worth burning one of my matches for. So I attacked, I got a gap, I crossed under the start/finish banner first, and then realized that the actual “finish line” was another 40 feet in front of me. Why they wouldn’t put the finish line under the start/finish banner, I have no idea. I got nipped at the actual line because I had sat up all proud that I just got the $500 prime. The announcer then talked trash about that mistake for the next 2 laps and I almost stopped in front of him to punch him in the neck. Maybe all that anger gave me a little more juice for the rest of the race. I’m still pissed I lost that prime.
So, basically the entire hour of racing was attack, legs burning, lungs burning, get caught, get your shit together and attack again. Repeat until 3 laps to go. My last attack at 4 to go left me dangling off the front for a lap and ultimately didn’t work, so at that point I knew I had to prepare for a sprint (bunch sprint being my least favorite part of racing). I had to stay in the front of the pack, I had to start fighting for wheels, I had to quickly find my confidence and give myself a pep talk. The last lap was fast and sketchy, we came around the last corner for a LONG 2% uphill grind to the finish. There were no leadout trains to jump on, is was just a fight to the finish and a sprint of attrition. Halfway up the drag strip I got boxed in and started ping ponging bars from both sides. I tried to power through it, but the gap in front of me closed. I had no choice but to slow down, then sprint around the mess. By that point I had a lot of ground to make up. There was no way I was going to catch first and second, but third was within reach. I was digging deep, I was feeling like I was going to puke, I was telling myself I could do it, I was gaining on the 3rd place wheel, but I just didn’t have enough to come around her.
So, I settled for 4th. So close, but not quite. I know I gave it all I had. I’m still learning a lot from every NRC race I do. My biggest lesson from this race was to check where the damn finish line is!
It was an awesome race, I am absolutely loving being back with my teammates. They’re so much fun both on and off the bikes. Next race is the Sunny King Criterium in Alabama. Hopefully, I can put some of the lessons learned into practice.