Monday, March 14, 2016

12 March 2016 Calder Steward Round 2: KiwiStyle Bike Tours Timaru Classic

Round 2 of the Calder Stewart Series, sponsored by KiwiStyle Bike Tours, was in Timaru. A chilly, distinctly autumn morning gave way to a beautiful, fine day. The course was two laps of a 55-km circuit around the quiet, country roads and undulating terrain of Pleasant Point, northwest of Timaru.

Picturesque roads of Pleasant Point.
With teammates Karen Fulton busy winning lots of gold medals at NZ Track Nationals :-) and Jessica Johnstone side-lined with an injury :-(, Susan van der Pol, Rhonda Murphy, and I toed the line for the FreshChoice Richmond Pomeroys Women’s Team. Since we had two leader’s jerseys and a top team standing to defend, we knew we had a challenging race ahead.

The Black Magic and Benchmark Homes Teams put pressure on straightaway, with Julia Grant (Benchmark Homes) and Michaela Kerr (Black Magic) especially active, putting in repeated attacks throughout the first lap. A mechanical for Rhonda whittled our team down to just me and Susan after only 15 km of racing. Susan, putting in a massive day at the office, did an amazing job covering moves and making certain we were represented in any breaks.

Susan (middle) in a break with Julia Grant (Benchmark Homes) and Michalea Kerr (Black Magic).
Just past midrace, Black Magic riders put in a flurry of attacks, opening the door for Amanda Jamieson (Black Magic) to escape up the road. Amanda’s exceptional finishing climb in Round 1 and second place standing in the series highlighted her as a real threat. Registering her race number, I responded, digging deep to bridge the gap. Soon my gains diminished and the distance between us stabilized. We stayed that way for a while: Amanda looking to me like she was pedalling along quite casually, me unable to bring her closer. Eventually, I think she decided to put in some solid pedal strokes and disappeared up the road.

Heading into the first climb.
I looked behind to assess my situation and was somewhat bewildered to find the bunch was completely out of sight. With 45 km remaining in the race, I had a difficult decision: sit up and wait for the bunch or carry on riding hard, possibly sacrificing my finish should I be caught. (Other options, including lying down on the side of the road, do occur to me now but weren’t considered at the time...)
Chasing hard.
I opted for the latter and carried on, battling solo for nearly an hour. Alas, my current form wasn’t quite sufficient to maintain the effort required. Soon the bunch sucked me back in with just over 15 km remaining to the finish. No chance of catching Amanda, however. She remained out of sight, finishing over 3 minutes clear of the bunch, and showing some outstanding form and grit in the process.
Solo finish from Amanda Jamieson (Black Magic).

Once I was back in the bunch, Susan was immediately back on patrol, giving me time to recover for the sprint. With the last climb behind us, my legs felt good heading into the finish and second place was still a possibility. Until…

A wee crash on the final corner split the bunch and eliminated me from the sprint. I was fortunate to stay upright, barely swerving to miss the splayed arm and skidding bike of one of the two riders who went down. 

Com 1.
Arrrrrrr. Putting forth a much bigger effort that I had left in my legs, I battled through the last 500m to finish 10th. The result knocked me well back in the points, but was good enough to keep me in the Master’s Jersey and 3rd overall. No room for disappointment – I had two chances for a better finish and I wasn’t able to collect on either of them. Susan put in a great finish after huge efforts throughout the race to finish 13th, and, despite missing out on team points, we held on to our second place team ranking.  

Most importantly, everyone ended up all right, minus a bit of skin for two. Nelson powerhouse Michalea Kerr repeated her fifth place in Round 1 to keep her in the U19 jersey. Well done to Amanda, Michalea, and the Black Magic team for great riding.

What?! How cool are these pink lambs cheering us up the climb!
Big thanks to series sponsor Calder Stewart, race sponsor KiwiStyle Bike Tours, and team sponsors FreshChoice Richmond and Pomeroy's Coffee, race photographers Chris Sexton (Faction Photography) and Sandi Scott, and our awesome team manager Craig Murphy. Round 3 is in Nelson in August after the winter break. The next race for the FreshChoice Richmond Pomeroys Women will be the GrapeRide on 2 April in Blenheim.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

21 February 2016 Calder Steward Round 1: Kings Electrical Hanmer to Kaikoura Classic

Thanks so much to everyone for all the wonderful messages of support over the past week. After a bit of a break from cycling, it feels pretty good to get back into it with a win! 

Calder Stewart Series Leaders after Round 1.
We had almost perfect conditions for cruising along the 100 km of beautiful road between Hanmer and Kaikoura. The race was the first round of the Calder Stewart Elite Cycling Series, a six-race series around the South Island of New Zealand. The Calder Stewart Series, previously Benchmark Homes Series, has been hugely influential in developing team based racing in New Zealand. 

 I last raced the series in 2010, when each round was one race with teams generally fielding one or two female riders – if that. The series has now evolved into three separate races: elite, masters, and women – most exciting being the growth in women’s cycling, with the series attracting enough quality women’s teams to support our own separate race. And it’s only getting bigger!

After a frustrating season last year, I had some time away from cycling for a while. Gentle pressure and encouragement from long-time teammate Karen Fulton got me motivated to get back training. I had six weeks to find enough form to make it through Round 1 – dauntingly, with big climbs and constant undulations, the most challenging course of the series. It’s just as well that my local cycling club, the Tasman Wheelers, offers outstanding local racing to help me push my limits! 

Come race day, I lined up alongside FreshChoice Richmond Pomeroys teammates Karen, Jess Johnstone, Rhonda Murphy, and Susan Van der Pol, feeling a bit underdone. An obvious strong presence in the peloton was the New Zealand Women’s Road Development Team, Black Magic. This is the second year of the Black Magic program. I’m pretty stoked to see young female roadies finally getting a pathway for development in New Zealand.

Several teams were put under pressure early when a dangerous break containing the strong combination of last year’s series winner Sharlotte Lucas (Benchmark Homes), Jeannie Blackmore (Vidasana Thule), and Michaela Kerr (Black Magic) escaped up the road. No sooner had we them brought back did Kim Marshall (Cycle World Fairweathers) put in a big attack and disappear. With the challenging terrain and over 60km left to race, a single rider posed little concern. However, when Black Magic’s Michaela Drummond bridged the gap, the move turned into a threat.

The peloton waned and waxed and waned again, as the toughest part of the course taxed weary legs. Some hard efforts by key riders on the front, assisted by the challenging terrain, saw the two riders brought back into the fold with a little less than half the race to go. 

A moments rest and, keen to show some world-class form, Drummond zoomed off again. When Kerr made a move to join her, I saw the opportunity to take some pressure off my teammates and we soon had a break of three. We immediately started working well together and, with no response from the bunch, were quickly out of sight, at one point two minutes up the road. We worked together for over an hour, battling strong winds heading into Kaikoura.

 At the base of the final climb, the bunch was closing fast. I kept a steady pace on the climb, expecting my breakaway companions to come zooming past at any moment. The tortuous bends of the climb kept the finish concealed until the last moment. The line in sight, I felt the pressure dropping off. A quick glance behind. I had time to savor this one. I have to say, this was one of my most satisfying (and unexpected) wins. My last visit to the course in 2010 was also a win so it felt doubly exciting to repeat. Behind me, Amanda Jamieson (Black Magic) stormed up the hill with amazing speed to steal second while Drummond held on for third and Kerr fifth – a big shout out to both of them for some really gutsy racing.  

Credit for my win goes to my FreshChoice Richmond Pomeroys Coffee Team: Karen, Jess, Susan, Rhonda, our awesome Team Manager Craig Murphy. Big thanks to series sponsor Calder Stewart and race sponsors Kings Electrical and Ocean Ridge Kaikoura for making a great start to the 2016 series, and Enthuse for outstanding media coverage of the race. Next up, we head to Timaru for Round 2 on 12 March.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

18 April 2015 USA Criterium Nationals, Greenville SC

Awesome team race announcement designed by teammate Nicole Mertz.

Greenville South Carolina put on an excellent day for the 2015 US Pro Criterium National Championships this past weekend. Local Greenville bike shop Pedal Chic – the first female-specific bike shop in the US – helped to make the event amazing for the female racers, hosting a fabulous meet & greet on Friday night and a pamper tent to help us freshen up and recover after the race on Saturday. While our race result was well below expectation, we came away from the event feeling fortunate and grateful.

Shop owner Robin Bylenga in front of Pedal Chic in Greenville SC, the country's first female-specific bike shop.
To help us feel further special, host Valerie Grimshaw threw us a party to ensure that we felt the support of the Greenville community.

Skylar, Sam, Yusse, me, and Nicole and the boys from Hincapie Racing with our Good Luck cake.
A cold and rainy week in Greenville turned into a hot and steamy day on Saturday with temperatures nearing 80°F (27°C). The race was aggressive from start to finish, with individual riders attacking off the front throughout the race. The relentless pace dwindled the field from 55 starters to about 16 contenders by the final lap.

Me and Sam moving up as the field begins to splinter. Photo by Scott Grimshaw
A dangerous break of three riders established late in the race, but was absorbed with about five laps remaining. United Health Care (UHC) then took control of the front, lining up their ‘Blue Train’ and ramping up the pace for the remaining laps. Sam moved into perfect position, directly behind the train, giving her the best possible shot at the win.

Sam in perfect position behind the Blue Train. Photo by Nathalie Morgan
With half a lap to go, a bad feeling induced Sam to slacken her pace and drop back a bit, relinquishing her prime position. Sure enough, on the final turn, the lead rider slid out, taking down the whole front of the peloton. Had Sam kept position, she might’ve gone down. Fortunately she missed the chaos and finished safely in ninth. Huge congrats to Kendall Ryan (TIBCO) for taking the win!
Call ups: Sam on the start line, ready to race. Photo by Scott Grimshaw.
Not so fortunately, I went down in an earlier crash. As the pace ramped up with ten laps remaining, another rider veered into me, stopping my front wheel. We both went down in a heap. I went over the handlebars, landing teeth first in a full-on face plant on the asphalt. Fortunately, the road stopped my fall… 

Awesome shot of Skylar during the race. Photo by Shane Orr
I can off extremely lucky, with a slightly loose and chipped front tooth, a giant fat lip, a broken finger, a few grazes, and plenty of deep bruises that are now blossoming into interesting multi-color designs on my skin. With heaps of crashes throughout the race, I’m grateful to have avoided more serious injuries. Sending many healing thoughts to Amber Pierce (Pepper Palace) who went down hard early in the race and was less fortunate.

New team mascot Magic helped keep injuries to a minimum.
The late race three-rider break went off while I was getting to the pit, so the pace was on when I got back in the race. My left knee took a big hit and was uncooperative about bending, I had limited use of my right hand for shifting, and my quads were not happy about working after coming to such an abrupt stop only moments before. Poor position on re-entering the race made for a mammoth effort to get to the front to help the team. Struggling, I dropped off the back with about four laps to go. Given circumstances in the final turn, I think this was for the best.

Me behind eventual second place finisher and cycling legend Tina Pic (Pepper Palace) whose face expresses how I'm feeling. Photo by Casey B. Gibson
Thank you to Fearless Femme manager Theresa Cliff-Ryan and several spectators for getting my bike up and running after my crash. I am extremely grateful to teammates Nicole and Abby who did an amazing job taking care of me after the race, and to Robin Bylenga from Pedal Chic for delivering a special care package to help me heal. Huge thanks to our gracious Greenville hosts Nathalie Morgan and Scott & Valerie Grimshaw for being amazing hosts as well as expert photographers. Along with Chicago riders Leah Sanda, Sue Wellington, Jessica Whiton, and Wendy Gaddy, Nathalie, Valerie, Scott, and the Every Woman Cycling Team made certain that we heard GO ISCorp! on all sections of the course.

Downtown Greenville. Photo by Teammate Lexie Millard.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

11 & 12 April 2015 Novant Health/CaroMont Health Criteriums, North Carolina

Race ready. Photo by Anthony James

Returning to the Southeast, we once again found some warm weather, with temps just about perfect come race time on Saturday for the Novant Health Invitational Criterium in Charlotte NC. Located in the heart of uptown Charlotte for the past twelve years, the event has special significance, being held to raise money and awareness for the Brain Tumor Fund for the Carolinas.

Skylar and Sam lined up in good position during the race.
The event also served as the second race on the National Criterium Calendar, a major focus for the team this season. Despite Skylar doing an absolutely amazing job controlling the race, our top result reflected much work to be done within the team, with Sam finishing eight.

Cooling down together post-race. Photo by Anthony James
We made up for our disappointment the following day at the CaroMont Health Criterium in nearby Belmont NC where Sam and Skylar finished 2-3, absolutely electrifying the race in the process. Yusse’s eighth place, despite a knee injury, gave us three riders in the top ten!

CaroMont Health podium: Sam, Hannah Barnes (UHC), and Skylar

Skylar’s finish was particularly impressive given that, at 16 years old, she’s required to ride junior gears. Junior gear restrictions limit riders under 18 years of age from using gears at the bigger end of the spectrum--which means that on a course like Belmont, with a fast downhill section, Skylar has a massive handicap, having to spin like crazy to stay in the pack with all the other riders on normal gears. And she does it all with a constant smile and without complaint.

Smiling Skylar awaiting the start of the Novant Health Invitational. Photo by Anthony James

Despite racing in North Carolina, our home away from home for these races has been in Greenville South Carolina where we’ll remain for another week as we prepare for the US National Criterium Championships this weekend. We’re grateful to our host Valerie Grimshaw, who, in addition to being an amazingly generous host, had fresh baked and still warm chocolate chip cookies waiting for us when we returned late Sunday night, exhausted from a weekend of racing and traveling.

Our beautiful Greenville neighborhood.
Special thank yous to mechanic Pete Hill for volunteering his time to make sure our bikes were in absolutely pristine condition for both races, to ISCorp's Anthony James for excellent photos, to Race Director Thad Fischer for putting on a great weekend of racing, and to race sponsors Novant Health and CaroMont Health for making these races possible.

Clematis - one of many flowers in bloom making springtime is absolutely breathtaking in the Southeast.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

4 April 2015 Lincoln Park Criterium, Chicago IL

Race Podium: me, Daphne Karagianis, Holly Mathews

A weekend home between stints on the road offered up the opportunity to catch-up with some of my favorite Chicagoland cyclists at the  Alderman James Cappleman's Lincoln Park Criterium, Chicaoland’s first race of the season (having only just emerged from the ice-locked depths of winter!). The women’s race in particular was extra special, in remembrance of xXx rider Beth Kobeszka who was killed in 2007.

Celebrating Easter with some racing!

Chicago put on a stunner day with plenty of sunshine. Chilly spring temperatures and a solid, gusty wind brought extra challenge to the 0.8-mile (1.3km) Lake Michigan lakefront course. Repeated accelerations out of the leg-zapping 180-degree turn was all the challenge I needed for one day!

Chicago skyline from Montrose Harbor after the race.
Teammate Holly Mathews made my day, spontaneously deciding to venture down from Madison WI to join me for the race, both of us keen to clear out cob webs and get some racing in our legs before heading to Charlotte NC for NCC Race #2 The Novant Health Criterium this weekend.
All together early in the race. Photo by Warren Cycling
The race did not disappoint, panning out as one of the most exciting races of the day. Excellent teamwork from Chicago Cuttin Crew riders Daphne Karagianis, Janette Rho, and Maria Larkin animated the race early and throughout.

Move off the front by Maria Larkin, Chicago Cuttin Crew. Photo supplied by Fernanda Guzman
Additional strong riding from Ellen Ryan (xXx Racing), Anina Blankenship (Balanced: Bike Fitting), and  Christine Thornburg (PSIMET) keeping me and Holly working hard.

Holly putting in an attack. Photo  supplied by Fernanda Guzman
A well timed attack late in the race saw Daphne escape the bunch. Waiting a bit too long to respond, I launched a chase effort which, despite being extremely painful, was not enough to reel in the on-fire Daphne who took a well-deserved solo win. My pursuit gave me a hard-earned second, with Holly taking the bunch sprint for third.

Holly winning the bunch sprint for third. Photo by Warren Cycling

Chiacagoland racing allows me to stay with my favorite hosts, my parents. Big thanks to them for hosting me! Thanks also to PSIMET Racing -- I was grateful for shelter from the wind and cold in the PSIMET team tent! Rob Curtis (PSIMET) did an excellent job on the mike announcing the races, and neutral support mechanic Matt got my bike sorted out and ready to race. And of course, huge thanks to xXx Racing-Athletico and especially Kevin O’Neill for putting on a great race.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

28 March 2015 Sunny King Criterium, Anniston AL

I kicked off my US racing schedule with the National Criterium Calendar (NCC) opener The Sunny King Criterium in Anniston AL. The team posted an impressive yet bittersweet result, sweeping fourth through sixth spot. The race featured an excellent live stream with the best voice in cycling Brad Sohner. If you missed it, you can catch the race, including awesome interviews with Sam and Skylar, starting at about 6:25:00 on the feed here:

Live feed, thanks to EBOX, Matt Wilson and crew, takes lots of technology.

Typically early season US races are concentrated in southern areas of the country, where the advance of spring precedes that of the north. We certainly found warmer temps during our two-week stay in North Carolina compared with the still snowy Chicago-Milwaukee region. Traveling 5 hours southwest from North Carolina (plus an extra hour sitting in Atlanta traffic!), we arrived in Anniston early Wednesday evening to find heavy, almost sultry air so typical of the humid, subtropical climate of the Southeast.

Enjoying some Alabama sunshine before a ride. Photo by Stephen Gross - The Anniston Star

Anniston was once well-know as an important source of cast iron for sewer pipes until plastic replaced iron in the 1960s. Today, Anniston is the home of the country’s largest office chair. Yep. In 1981, Miller Furniture built a 33-foot tall office chair outside their factory. Apparently the largest chair competition is quite a hot battle, raging since 1905 with over 15 different leaders over the 110 years of competition. The Anniston chair was once the world’s largest, but that title now belongs to a 65-footer in Manzano, Italy.

Anniston's 33-foot tall office chair.

We were greeted in Anniston by our amazing hosts, Cindy and Terry Phillis, owners of the local Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers. Mellow Mushroom is familiar to many in the cycling peloton thanks to legend Laura Van Gilder.

Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers - Oxford/Anniston

For those who don’t know, Mellow Mushroom Oxford-Anniston is THEE Mellow Mushroom that started MM’s support of LVG and subsequent presence in the women’s peloton. If ever anyway near Anniston, definitely don’t miss the opportunity to stop in for a meal. The restaurant features jerseys, race numbers, water bottles, and historic cycling photos all throughout the restaurant. The atmosphere is electric. And the food’s pretty awesome as well. Amazing pizza crust!

Just some of the cycling jerseys that cover the walls at Mellow Mushroom-Oxford/Anniston

Once in Anniston we were joined by ace mechanic Pete Hill who made certain our bikes were in absolutely pristine working condition.

Mechanic Pete Hill working on the bikes. Photo by Stephen Gross - The Anniston Star

A warm day on Thursday quickly turned to chilly on Friday and downright cold by race time on Saturday with temperatures dipping into the single digits (45°F). We would need a good solid warm-up for this one! Unfortunately just as we began our warm-up, I had a fluke mechanical, maybe an object drawn up into the drive train, and my warm-up time was taken up getting my bike back up and running. Come start time I had less than 10 minutes warm up, which is pretty suboptimal in chilly conditions.

Sam off to a good start off the line. Photo by Trent Perry - The Anniston Star

With the pace fast off the line and my job starting early in the race, I was feeling pretty nauseated by about lap two, my body not at all happy with the expectations I was placing on cold muscles. The feeling persisted (intensified actually) over the course of the race, and, well, let’s just say I wasn’t feeling in top form over the course of the hour.

Me, Skylar, and Nicole patrolling the front.

Fortunately my teammates picked up the slack without missing a beat, making certain ISCorp was a strong presence throughout the race. Eventual winner Hannah Barnes and runner up Coryn Rivera (both UHC) showed impressive form, almost effortless throughout the race. With this year’s blue train leadout being led by Kiwi Linda Villumsen, UHC will be a challenge to beat. We’re up for it!

Me, Nicole, Sam, and Yusse all keeping an eye on things up front with Skylar up the road. Photo by Trent Perry - The Anniston Star

We head home for 10 days (just coming to the end of that now!) before heading back to the Southeast for another block of racing starting with NCC Race #2, the Novant Health Invitational Criterium in Charlotte NC.

Host Cindy Phillis capturing the moment as we get ready to go for a ride with host Dr. Terry Phillis. Photo by Stephen Gross - The Anniston Star

Special thank yous to hosts Terry and Cindy Phillis and Mellow Mushroom - Oxford/Anniston for huge support of this race, and to the city of Anniston, Sunny King Auto Group, race director Marilyn Cullinane.