Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My revenge - 7-Dorpenomloop Aalburg, Netherlands – Part II

The second race the day after my first UCI race in Europe I knew what would be ahead of me. And I am not entirely sure if that helped.

I knew it would be fast right from the start, aggressive and dangerous with all street furniture (that’s how the street obstacles were called). Was I prepared? Well, one thing I learned from the day before is that I should be able to hang with the main group.

One big thing I would learn is how far one mentally can go.

The course was flat, like Dutch flat. The entire elevation gain of the 120km course was 98 feet. It was super windy. The race followed through a lot of towns with street furniture so paying attention was important the entire time. 

To not make the same mistake as the day before I wanted to line up early so I could start in the front but when I arrived 20 minutes before the race start it was already too late and I had to line up second to last row.

Race started fast as expected. We raced through the town of Aalburg towards the country side. We were 5k into the race. 

Suddenly on a flat, straight road I saw riders in front of me stopping abruptly and then bikes were flying. 
My back wheel slipped sideways but I was able to stop just in time. 
Others couldn’t. It didn’t look good at all. 

It took me at least 20 seconds to get through the crash to be able to ride again. I wasn’t sure how many riders were ahead of the crash but it couldn’t be that many. I started riding as hard as I could. I didn’t want to be done with the race after only 5 k!

A group of six people formed and we grew bigger and bigger as we picked up racers ahead of us. We saw the main field ahead of us. We chased. I pulled with a few racers. 

This time I was not satisfied with a chase group. My energy drained quickly. I pulled hard. I started getting  tunnel vision. The cross wind was extremely difficult but the peloton was so close! 
Follow vehicle passed us but we passed them right back because the main field slowed down in the towns. The cars were in the way so we couldnt take the corners fast and lost distance to the peloton again. 

We kept chasing. After about 15 mi we had a distance to the peloton of maybe 150 m and there was no one who wanted to pull. I couldn’t believe it so I went to the front and pulled myself to the field and whoever was behind me. 

I made it!!! I couldn’t believe that we were able to catch a group of 50 racers! But when I looked at the distance remaining, I learned another level of disbelief – 60 more miles! I was totally exhausted, how am I supposed to race the same pace for another two hours?

I was absolute last, hanging by a thread on the peloton. Any acceleration was detrimental to my goal to finish this race. 

Everything hurt. I was exhausted. Why don’t I get a flat? That would give me at least a reason to stop pedaling.

The person ahead of me fell of the peloton I had to jump to fill the gap. Where did I just get that energy from? I felt like I relived the race story of Tim Krabbe in his book ‘The rider’.

The field slowed down. Are they only doing that so the acceleration would be just so much harder?  Basically. Because it was a tailwind section before a strong cross wind section. I hate cross wind sections. I am not only exposed to the speed of the field but also nature. Two enemies! 

Then I was thinking of the legendary racer who pushed so hard during a race that he bit down to his gum line. That was my motivation for the next cross wind section. I made it. We were in another town. The field slowed down.

Where are we by the way? We were supposed to do three big laps and three small laps. Since my focus was more on the wheel ahead of me than on the course, I had no clue. Ok, how would I know how many laps still to go? 
Ah…the finish line…how often did we pass the finish line? I think twice. Or maybe three times? I forgot. 

Ok, that doesn’t help. Let’s check the distance on my bike…40 mi. Well, 120km is the race. What was the conversion again? Ok, Monika, great brain exercise to keep you entertained. Think think think...73 mi….that means we still have to race 33 miles! I had to start laughing. That was a good joke. 

OK, but Monika, you haven’t seen the broom wagon yet, that’s an improvement! You are still hanging on to the main field with some National teams. Good work! If you get dropped now you still could say that you improved from the day before, right? 

Single-file through the cross section again. How often do we have to do that??? 

Next town. The field slowed down. Feed zone. I really liked the feed zones. No one would attack. I didn’t have to worry to get dropped. I could move up without elbowing. I was one of the few ones who didn’t take any water because I didn’t need it. I didn’t have time to take my hands off the bars to drink. So my bottles were still full. 

The motor ref came by us and showed us the time of the lead group ahead of us. Three minutes. Fine by me. 

Check of the distance. 50 mi raced so far. Great, only 25 more miles. Ok, lets not check the bike computer before 55 miles. We are going 30mph right now so I will check after the next cross wind section. Deal!

54.9 mi. Close enough. Next target 60 mi. That would be 100 km. Sounds pretty far. Suddenly I didn’t like the slow riding through the town anymore because the mileage wouldn’t go fast enough. 

60 mi. Sweet. Only 14 more miles. Now, Monika, you better don’t get any damn flat! And if you get a flat, you will chase and if getting passed then motor-pace the broom wagon. I don’t care! Time is over to be weak. We are so close! It’s basically the commute into work. It’s that easy!

65 mi. I start recognizing laps. I believe only two more laps. So if I get dropped now, I still finish the race because I wouldn’t interfere with the peloton. 

Wrong thinking. How stupid does it look like to come to the finish line by yourself? You stay here with the peloton!

We are nearing the finish line. The bell should ring for the last lap. We are getting close. I don’t hear the bell! Where is the bell? Or is that an American thing? Wait, we are not at the finish line yet, that was the 1k to go arch. Ok, Monika, relax. I hear the voice from the loud speaker. Something in Dutch, then English, then German. He said last lap and ahh yes, here is the bell! Yes!!!!

Ok, last lap. What’s my plan? I could pass the entire field and try to sprint? Haha! Where did that come from? Well, something more realistic. What about not finish dead last? Ok, more realistic. 

The peloton slowed down. No one wanted to pull anymore. Only at the last corner, the field accelerated again and sprinted for the last 200m. To make sure I really don’t get dead last, I pulled my last energy together and passed some racers. 

I made it!

Out of 160 racers, 99 made it to the finish line. I got 95th. I felt like I won!

Our team car

Our team jersey

Riders lined up for the first race in Valkenburg

Racing through super small and curvy country roads

Three of us before the Aalburg race

Lining up for the second race

Few minutes before the race

Lined up second to last row :(

Our team (from left): Simon, Sara-Lena, me, Lena, Marie, Claire, Claas

Pic for the sponsor. The guy in the distance on the left was so confused what we were doing.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Racing in the Netherlands – UCI 1.2 Valkenburg –Part 1

On Wednesday, I got a phone call asking if I wanted to join a team to race two UCI races in the Netherlands on Friday and Saturday. Well, that was easy to answer – of course!!!

I took the train a day after heading towards Dortmund to get picked up by Claas, the person who called me. Besides the name I had no clue who he was.  I didn’t know anything about the races, the team or the logistics.

Claas, our team director for that race I learned later, told me everything when we were heading to Cologne to meet two of my four teammates. I knew the two already from the German Hill Climb Championship.  The team for the two UCI races consisted of one Guyanese, one American living in Belgium, one Swede (for second UCI race), and three Germans including me. 

We drove to the course in Valkenburg and did a recon by bike of the 86 km Hills Classics. The field would be stacked with a lot of Pro teams plus the Swedish, the Polish, and the Australian National Team. 

About 150 racers lined up the next day. It was sunny and windy. The first two kilometers were neutralized leading through the town of Valkenburg. But those were the scariest of all of them. The course was full with obstacles. Traffic islands, cars, curbs, road narrowings made the neutralized start to a nerve-wrecking adventure. 

And soon enough I found myself in the back. Once the race started, it started super fast. I had to move my way to a better position in the peloton. I was passing dropped riders left and right. 

After about 16 miles, I was not able to fill the gaps anymore and I got split from the front group and a group of ten was formed. About 70 racers or so were behind us. 

Although I wasn’t too happy being separated by the front group, I was happy to be in a decent group going an ok pace. It could be harder but since it was so early in the race I wanted to wait a little. 
Also, with this being my second UCI race and my first in Europe, I had no idea what to expect. Unfortunately I learned very soon that  my strategy couldn't have been worse. 

The race went through small, super curvy roads. I had to pay attention the entire time. The follow vehicles started passing us as we were a few minutes behind the lead group.

On a 40 mph descent on a narrow country road, an Italian follow vehicle passed me by inches almost took me out when it forced me into the curb. I was stunned how aggressive the support vehicles drove. Later I learned that other riders crashed into the cars that abruptly stopped.

Our group rode along the course and out of nowhere the broom wagon passed us. I was pulling at that time and the guy on the passenger seat gave me thumbs up.
I didn’t think that much about it until I realized that the girls behind me stopped pedaling. What’s wrong? Why did they stop pedaling? They were speaking in Dutch. I had to ask. 

One girl came up to me and said we were done. I thought she was joking and just tried to drop me. But then I asked someone else and it was the same answer. All of them were shocked too that we were pulled from the race. 

Apparently, although we were only a few minutes behind the front group, the refs were worried that we would be lapped by the leaders. I was so disappointed. I still had so much energy. If I had known that this would have happened I would have raced differently and wouldn’t have saved any energy. 

Later I learned that 90 racers were pulled. I wasn’t happy that it ended that way and I would take revenge the race the next day. 

I promised myself no matter what I will not save any bit of energy for some dropped group. I want to be in the main group and the broom wagon can sweep whatever it wants but not me! 

The 7-Dorpenomloop Aalburg race 24 hours later would test how serious I was.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Couldnt get more Euro

After the race last Sunday, I headed north to Darmstadt to see my grandparents. I received a bike map of the area from a friend so I could explore the area I grew up in.

Bike map with trails wherever you go

I had somewhat an idea where to go but otherwise just decided to ride wherever it looks best. Right from the start I was surprised by the great network of trails the area had to offer. The condition of the trails were excellent so I could ride as fast or slow as I wanted.
In addition to the bike map, signs displayed riding routes and distances that could be easily followed. The bike map was only necessary if I wanted to know which number a certain route was. I just had to make I don't ride outside the map.

Green bike signs everywhere with distances

Following along the countryside in sunny clear weather I came across a sign for a castle - Alsbacher Schloss. I decided to climb up to the castle but apparently followed the way for pedestrians because suddenly I found myself in the middle of a vineyard.
After a while a found the right way up to the castle.

First through the small town...

...then through the forest

The entrance of the castle was all cobbles. Respect to all racers who are racing on that for miles and miles.

Cobbles at the entrance and the courtyard
View from the courtyard

Way up the tower

View from the tower

Bike came along

After  the spontaneous sightseeing tour, I followed randomly the bike signs to new direction. After a while I got hungry but no supermarket was in sight. However, I came across a little strawberry stand and bargained with the lady for some strawberries, which were picked just down the street.

Sweet strawberries from a stand

The road took me further up a ridge where I had an incredible view over fields, neighboring towns and farms.

The strawberries didn't last long so arising hunger made me decide to turn home. I called my grandmother that I am more than ready for lunch and headed home on some dirt and paved roads. Back home, I decided that German cuisine hits the spot as recovery food.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Geislingen road race and pics

Short post today but this time with pics.
Raced a 40 mi circuit race (5x 8mi lap) today with two nice climbs. By lap 3, we were down to 6 riders. However, a racers sneaked away and the chase group was not really organized to catch her so she stayed away. It came down to a sprint and I finished 4th.

Here at the start...

Our chase group

Here a picture of the German Hill climb Championship

Thanks to Mani Wollner and Thomas Gressmann for the pics.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

German National Hill Climb Championship and more

Before I start writing this blog entry, I want to thank Olaf, the team director of Team Stuttgart and my teammates for such great two days.

Well, where should I start? Wednesday and Thursday were part of a stage race. Wednesday a criterium and Thursday a road race which was also the German National hill climb championships.

The crit on Wednesday started at 7pm. I made plans with another rider to drive 3 hours to Stuttgart. On the way to the race, I asked her every single question, one could have when racing in another country. She patiently answered all of them.

I learned that Team Stuttgart is basically a German pendant to an American NRC team. For that particular crit, I found two differences to racing in the US,  the number of laps in crits was predetermined (30 in that case), and the lap length was super short: 1km (0.6mi).
We would be about eight Team Stuttgart riders. I was excited.

The weather on the way to the course was ok until then, maybe high 40s; however, it turned to rain, then hail and then snow!!! And that in May!!! I couldn’t believe it!

Olaf handed me a new jersey and bibs. He also took care of my bike, changing wheels and tires, oiled chain and everything else which had to be done. Olaf even let me borrow some sweet deep dish wheels for the race. Wow, this was all so new to me! Everything was so professional!

We rolled to the starting line and I was standing fourth row or so of about 64 racers. And that was the only time I saw the front because two second after the start signal, there was only dust and a Monika who still tried to clip in.

There was no such thing as a peloton because the field was spilled across the 1k lap within minutes. I found myself in a chase group and stuck with it. I might also want to mention that the course entailed a roundabout which we rode 360 degree around.

Adding the rather wet conditions, it caused quite a lot of crashes. In total, I saw about five crashes in such a short race. Since I would not consider crits as my favorite races plus it being my first race in Germany, my goal was to finish safely somewhere in the middle. That I did accomplish.

After the race the support team took my bike which I wouldn’t see until the next day. We went back to the car and drove parts of the course for the day ahead – the German National hill climb championship. I had no clue what to expect but I soon was enlightened when the engine of the car made some worrisome noise. We drove up a steep climb, followed by a false flat followed by more hills. The course would then descend and make a u-turn up another super steep section with a more shallow descent back into town to the start line.

One lap was about 10k (6mi) with 250m (820 feet) elevation gain. The race had us ride 10 laps of it; thus 8200 feet in 60 miles. Well, I needed some sort of strategy to survive that. I had until 1pm next day to think of one.

After recon the team went to the sport school where we ate dinner in the community hall and slept in 2 person bed rooms. Everything was arranged for us. Dinner, rooms, breakfast. We didn’t have to worry about anything.

Next day. Still chilly (40s, low 50s) but at least sunny. We drove down to the course two hours early and watched the Men amateur TT before our race. There were also fest tents where people got hot dogs and beer and watched the races.
Getting ready with my teammates, I asked what to expect in this race compared to the crit the day before. They told me that the race would start fast again, not as fast as the crit but the attacks would be right from the beginning.

For the warm up, I was handed my clean bike, still with the borrowed wheels. I asked for a pump so I could pump up my tires. They looked at me confused. Why would I need a pump? I said I haven’t pumped up my tires yet. I was told everything is taken care of and I wouldn’t have to worry. Wow! That was pretty cool!

Finally 1pm and about 64 racers lined up at the starting line. The moderator made sure we knew who we were dealing with when he introduced the competition. A former World champion and some upcoming stars were in the field. All names were new to me so I just hoped to follow the right people.

Race start.

There was at no time any chill-out tempo and we were shedding racers by the minute. Spectators were lined up on the two climbs and cheering.

I realized soon that I could not match the climbing tempo of the leaders. However, I also realized if I go my own speed I would be able to catch them on the flats. I got dropped behind the follow vehicles and fought my way through to the front again. That was my strategy for eight out of ten laps.

We were down to maybe 20 riders by lap 5 and I saw the former World champion attack before the climb. There was a split and I was in a chase group. The course is all about attrition and thus a matter of gauging the effort so it would possible to being able to climb 820 feet elevation even on the tenth lap.

People started going backwards. Hyperventilated. Got off their bikes.

I played the same game with the chase group for another three laps when they dropped me on the climbs but I caught them on the flats. But the last two laps I had to fight by myself.

Actually not really because a few racers from the Mens’s race that start two hours after us passed me. I attached myself to the wheel of a guy with German stripes and followed them to the next climb and waved good bye.

My other encouragement was our support vehicle as it followed me patiently up the hills. I got gels and water whenever needed. I started appreciating the engine four feet behind me.

However, it was not allowed to follow me the last lap and the silence made me worry. What is if I have a flat? Who would tell me when suddenly a group of 30 catch me?

I also started losing concentration and had to force myself to focus. I was exhausted and felt the feeling of bonking coming my way. Oh no! 

But exactly that time, another male rider passed me and more or less forced me to follow him. He would accelerate and when he realized I wasn’t on his wheel, he slowed down. I was happy I could follow a wheel because my energy was draining quickly. 

Finally, after 3 hours and 46minutes, I saw the 200m sign and then the finish line, thanked the guy, handed my bike to the support crew, lie down and couldn’t believe how I just made it!

I still dont know my placement but I was told somewhere between 14th and 16th. Very happy about that.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

First ride ever in Germany

Today was my first ride ever in Germany, more specifically in the beautiful countryside of Bavaria. Everything what you would think of Germany (well, I know all non-Bavarians will protest now) was part of my ride...

The wooden country houses in small little towns...

the long unpronounceable village names...


the plentitude of happy cows...

and happy Monika...

 The Alps in the background...

Entering another town...
Perfect paved country roads and no cars... 

 And it wouldnt be a ride in Bavaria if it wasnt ending in a beer garden...


with Juergen, my former Volleyball coach.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

From Turkey Hill to Germany

Wow, time flew by, only 4 more days and I am sitting in a plane on my way to Germany!

The past weeks have been crazy. Big changes are on the way unrelated to cycling. Cycling had to take a step back. But that didn’t mean I didn’t race.

I actually just had a great race at Turkey Hill a week ago. The course is super challenging with the “wall” one climbs up nine times in the Men 3/4 race which I did. The first 3 or 4 times might not be “too” hard but with the sixth time, I really had to watch I don’t fall backwards. It must have been hard because out of 100  racers, only about half completed the race. I was happy to finish with the peloton.
Results are here: http://www.usacycling.org/results/?permit=2012-1766
and some pictures: Pictures

Now with Germany coming up, cycling will take priority again. I am excited and nervous. As I am exchanging emails with my new teammate she makes clear in her German way that racing in Europe is different but spared me any details! Great! That was exactly what I wanted to know!

I guess I have to wait to find out next week. After arriving on Monday and travelling jetlagged on Tuesday to the race and sleeping in a gym (according to team directors email), I will face my first European race on Wednesday.

This stage race does not seem too unimportant either because the Thursday race includes the German hill climb championship as well.

I wonder if the 6 mi Virginia hill climb championships in Wintergreen were good preparation or if the German hill climb championship involves racing up the Zugspitze, highest peak in Germany. Haha.

Whatever comes, my plan is to write as much about racing in Germany as possible. We will see how much that will be. It could be as long as a dissertation or as short as: screw that!