Letters from Larssyn: Rules of the road

Editor's Note: Nineteen-year-old Larssyn Staley - the 2003 world champion in the junior women's points race - is the only American riding for the Swiss-based Andeer team. Throughout her first season on the continent,the Beaverton, Oregon, native will be sending us updates about life inthe women's peloton and providing a newcomer's perspective on racing in Europe.Two weeks ago I had my first race in Italy. After that race, I couldn’t get over the chaotic mess of the field. However, having that race under my belt, I rode in the field with ease this weekend at The Trofeo Alfredo

By Larssyn Staley – Andeer Cycling Team

Editor’s Note: Nineteen-year-old Larssyn Staley – the 2003 world champion in the junior women’s points race – is the only American riding for the Swiss-based Andeer team. Throughout her first season on the continent,the Beaverton, Oregon, native will be sending us updates about life inthe women’s peloton and providing a newcomer’s perspective on racing in Europe.

Two weeks ago I had my first race in Italy. After that race, I couldn’t get over the chaotic mess of the field. However, having that race under my belt, I rode in the field with ease this weekend at The Trofeo Alfredo Binda in Caravate.

I don’t know if the racing in Italy is really chaotic, I’m beginning to think it’s just different from back home. In the U.S. we say that you’re responsible for your front wheel, no one else. If you stick it somewhere it doesn’t belong it’s your fault, not the fault the person in front of you who might happen to sideswipe you.

In Italy, this is multiplied infinitely. It is not a question of if you will get sideswiped, because you will. You always must be in control of your bike because they don’t use brakes here and if you do you will get sent flying to the back of the field.

So here are a couple of tips.

Number one Stay in control of yourself and your bike, because you’re the only one responsible for yourself. I’ve yet to see anyone look over their shoulder before charging full bore from the right side of the road to the left or vice versa.

I’ve personally discovered that, if you first look over your shoulder you’re too late and will be swallowed by the field…

Number two When racing* in Italy you don’t use your brakes. Except in extreme cases you don’t need them. Once you get the hang of things you can begin to see paths that in America, are considered brick walls. But in Italy if you flow with the field you can move up considerable positions with no effort at all.

Number three Just to clarify things, there is no such thing as “staying” at the front. If you want to stay at the front of the field you must consciously, continually move up in position. My theory is that if you can master this, that it will become an unconscious action and then you will have mastered the ability to “stay” at the front of the field in an ever rotating position. I’ll let you know in a couple weeks, but it worked this weekend.

Racing with the big girls!
I had a new meaning of confidence in this weekend’s race. I don’t know if I had it before the race began, but I know it grew throughout the race. I felt confident both in the field and with my strength and fitness.

This weekend’s race was only ninety-four kilometers. For the first two thirds or three quarters we did the same loop ten times. It came through the finish stretch. The finish stretch was fun. With two k to go it was downhill. Just after the one-k-to-go flag, the road dead-ended into a roundabout where we had to turn right.

Following the roundabout there was a median in the road so it was tight. That road was only 200 meters or so before a quick right hand turn onto the uphill finishing stretch and just 250 meters to the finish. The rest of that loop was relatively uneventful.

For the first part of the race I rode fairly conservatively. I was always near the front but not really in the action. There was one break early with ten to fifteen women, but my teammate Bettina was in it so there was no chasing to be done on our part. Gradually, I took a bigger role in the action. I learned that if I had no fear when riding full-on, almost directly, into the round-about I described above, I could slip into a top three position with little or no effort.

I might have to ride on the median for a bit but that was a little price to pay for the benefit I’d receive. Once at the front on the uphill stretch I was set to get into any break. All the action happens at the front. It’s way more fun to take part than to always play catch-up from the back or even middle of the field… of course, just as importantly, you have to have legs as well. You have to have the legs just to maintain position and then to capitalize on it. I was actually pretty surprised at the reaction from my legs when I asked for more this weekend.

I first took part in the action by following some attacks. For a while nothing lasted more than a kilometer, but I was happy to be a player. I found not only could I go with some moves, but I could also counter things, and attack on my own.

After, I think, sixty kilometers or so a woman from Nicole Cook’s team (Safi Pasta Zara Manhattan) was alone off the front. The field wasn’t really going anywhere. There had been several good attacks very close together, so people were getting tired and didn’t want to do much. I made a strong attack and was soon with the woman from Safi Pasta Zara Manhattan. I warned her I was coming so she could hop on, but she didn’t look back and I think she thought the whole group was coming. It took her a second to get things together and work with me. We worked together and were alone for six kilometers or so.

It was just the two of us with a few lead motorcycles, a camera motorcycle, and lots of people (especially old Italian men with big bellies, in professional cycling team jerseys) cheering in Italian and waving flags.

Unfortunately we were reeled back in. Even worse was that we were reeled in with only a couple kilometers before we switched to a new loop with a 1.5- to 2-kilometer climb. This loop also went through the start finish every time. When I came to terms that we were going to get reeled back to the group, I tried to minimize my efforts knowing that the climb was coming. However, there wasn’t much I could do and I was cooked.

As the field sprinted up the first part of climb, I had a tough time of it. I stayed on top of things, wanting to regain contact with the leaders. Through the second part of the climb I started to reel in more girls. I was always with a steady stream of girls, but they were not the girls I wanted to be with.

I had used too many matches too soon and was now paying for it. After the descent and on the flat again I was in a group of maybe fifteen girls. We could see the field, and were chasing but were not making up any ground. I was very frustrated, and was beginning to regret my early aggression. Still, I was far from giving up.

The next time up the climb Kathryn Watt, the Australian from the Italian team Chirio Forno d’Asolo, charged full bore. I stayed with her and did everything I could to hang on as we caught a couple other women, one of whom was a teammate of hers. We flew by them, with only Watt’s teammate coming along.

The three of us worked together, still chasing the field, which we could see, but not reach. Kathryn and I were clearly stronger than her teammate, who often ended up sitting on. Kathryn and I worked hard, still with the hope that we could catch the field. The next and final time up the climb Kathryn once again was on the attack. Kathryn dropped her teammate and also gapped me. There were three girls just up the road: Another teammate of Kathryn’s, a woman from the Italian team, Top Girls, and one other. Kathryn caught them and the women from Top Girls hung on. I had stayed on top of things not far behind and managed to crest the hill with Kathryn and the Top Girl.

After the descent we were still chasing hard. The woman from Team Top Girls could only pull every other time and was frustrating both Kathryn and me.

Kathryn yelled at her a bit, but the woman could do nothing. I attacked with two and a half or three kilometers to go, in a successful attempt to get rid of the woman from Top Girls.

Then it was just Kathryn and me. She said, “Okay let’s work together now.”

I didn’t have a problem with that except that, without trying, in the second to last corner with the round about and median I put a significant gap between us. When I saw the gap I took it as my opportunity and charged for the finish.

Out of the last right hand corner and with 200 meters to go I looked back and Kathryn was on the chase coming quickly. I sprinted and gave everything I had left, but it wasn’t enough and Kathryn came by.

I cannot say I am disappointed with the day. I races hard, and it was the first day I really felt like I could race with the top women. All the women I’ve read about and thought were so amazing were there, and I was in the action. I’ve never had better form. However, I have to question what I could have done if I hadn’t been involved in so many moves in the middle of the race, and if I had not been off the front for so long directly before the climbing began.

After the race Michi and I spoke about it. I said that it would have been better if I had been smarter in the middle of the race. He told me I could not say that. I saw an opportunity and I took it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s bike racing.

You have to take chances if you want results.

The important thing is that I was racing. He said that right now none of the top women know who I am, so it’s good when they see that I can be a strong player and can take part. That way, someday when I’m in a break with them, they will take it seriously as a strong break that can work. The most important part to him was that I raced hard to the finish. Every time on the climb I was catching more girls, and not giving up hope. I told him this was the first time I was starting to really believe that I can race competitively with the top women in the world. His response was short, simple statement of agreement.

I haven’t seen results. I only know Nicole Cooke won. I have no idea what my place was, but I count this as a very good race. I was in the action, worked hard, and learned a lot!Ciao,