By Jen Dial
Without incident. That was my biggest goal in the HP Women’s challenge this year. Certainly I had people tell me otherwise.
“That’s a pretty small goal,” I heard, or “30th place isn’t worth defending.”
Well, it is to me. This is my fourth consecutive try at this race. The first one saw me starved, dehydrated and hooked up to an IV on day two. The second was supposed to be revenge. It was perfect until a flat on the last day in the first kilometer of the race forced me to chase all day and lose 20 spots. That was pure heartbreak.
Last year, well, that crash was famous enough that the local media wanted interview with the cattle guard girl who had the nerve to come back and do the race again.
So, with those accolades, I set out to do what seemed simple to the lucky ones who might not have experienced some of the bad luck that bike racing can carry. I set out to finish without incident.
The attitude on the course today was one of a victory lap for those in high places. Few attacks were made and none stuck. The climb broke things up momentarily, but all was back together for the parade around Boise’s Hyde Park neighborhood. I held my breath all the way to the line.
As we geared up for the sprint all I could think was, “same time, same time.” Sounds defeatist I know, but one has to have realistic goals, especially one who has seen things crumble just when the going looks good.
We sprinted across the line, and having become quite aggressive in the last lap I was in a nice spot to see my teammate Ren pick up 6th place. There were hands up, cheers, yells, fans screaming, riders embracing, and autographs being signed. My little buddy Thaddeus from yesterday’s crit brought goodies for the whole team; official Idaho Spuds candy bars. All I could do was breathe.
While the cheering and post race mayhem was roaring, I took a deep breath and a sigh of relief. I made it without incident. Ahh.
June 23 – Crit racing in America
Criterium racing is the white bread and “I can’t believe it’s not butter” of American bicycle racing. We cut our teeth on races around town squares in rural neighborhoods. We learned the art of steering and countersteering through trial by fire; do it wrong and risk getting screamed at by the local crit dog.
The crit in the stage race is a bit of a different animal. Here at the HP Women’s Challenge there are riders from all over the world. Some have rarely seen a criterium but stay in the race because they are so strong. Then there are riders who specialize in these who have been hiding in the pack all week waiting for their turn at the race of turns.
The Statehouse Criterium is classic; the eight corners are all rideable, which is to say you can pedal through every one. It’s the speed of the course and the pomp and circumstance that make this criterium the highlight for Boise spectators.
Each rider signs in on a stage and receives a flag from their origin country. Then, as is the tradition, riders find a kid on the course to give their flag, making one kid their own special fan for the day.
Thaddeus was sitting alone reading a book when I came up to him.
“What’s your name?” I asked him.
“Thaddeus.” He said. He’s in second grade.
“You’re pretty studious, Thaddeus,” I joked. He actually understood. I picked a smart one.
I explained that I need a special fan for the day and gave him my flag. Then it was off to the races.
The crit itself was mercifully slower than last year, and I tried to maintain without incident. When the race was over Thaddeus paid a visit to the cars to meet the team. He said he’d been watching for me, picking out my green helmet every lap. This is one smart kid; he’ll probably be in charge of Hewlett Packard someday.
With the crit over with, and the lead sewn up, those of us filling the money spots below tenth can only hope that Saturn is looking for a victory ride into town tomorrow. I will be holding my breath all the way to the finish line, knowing all too well that it ain’t over until the big guy hands out the jerseys in Hyde Park.
June 22 – Sweet Revenge
Revenge is sweet, and there’s none sweeter than the revenge I exacted on Mountain Home, Idaho, this afternoon. After 97 sweltering miles over flat to rolling terrain, a couple sprint lines and a lot of car feeds, I sprinted to a 10th place spot.
The past week and a half was full of questions for me surrounding last year’s cattle guard escapade on the way to Mountain Home. I rode the last miles of that race in the med van straight to the Mountain Home Hospital. This year there were no cattle guards on the course, which was both different and longer.
The forecast today was for heat, and it didn’t disappoint us with temperatures over 100 degrees. I was personally in the caravan taking on bottles from 20 miles into the race, and the rest of my team must have set a new record for feeds taken in a single race. At least none of us are in the med tent with the needle again!
From the gun there were riders trying to pull off their best impression of Jacky Durand. Saturn informed us nothing would go, so there were mild attempts during hot sprints and mountain sprints, but nothing serious would take.
The race really heated up at about the 25k to go mark, when it seemed the leadout was taking shape. This is just about the earliest I’ve seen in a women’s race, but after all those bottles I was ready to go.
At about 5k to go we hit a hairpin turn and, my favorite gravel road. I started thinking cyclo-cross and moved my way to the front. As the kilos ticked away I thought about last year’s ride to Mountain Home, and how I couldn’t even watch the race with that big bag of ice on my face.
Things began to sort out and it was clear that Saturn was making a train. I jumped aboard, a passenger without a ticket. As we cleared the 500-meter mark, I thought about the podium, and how sweet it would be to wave to Mountain Home from there.
Like the lucky train poacher who rides ticketless and doesn’t get caught, the serious sprinters didn’t punch my ticket. They went, I followed, and the result was a free ride and sweet revenge. Hello Mountain Home, I’m back, and thanks for getting rid of those cattle guards!
June 21: On Dragsters, race fans and cholate chip cookies
There is no more fitting way to end a race against the clock than on a drag racing track, where you can see the seconds ticking off as you take a lap. Though certainly not the fastest vehicles on the Firebird Raceway outside Boise, the usual speedsters turned in the quickest runs of the day.
I hate time trailing…more than anything in the world. I love climbing though, and this course held a little more water for me as it turned up the famous “Freeze-Out Hill”, known more for its inclusion in the final stage into Boise. I thought of it as my only hope.
I thought it would be good for Jeannie too, since she is such a stellar climber and TT rider I saw it as her advantage.
Funny bikes didn’t even look like they would make too much difference when it came to sheer climbing, and it always makes me feel a little better when TT gear isn’t needed.
Unfortunately the hill only looked long, and the last 10 of the 15 kilometers of the course were actually slightly downhill towards the speedway.
I started mid-pack, and neither passed or got passed. That’s how I judge my day in a TT; if I don’t get passed I’m happy.
Jeannie blew into the track with the fastest time all day until Lynn Bessette came by with a few seconds on her.
After the race the Office Depot team got to hang out in the VIP tent since the Office Depot crew was sponsoring the day. We had some treats and headed to the awards tent to talk with Jeannie about her ride.
“My right leg was wood,” she told me. Pretty good ride for having a wooden leg.
A whole carload of tiny kids on a string from a local day camp came to watch the awards. Jeannie promptly snatched a tiny girl and sat her right on her lap. I thought the kid would scream. She had no idea who this little woman was. Even funnier was the confused look on the little girl’s face when her new pal had to go to the podium.
Abandoned, the little girl camped out on the chair in the shade, unaware she was just sitting in the lap of the world’s greatest cyclist.
As soon as awards were over we high tailed it to the hotel. For a day with a half-hour of racing, we sure ended up spending a lot of time, getting us to the hotel not much earlier than yesterday after 97 miles.
Now I’m sitting in the hotel in Boise, waiting for the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. They are becoming a tradition to some of us who have come to this race a few times. I wait until I smell them, around four in the afternoon. Then I skulk out to the lobby where I dodge team managers who give the evil eye to riders eating cookies.
Hey, if I’m going to ride 688 miles in 12 days, I can eat cookies!