Monday, May 11, 2009

Tour of the Gila, 4/29-5/2/2009

Abridged version: I went to the Tour of the Gila. I had a great first day. I had a good second day. Then I started to poo. A lot. Then I had a bad third day, in which I rode my bike too slow. Then I had a terrible and embarrassing fourth day, in which not only did I ride my bike too slow, but I also thought I felt something bad in my shorts and rode around too slowly in front of thousands of people, possibly with something bad in my shorts, and then had to lie in an alley until I could get back on the bike long enough to get home. Then I drove back to Albuquerque via El Paso and did not race the last day.

Bear the Cat: Ominous, or Cute?

Unabridged version:


It started out well enough. I was trained, I was rested, my equipment was in perfect order. A world-class field showed up ready to race: Kristin Armstrong, fastest woman in the world (on a time trial bike she won the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics, which indeed qualifies her as the fastest female cyclist in the entire WORLD). Alison Powers. Webcor Builders Women's Professional Cycling Team. Value Act Capital Cycling Team. Colavita. Lip Smacker. Awesome.

On Day 1 I felt fantastic. I sat in. The pace of the race became faster and faster after the feed zone. I took a pull to test out my legs.
Prognosis: Great.

Colavita Girl: "You know you're doing Kristin Armstrong's work right now."

Me: "That's OK, I'm not working too hard." (What I wish I had said: "Yeah, you know, we're top-secret teammates. She begged me to help her.")
Colavita Girl: "Well there's a whole lot of girls back there who are working even less than you." (What she would have then said: Oh my god! YOU'RE Kristin Armstrong's top-secret teammate?? I heard rumors but had no idea your _____ (butt/legs/nose, not sure how this one goes) was so... big!")
In road racing there's always someone who's smarter than you and has time to tell you about it. This is different from mountain bike racing, where we all just ride, suffer as hard as we can, and only talk if there's something REALLY wrong (e.g. "GET AN EMT!", "GET OUT OF MY WAY!", or, "I'M ON ANTIBIOTICS!").

And then I did something really smart. I hung on to the fast girls for dear life up the beginning of the Mogollon climb. I worked just a bit harder than usual knowing it would let me sit in a little bit for the false flat of the mesa before the last four miles steep miles of climbing. After the sitting in was over the crazy steep stuff began. I buried myself and ended up 19th. Considering the field, I was extra pleased with that finish, and was even more so when I saw that based on my time back, my climbing would have been good enough for a top-10 finish last year.


My friend Rebecca came down to the Gila to do the Women's 3-4 rac
e. Her start was at the godforsaken time of 8:25 am on Thursday. I woke up Thursday morning and started making my breakfast, right on time, 3 hours before my 10:40 start time. I dumped my eggs into the pan and the phone rang: Rebecca. Car overheating on way to start. Unsure of where start was. Riding bike uphill toward start. I turned off the stove, drove out to find her, and we made it in just enough time for her to pick up her number and git'. I returned to eggs. Had been feeling nauseated all morning and couldn't finish my normal breakfast. Chalked it up to pre-race nerves.

Got called up to the start line as the top New Mexican. Silly. But it did let me sit there next to Kristin Armstrong for a few minutes and bask in her... fastness. She has lots of freckles on her ears. I felt great in the race and stayed with the leaders through all the uphill attacks right up to the top of Pinos Altos. Got dropped at the very end of the descent, which was new because usually I get dropped at the beginning of those crazy descents. No big whoop, got in with the second group and we stayed close to the leaders. Rode strong to the top of the Meadow Creek climb.

Colavita girl: "This isn't a mountain bike race. You have
to work with us." Hung on through the rolling ups and downs on the way to the Sapillo descent. Hung on until the very last switchback of that darn crazy descent, where I went too fast and then over-corrected by grabbing a handful of unnecessary brake and lost contact with the wheel I was on. And... that was that. D'oh. They attacked hard at the valley in the headwind to bridge to the leaders. I went as hard as I could but didn't accomplish much on my own. Was picked up by another group that wasn't real interested in catching the group ahead. Ended up quite a few minutes behind in the stage.

I got home and didn't eat much. Took Rebecca to her car and then home from the mechanic. Around 8 pm I still wasn't hungry and choked down some food. That night I found
out why I didn't feel like eating. I continued to find out why throughout the night and into the next morning, when I again choked down some food and then immediately again found out why I didn't feel like eating.


I love the optimism that makes us start races when we know better. I was shocked at how slow I rode that TT, in spite of the fact that (a) I'd been in the bathroom much of the night/morning leading up to it, (b) I couldn't produce much power in my warm-up, (c) I spent much of that warm-up in the bathroom, (d) I felt like my legs weren't moving during the race, and (e) it felt like I had a bowling ball, or two, in my intestines during the race.

Even with all kinds of aero equipment stuck to my bike and my head, my time was a minute slower than last year's, when I rode my straight racing bike without aero bars or nothin'.

I got home and wasn't feeling good. I ate some yogurt and some crackers for dinner. This is not how to eat for a stage race. I've been known to do this particular race for the single reason that I felt like eating a lot of food. This year I was not making a dent in the mountain of food I had brought.

Rebecca stylin' her skinsuit for crit time.
I learned that putting the number on the right way can make you go faster.


Oh man. I was glad I got out of bed to watch Rebecca's crit at 8 am. It was great to see her do well, get some photos, and then watch Shannon's little sister Diana win the crit with great style. It was also great to watch Kristin Armstrong standing out there watching some of the girls she helps out, who were riding in their first Tour of the Gila.
That's ~30 fast 3-4 women lining it up

Into the downhill corner

Rebecca cruisin' next to Diana, the eventual winner.
Rebecca's experiment with showing up off the couch for one of
the hardest stage races in America went pretty well, I'd say.

...But I really should have just gone back to bed after that. Instead I went back and forced some coffee and crackers down my gullet, spent the customary two hours running to the bathroom, spun my legs out, forced a bit more food down, went back to the bathroom, and went and warmed up for the race. Got called up to the line first, which was downright embarrassing at this point with how bad I was sucking. I tried to be a good sport and prayed for a slow crit in which I could represent just by sitting in. Got the celebrity treatment... there were tons of people there since Lance was racing in the Pro Men's race after ours.

I was fervently hoping not to regret my decision to show up. They called Kristin A. to the line after me. OK, so it's all worth it just to get to line up next to her. I am really not complaining. Plus I gained the opportunity to speak to Colavita girl, in which I could think of nothing clever to say but we did joke around a bit. Don't be fooled by the fact that my mouth looks bigger than hers in this pic. And yes, that IS K.A. next to me. Practically rubbing shoulders, literally. She's a pretty girl, that is just her gameface or something.

Sorry, fastest woman in the world, I'm really too busy worrying
about my drawers to give you racing advice right now.

Racing by Gila Hike 'n Bike. My 2nd favorite bike shop in the world. Thanks guys, can't blame the bike.
Oh, that's Lance Armstrong's (no relation to Kristin Armstrong) ugly RV in the background. FYI.

For me, there's really nowhere to go but down after a call-up like that. It would have probably been better to crash or to fall off the back after a shocking attack off the front, or even get kidnapped by a rabid Lance fan, or maybe attacked by a pack of wild monkeys. Instead I merely had what felt like a momentary bowel lapse at the base of the backside climb. I'd been hanging on until then, even if it was just barely, but once the intestinal seizing began I was momentarily afraid to push for fear of what the consequences might be. I am weak. I did not want to go all the way to the poop.

Laps of shame ensued... not sure how many, but my level of embarrassment was compounded by the crowds, the possibility of what might be happening in my chamois, and the ever attentive announcer calling attention to "Albuquerque's Finest." Gack. And perhaps the funniest part was that I didn't pull myself out because I was hoping they'd pull me, which would give me a chance to start the last stage. It mattered to me at that point, even though when I pulled off the course I had to go lie in the alley behind the finish line to gather what strength I could to make it to the port-a-potty. Getting up the hill to go home was even harder, especially with all the Lance-tastic fans.


I continued to feel terrible and couldn't even make it outside to watch the men's crit, which was going on all around me since the house where we stayed was essentially in the middle of the course. In the evening I bargained with myself that if I could at least eat some rice, then maybe I could race the next day.

Before I even finished cooking the rice my phone rang. A friend needed to go to El Paso due to an emergency, and she was too distraught to drive there herself. So I drove her there and that was the end of our Tour of the Gila experience for this year. No stage five, but I gained the unfortunate realization that along the
continuum of bad things that can happen to someone, my silly crit experience is pretty trivial.

The Gila problem is easily fixed by making sure I do the same preparations for next year as far as training and equipment. My Cannondale Factory Racing Team Edition Super Six was born for the Gila and my legs were ready to go. I just need to throw in some hard intervals whenever I come down with diarrhea in the future. That and maybe ride my road bike down 2 hills, instead of my customary 1 hill, at some point before the end of April.
I only wish my bad crit had been the worst thing that happened that Saturday.

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