Speedweek is a 7 day criterium series spread over 9 days. It starts in Athens, GA with the famed Athens Twilight Race that has over 30,000 rowdy spectators and ends in Atlanda, GA with other races in South Carolina. The races are part of the USA Crit series and the National Criterium Calendar. All the best crit riders are in attendance!
I like this series because the weather in Chicago is usually pretty crappy but it’s always 80 and sunny for these races. It does make it tough to get ready for such hard competition riding on a trainer, but the series provides great motivation for the winter, plus when you come home you’re flying! I went down there last year and did the whole series with less than stellar “race into shape” results. I spent a lot of time on the trainer this winter thinking about going back and redeeming myself.
I had some trouble finding anyone else who wanted to go with me. Then one day my cousin Lynn who is a freelance writer in Minneapolis and an all around awesome person happened to be in Chicago a few weeks ago. I asked her if she’d like to go on a road trip and to my surprise said yes! Later that same day my newly upgraded Cat 3 teammate Sarah Rice agreed to go too! This was awesome. I would have a teammate in the races, someone to split the expenses with and a support person to help with the driving. Perfect!
From the few races we did together I knew Sarah was strong and I was really excited to see what she would be able do in a national women’s field. The day before we were going to leave Sarah texted me telling me to check the weather in Atlanta. 80 degrees and sunny! We were so excited. Barely 2 hours later I got a call that Sarah had crashed riding her bike to work and was in the hospital with several fractures in her occipital bone, facial stitches, lots of bruising, and possible surgery needed! I felt awful for her. She was disappointed but honestly whether or not she was going to lose vision in her eye was more pressing than whether or not she was going to be going to Speedweek. (note: Sarah is going to be fine. She’s healing well with no surgery needed and expects a full recovery with no scarring and vision in tact.)
So that left me and Lynn. She arrived from Minneapolis via Greyhound bus Thursday night. We left Friday morning after I dropped the kids off at school.
Lynn & I about to embark on 2600 miles together!
During the 12 hour drive to Atlanta, Lynn and I traded family secrets and played the excellent road trip game “multiple choice.” You have a scenario from your life that is true, and then make up 3 other multiple choice answers that are false and the other person has to guess what really happened. Super fun and helped get us through the entire 2600 mile trip. Our first stop was at my friend and ex-Chicagoan Brian Coll’s house in Marietta, GA. His mother-in-law has a condo nearby where Brian had arranged for us to stay. Brian is the president of the cycling club that puts on the Roswell race. He’s a personal trainer and also one of the funniest and most likeable people I know!
The race wasn’t until 7:45 pm so I had time to go for a spin, stretch out the legs and get VERY nervous. I did not want a repeat of last year’s results. I definitely knew I was more fit, but was I fit enough? Once I started warming up on my powertap, I knew my legs felt great! This race has the best crowd of any race anywhere! It’s deliciously scary to be racing at night under lights with dark pockets and shadows lurking everywhere and 30,000 screaming fans! It wasn’t until about halfway through the race that I started to realize I was feeling just fine. I’d had a terrible start and had to pick my way around riders falling off the back of the pack, but I successfully fought my way up to the top third of the field. I even saw the front of the race a couple times. I felt great! I was right there at one to go when a huge pile up happened and I remember skidding for about 20 feet to avoid it (thanks Dave Pilatto for gluing my tubulars!). I got around unscathed. A group of 10 had gone ahead of the crash, and one other person snuck through well before me but I was able to outsprint the other escapees and finish 12th! It wasn’t the top 10 I was hoping for but I was happy with the result and thrilled to have avoided the crash.
The next day at Roswell, a metro Atlanta race, I was much less nervous knowing that I would be fine with the pace. The course is in a lovely historic town and except for the start finish stretch, on really narrow streets. It was an odd feeling for me to feel so comfortable riding around. I finished 16th and was a little bummed. I needed to get out of the hang on for dear life mentality and start actually racing. I knew I could do better. Per Brian’s suggestion, after the race Lynn and I found a delicious BBQ place on the course and sat outside and watched the men’s race while we ate. As Brian said, “People around here are into three things; Church, Football, and BBQ. The order varies per household”
At the Swallow at the Hollow BBQ
Lynn had some work to catch up on and Brian and I went for a ride. That night we invited Zak, an old family friend of mine over for dinner. Lynn made Norwegian Salmon and homemade bread. We had a lovely visit, and just one more thing that made the trip awesome! So great to see him!
Zak, Lynn & I
Beaufort, SC is about a 5 and a half hour drive from Atlanta. It is right by Hilton Head and is a gorgeous resort area on the ocean with palmetto trees and magical Spanish Moss hanging from the trees. We didn’t know anyone in the area so we splurged on a room at the Beaufort Inn, a lovely southern B& B that was located within the crit course.
I’d remembered the tight, narrow corner one of the short (.6 mile) course as being my demise from last year. This year I got a decent start and made the selection that shredded the back of the field. Sam Schneider fresh off a win at one of the Joe Martin Stages, and several more Tibco teammates now joined us for this race. Kristen Lasaso from Mellow Mushroom went off the front early and Sam bridged up and joined her. They stayed away the whole race. Back in the field, I felt comfortable moving around and at 10 laps to go I moved into excellent position, but on the final corner I went way too wide, not exactly sure why other than perhaps I was a little nervous of the crash happy field in that corner. I stayed clear but lost all draft and some momentum. I felt myself get passed and ended up 18th. Not a terrible result, but not satisfying either. However, it was enough to put me in 9th overall! My goal for the series was to top 10 and I was optimistic! After the race Lynn and I went back to the b&b got cleaned up, put on dresses and treated ourselves to a fancy dinner where we celebrated by eating some in season shrimp. We thought it was cool that we put some Spanish moss in our hair until someone told us it contained mites :)
Racing under the spanish moss
The race was not until 6pm, but checkout was at noon. Walterboro is only about 50 miles away so at noon Lynn (who by the way has toured her bike all over the world) got on her bike and rode over. I hung out on the veranda and caught up on work and relaxed. I could have hung out there for a week!
I was starting to get a little too attached to the Veranda and got a little resentful when it was time to go race. Perhaps it was having too much time to myself but I was officially homesick. I started to have those creepy feelings of what was I doing away from my family? I missed my kids. I missed Jason. I was sick of crits. I hadn’t gone for a spin that day and my legs felt like garbage. Bleh. I arrived in Walterboro a little less than enthusiastic. I kept trying to remember all of the people who had helped me get here, and not wanting to let them down helped me focus. The course was a rectangle with two really long sides. The short side before the start finish had two sharp corners and the whole back stretch leading into the sharp second to last corner was directly into the setting sun, blinding us, making it seem like a turn of faith and very scary. I had another race where I rode around comfortably but didn’t make enough of an effort to move up at the end, and finished in 22 place. Still in the money, but barely, and not what I had been hoping for. Disappointed, I jumped off my bike and packed up the car just wanting to get out of town. We were staying that night in Charlotte, NC at the home of our cousin Melanie, and her husband Orrin.
As we were barreling away from the race, my phone rang (Lynn does not own a cell phone, which somehow seems like a relevant part of the story) and it was a SC number. We answered and it was someone telling us that Lynn had won a 42 inch TV!!! Turns out she had bought a raffle ticket “to support the race” while I was racing and she had won! We did a 180 and headed back to the race to pick up the tv. It was hilarious and just the pick me up that we needed. We were laughing so hard, especially when the guy asked Lynn if she would rather have the cash and she said no, she’d like the tv. Lynn isn’t really a tv person, and though she does have one at home it was a super old hand me down. And how were we going to fit that thing in the car, let alone get it to all the other races we were headed to? Also, did she remember she would be taking the Greyhound back to Minneapolis and already had a bike box to contend with? Didn’t matter. Lynn wanted that TV!
We made it to Melanie and Orrin’s house about midnight on Wednesday night, and we got to hang out all day Thursday. Melanie is working on her postgraduate Pharmacy degree and her husband Orrin is a professional football player. Orrin has always been away training when we’ve been there before. He’s played for the Miami Dolphins, the Green Bay Packers, and the New York Giants. Now he’s playing for the Edmonton Eskimos on the Canadian Football League and doesn’t leave for training camp until the end of May. Melanie treated us to gourmet breakfasts and we had a lovely time hanging out and seeing a bit of Charlotte.
Cousins! Lynn, me, Melanie and Orrin
I knew the course in Spartanburg was a very straightforward course, but I needed to get out of the racing doldrums and made up my mind before the race that I was going to do something. Erica Allar backed by her ride clean team, and Laura Van Gilder and her Mellow Mushroom Rose bandits squad were dominating the overall, duking it out for first and second. Tibco was there with a full squad, but had come late in the game since they had done Joe Martin and missed the first few races. They were there to win races, pick up primes and make things hard. I thought maybe just maybe I would be allowed to get away since I wasn’t in contention for the overall, and I wanted to try. The race started and again I felt comfortable. I knew 18 laps was too early but when they called a prime I just went for it, got the prime and kept on going! The announcer started going nuts and I heard that my lead was growing! Lynn was running through the middle of the course to give me time splits on both sides of the course. At one point she yelled, “that’s my cousin!!” and almost knocked over a family in lawn chairs. All I can say was it was glorious. While I was off the front they called another $100 prime and I got that too! It was sad but not totally unexpected when I was caught at 12 to go. Apparently Tibco chased me down. I reabsorbed and tried to recover for the finish. At the end of the race I didn’t have much left for the swarm and finished out of the money. I knew I had kind of screwed my overall placing at this point but it was worth it. I’d taken a risk and failed, but I’ve never been off the front in a National Race before and I loved it! I even got a mention and picture in Cycling News!
Woke up Saturday morning to find one of Orrin and Melanie’s friends had crashed on the couch. Over breakfast, he was asking about the racing, and he said crit racing sounded like NASCAR. I agreed but it wasn’t until ten minutes later that it came out he was a real pit crew mechanic for a NASCAR driver. Apparently most of NASCAR is headquartered in Charlotte, NC, and they fly everyone via private jet to the different tracks. To be a pit crew mechanic you need to be extremely strong and coordinated. They have to wear helmet cameras and watch footage to see if they can make themselves faster. It was really neat to hear about, plus like Orrin and Melanie, he was a super nice person too. We were sad to pack up the car (tv included) and leave Orrin and Melanie’s. But really excited to almost be home!
NASCAR mechanic Mike, Lynn, Melanie and Orrin
Anderson was a new venue for this year and it turned out to be a blazing hot open concrete path around a field with no trees. We raced at 2pm and the car thermometer said 89 degrees. The course was an oval with one tricky off camber downhill corner. I was determined to race for a good result today! I suffered through the heat and rode in good position for most of the race until at 4 laps to go I noticed my front tire was low and I was hitting the rim on the sharp down hill corner. Very scary, but since freelaps had expired so I had no choice but to finish. The rest of the course was pretty open so I could catch up and ride at the back of the pack after the corner but I was terrified of taking somebody else out should I try to move up. So I just rode along at the back of the pack-out of the money- to the finish. So disappointing. I was happy to have stayed safe, but it seemed this was the nail in the coffin of my hopes for a top ten in the overall. Sometimes you just have bad luck.
Sunday-Sandy Springs, GA
We stayed Saturday night back at the Atlanta condo. This course is my favorite course of the series, with an uphill on the long start finish stretch that was long enough to hurt and a couple of really fast downhill corners that are nice and wide so you can really fly. Super fun. Again we raced in the heat of the day and I felt tired from the hard week of racing but I’m sure everyone else felt the same. The demons in my head told me to just drop out, but I fought them and stayed attached to the front group. I had enough left to go with the surges at the end and on the final corner a bunch of people went wide and slammed into the barricades. Nobody went down but it opened up a window for me get a clear shot to the finish on the inside line. I ended up 13th on the day and 13th overall! I did a quick change, went and sat in line for prize money and then Lynn and I jumped in the car and drove home. We made it through some pretty severe storms to arrive at my house around 3:15 am. At 7 am Lynn, her bike, and tv got a cab to the greyhound station, and I got to see my kids off to school. Until the next race, it’s back to real life.
Jason helping Lynn load up her pride and joy into the cab
Overall it was a fantastic trip. I hadn’t shared with too many people that my goal was a top ten overall, because it seemed so outrageous compared to my results from last year. I’m pretty happy with my fitness right now, and 13th is not bad! I’m optimistic about the rest of the year. There are so many people to thank. It was so fun checking in on FB and getting so many words of encouragement from the folks back home. I could really feel everyone rooting for me! Special thanks to Spidermonkey Cycling, John Whalen at Kerley Ink, Brian and Diane Coll, and Melanie and Orrin Thompson. Many thanks to Jason and my awesome kids for being ok without me for a week and of course the funny witty and fountain of positivity Lynn --I can’t wait to go to your house and watch tv when I’m up in MN in June for the Fixed Gear Classic!