After spending 3 months this past Fall recovering from a clavicle fracture, I didn’t have any plans to return to the racing scene, let alone jump into a regional event like Tulsa Tough. Things have done a 180 in the last 7 months, no pun intended. The VeloTek family has played a huge role in getting me back on the bike and racing again. Usually my goal would be to place well, which is what most racers goals are in any event. However, I knew going into the race, I would need to view this race weekend as a stepping stone in my personal development and have a bigger picture in mind. I was excited to gain experience racing in large fields, and working with regional teams. The competition would be serious, and the pace would be driven beyond max; I would need to keep an open mind about taking chances, staying relaxed, and focused.
Our team brought down three other female racers: Janette McGrath, Judy Slosar, and Category 3 Molly Benton to compete in the Tulsa Tough criteriums. Marianne Melling helped us prepare mentally for the event, I am grateful to have her as a mentor for the women’s team. She provided her experience and insight from racing in this event the previous year.
Brady Art District Criterium
On Saturday, Jan and I arrived two hours early to the race course; I had a thousand thoughts swirling through my head. What if there is a crash in front of me? What if I slide out in a corner? How much should I warm up?
I cleared my head and focused my energy on prepping for the race.
The course is a 6-corner, urban crit. It starts flat, then after a few corners there is a gradual climb, and then a super fun, fast downhill into a corner that sweeps onto the main drag past the start/finish line. Jan and I pre-rode the course so we could plan where to get brief recoveries in the pack, and use momentum to our advantage to gain some speed on the downhill stretch.
It was more than hot; the air was swampy and it felt like I was breathing liquid.
After warm-up, Julie pinned an ice-filled stocking to the back of my bibs and it made a HUGE difference. I was concerned that it would melt while we were waiting in the corral, so I filled 2 additional stockings with ice and stuffed those into my jersey pockets and figured that would have to do for the next hour. We headed to the corral for staging where there was a 25-minute wait for our start. I had already learned from the previous weekend at the Tour of KC that starting in the back of a large crit was a recipe for disaster.
After we were rolled-out, we claimed our spots in the second row, packed tight shoulder-to-shoulder with 40 starters. When the whistle blew, I went straight into race pace to stay with the pack. A rider shot out in front of me right before the first corner, but I stayed relaxed and did not react to her erratic move, holding my line because there were riders packed around me. The field surged once we hit the uphill stretch so I cranked up my pace. As I suspected, there was a fierce attack on the downhill of the first lap. I wasn’t in a good position to stay with the lead group because there were too many riders to have to plow through, which is very different than what I am used to while racing locally. On the descent, I saw the pack split up the road. Judy was in the second group that had formed that contained 7 riders in front of me; I knew I needed to catch up to that chase group. I worked with 2 riders on the same team to bridge up to Judy’s group, which made a total of 10 of us in the pack. I was relieved to have a bigger group to hunker down in and recover.
After 2 laps with the pack, the Chief Referee (as I learned later) stepped out and said something I couldn’t catch, but as Judy and a few of the other girls slowed down and started pulling off to the side of the course, I realized our pack was getting pulled for safety reasons. We were disappointed, but I trust the officials had to make the call for their own reasons and concerns.
River Parks Criterium, Cry Baby Hill
On Sunday, we were not allowed on the course between races for pre-riding, but I had ridden it a few years ago in a non-race setting and remembered it well. Cry Baby Hill goes up through the neighborhood, then after a slight descent, there is a second hill with much less grade before descending a steep section road into a hairpin corner onto the flat finishing stretch.
The race started in a similar manner as Brady, fast from the whistle. The pace at which the pack hit Cry Baby Hill was high. By the time we reached the second hill through the neighborhood, I was climbing beyond threshold, and digging into the pain cave; the race had barely started. Attempting to gain speed in the McBirney descent, I up-shifted and hit the gas with the same effort. The hairpin corner wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, although I couldn’t see through the turn until I was there; it’s a moment-by-moment type of turn. On the long stretch leading back up to Crybaby Hill there was a slight headwind and racers were strung out. I tucked down, got aero, and rode this section at threshold to save gas for the climb, over and over.
I opted out of loading up with ice because our race had a 9:45am start and there was more tree and cloud cover. In hindsight, I decided that wasn’t my smartest move of the day because I later felt overheated and sick mid-way through the race. During another pain-searing climb, I saw a racer ahead of me get doused with water and I saw an opportunity for relief. As I rode by, I yelled “Water!” and a ‘referee’ with a balloon unicorn came forward, sprayed my core with a bottle, and it felt awesome.
This course beat me up more than any other course I have ever raced. There were no breaks, but I finished the race strong, with no tears.
Tulsa Tough has been my favorite race of the year and I look forward to competing again next year! I am so grateful for our Sponsor, North American Aviation, and the entire GP VeloTek family!