The weather seemed to be cooperating with just high cloud cover (once the sun came up). We made a couple of stops, and arrived at the start at 8:00--right on schedule. Ron raced at 9:45 and Jean and I followed just 20 minutes later. Since all the Cat 3, 4, and 5 guys went before us, we got to wish our teammates well.
According to the registration list, there were 40 of us Cat 4 Women. However, at the start there were 35. Still, that's a big field for the Cat 4s. We got the usual spiel. This year they changed the finish to a mile or so further down the road..on an uphill. The race official was telling us where the finish was, but it didn't really matter as we would go by it twice before actually finishing. Then we were off!
We had a medium length neutral rollout. I like to think of this as the "chatting time". "How's it going?" "What's your name again?" Stuff like that. It is fairly relaxed, as is the beginning of the race once we are actually racing. We have three laps, and no one is in a hurry at the beginning.
I found myself around the middle of the pack. That is not really my favorite place to be. It's crowded, and can definitely be sketchy at times. There seemed to be a whole lotta braking going on. Of course, then everyone is yelling, "SLOWING!"
Jean and I didn't really have a specific race plan (hard to do with just two of us), other than keeping track of each other. We would call out to each other periodically. We stayed pretty close together for the majority of the race.
At some point on the backside of the course, at least a couple of gals went down. I just saw it out of the corner of my eye. All I can say is it looked like it hurt. YIKES! Jean hollered at me that she was okay and was soon by my side. She was a little freaked out, but I told her she was okay. She didn't crash, we were good.
The pace on the first lap was really not terribly difficult. I was on the front a couple of times, mostly to just get out of the sketchy pack. It was far more relaxing for me with no one in front of me to unexpectedly brake or swerve, or any of that scary stuff. However, I knew I would wear myself out if I continued to pull the group along for too long. Instead of my usual pulling until someone gets tired of going slow behind me, I actually pulled out, and let a chunk go by me. Sometimes it took awhile for me to be able to get back in the draft, but I usually managed to before I got too tired. On one section of the course, the pavement was new, nice and smooth. I rode up on the right hand shoulder (not something I do very often) to get closer to the front. Up ahead, I noticed the shoulder came to an abrupt end. As I got closer, I started saying, "Shoulder ending--Colleen is coming over--'scuse me, pardon me--coming over." They let me in, and just like that, I was back in the draft, and closer to the front! SWEET!
There were 7 Bike Sale Team gals, 6 Starbucks gals, and 12 Sound Velo Cycling Club (aka Group Health) gals. Those three teams made up over half of the field! I thought to myself, as we were going along, that these gals would probably control the race. Each team would work with their teammates to get someone from their team to finish well. However, the only time I saw any sort of teamwork happening was in the second lap when one of the Bike Sale gals took off alone. I noticed her teammates were fairly effectively blocking the front of the pack. But, as the poor gal was all alone, she was quickly burnt out and brought back to the group. In fact, she was so spent, that she slowed way down. I'm not sure if it was because of a chain reaction of sorts from her extreme slowing, but we had the second major crash of the day! I heard a commotion behind me and looked back to see a big pile up of gals and bikes. I couldn't immediately see Jean and yelled out for her. Fortunately, she yelled back that she was okay. She had to cross the yellow line to avoid the pileup, but she made it through. WHEW!
As we came up one of the hills, I passed everyone, and went to the front again. I wasn't trying some kind of attack, I just had momentum going, and didn't want to lose it and end up off the back at the end of the hill. I stayed on the front for awhile, but once we turned into the wind, I opted to let someone else take over. Jean created a space for me to get back in the draft.
During the third and final lap, I found myself sitting on the back of what was left of the pack. My plan was to stay near the yellow line. If they ramped up the pace, I did not want to be stuck on the shoulder side, and take a chance of getting pushed off the road (I doubt they would be as gracious as before), or getting boxed in. I also wanted to position myself for the sprint at the end. I may not of executed any attacks during the race, but I had practiced sprinting, and I was sure as hell going to give it my best shot at the finish!
At the 1km sign, I was at the back of the remaining pack of about 15 or so. Seriously, there was no one directly behind me! I was on Jean's wheel, out near the yellow line. There was another gal there too, and I could not get past. That was okay though. I was waiting for the 200m sign. Up the first little rise, a few gals couldn't hold on, and dropped back. The 200m sign came into view. I had already shifted into what I thought would be a big enough gear for the uphill finish. I got into the drops. At 200m, I stomped on the pedals, got out of the saddle, and crossed over the yellow line to the other lane. I passed Jean (little did she know she had done an excellent job of leading me out). I passed a bunch of other gals, none of which had crossed the center line. I could see Nicki of Group Health ahead of everyone else. Just as I thought, "Hey! I just might get second here!", she slowed down and I was able to catch her and pass her (apparently, she had mistakenly started her sprint at the 1km mark--that rarely works). I continued sprinting with everything I had, and crossed the line...FIRST!!! Woo Hoo! It worked!
So, the same as last year, I have won my first race of the season. At least this time I felt like I executed a bit of a strategy, and used a skill I have been practicing. Now, if only I can do better than last year's progressively worse finishes as the season goes on. I don't feel like I was pushed to my limits today. I feel like I rode a pretty smart race for me. I also felt that I was able to recover some when the pace slowed, and not be so affected by the surging/slowing (that frequent braking, however, has got to stop (no pun intended)--I think it was the cause of both crashes today).
For my victory, I got a pretty nice bag of swag. I gave Jean the Smith Optics bike sunglasses. There were some gloves, socks, a hat, rear fender, CO2 inflator and a few cartridges, and a gift card for a bike shop in Renton. Plus, a "growler" of Georgetown Beer. I tried to pawn the beer off on the guys, but got no takers. I'll take it into Joy Ride on Monday. I'm sure I can get someone there to take it off my hands (I just want to keep the empty bottle).
Here is the "podium" photo, and the official results.