1 August 2011 | Race Reports
Olympic Test Event, London: Race Report
The whole point of the Olympic test race is to provide a sort of “dry run” of every aspect of the event for both the race organizers and the National Federations. Everything is supposed to be exactly how it would be on the day of the Olympic race. The result is tight security, strict training times, huge media presence and an overall feeling of being at a big, important race (nothing like a bunch of cyclists milling about in their national team gear to make an event seem legit). Add to that the fact that the organizers sold out of tickets (they had set aside 5,000 for the event), and…yup, you made me nervous.
The few days before the event the weather had been overcast and cool, which was a welcome change from the sweltering conditions I left behind in Colorado. Race morning, however, was sunny and warm. Luckily there was a nice breeze so it didn’t seem too hot out there, but there isn’t much shade out on course so that could be a factor for the race next year.
I was called up 6th (my first front row call-up since the one I squandered in South Africa…) and was determined to make the most of it. The start loop was a wide dirt road with plenty of passing and one short hill, then the course passed through the start-finish and headed up the first switchback climb. There were a few of these climbs out there and they proved to be pretty tricky: the combination of tight switchbacks and loose gravel meant smoothness and line choice (tight inside, or longer outside?) was key.
I had a so-so start, and headed into the switchbacks in 6th or so. I managed to sneak by a few women on the climb and then pass one more as we came into the first rock feature and everyone lined up for the A-line while I happily rode the completely-clear-and-not-that-much-slower B-line. Julie was in the lead and opening up a slight gap, but there were a few more women I needed to get by, and they weren’t too keen on just letting me go- they blocked me for as long as they could. Luckily the course has enough open areas that I was able to get around regardless.
I was in second at that point (I think- it kind of all blurs together…), but I dabbed on a short, loose climb and Catharine went around me. I didn’t lose much time and was able to jump back on Catharine’s wheel, and we closed up on Julie pretty quickly. I was feeling good, and the pace in some sections felt slow, but both women have won World Cups this year, so I figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to sit back, be patient and see what they would do. The three of us rode together for a couple laps, then Catharine launched an attack. I sat on Julie for a lap or two, but she didn’t seem like she was going to chase, and the gap was about 10 seconds and growing.
Finally, I went around Julie and was able to bridge up to Catharine. She was strong on the long (I say “long,” but it was less than 2 minutes) grassy climb, but I was a little stronger on the flats and some of the switchback climbs. We rode together for a few laps, and it was clear that it was going to come down to the last lap. And it did.
About a third of the way through the last lap, I was following Catharine a little too closely down the fastest downhill section of the course when I completely washed out and went skidding down the trail on my hip. Arrgh! I knew Catharine heard me crash, and she wasn’t going to wait around. I picked myself up, grabbed my computer which had popped off my bike, jammed it in my pocket and got back on my bike- I knew Julie was coming, but I hoped I had enough of a cushion to hang on to 2nd place. As I started riding, I realized that my rear brake lever was completely bent and totally un-usable (luckily my shifter was working fine). I immediately thought of all the short steep man-made rock features, and the thought of riding them with no rear brake was….a little terrifying.
The first feature I came to had a sketchy run-out at the bottom, so I opted for the B-line which felt so SLOW- I could feel my gap shrinking. I came through the tech zone and stopped- maybe there was some kind of quick fix? “Can you do something fast, or do I just need to keep going?” I asked Tom (the mechanic for Team USA), but I knew before he even answered that there was no quick fix. I got back on my bike and just tried to pin it on all the uphill sections. The downhills I rode gingerly, braking hard at the top and then coasting down no-brakes. It felt like I was losing tons of time on the downhills, and I could hear the announcer say that Julie was closing down the gap (I knew her team had probably told her about my stop in the tech zone), but I hoped my gap was big enough to maintain to the finish. It was. I rolled in a minute after Catharine to take second place. I was pretty excited.
Was I disappointed that I didn’t win? A little, but I was fighting at the front the whole time, and I was riding well, so I am pleased with that. And I’m glad I got a chance to race on the course: there is a little bit of everything out there, no one section is long enough to gain that much of an advantage. I found the race to be way more tactical than I was expecting (ok, actually I didn’t really know what to expect…). I think it is a worthy Olympic course, and all in all, I think the event was a success. It was a great start to my European campaign; hopefully more good results will follow!
After the race, I went and got cleaned up in the medical tent (I had some good road-rash on my elbow, hip and leg from sliding on the hard-packed dirt). Then I went to doping control and peed in a cup (always fun- especially when you are dehydrated!). After that, I packed my bike and finished with just enough time to head out to the course and cheer on Jeremiah as he came through for his last lap in 4th place (nice work, JB!). It was a great day for Team USA; thanks to Marc, Bernard and Tom for all the support (and for being all-around fun guys to hang out with).
As soon as the men’s race was over it was off to the airport for me, as I had an evening flight to Pisa, Italy where I am staying for the next 10 days or so. It was a whirlwind day, and I was exhausted by the time I got on the airplane. Luckily, the road rash on my hip started leaking through my pants (awesome), and there were a bunch of rowdy teenagers on the flight which made reading (or even thinking straight) difficult. Clearly, I am getting old… My arrival in Pisa couldn’t come soon enough (at that point I was ready for a shower and some sleep!)
It is so nice to be here, and I am looking forward to a little down time before the last two World Cups.