By Dave Carr
Tell us a few things about your racing career so far, what got you into it and how your previous seasons have gone.
I grew up in a small town in Iowa, where the easiest way to get around, if you were too young to drive, was to hop on your bike and go. So my friends and I biked all over the place, sometimes even going on “long” bike rides out into the country (our maximum distance was about 15 miles or so!) In terms of competitive sports, though, there was no bike racing around, that I knew of anyway. Instead, I competed in swimming when I was young, and then in running and tennis when I got older. I continued riding my bike for transportation and running to satisfy my competitive urge through my college years.
I brought my bike with me to New York City after college, but after a couple of near misses with cars when I tried to bike around the city, I retired the bike for several years, while still running and also playing ultimate frisbee for fun and fitness. After developing one too many chronic injuries from those activities, though, and also moving closer to the park, I dusted off my bike and started to add some bike riding back into my routine. Whenever I was out there doing my park laps, other riders would ride by and say “do you race?” so finally I decided to give it a try.
I signed up for the CRCA women’s clinic but I was so nervous that I couldn’t sleep the night before, and then I slept right through my alarm. I came anyway, and chased the other newbies around for 3 laps. It was exciting and the women racers running the clinic seemed really cool and supportive, but it was not really the experience I was looking for, so I signed up for Lou Maltese that year as well. That was even more exciting but also terrifying and it took me until the next year before I was willing to try another race.
The next year I joined CRCA and did a bunch of the CRCA clinics before I tried racing again. I did Maltese and maybe three park races. I believe I marshaled for as many park races as I competed in. It gave me a good taste of racing, and I did like it, but I also got into doing triathlons that summer and thought maybe I’d just stick with those. But I had become friendly with some of the riders on Radical Media through the bike racing, and it seemed like such a great team that when they asked me if I wanted to join their squad, I was hooked!
In my first full year on Radical, I was thrilled to make it to the end of a race without getting dropped. I did not fancy myself a hill climber, and religiously avoided all races with the word “hill” or “mountain” in their name, like “Tour of the Hilltowns,” “Housatonic Hills,” “Jiminy Peak,” and ESPECIALLY the “Green Mountain Stage Race.” I was so impressed with all my mountaingoat teammates who would not only go to these races, but would do really great at them.
At the end of that year, I hired David Taylor, who was the husband of one of my teammates and an amazing hill climber, as my coach. He helped me set up my first structured training plan, convinced me to buy a bike that actually fit me, and started teaching me how to climb hills, or at least not to be as afraid of them. My growth as a racer has been pretty gradual, but as time went on, I started getting more results (3rd overall in the 3/4s at Fitchburg in 2009 as well as 3rd at Bear Mountain that Fall, and 2nd in a couple of smaller stage races early last year), which encouraged me to continue.
Then in the middle of the season last year, I had a bad crash in a park race, and everything changed. I landed on my face and had to have a lot of stitches and see a plastic surgeon to put my face back together again. I tried some local races at the very end of the season, but was back to being terrified again. I really didn’t know for sure if I would keep racing. As irony would have it, though, my husband Russ had just decided he was also ready to give bike racing a try. Having him to train and race with helped reestablish my own enthusiasm for it, and has also given me more time and incentive to train, so I began the season at a whole new level.
I was feeling pretty strong as this season was getting underway, but then in late April I had a training accident and dislocated and broke my shoulder and a few ribs. It was unclear if I was to be off the road for 6 weeks or for the rest of the season. I was certainly out of commission for the short term. After about a week, I was able to gingerly get back on a trainer, with my arm in a sling, and after 3 or 4 weeks I was adding back some intensity. After 6 weeks, I was back on the road. I had lost a ton of endurance, but not that much strength, and just grateful that it hadn’t been worse.
Was there anything that you did this year, especially as you recovered from your early season accidents, that you think made an extra difference in priming you for your recent win at GMSR?
I think the biggest difference this year, in addition to having my husband to train with, has been training and racing with a power meter for the first time. It has really helped me establish a much more disciplined approach to training, relative to training by perceived exertion or heart rate, and has given me more confidence in races to know just how hard I can expect to be able to push myself for a given amount of time. Of course if other riders are beginning to climb off without you in a race even though you’re at your “max,” you have to try to ignore the power meter and keep up anyway. I hit almost all of my max power numbers in races as a result. The other difference this year is that by the time I was back on the bike this summer, most of the remaining races on the schedule, prior to GMSR, were cat 1/2/3 races. I generally don’t make it to the finishing sprint with the cat 1s, but just trying to do so has made me much stronger. In addition, we took a couple of “personal days” off from work this year to fit in some longer midweek rides, which helped me get back some of the endurance I’d lost during my recuperation.
Tell us about your experience racing at GMSR 2011? How did the races go? And when did you realize you’d won?
The race started off pretty well for me. David Taylor had given us a very helpful scouting report with good gearing suggestions for Friday’s time trail, and we’d gotten a chance to do a practice run on Thursday. I was in 6th place after the TT, and had knocked 30 seconds off my previous best time.
In the circuit race on Saturday, I was hoping to place high enough to get some time bonuses and maybe move up to at least 4th overall, but there were a lot of very good and eager sprinters in our field who opened the sprint before I was really ready to go, so I just rolled in safely in the middle of the pack. Unfortunately, there was a crash in the sprint that day that took out one of the riders who had been ahead of me in GC, so I moved up to 5th. Not the way I was hoping to move up, but that’s bike racing I guess.
The Queen Stage on Sunday was fairly uneventful until the finishing climb. I did try to get off the front before the final climbs began to try to get a headstart, but we were riding into too strong a headwind for anything to get very far away, especially in a pretty evenly matched field. So a relatively big group of us started up App Gap together. A couple of riders began to push the pace as the gradient picked up, and one by one riders began to fall off the pace. By the middle of the climb there was only a small group left together. I don’t look behind me very much, but I know there were only 3 riders in front of me, including the QOM, none of whom had started the day ahead of me in GC. They were beginning to climb at a pace I was afraid I couldn’t maintain so I backed off their pace a little bit and started climbing at my own tempo. I was more concerned about preserving a GC spot than about trying for a podium for this stage and blowing up. As we got to the final 500m, which is the steepest part of the climb, I saw one of the three riders crack, and I thought, wow, if I dig really deep, maybe I can actually podium. So I did! I crossed the line for 3rd, 21 seconds back from the QOM, who was now the new GC leader. That put me in 2nd overall as well, which I thought was pretty incredible as well.
The final day was the crit in Burlington. Weather looked ominous for that day, rain, heavy at times. I don’t really love riding in the rain, and hated the idea of racing a crit in the rain, but of course at that point I felt like I had to try to preserve my GC podium. It almost didn’t occur to me to aim even higher, but my coach and others pointed out that if I could get some time bonuses in the crit (I was about 20 seconds behind), I might even be able to move up to 1st overall. Well, seemed worth a shot, though first I had to make it to the end of the crit in one piece.
We set a pretty high pace at the beginning, but I was just intent on not losing the sprint leader’s wheel before the first prime, which was for both sprint points and time bonuses. Well, that and not sliding out in a corner on the wet roads (which unfortunately several riders in our field did). I heard a bell and started my sprint for the line nice and early for the first prime, and was psyched to come across the line first. Unfortunately I had responded to the wrong bell, perhaps a friendly cowbell or something, and the real first prime was on the next lap. Note to self: Remember to look at the lap cards next time. Anyway, pulled myself together and was able to come over the line 3rd for the next prime and 2nd for the time prime after that, gaining 10 seconds in all. We were chilling out a bit after that sprint, I was sitting in 2nd wheel or so, but when we came around again Coach Taylor was screaming at me to “drill it,” and I realized that the yellow jersey must be on the rivet. So I got on the front and yes, “drilled it.” We had less than 10 laps to go at that point, and I was on the front for most of them. Rolled across safely in 9th for the race, but with enough of a time gap on the yellow jersey that I moved up to 1st overall in GC. What an incredible journey!
I couldn’t have done it without the support of my coach, my husband, my teammates, and my CRCA friends, who have always believed in my more than I have believed in myself. Many thanks to all of you.