Welcome to the National Championships

“Welcome to the National Championships.”

“Many of you haven’t been here before but you all deserve to be here.”

Two sentences we heard over and over again during the two weeks we spent in the south preparing for and racing the USA Pro Road and TT National Championships. This was my first Road and TT National Championships also, having only previously been to the NZ Criterium National Champs.

But before we get into the excitement that is the national champs here’s a quick recap of what happened in between Gila and Nationals

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-       Creed and I drove the southern most route of Texas to get from Silver City to Dallas

-       We stayed in a small town called Alpine where we overhead a very strange conversation in a bar and I had my first experience with border patrol

-       After taking Creed to the airport in Dallas, I went to the Dallas Museum of Art, where I was ushered into a tornado shelter during a tornado warning

-       The tornado didn’t show up so I went and spent the evening with a friend, Tenny

-       I spent the weekend before Nationals training camp started in Nashville where I went to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Music Row

-       I FINALLY bought a pair of cowboy boots!

-       We spent five days at host housing in Dalton, Georgia where we stayed on top of a beautiful mountain in a gorgeous home

-       I bought a bike, Creed’s bike in fact, and I actually got to ride it! Shane, Julian and Josh took me out for a ride on their recovery day.

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-       I learnt about the big and little ring basically by default – the ride up to the house was basically a ridiculous 25% gradient climb, there was no way I was going to make it up there after having been off the bike for eight months but the guys and Creed decided I should give it a go. I pretty much had no idea what I was doing and about halfway up I was going backwards so found myself a nice grassy patch to fall into. Creed came out of his car to help me get my bike off me and put it in the car and just starts laughing. “What the fuck are you doing in the big ring?” he laughed, “Hey guys, she’s bloody trying to climb in the big ring.” Turns out I (still) have no idea how to ride a bike!

-       We spent a night in the hospital with Travis and his MRSA ridden body – thankfully an antibiotic drip, a good clean and some antiseptic cream got the infection cleared up in time for him to get some decent training in before Nationals started

-       We moved to another beautiful house at the top of Lookout Mountain for the remainder of our time in Chattanooga

-       I set myself a stupid goal of riding up the racecourse decent and actually achieved it! (If you don’t believe me, check my Strava)

-       We lost the host house dog! Well we didn’t so much as the guy who was staying there to look after him, turns out he had walked to the local vet to get treats (which he does sometimes) and because it was the weekend and we weren’t answering our home phones they just kept him there to be safe.

- It turns out a number of my twitter friends are actually real people. How do I know that? I met them in the flesh! Who knew? (I’m talking about you, Dan Wuori!)

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The Little Team That Could!

We did it, we have gone from that team that no-one wanted to be on and 15 guys took a chance on Creed to the team who won the USA Pro Road National Championships. And not only did we win we finished 2nd, 5th, 14th and 30th out of 32 riders. Team SmartStop made up 1/6 of the finishing field.

It was a crazy weekend; let’s take it back to the Time Trial on Saturday where Julian Kyer finished strong in 4th place, just 11 seconds off the podium. For 10 days we had all been working hard to get the riders into the perfect place for the National Championships. It was put to the test on Saturday at the time trial.

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Lesli, Chris and I arrived at the Volkswagon parking lot at 10.30am to get set up for the three riders who were going to race the time trial – Julian, Joshua Berry and Cameron Cogburn.

We were ready to race, armed with plenty of OSMO Nutrition and ice socks, I had everything I needed to ensure the guys could keep down their core temperatures and be in the best position possible at the start of their individual races.

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Joshua was our first rider off, not a specific time triallist, Joshua is keen to increase his abilities in the discipline and so gave the race a good crack. He said he definitely overheated during the 30km race but he still rode exceptionally well. In fact the whole team rode really well. Cameron had a great rider that put him into 8th place overall and Julian was exceptional with a rider that put him in 4th.

On a course that suited a heavier rider, Julian was only 11 seconds behind third place getter, David Williams and was the first rider under 65kgs. “If there was a weight category, I would have won that,” he said after the race. Crowd favorite and the only world tour rider to partake in the event, Taylor Phinney soared through the course, to take the national title by a huge margin.

At the road race I was nervous, I had made 300 bottles for the race and 50 ice socks, but was this going to be enough to get us through the race? We had Lesli standing on the top of the Lookout Mountain KOM with bottles and ice socks, me in the feed zone in town and bottles in the car. We were well prepared… I hoped.

The race started perfectly for us, everything that Creed had said in his pre-race “Perfect World” speech happened, it was almost unbelievable. We had Julian and Eric Marcotte in the break, which had the majority of American Continental teams represented, alongside Ben King from Garmin-Sharp. The question was, would this break stick or would Garmin and the other world tour riders bring it back before the closing circuits?

Turns out the lead would chop and change but the break would never be brought back to the main peloton. Turns out also that 50 ice socks was not enough! I had to keep making them in the feeds! It was a bloody hot day and there was so much humidity, almost 100% I believe.

At the finish I was a nervous wreck, Travis was up there, Eric was up there, Julian was up there, Joshua was up there. The guys had once again created Creeds perfect world situation – having four guys up there in the final circuits around downtown Chattanooga. I was able to watch the final from a big screen by the finish, but I couldn’t look at the screen, I couldn’t even stand still. I just had to move around and try and take my mind off the fact that everything was perfect; there was no way I wanted to jinx anything!

The finish was a blur, one big blue blurry blob. There were three of our guys, one Garmin rider and one UHC rider, there was a lot of blue. I kind of felt like we won, but I wasn’t 100% sure. It wasn’t until I stopped to breathe and relax, that I heard the announcer saying we got first and second, then someone told me we possibly swept the podium, which wasn’t the case but we came pretty close. Imagine if we had though, a little team called SmartStop with only three staff members, a small budget, no bus, basically a no frills team. We didn’t do it but we did finish first, second and fifth. It was unbelievable. It took me a while to comprehend and take it all in, I was shocked. I knew we were the little team that could, but to take the national title against bigger world tour riders was no mean feat. The guys had laid their cards all over the table and played them right, they had raced smart, hard and fought a tough battle to come out on top.

That afternoon was a whirlwind, we had podiums to do, Eric was presented with his new car and the guys had press conferences to do. We arrived back at our host housing to be greeted by a cooler full of beer and champagne left by our neighbors who had adopted us at the Lookout Mountain team. They also later brought round a whole lot of celebratory BBQ foods, Lesli bought Pizza and we had an awesome evening celebrating the fact that we had defied the odds.

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The mood was interesting, everyone was ecstatic, but at the same time there was still that feeling of “What the Fuck Just Happened?”. Creed had drilled it in the guys for two weeks that they completely deserved to be at nationals and they had a great chance at doing well but when it happened it was still surreal. Still when seeing Eric in his National Champs kit at Philly, it felt surreal.

It has been a crazy couple of weeks with the team, I am so grateful for these guys who are an absolutely amazing bunch of people. Also a massive thanks to Lesli and everyone who helped keep the riders hydrated and cool throughout nationals, this was a huge part of the team’s success.

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My First Race Report

Stumbled across the first race report I ever wrote for PureBlack Racing and it made me think a lot about how things change and how people progress in the world. It’s crazy to think that two years ago I didn’t even know what a prologue was, I just knew the sport of cycling excited me and it was something I wanted to learn about.

I will be forever grateful to Roman for recommending me to Greg Cross as the Communications Manager for PureBlack Racing because without the opportunity that Greg and his wife, Helen gave me I would not be in the position I am in today.

What a journey it has been so far.

Here is my first ever race report from the Tour of Langkawi (Malaysia) in February 2012:

Friday 24th February: The first stage of the Tour of Langkawi kicked off today with a top ten finish for BikeNZ PureBlack Racing.

Joe Cooper finished in 6th place with a time of 26’05.65 just 30 seconds behind the stage winner David Zabriskie from Garmin Barracuda.

Roman van Uden had the next best ride for the team coming in at 19th with a time of 26’46.98.

Director Sportif, John Harris could not have asked for a better race from Joe and the rest of the team especially since they are riding against cyclists like David Zabriske who have ridden in the Tour de France.

“Joe’s ride was a world class performance,” said John, “It is awesome to be placed so highly in a classy field like this. The team rode excellently, as a team their performance couldn’t get any better and as individuals they were amazing.”

Michael Torckler also finished in the top 50 with a time of 27’21.89, James Williamson, Sam Bewley and Louis Crosby all had great rides also with times of, 28’33.42, 30’03.01 and 30’04.08 respectively.

After stage one the team are in 6th place.

“If they can continue to race like this throughout the tour they can pull off some excellent results,” said John.

Tomorrow’s stage is a 151kms race from Putrajaya to Melaka.

Becoming Nurse Astrid – Tour of the Gila Part Two

Waking up on the morning of stage two, I was anxious, what would the day bring? Will Julian and Joshua be okay to start? What will the mood of today’s racing be after yesterday’s carnage?

We headed over to the rider house not knowing what to expect, soon to find out that both of the guys would not be starting stage two. We were officially down to six men. It was heartbreaking, but the day must go on and there is still a job to get on with.

It was a cold start to the morning, the guys hid away in the van for most of the hour before the start. Wrapped in blankets and getting warming lotion on their legs it was almost time to start the 76-mile Inner Loop road race. The stage featured three category three climbs as well as some technical descents; if we could keep it together we had a great shot at the stage with our sprinters, Zach and Travis.

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Having a blanket in the car comes in handy when the mornings are cold

With the feed zone being only a couple of miles away and the riders not expected to show up for two hours, the swannies welcomed a rare hour where we could go get a morning coffee! This does not happen often so when it does we take the opportunity to do so. After a delicious coffee at Three Dogs Café in Silver City we headed to the feed zone, I got cokes ready for the guys, when all of a sudden Katie from Cal-Giant ran past me saying “Travis has gone down, I’m not sure if he has got back up again.” – You have got to be f*cking kidding me, great just what we needed!

With the peloton due through the feed zone in any minute, I didn’t have much time to think about Travis crashing, instead I needed to focus on the task at hand and if Travis needed my help, depending on the severity of the crash, Creed would let me know when he passed me.

As the break went through, I saw the peloton fighting to catch them on the ascent. There was Cameron Cogburn sitting right on the front, then much to my surprise, there was Travis fighting his way through the peloton. He was flying, there isn’t much that will keep that guy down, and he was angry, frustrated and ready to take all of that out on the final sprint. You could just tell.

Knowing that all the six guys were in the peloton, I could relax on the drive to the finish, we were able to take another road from the race and get there with time to set up the chairs, food and towels before the race sprinted through. I didn’t get to see the finish so I had no idea how it panned out, just that I would have to get to the ambulance to see if Travis needed anything.

With all the other guys sorted, I found out that Rob and Flavio had finished safely in the bunch to hold onto their top ten positions on GC and it was time to go find out how Travis was. His left leg was not in good shape, he had made a great mess with shorts on his skin suit and of his leg. It was at the ambulance that I found out he had finished third. Holy cow! These guys are machines. After getting banged up like that, I just couldn’t believe it. Only half cleaned up, Travis made his way down to the podium where he did his best to hide his ripped shorts and injuries, then it was back to the first aid to finish getting cleaned up and off to anti doping.

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Travis knows how to go to the podium in style… (Photo: Jonathan Devich epicimages.us)

You know, it is really hard to celebrate a podium finish when your guys have crashed; it’s another one of those bittersweet moments. On one hand he had podiumed at a UCI race with half his left leg missing, but on the other hand, the question ‘could he have won had he not crashed?’. Although it is so easy to ask these questions, you cannot dwell on them for too long, this is bike racing and incidents like crashing are just part of the game.

I now had two guys out of eight who did not have some form of road rash.

Stage three was TT day, once again the commissaries decided on which UCI TT rules they wanted to enforce and which ones they didn’t, so there was a lot of hurrying on Kreidls side doing last minute changes to comply with the rules. This was not just happening to us, all the team mechanics were scurrying fixing what the commissaires wanted to be changed.

Rob and Flavio would be the last guys out of the start box for Team SmartStop, once all the guys were gone, I was able to head over to the finish and watch them all come in. Riders were flying, the USA National TT Champion, Tom Zirbal set the fastest time early into the morning but was upset by Serghei Tvetcov from Jelly Belly who flew into the finishing stretch to beat Tom by almost 19 seconds.

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Flavio in the Young Riders skin suit 

Rob rode a great TT to finish in 6th and move himself into the top three on the GC.

With the TT finishing without incident for us, we were heading into the Criterium knowing we had a huge chance at a stage win with Zach and Travis. Both guys were feeling great and if it came down to it, Travis was ready to give everything he had to pay Zach back for everything he has done for Travis this year with a strong lead out in the finishing stretch.

Everything started as planned. The guys were active, Travis was hanging out in breaks, Rob and Flavio were staying out of trouble and Michael and Cameron were doing what they could to help the team. After the first quarter, the race began to settle down and a break of three got away and stayed away. Zach, the powerful rider that he is, saw an opportunity to bridge up to that break and join them. In a couple of laps he achieved what he set out to do and in no time the four man break had lapped the field and rejoined the peloton. The race was really now between those four riders and who could cross the finish line first.

Somewhere in between all this action, I managed to walk into a very big cactus (I have a serious problem with not being able to avoid them), so with blood dripping down my legs I got ready with my camera in hand for the final couple of laps.

As the came through with three to go, I saw Zach sitting comfortably with Travis and was excited. This was what we were waiting for. As the riders came through the finish, I was confused. I hadn’t seen Zach, but surely I just missed him because the race was going so fast and I was focusing on my camera? That was all I thought until I looked down at my phone and saw the name ‘Michael Creed’ flash on my screen – there was only one reason why Creed would call me at the end of the race and that was to deliver bad news.

For the millionth time that week my heart sunk as I answered my phone:

“Hello?”

“I need you to come to the first corner and take Zach’s bike, we think he has broken his collar bone”

“Okay, I’m on my way” – I seriously don’t even think Creed cared about my response let alone heard it through the phone. This was not our week.

I ran, ran as fast as I could. I could only take one quick glance at Zach before given instructions from Creed, and taking the bike back to the van. I knew if I stayed there too long I might get even more emotional than I already was. This wasn’t suppose to happen and especially not to a guy like Zach.

This week just wasn’t getting much better. We really couldn’t catch a break. The emotional toll it had on me was tremendous, even though I have to get on with my job and make sure everything is still working for the remaining riders, all you want to do is give the guys who have crashed a big hug. Maybe as a swannie I am not suppose to react like this? Maybe I am suppose to be the strong one? Maybe it is something I will learn with time, but with this being my first week where there had been a lot of crashes and the first broken bone I have had to deal with, it affected me. These guys are my family on the road, it is my job to take care of them, it is my job to feed, hydrate, massage them but I also love them and it f*cking sucks when they are hurt (excuse the profanity but it is really the only way to describe it, it f*cking sucks).

At the hospital that night, Zach and Creed were pretty good at making light of a bad situation. When Zach told us he had no button up shirts to wear (crucial when one has a broken collarbone), Creed and I went to the Wal-Mart to find the ugliest shirts we could. We stumbled upon the most American shirt we could find to put a Canadian into. The plan worked, when we returned to the house, the riders were all sitting around eating dinner we were able to present him with the shirt. Laughter erupted the room and Zach looked a little worried that this was all he had to wear until we gave him the other two we had bought which were a little more ‘normal’ looking.

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Canadian Champ turned USA Patriot (Photo: Michael Creed)

(On a side note: shopping at Wal-Mart for shirts for Zach was an eye opener to the size of Americans – the medium shirts that we bought him would have been considered at least an XL in New Zealand. I was shocked at how massive the sizing was!)

After a long night of looking after the wounded and tending to those who were still in contention for the races I finally made it to bed, ready for the final stage on Sunday morning.

The Gila Monster – a stage that Rob describe to me as being the hardest day of American racing outside of the medalist races (California, Colorado and Utah). But he was ready for it, after the Criterium he had dropped from the top three in the GC and was ready to fight to get that back.

This stage also had two feed zones; the race within the race was once again in full force. Everything was going well, first feed went smoothly, second feed even better. Once all my riders had passed the feed, I was out of there and racing to the finish, we had to follow the race to the finish, so on the climbs we passed riders when it was safe to do so.

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We found some horses!

You would think that we had used all our bad luck cards this week and there was nothing left to play. But whoever was dealing those cards was not done with us yet. As I was racing down the race route I suddenly see Creed standing on the side of the road waving his arms at me to stop. I figured he was just out of water bottles, it was a pretty hot day and it was the only reason I could think of as to why he needed to stop me. “Get out, I need the van,” he yelled in a hurry. “What? Why?” I asked totally confused, “Just do it, you’ll see” was his response.

The team car had a flat tyre. In my moment of panic, I hit the park brake and jumped out. Turns out though I didn’t put the car in park, Creed had to jump in, put his foot on the brake and my two passengers were certain they were doomed for an untimely death down the side of the cliff. Creed managed to save the day though and everyone came out unscathed. Phew. Of course I was so confused and panicked, I had no idea any of this actually happened until they all relayed the story to me later on at the finish line.

I got to the finish behind the second group of riders to find out Rob had finished the stage in second and Flavio fourth. It was an agonizing wait to find out whether or not Rob had done enough to move up on the GC and back into the top three. He had! Elation all round, well elation and once again that feeling of bitter sweetness, could we have done better with all eight riders to support Rob throughout the whole stage race?

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The final Tour of the Gila podium (Photo: Jonathan Devich epicimage.us)

Carter Jones, from Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies had done enough on the climb to take the overall title of the Tour of the Gila and if there was anyone that was going to beat us I am glad that it was him.

It was almost a relief to get the Tour of the Gila behind us. The horror story was now over and we could now focus on getting the broken bodies, bikes and parts repaired and ready for the next race.

That night, I did the airport run with Zach, Michael, Cameron and Rob to El Paso where I left them for the night to catch their planes home the following day. I turned around and made the journey back to Silver City, a long trip after a hard week of racing, but not before enjoying some slow cooked BBQ with the guys.

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Final Meal with Boys (Photo: Rob Britton)

So we finished the Tour of the Gila with two podiums, Rob top three overall, the team third on team GC, a broken collarbone, a concussion, a hematoma, lost of lost skin on the New Mexico roads, three broken helmets and a couple of broken bikes.

To all my riders, heal up quick. This week you proved that even when life is throwing everything it has at you; you can keep on smiling and keep on racing with heart, passion and fire. That is what this team is about. I am proud of each and every one of you and you make my job worthwhile everyday.

 

Redlands Bicycle Classic – A roller coaster

A roller coaster – that is how I would describe my week at the Redlands Bicycle Classic. What a ride it was! An incredible ride that bring out excitement, nerves, fear and happiness but at the end of it all you just want to ride it all over again.

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I never thought I would be as excited about this race and the way it panned out as I was. I never thought I would feel such love and pride in a group of riders that I do with these guys. From day one these guys rode with their hearts on their sleeves and proved to the NRC and the world that they are a forced to be reckoned with!

I flew into California on the Monday, leaving Vancouver behind, I had packed up everything I owned once again and this was to be the start of my on the road adventure with Team SmartStop…with 130 pounds of luggage in tow.

During Redlands I was lucky to have the help of Lesli Cohen for media duties and the general soigneur duties, she helped me with bottles, rice cakes and looking after the riders. The first order of duty was to take all the packaging off the bottles so we could get filling them for racing. The Polar Bottles that we get have this little plastic handle thing that sits under the lids of the bottles.

Once we had taken 200 bottles apart, Lesli and I decided we needed to do something with the plastic handles, we knew Creed was a bit of a prankster back in his time and thought about who we could inflict a lighthearted practical joke on that night. The plastic handles were a figure 8 shape so could easily be chained together in a daisy chain type way. Now that we had a very long daisy chain all we needed was a victim. Luckily for us an old friedn of Creeds Shawn Milne wasn’t staying too far away. We drove over and wrapped our daisy chain through his door handles and through the bike racks on top of the car. And just for good measure we taped his boot shut with some tape so that he wouldn’t be able to open it. The prank was a success, especially the tape, Shawn was so confused the next morning when he tried to open his boot that he thought it was a mechanical malfunction. We are not quite sure what he did with the daisy chain.

Once the fun and games were over it was time for the fun stuff, the racing! The first stage of the Redlands Bicycle Classic was a circuit race and Lesli decided that she would live stream the feed zone for our fans. It was pretty cool, we had people watching and commenting, but it was kind of boring, we hadn’t really thought of anything that could fill the gaps between the peloton coming through. Eric Marcotte made the break that day and stuck it out until about three laps to go when the peloton started chasing down and setting up for a bunch sprint.

Although the team didn’t win, it was pretty exciting to see two Kiwis, Dion Smith and James Oram go one-two on the stage. I struggled with being happy for Dion and James and being upset for the guys as Travis McCabe finished 7th in the bunch sprint. Of course first and foremost I want my riders to win, but if they don’t I am always going to be excited that it is a Kiwi, especially if it is Dion, who is basically family.

Tuesday was the Big Bear Individual Time Trial and the first time in my life I have experienced any form of car sickness. I am not sure whether it is because I am not use to sitting in the back seat of a car or if it was because Creed was driving (let’s blame Creed, it’s more fun that way) but I have never felt so sick before in my life, so much so that I had to fall out of the car when we arrived at Big Bear Lake and sit on the curb while I caught my breath again. It wasn’t until two anti-nausea pills and an hour later that I finally started to feel like my normal self again. It was the strangest feeling I had experienced, I had never been car sick before.

Thankfully today was a TT day and there wasn’t a whole lot for me to do as the guys waited around for their start times. We had rented a couple of hotel rooms for them to hang out at just down the streets so they could relax as much as they could before having to warm up.

Travis had the best TT of all our riders, and possily even one of the best in his short career, finishing in 7th and moving him up to 3rd overall behind Zirbal and Routley from Optum Pro Cycling. As National USA TT Champion, we all expected Zirbal to take over the lead. That night the whole game plan changed, it wasn’t expected that Travis would be so high up on GC and he was never really considered one of the protected riders for the team, That nights team meeting left me feeling inspired, Creed has a unique way of talking to the riders that is truly inspiring and comes from a place of knowledge and wisdom, I was truly in awe of him this whole week when he spoke to the riders.

Stage three was set to be the longest stage of the whole Redlands Bicycle Classic, but it was also one of the most fun for me. Lesli brought along her iPad and computer so we could once again live stream the feed zone but this time we were going to make it even more exciting. We started tweeting for people to send in their questions with the hastag AskAstrid and I would answer questions in between the feeding and preparation for the feeding. I was surprised at the number of tweets we had with questions, some serious (asking me how I go into the Soigneur career) and others not so much (how tight are Creeds pants really?). We also got over 5,000 views that day and I was much more comfortable in front of the camera than I initially thought that I would be.

The guys were looking strong through this stage, there was a break of about 11 riders, with Michael Torckler sitting comfortably in it and we knew this would be a good stage for Travis McCabe to do something, he had finished second in the same stage in 2013. We were hoping he could one better that result. And he did. As Lesli and I were standing just past the finish line waiting for the riders we saw Travis come up towards the finish line, Ty Magner was right behind him and from the angle we were at I was nervous that Ty would catch him. It wasn’t until Travis’s arms went up in the air that I could breathe (scream) a sigh of relief. Lesli and I were over the moon, the plan Creed had laid out in the meeting the previous night had been executed and we had won the stage. It was an amazing feeling.

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That night we all had dinner together as a team, it was a truly joyful occasion and you could tell that every member of the team had played their role in getting Travis there and every single person in that room was happy. We had proven to America that we had come here to race.

Saturday was the day of the criterium, Roman has previously won this race so I was pretty excited to be there, I felt like there was a little bit of family history at this race. I spent the majority of the race standing in the pits biting my nails. It was nerve wrecking. And even when it was so obvious how well the team was controlling the race I couldn’t help but be completely uneasy throughout the whole race. But we were fine, the guys rode amazingly and when the break needed to be reeled in a little bit, Zach went on the front, did one massive pull, split the field up and gained 7 seconds on the breakaway group. Travis finished safely in the main group in 7th place.

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The Sunset Road Race was going to be the deciding stage at the Redlands Bicycle Classic, the guys did an awesome job of staying on the front the whole day but when Joey Rosskopf attacked there was noone to go with him and he managed to gain enough time on Travis to take the stage win and the overall tour win. It was heartbreaking. But at the same time I am one who looks at all the factors, we didn’t lose that race, the guys fought the hardest they could and for only their third time racing together proved that they are contenders this year and are not here to fuck around. I was proud.

It was an extremely tough ending for the team though. Seeing Travis emotional, in tears, trying to hold them back whilst accepting third place on the podium was hard. Knowing that nothing I could say or do would help was difficult, especially with having the motherly instincts of just wanting to give them a big massive hug, but knowing from experience that sometimes it is just best to leave them alone. Like I said a roller coaster.

Oh and Travis finished 7th again in the final stage….I see a pattern forming…

Vuelta Mexico – A Soigneurs Experience

Vuelta Mexico. What can I say? What an interesting experience. What a way to start 2014 with Team SmartStop and my first full time year as a Soigneur. A UCI 2.2 six day stage race with eight riders in a country that does not speak English – trust me it was not easy.

I am almost certain that almost every disaster that could have happened in Mexico did happen – cars breaking down, getting lost, stress levels hitting the roof.

My first impressions of Mexico City blew my mind, it was not what I expected at all, but then I really had no idea what to expect. Mexico City was massive; full of traffic and the air was filled with pollution.

We arrived at the Fiesta Americana Hotel late on Sunday with just enough time to get the rooms sorted, all the riders settled in before it was time for dinner and to start organizing the week ahead. I seriously had no idea what I was getting into – where to begin?

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Julian Kyer and the boys ready for a spin

Mexico Traffic

Driving in the shuttle from the airport to our hotel I had already decided that there was no way I was going to be comfortable driving a 15-seat van in this city. Thank goodness, Creed had hired a local guy, Enrique, to help out Chris and I over the week – he was to be my dedicated driver during the Vuelta Mexico.

The way people drive in Mexico City made no sense at all. Drivers pulled out when they wanted, drivers didn’t stick to lanes, drivers constantly honked at everything. And I thought I had no patience! I am actually surprised that no one (that I heard of) got into any car accidents.

 

Getting Lost

Stage two was the first day where there would be a feed zone on the course, who would have thought that it would be so difficult to find a feed zone. It was a nightmare. First of all, the race bible was impossible to read, the directions were in Spanish but generally the directions clearly mark a left/right turn, names of roads etc. but this one, nothing. Even the local people in the towns we went through couldn’t understand the directions.

Once we thought that we were on the right road that the race would come through (after many attempts of finding a spot only to realize we were on the wrong road), we drove up and down too many times to remember, with a number of other teams, trying to find the markings that we were in the right place. Turns out there were no marking s for the feed zone so we just chose a spot that we thought was a good area and turned it into one. Turns out there were teams scattered all over the course of the stage that had created makeshift feed zones.

 

Van Breaking Down on Stage Three

Stage three was another stressful start to the day. I didn’t want to get lost again, my stress levels were already through the roof and then when we lost everyone on the way to the stage because our van couldn’t keep up with everyone else I almost lost the plot. Turns out our van had decided that it had had enough of driving around Mexico. We made it to the start and began following the race; eventually we would have to pass the peloton on the highway. Enrique and I were concerned that the van was not going to be fast enough to follow the race, so he pulled up alongside the Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies team van and started talking to them about whether I could get into their van and go to the feed zone and finish line with them.

As they were joking about the fact that they did not want a woman in their van, our van died. It took seven men to push the van onto the side of the highway, while I gathered everything I would need to take with me and jumped into Optums van.

One the way through the caravan we found someone from the organization who could help Enrique with the van. We needed it fixed, it had all our luggage in it as it was a transfer day! Then it was a wild ride to the feed zone, we followed the race until we got to a clear highway where the roads were close and we could easily and safely pass the peloton.

Once again the feed zones were not laid out as planned and our van alongside a bunch of other teams found a safe uphill spot to stop and create our own feed zone. We found a great spot and got prepared for the riders to arrive. Hanging out in the feed zone is always so much fun, people come up and talk to you, wanting to know what you are doing, take photos etc. It’s even more interesting when you don’t speak the same language and my Spanish was extremely poor!

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Stage three feed zone

I was nervous, today was going to be the first time I had feed Musette Bags to Team SmartStop and only the third time I had ever used Musette Bags. To say the least it was a success, except for one rider. With eight bags hanging off my arms I was ready to go, but I was a little bit slow off the mark getting a bag ready for Julian Kyer after handing off the first two bags, so instead he grabbed the bags himself, in the process taking three. Thankfully, when I talked to him later on the massage table, he said that it worked out fine, he saw that I wasn’t going to grab one for him in time so took the initiative to just grab one and was able to get the bottles and food to the other riders who hadn’t had the opportunity to come across to me.

After feeding we had to race to the finish, once again needing to find the appropriate place to overtake the peloton. Once done and on the way to the finish line of the queen stage, we once again came upon the guys painting the road. With Tom Zirbel from Optum in the day’s breakaway, their Soigneur, Jose, jumped out of the van, stole their paintbrush and painted TOM on the ground.

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Jose stealing the paint to support Tom Zirbel

We made it to the finish just before the first riders made their way up the climb. I will be forever grateful to the Optum and Jamis Soigneurs who helped me out that day, gave me drinks and towels to give to my riders as they finished and kept me in touch with Enrique so I knew what was happening with a replacement van. But that’s what cycling is about, us Soigneurs look after each other and help each other out where needed.

 

Stage Four Circuit

Stage four ended in a circuit race in the small town of Huamantla that was full of people, it was an awesome atmosphere. We arrive to the circuit race just before the riders showed up and set up in the feed zone. That day Flavio de Luna was in the break for Team SmartStop and having raced in this town previously he was a crowd favourite. People were coming up to me telling me how Flavio is their friend, they had grown up in the same village, went to the same school etc. It was so awesome to see the crowd go wild for him every time the breakaway came through.

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The break was eventually caught on the circuit with just a couple of laps to go. As I was feeding I noticed that one of my riders was missing, then the car comes around the corner and Travis McCabe is motor pacing back onto the peloton, Travis had crashed. It is heartbreaking to see one of your riders covered in road rash, especially Travis who would have been an instrumental rider in the final bunch sprint on the last lap. Despite being a man down, Jure Kocjan sprinted to second place on the stage.

Post stage, as we were waiting for the race medical team to arrive, I started cleaning out some of Travis’ wounds, getting all the gravel out with the hopes of stopping any possible infections. Stuck in his shoulder I found a piece of metal, it looked like a staple and I was worried that it was hooked into his shoulder. But these guys are tough and Travis just told me to rip it out. Thankfully it wasn’t as deep into his shoulder as I originally had thought. Travis is probably one of the only guys who can strike a pose whilst in pain and covered in road rash!

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After an eventful stage it was time to make the 170km journey back to Mexico City where the final two stages were going to be held. Chris and I took the van back and managed to lose everyone in our wake, it was fine until we hit Mexico City and neither of us had a phone with a working GPS. But Chris was amazing navigating the Mexican roads and got us back to the hotel in time to get the riders sorted back into the Fiesta Americana.

Clubbing in Mexico City

It was one of those “when in Mexico moments”, after I finished all my work with the team and dinner with Creed and Kriedl, I met Anita (5-Hr Energy Swannie) at the hotel bar for a drink. Eventually we were joined by a bunch of other swannies and mechanics. We decided to try the local spirit including Mezcal, a tequila like drink except you take it with an orange slice with chili powder. It was surprisingly nice.

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We then decided that we would go out and check out the Mexican nightlife. It was unreal. The bar we went to was insane, you stand outside (no lines, just a cluster of people standing outside) and hold up money and wait until the bouncer decides he wants to let you in (depending on how much money you are holding up). We walked into this nightclub and it was upstairs in this rickety old building, which at times felt like it was going to collapse underneath us. The beers were flowing, we danced the night away to both Spanish and English music and it was awesome.

Once the clubs start to close, everyone buys beer in plastic cups to take outside where the party continues. I have no idea where they came from but there were people there with guitars, singing and dancing, it was unreal.

 

Final Day Circuit Race

The final stage of racing was another circuit race, this time held in the heart of Mexico City, just down the road from the hotel we were in. Creed, Kreidl and I drove in the car down to the start only to be pulled over by the transit police as they claimed we were driving on a road we shouldn’t be. After arguing in broken English, Flavio showed up to try help us explain before someone from the organization arrived. Because I wasn’t sure when the police were going to let us move on with the car, I decided that I needed to get to the start with the guys bottles before the start so grabbed the cooler and had to walk the four blocks to the start. When Creed finally turned up with the car, it turned out that the police just wanted a pay off before they let him go but he didn’t bulge.

But that was only the beginning of the drama for the stage, turns out one of the riders from Guatemala was stopped at gun point while riding his bike to the start and had is bike stolen. From that moment, everyone was very wary of where they placed their bikes and made sure they warmed up in groups.

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My feed zone outfit for the 2014 season

The race started and we once again set up our own feed zone. On a short course, it was unlikely we were going to feed because of the high speeds the peloton was racing at, but we had the best vantage point on the course where we could see the finish line. The guys raced hard and fast and finished in fourth place in the bunch sprint, we were unlucky to have not finished on the podium that day but we were up against a bunch of teams who had been perfecting their sprint train for years now.

Mexico was a huge learning curve not just for the team but for me as a Soigneur. There are so many lessons that I will take back to America to the next block of racing.

Once again I made some more amazing friends in Mexico, that’s what is awesome about cycling. Everyone is in the same hotels, everyone eats from the same buffet table and everyone becomes friends. Although it wasn’t the smoothest of tours to work at and my stress levels were very high at some points, I will treasure this race. Some fabulous memories and some great friendships have come out of this tour.

The Travelling Circus

It’s Saturday, tomorrow I fly out to Mexico for my first race with Team SmartStop. I’ve been packing and re-packing for about a week now. Cycling is basically like a travelling circus, but what happens when that circus needs to travel internationally via airplane and the only things you can take are the bare essentials?

Eight riders, one Director, one mechanic and me.

  • Eight race bikes
  • God knows how many wheels
  • One mechanics tool box
  • Extra bike parts (fingers crossed we don’t need any!)
  • Enough Osmo Nutrition products (Preload, Acute Hydration & Acute Recovery) for six stages plus pre race training rides
  • Boxes upon boxes of bars and gels
  • One massage table plus lotion
  • Musette bags
  • Podium Bag
  • Spare kit
  • Chammy Cream
  • And my handmade team coloured Tutu – cause it’s not a circus without a Tutu!

and the list goes on….

With this being my first race I have had to pack for internationally without the comfort of knowing that if there is something I need the team trailer is there stocked with it all. I’ve packed and re-packed my massage table, bags full of nutrition, counting and re-counting whether I have enough. Making educated guesses as to how much I am going to need each stage. Let’s hope I haven’t screwed this up!

Mexico is going to be an experience that’s for sure. A learning curve that I am excited to tackle and I am thrilled to finally be at my first race with Team SmartStop after not being able to go to the Vuelta Independencia Nacional in the Dominican Republic with them.

The boss, Michael Creed, booked me the best flight I could ever ask for (NOT!). 5am, that means a wake up alarm of 3am to be at the airport by 4am. But hey, that’s the lifestyle and career I’ve chosen and it comes with the job. I’m sure I’ll survive.

I’m excited to see the guys again, especially after their success in the Dominican Republic, we started the year off with three stage wins, numerous podiums, time in the yellow jersey and a second in the overall GC. You really couldn’t ask for a better start to the year. I am looking forward to being a part of continuing that momentum into the Vuelta Mexico and beyond.

This is the start of what is going to be one of the best years of my life and I am looking forward to the challenges ahead.

Let the travelling circus begin!

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That time I survived the desert

I have officially survived two weeks in the desert. Better than that I officially survived my first team camp whilst in the desert.

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Team photo shoot up Mt Lemmon

Scorching hot weather (well compared to a Vancouver winter), no clouds in the sky, practically no wind, it is safe to say that we had the perfect January training weather. We couldn’t have asked for it to be better.

I flew into Tucson from Vancouver, via San Franciso to be greeted by Chris Kreidl (mechanic) and a burrito (! Brownie points to Creed for thinking of bringing me food to the airport). I had briefly met Chris at the Tour of Alberta last year but didn’t know a whole lot about him, so the half hour drive to the staff house was an opportunity to start getting to know each other.

The staff house was in a gated community, it was a beautiful house with a hot tub, swimming pool and putting green. Not complaints from me!

My first order of duty was to sort out the leftover swannie supplies from previous years and figure out what I would be needing for the year ahead, while Creed and Kreidl went and did airport runs as the riders arrived.

IMG_2893 OSMO Nutrition and Polar Bottles – my two trusty supplies for the year

The first rider I met was Shane Haga, or Baby Haga as he is known as. His name comes from the fact that his older brother is also a cyclist and stems from when he started high school. But in all fairness, he does not seem like a baby at all.

The riders were staying up Mt Lemmon, which was a fun (not) one hour drive from the staff house, 25 miles up hill with an elevation gain of 5,000ft. This was fine the first couple of times, until I realized that I was going to be driving up and down twice a day, each trip taking an hour, so four hours on that mountain! I cracked about half way through on one of the trips down after giving massage and took too many completely wrong turns to get home! But hey, we all made it through the 10 days and came out unscathed!

Meeting the riders was awesome, Creed has put together a great bunch of guys for this season, so many different personalities but a friendly bunch of guys who have so much potential for a successful season.

IMG_2919 Getting attacked by my riders already

I have tried to compose a list of all the things I learnt at camp and the things I love already about the team. I probably missed out a lot, but here’s a few…

Things I learnt at camp

-       I have a very loving relationship with Cactus, they practically stalk me, it seemed no matter how much I tried to avoid them they just wanted to stick their prickly little thorns into my skin (and cause massive rashes all over my body)

-       I like to go above and beyond through my baking and race food. Was I trying to spoil my cyclists? Yes. But in all fairness, baking calms me, makes me happy and seeing the guys enjoying my baking warms my heart.

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-       Boys will always be boys, I will be enduring another year of  “that’s what she said” comments

-       That it is important I take time out for myself, sit down, relax, breathe, go for a run, do some yoga, whatever it doesn’t matter but there needs to be some me time

-       That driving up and down Mt Lemmon four times a day does not get any easier as the days go on

-       I can survive on five hours of sleep

-       That we have the best team on the domestic circuit this year, they are going to kick some ass!

-       That I am in my dream job, and for now life really doesn’t get any better than this

Reasons why I love my new team

  1. Creed and Kreidl are getting a team Bulldog – While I was definitely not into this idea in the beginning, the two has convinced me that it is a good idea (even though I am convinced that while we are on the road I am going to be the one taking care of it!)
  2. The team is so diverse, there are so many different personalities within the team but best of all everyone gets along amazingly
  3. Team camp was in Tucson, Arizona. Who isn’t happy when surrounded by beautiful scenery and warm weather
  4. We have a model in the team – Travis McCabe is that guy, that one guy who strikes a pose during the shirtless photo and gives me the pout as he battles up Mt Lemmon
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  6. Getting called mum two days into camp – it didn’t take long for that to happen
  7. Creed and Kreidl – pretty sure I couldn’t have asked for two better people to be working alongside
  8. Social Media – Management have given me full reign to do one of the jobs that I love most, social media and writing. I will be writing press releases, race reports, weekly emails to sponsors and am working with Pat and Austin on Facebook and Twitter activity
  9. Mexico! I get to freaking travel to Mexico with the team for a race! Tick that one off the bucket list
  10.  The team is not afraid to act silly and have some fun. As seen with the shirts off team photo
  11. We have some awesome support in terms of sponsors

So I survived the desert and team camp!

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 The Canucks are joined by Gord Fraser for a training ride

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Bottles and chilly bins! My life for the next 10 months!

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Tackling Mt LemmonIMG_2984

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I am now spending the month working on media and social media efforts before my first race with the team in Mexico in March (with a short holiday to California in between).