“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
- 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.
- 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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.