Sunday, July 29, 2007

Team Time Trial: The Last Shall Be First...... start.

I enjoy this event because I actually get to sit on a wheel, and be with someone. Since we're only a two woman team we have to stay together. Second rider across is the determining factor. It's not like 1992 when I was riding with two much stronger and younger women. Gretchen and Sherri took off after a few warm up rolls on my wheel. Though Janice is probably a stronger rider then me, we had similar times in the individual time trial, so we should not have trouble staying together.

Our only problem; barring a major miracle or massive mechanical failures from the other teams, we're coming in last. Even Long Island with their slow third rider (the one who saved me from the "last place grand slam" by finishing 16 seconds behind me in the individual time trial) can beat us. One of their riders who I've raced against before at previous Games said, "You're the only team we'll beat." In major league sports that would be serious "bulletin board material" to get a team pumped up for their opponents who would have the nerve to say such a thing. She wasn't be arrogant or nasty when she said it. She was just commenting on the chances of her team in this race. Unfortunately she was right, and all the motivation in the world could not change it.

The other aspect of this race of this race that I was looking forward to was the course itself. They were using the portion of the Bronx River Parkway that is closed for "Bicycle Sundays" in the spring and fall. I've ridden the route hundreds of times since 1983 when I first started riding a bike again. I have many fond memories of "Bicycle Sundays" over the years. John and I have met many good cycling friends out there, and before we started doing the Gimbels Ride we thought we were hot stuff. A group of us dubbed ourselves "The Bronx River Racers" because we could speed by all the casual weekend riders. After we took our lumps in our early attempts at the Gimbels Ride, we learned we weren't such hot stuff. Maybe being a "Bronx River Racer" wasn't something to be proud of.

I had not made it out for any "Bicycle Sundays" this past spring, but given my history with the road it would not be a problem. Between riding and driving that stretch for the last 24 years, to say that "she's familiar with the course" is an understatement. When I think back on my decision making regarding Open versus Masters, part of the draw to the Open was being able to do the Team Time Trial on the parkway.

Despite my detour to my house to pick up my orthotics, I had no problem making it up to White Plains via the parkway before they closed it to traffic. It gave me another chance to check up on the construction spots. Fortunately there's only one place where it goes to one lane. The police actually closed the parkway at 8:30. That allowed us to actually ride a part of the course for a warm up. Janice opted for the wind trainer. I stuck to my normal routine of riding on the road. After Thursday's little mishap, I'll pass on trainer warm ups.

The great thing about using this course is that it makes for long laps. So instead of having to do lots of laps of a short loop, the women had two laps and the men three laps of a 13.5 mile loop. This meant there would not be as much passing, and not trying to remember what lap we're on. It can get a little crazy out there when you have 18 teams going off at two minute intervals. Each team has it's own support car following behind, so between all the riders and their support cars it can't get a little hectic when one team overtakes another team.

Each region has two 5 man teams and one 3 woman team. The trick for the coaches is figuring out which riders they want on their A and B men's teams. In the men's race it's the third rider across that stops the clock. The coaches have to decide the right mix to maximize their chances. The riders have to agree on their strategy in terms the order of the riders, how long each rider will be at the front, and what to do if they lose certain riders to mechanical issues. So before the race starts the various teams are huddling to work out their strategy.

There wasn't anything deep or complicated about Hudson Valley's women's team strategy. Stay together, stay together, stay together, and don't drop each other was the game plan. We would figure out how long each of us would pull once we got a feel for each other out on the course. How's that for advance planning?

They send the teams out in reverse team standing order. So Hudson Valley's A Team was number one, followed by Western A, Long Island A, Central A, Adirondack A, and New York City A. Then the whole sequence would repeat again with the men's B teams going in that same order. Finally after the 12 men's teams go off, it's the women's teams turn. Once again Hudson Valley would lead off as team number 13. I thought that number was appropriate given all that we've dealt with. As were waiting behind the last few mens teams to go somebody made the observation that we look rather alone there, with just Janice and me. It's a contrast seeing a two women team standing on line behind several five man teams. It's sort of like looking at a grape sitting next to a apple. Both are fruit, but one is bigger then the other.

The other thing I like about a team trial is one foot is on the ground. No one is there to drop me! If I fall at the start, it's my own damn fault, and perhaps a sign from God that maybe I shouldn't be racing. So after the countdown from the official, and no signs from God, we were off. Janice took the first pull, and then I took us up the first hill out of White Plains. We didn't have a set time that each of us would spend at the front.

There were a couple of things I had to get used to as we took our first few turns in our pace line. One I had to make use of the curves in the road. When Janice was at the front she would cut a straight line which would mean she'd actually end out in the other lane. I'm so used to blindly following the road around the curves. She reminded me to cut the curves. The first time she did this I thought she was pulling off already.

The other thing I had to get used to was how close she stayed to me when she pulled off. I know when I'm in a pace line I have a tendency to move too far out when I pull off. Janice doesn't so I had to get used that. Given my post-crash discomfort level with pack riding, I had to deal with that aspect. I also found myself staying a little further off her wheel then I should have been. However I was sitting on my aero-bars most of the race. I only got off them when I was climbing. I didn't even want to think about how close she was to my wheel. I tried to stay as smooth as possible.

It wasn't too long before the Western women came up on us. Our team car honked to let us know when we were being overtaken. In a team trial event when a team is overtaken they pull over to the left, and let the overtaking team pass on the right. That totally goes against the grain of my triathlon mindset of stay right, pass left. But then again, team time trial goes against the triathlon mindset of no drafting. So basically I had to tell my inner tri-geek to "stuff it!"

When the men's teams overtake us it's pretty impressive to watch and hear. Most of the guys have disks so we hear them coming before we see them. There is also the beep of Gemma's car horn to let us know someone is coming. After Robin's unintentional "snarky" remark about beating us, I really didn't want to get passed by Long Island, but they did overtake us, sans their third rider. They spit her off the back fairly quickly. After they went by I said "Damn, I didn't want them to pass us." Janice told me to try to stay close to them. I didn't really see what good it would do even if we could stay close. We had a four minute head start on them based on start order so now we were at least four minutes behind. Maybe Janice is a prophet because as it turned out Robin's chain snapped, so they had to stop and swap out her bike. I didn't see this happen, I heard about it after the race was done. Sheesh, their team car had a spare bike on top? Are we at the Tour de France? Actually some of the men's teams use radios to communicate with each other and the team car. That's a little intense for me.

We had two sets of wheels in our car so were prepared for flats, but a major mechanical like a broken chain would have been a disaster. For me to switch bikes I would have needed a second pair of shoes also with the correct cleat. Having a team car is nice because now and then they pull up next to us, give us encouragement, and remind us to drink water. Drinking on the tri-bike with no aero-bottle is difficult for me. So I'd do it when I was sitting in back. So every time they yelled to drink, I'd reach down and grab my bottle and take a sip.

We got through the first lap, and my legs felt pretty good. I find that I get stronger as I go along in this event. I remember in 2004, I started feeling better as Dale was feeling worse. Janice wanted to try to pick up the pace a bit on the last lap. I was game to try. On the first lap we had managed not to get passed on the turns, or in the construction zone on the northbound side. On the last lap we wouldn't be so lucky in the construction zone. I'm not sure whether it was good or bad that the construction zone was on a hill. The guys couldn't go quite as fast as they would on the flats, but on the other hand neither could we, so it was probably a wash. Janice and I got as far over to the left as possible without hitting the barrels. I got a little closer to one of them then I would have liked to, but since I was not down on the aero-bars it wasn't a problem. The guys passed us, and after we got back to two lanes their car went by.

One of the bad things about being the first team to start is knowing just how badly you're getting beat. At some point during the race, the Central women who started 6 minutes after us caught up, and just as we were cresting the hill into White Plains for the last time the Adirondack women (8 minutes behind) caught us. The only team not to catch us was NYC. They had started 10 minutes behind. However if we had to go a few more miles they would have caught us too. None of this came to me as any great surprise. As I said before, only a major miracle or a few catastrophic mechanical failures would change anything. As it was, there was a mechanical failure but nothing like having a spare bike to take care of that problem.

After we finished we rolled back to the parking lot. It wasn't long before everyone was in, and they posted the final standings. Western, the team that everyone had left for dead after being short two riders for the entire Games came through with wins in the men's and women's team time trials. In the team standings they shot up from fifth to first. Long Island shot up from fourth to second. NYC, who had started the day in first ended out in third.

Alas, Hudson Valley having started the day in last place remained last. So much for the home field advantage. So much for having a women's team. They did the same thing in Rochester with no women. Despite our presence not doing anything to improve Hudson Valley's chances this year, I still felt it was important that Janice and I were there. How sad would it have been to have the team trial go off with only five women's teams, and have the home team be the missing team? Pretty sad in my opinion.

I only knew a few of the guys on our team. Many of them were from Dutchess, Rockland, and Putnam counties. With most of them staying home instead of on campus you lose the camaraderie of hanging out at dinner together, and shooting the breeze about the day's race. I don't know if they cared whether Janice and I were there or not. It would have been nice if we could have contributed more. However even Adirondack with their two women team couldn't do better then fourth despite the fact that they came in 3rd in the women's team time trial and the one woman won two golds and a silver. I think it comes down to having good time trial teams, and racking up as many points as you can in the individual races.

Here are the final team standings:


Western 1738

Long Island 1668

New York City 1641

Adirondack 1575


Central 1540


Hudson Valley 1425

Ultimately my choosing to represent Hudson Valley wasn't about the guys and helping them in the team standings. It was about making sure the home team was represented in the women's open cycling division. It was about trying to be an example to other women. It was about participating in the Games at home.

For many athletes they have to fight tooth and nail to make their region's team. I remember my niece's disappointment in just missing making the Adirondack women's ice hockey team back in 2004. It would be her one and only chance to play ice hockey at the Games. Any girls or women want an easy way to make it to the Games? Become a cyclist. You may have to move to a region where there aren't many women trying out for cycling. Cycling may be an easy ticket to the Games, but it isn't an easy ticket through the Games.

By the time I finish 4 days of racing, I'm physically and emotionally exhausted. I remember at my first Games in 1992 being so spent that I burst into tears after the team time trial. It was a combination of our women's team missing a bronze medal by two seconds, and just the stress of competing at such a level for four days. As I was talking to friends after today's race I found myself getting a little emotional. I was close to crying, but I had to remind myself that this wasn't about medals. This was about participating, and representing the home team.

Next year the Empire State Games return to Binghampton. Hopefully if I'm there next year it will be because the Cheetahs decided to make a road trip to do some masters racing. I'll show up at FDR Park next June and do the qualifying race so that we can keep the numbers from dropping. Just maybe I can actually try to race instead of being a warm body. Maybe I can simply be an emergency alternate, instead of on the team. Maybe pigs will fly soon. :-)

No comments: