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- by Laura Weislo|
T-mobile International (a.k.a San Francisco Grand Prix), September 14,
"Why exactly am I doing this?Ē I asked myself as I climbed up Filmore
Street during the pre-race ride.† I didnít even get to the steepest part
when I decided that my 36x26 gearing was too big and took a left turn before the
top.† I had traveled clear across the country, braving the 9/11 anniversary
terrorism scares from our State Department, to participate in this race, so I
figured I better switch to the 34 inner chainring and get ready to suffer.
Back in August, an e-mail was forwarded to me from a guy named Eric Lynch. They
were putting together a composite team, Ashmead/King 5, for this race and needed
riders.† Before I could think too rationally, I responded, "Pick me!"†
It wasnít until after I was invited to race with the team that I started
having second thoughts.† Everyone knows that the race in San Francisco has
the nastiest, steepest, hardest hills on the US Pro circuit, and the womenís
race would be so short (49 miles) that it would be lightning fast in between
those climbs.† A basic 2 hour suffer-fest of the highest magnitude.
Still, I am always up for a new challenge, so I booked the flights for myself
and my husband/mechanic/soigneur, Emory, and started exploring gear options.†
We initially decided upon a 12-32 mountain bike cassette and a MTB
rear-derailleur, but then Eric, the team director, got a last minute sponsorship
from FSA, and I wound up with super-nice compact carbon cranks just like Tyler
Hamilton rode in the Tour de France.† They arrived via Fed Ex. Emory
installed them, and I was ready to race.††
I packed all my cold weather gear
only to arrive in California to an unusual heat wave.† We met up with the
rest of the girls on the team: Suz Weldon (2003 Masterís National Time Trial
Champion), Zoe Owers, Kate Sherwin, April Henderson, Leslie Mittendorf, and Kim
Flynn to pre-ride the course at 9am on Saturday and temperatures were already in
the 80ís.† We navigated our way through downtown SF, dodging cars and
trying to decipher the course map at the same time.† Most of the course was
flat except for the infamous Taylor Street and Filmore Street climbs, only a
couple big-ring hills in the middle.† As we tackled Filmore, I heard
someone on the sidewalk gasp ďOh my god! Itís so amazing they can do that.Ē†
Meanwhile I was wondering how or if I could ever make it up this thing four
times.† Kate danced up the climb in her 34-25. I hoped that changing my
inner ring would help me climb like that.
Ilegems of Team Telekom
we got back to the hotel, Emory got to play team mechanic, as Kim and Leslie had
discovered some shifting problems with their bike during the ride.† Kimís
was an easy derailleur adjustment, but Leslieís rear dropouts seemed to be out
of alignment.† We took her bike down to the room set aside for the pro
mechanics and were able to get help from Team Telekomís mechanic, Ken Ilegems.
As he adjusted her shifting, the front derailleur cable suddenly snapped out of
the clamp. Good thing that happened before the race and not during!† Ken
replaced the cable and made everything work smoothly.† Whew! While he
worked, the rest of us ogled the Gilberto Simoniís Cannondale and Rolf
Aldagís Pinarello, and caught a glimpse of one of the new Specialized S-works.†
Sweet!† A bit later, Alexandre Vinokourov and Guiseppi Guerini arrived from
their pre-race ride, but I was too shy to say anything except ďgood luckĒ.
Later that day at our pre-race meeting, Eric and Suz had an impressive spread
of bike race goodies laid out in their hotel room.† Race radios for
everyone, bars, water bottles, gels, and of course, jerseys.† They had
magnetic decals for the team car and everything!† We were going to look so
professional!† I only hoped that I could ride well and not disappoint them.†
Emory got picked to drive the team car, and it was decided that our rental car
would be the best vehicle choice.† I started regretting not accepting the
extra insurance when I rented itÖ
My first time using a
Anyone out there?
Wake up call.† I choke down a bagel and a cup of weak coffee. No
restaurants are open for breakfast so this will have to do.† I watch the
weather channel and see Hurricane Isabel heading for coastal North Carolina, so
much for my beach vacationÖ
5:45AM:† I head down to the lobby to meet the team for warm-up.†
Diana Zilute is still in her street clothes, carrying a plate of food back up to
her room.† Threshold Sports had a breakfast buffet for the trade teams and
race staff, but not for the little folks like us.† Itís dark outside with
no sign of the sun yet.
6:00AM: Kim and I head up the Embarcadero to warm up.†
6:20AM:† Sign in.† Weíre supposed to meet to sign in as a team.†
Thereís supposed to be cameras and a big media circus, but itís just the
riders and the official and the announcer calling out names to the non-existent
crowd.† I sign in and head out for another lap of the Embarcadero as the
sun finally starts to rise.
6:50:† I get a call on the radio to come to the staging area. The
Ashmead girls have scored a prime spot.
7:00-7:25AM: I stand at staging getting progressively colder.† My legs
start to shake from the cold and nerves.† Acca Due O finally shows up
(still warm from their trainers) and takes their place at the front of the
7:30AM/ 49.6 miles to go: Call-ups are over, we scoot to the start line, a
woman sings the anthem and weíre off.† The pace is immediately flat out,
and although I clipped in the first try in every other race all year long, it
takes me three tries to get in the pedal and Iím at the back of the pack.†
7:31AM/ 49.3 miles to go: First crash of the race!† An Acca Due O rider
hits a cone in turn three and goes down.† I brake and go around her, and
then Iím at the whip end of the pack and have to sprint out of every turn.†
7:34/ 47 miles to go:† We head out for the 5 mile loop. †Iím
totally anaerobic, still on the tail of the pack.† A rider just ahead of me
hits a pothole and her bottle falls out. I narrowly avoid hitting it.† We
make it up the big ring hill on Broadway, and I start to move up, heart rate
7:42 AM/ 44 miles to go:† Taylor Street climb.† Iím mid-pack and
have to concentrate really hard on not running into anyone as girls start to
figure out they are really over-geared and start tacking back and forth up the
steepest part.† I can see an attack going further up, and hear the
announcer saying itís Ina Teutenberg.† Wow!† Over the top, the
hammer goes down and weíre single file all the way back to the Embarcadero.
7:46AM/ 42 miles to go:† The pace is so high, I feel like Iím going to
puke.† Iím coming off the back as we head out for the first large loop.†
I look down at my computer to find that weíve only been racing 17 minutes!†
I canít get dropped yet!† The caravan starts to come around me, but as we
head up Broadway, the pack slows a bit and I am able to catch back on.
7:48AM/41 to go: Another crash! Two riders go down in front of me at Broadway
and Columbus and I have to go left of the median to avoid them.† Suitably
adrenaline filled, I jump back into the pack and start moving up.† The pace
is reasonable, and I am below my threshold for the first time in the race.
8:00AM/37 miles to go:† I can see the front of the pack as we head down
Marina. Hot damn!† I figure a break must have gone, and hope it has all the
big names so the pack will let up and I can survive.
8:05AM/35 miles to go:† I hit Filmore Street solidly mid-pack, and hear
the announcer shouting Inaís name again.† Damn, that sprinter can climb!†
Again, all I can do it try and avoid running into anyone.† I feel like I
can climb faster, but the girls in front of me are coming to a stop at the
bottom of every pedal stroke, inching up the road like caterpillars.† As I
crest the hill, the peloton is once again in full flight, screaming down the
other side.† I look back for some help closing the gap and thereís no one
there. The climb has blown the pack to pieces.† The tail end of the pack is
not far, but I totally wuss out and canít get up the effort to close the gap.
We make the turn onto Polk, and the peloton ahead of me is like waves breaking
over the cross streets as they speed down the hill.†
8:10AM/33 miles to go:† Iím in
a group of stragglers as we hit Taylor for the second time.† Climbing is
much easier with plenty of elbow room, and I start passing people.†
Unfortunately, thereís still a big gap ahead of me to the pack when I hit the
top, and the effort of climbing was like doing 100 reps on the leg press. My
muscles have reached failure and I cannot close the gap.
Yes, it's really that steep and this isn't the worst part.
The next block that you can't see is even steeper. Ouch.
miles to go: Iíve raced about 45 minutes and am completely tapped out.† I
get passed by the caravan and my race is over.† I see my teammate Suz and a
couple other girls, and we head out for another lap, but I know I wonít finish
it.† Whatís the point?† As we climb up Filmore, I decide that I
donít have to climb the last torturous pitch, and scoot out the barriers onto
the cross street.† I donít want to hear the crowd cheering anymore, and I
feel profound failure as I head back to the hotel to shower.† I pass two
separate crash victims along the way, one of which is Diana Zilute who
apparently got nailed by a moto. I consider myself somewhat lucky.
9:40AM:† Cleaned up and dressed, I watch the womenís finish first from
the big screen, then live as the winners speed past.† I radio encouragement
to Zoe and Kate, who are still in the race, telling them to sprint for the last
money spots. Zoe takes 4th in the sprint of the second group and Kate finishes
in the middle of the group, having lead out the sprint.† Iím really happy
for them, and it cheers me up considerably to see them finish well.†
For some reason, I found my eyes welling up with tears as I watched Dede
chasing Nicole on that last lap. I really wanted Dede to win. She raced with so
much courage, sacrificing everything to try and win while the others just sat on
her.† I know that sounds clichť, but it takes great strength of character
to go all out up a hill like Filmore and then find extra power to attack over
the top.† I choked back the tears ofÖ of jealousy?† Of a sense of
failure?† Of a sadness that the race and my season are over?† Of sheer
exhaustion?† For my bank balance after seeing the bill from the Hyatt
Regency?† A combination of things, but mostly they were tears of awe at the
beauty of the sport, of admiration for greatness that I will never achieve.
I want to congratulate to all the survivors of the first edition of this
race, especially my fellow North Carolinian Alisha Little who finished 21st in
her first full season as a bike racer.† Now thatís talent!† I also
want to thank Eric and the entire Ashmead/King 5 team for all their hard work.
Many thanks to FSA for the awesome carbon cranks, and to Emory for being an
excellent mechanic, an awesome husband, and for supporting me in all these crazy
Until next seasonÖ†††
You can learn more about the intrepid Laura Weislo at her personal website!