What a weekend of riding bikes! For those who have followed my journey this year know I haven’t had the ideal season, but in a way that has allowed me to enter this race fresh and more motivated to have a stellar result. With the Lifetime Grand Prix this year, the depth of the women’s pro field has deepened and a win at one of these events is monumental given the competition. This was the last race of the series, so a lot was on the line for many riders with one last shot to get a higher position in the overall rankings.
During my recon in the days leading into the race I thought I would struggle with some of the descents. They were really loose, off camber and I figured this would be a weakness of mine so my coach and I had discussed a plan to work the uphills in the middle section of the course to minimize the damage on the descents. However, when the race started I quickly realized the start would actually be my bigger weakness for position. It was mostly paved and some net descending overall. Additionally, the “neutral” roll out didn’t seem to exist as I averaged 310NP for the first 10 minutes and was still dropped from the lead group. It felt like a crit race, even though I’ve never actually done a crit. I knew there were several females in the group ahead so my heart sank, but I also knew the day was long and anything could happen out there. For the women starting with the men, there’s always a balance of how hard do you go in the start for position, knowing that may catch up with you later in the race.
From there, I had a group of a few men who wanted to chase, along with Rose who was also in my group. Early in the course, we passed Hannah as well as Haley, Lauren and then later passed Salvia who was on the side of the road with a mechanical. After some time, we finally caught up to the larger chase group which included Emily, Alexis, Sofia and Sarah. Lauren had also bridged back at some point. Entering the first feed, we had a decently large group with positions 2-7 for the ladies. At that point, I really enjoyed having that many women together in a mass start gravel race, which just doesn’t seem to happen these days.
For this course, there are 4 punchy climbs out of Pineville and I knew this was the area I wanted to mitigate descending losses so I had planned to push those hills comfortably to maintain my position. Emily put in a small attack on the first one, but the group reformed on the top. Then I pushed the second one, which caused small gaps and then regrouping after (but effectively making them work to chase back on). On the third climb, I decided to sit back to see if anyone else was going to push the pace but that one was more mild. The fourth climb, the paved one, Luaren went to the front but I felt the pace was still comfortable so I decided to make a big move here. I figured this was my chance to see if anyone would come with me and I knew I was going to be able to recover on an upcoming descent. The legs were feeling good at this point and I could see on the previous climbs the others were starting to hurt so it seemed like a good time to try and lose a couple females in that group.
Thankfully when I made this move, one other male rider also came with me and a large group formed to the others. It’s risky when you have a good group working together to leave the comfort of that group. I also knew riders like Lauren and Emily are good engines and willing to work, so having them chasing me was certainly a risk. But at the same time, I was here for the win, not second place, and Ruth was still up the road so I was motivated to try and catch her. So because of that, I was motivated to push the pace and me and this other guy eventually started to pick up other men who had fallen off the lead men's group or chase group. We started to swell in size and build a good group working together, including myself taking pulls and ensuring the pace was strong. Aftermy move 4-5 miles in, I caught Ruth and unfortunately for her, she had cracked and didn’t have much left that allowed her to latch on to our group.
From here I knew I just had to be smart - being in the lead that early was good and bad. I knew I had the potential to maintain this pace as I was feeling strong but I also knew I still had 50 miles ahead of me. I tried to be smart on any descents even if it meant a small gap opened to the group I was working with. I just put in an effort to latch back on telling myself I can work hard, but if I crash I could be out of contention. I tried to be light on my pedals and unweight myself on anything chunky to minimize risk of flats as well. This plan worked well and the group I was with continued to grow throughout those last 50 miles which was a huge benefit for me in those headwind sections towards the end.
At one point, one of the original guys I had been trading pulls with (Corey) said “you’re going to win this thing.” Wherever you are in the world, thank you Corey for believing in me! I didn’t want to let my mind go there too early, in fear that it could be taken away from me. I kept thinking, push forward and be ready even if they do catch back on. I wasn’t given any time gaps so I had no clue where I was relative to the other riders. It wasn’t until the last 8-9 miles when the road was mellow and our group was flying that I allowed myself to process and think, “wow I am going to win this!” I started to get goosebumps and tear up while riding. I kept telling myself “hold it together Paige!!” Only those closest to me know how much I have sacrificed to make this happen.
As I crossed the line and was flooded with interviews I knew I was no longer the dark horse. During the course of the day, I went from the media car next to me during the race not even knowing who I was during the race (could hear them talking about that lol) to the biggest underdog who won. I don’t think I was on anyone’s radar to actually win this thing, but I knew I was capable of it. I rode with confidence and was fearless out there. This really changed things for me and will give me even more confidence to ride at that level in the future, which is exciting as I grow in this sport.
For all the dark horses out there and the total newbs who are just getting started - never give up on what you know you are capable of. You can start riding in your 30’s and learn how to ride a bike at this level. Keep fighting even when you don’t have the support, eventually it will come. Ride with confidence even when others put you down or try to intimidate you. And lastly, you can be fast and fierce, but also nice. Win with class knowing you are the same person on the bike as you are off the bike.
For the number folks out there, here are some of the stats:
248NP for 5 hrs and 33 minutes (241 average)
170 bpm average heart rate (I was workin….)
42’s tires mounted on HED emporia GC3 pro wheels (thank you to HED team for letting me use some wheels after some late mechanicals headed into race week)
24psi front, 26psi rear
100 grams of carb per hour (flow formula drink mix and SIS gels)
Big Sugar Additional Stats:
Distance: 104 miles with 7,400K
Place: 1st place pro female (Results Here)
Location: Bentonville, Arkansas
Bike: Ventum GS1, affectionately named Lady Lilac
Tire: Specialized pathfinder pro 42’s (24/26psi)
Strava Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/8003823037
Coach: Lucas Wall with Develo Coaching