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Faded Shapes

USAC Pro Road Nationals Blog

This blog was lagging a bit since I started driving to Colorado directly after the road race, so I offer my apologies. Thankfully, I had a solid 20 hour drive to process my thoughts and emotions regarding the TT and Road Race. There’s just so much to say and process at these events and it’s sometimes hard for me to know what to share and what not to share. I did get several questions asking me to compare the road race to gravel racing and what that has looked like for me, so I think given the number of people asking about this I will try and circle back to this as much as I can.

I raced the time trial on Thursday and in all honesty, the conditions were pretty brutal. It was raining very hard and lots of water accumulated on the roads making the already technical TT course even more technical. A lot of TT courses are out and back and fairly flat, making them pretty straightforward. The course here has several U-turns, a steep hill and a descent with corners making it an atypical TT course for a newb like myself. I had ridden the TT bike ONCE in the rain my entire life, which was 2 days prior to the actual race. When rain was forecasted I did everything I could to try and get out on course in conditions that would mimic race day. I do feel that helped me mentally, but on race day I broke the cardinal rule of changing things on race day. I made a change to my set-up that impacted the handling of the bike and on the first U turn I lost control of my rear wheel and started to slide out. Thank goodness I did not crash or go down, but it definitely impacted my skill the remainder of the race. I was super cautious and could not corner at speed and lost a lot of time because of that. It was a painful, but valuable, learning lesson for me. Getting 6th was not exactly the result I wanted, but then again there were 3 world champions (2 x TT and 1 x triathlon) in front of me. After much reflection, I also have to accept that training for a 30 minute effort is DRASTICALLY different from gravel fitness. I knew that coming into this and had to remind myself that I was showing up with very different training as this was not a high priority event in my build. I mostly wanted to come and see if I enjoyed it and where I stacked up with little attention given to the discipline. My takeaway: the time trial takes a lot of specific training to do well and that attention to specificity requires attention. My gravel calendar just doesn’t allow me to “have it all” and I have to accept that.

The road race was a lot of fun and if I’m being honest I had WAY more fun in this race than I expected. I am about to explain how the race started and my transparent struggles, and before that I want readers to have an understanding of my road experience. My first road race was Snelling Road Race this spring with the men’s field, 2 local crits this winter and then 2 stages of Redlands and all stages of Gila this spring. I did one road fondo previously as well. Road racing is drastically different from gravel in my opinion. The speeds you are racing at are so much faster. Despite 10 times up the brutal Sherrod hill, we still averaged over 22mph for the 70 mile race. I finally broke 50mph on one of the descents for the first time too. But with that, the speeds are terrifying for me since my experience at these speeds is lacking. The race was more like a circuit with a loop of around 7 miles that we repeated 10 times. At the start, it’s rippin fast into a downhill with several turns then the Sherrod climb starts. Positioning into that climb is pretty critical as well but I found myself going backwards in the group on the descent prior to this. I started to feel my leg trembling as we entered the first downhill descent and I just felt panic. We were going so fast yet people were so aggressive about holding the wheel or navigating around you. I felt shoulders leaning into me and it was hard not to panic. I’m not used to this; road cycling is a contact sport. I entered the first climb in a very bad position and the effort required to move up was tough. From there, I told myself I had 9 more times to improve and tried to shift my mindset from panic to executing improvement. I told myself to get near the front prior to entering the downtown crit loop, even if it meant a little more work it was worth it to try and avoid going backwards in position into the climb. I tried to quiet the voice in my head telling me I had nowhere near the skill these other ladies had. Instead I told myself I was fine and started to think about how to lean my bike, where to place my wheel, protecting my front wheel, etc. Anything to avoid the panic and reminder of how new I was to it all. Then slowly as the race went on, I was able to focus on other things as I started to see improvement in how I was riding. I no longer felt like a newb and my confidence in my ability improved. I could actually think about the race vs surviving or trying to mitigate losses. There are many more details about the race, including why I was on the front - which was not a smart move, but felt like the right thing to do for reasons I don’t care to share.

But at the end of the day, I was proud that I entered the final mile of the race in the lead group. As we entered into the downtown finish, which included the last 2 corners of the crit I found myself in the back of the pack which was the WORST position. I was so caught up on surviving that I failed to position myself well into the finish. I also recognize that I have not trained my top end fitness and the snappy bursts were not my priority in training so I’m not sure the outcome could have changed other than a few placings but my biggest mistake was positioning in this section of the race. I don’t even think I was able to have much of a finish sprint because of that and that was the most disappointing part of the entire race was realizing that mistake. It was valuable learning for me, and hopefully pays off in another race down the road. I think in gravel I think about these positioning tactics less so it’s not second nature for me yet. I’m still processing what’s happening and the other women are already making the move. This is the difference between experience and newb. It’s painful at times, but it’s part of the learning process. And quite frankly, it’s making me smarter and I’m really excited to see that pay off in future races.

It’s a challenge at these events. Often we think about our power and strength for racing, but we fail to neglect the amount of mental energy these events take. If your mental energy is focused on calming yourself down or surviving, you miss out on racing and tactics. I knew this even in the race and it did improve each lap, but the point of highlighting this is that experience plays a role in HOW you race regardless of your strength. I excelled into the elite and pro scene very rapidly, this is due to my strength and my commitment to learning. However, the gaps in skill and experience are palpable for me in a race like this. I don’t always share that but I think it’s worth noting. The gap is closing in on the skill, but there’s still more for me to learn. Yes, my benchmark in this race was against world tour riders who have been doing this exclusively for decades…so my standard is high. I know that and I frequently give myself grace but it doesn’t mean it hasn’t fueled my desire to continue to improve.

I also got asked how hard it was to ride Sherrod hill that many times and honestly it didn’t feel super hard until the last 2-3 laps and I think this was because I was doing more work outside of the hill so it made that section feel harder. I also have been on the Unbound training plan and my priority events are usually 6-8+hrs long so training for a punchy 1-2 minute climb has not been a priority for me and that caught up towards the end as I started to fall back on the climb. And it’s hard to explain this without trying to sound like I am making excuses. But there is a reason we don’t see many gravel pro’s racing at this race. The training is just not the same and I made the conscious decision to show up on more endurance fitness, and it was tough. My NP was 271w for just over 3 hours (average was only 208w) so you can see the variability with that and get an idea of how hard it was. Looking at TP, I spent over 31 minutes during the course of the race at a power over 360w, ouch… The race was truly a race of attrition as we started with over 80 riders but only about 25 riders actually finished from what I was told. The front group was only about 18 riders into the last lap and then as people got pulled they got prorated finishing times, which aren’t always accurate either. Definitely an interesting way to go about the results and something I am still learning about as well.

So that’s the race details. For me, I see road as an adjunct for my gravel and it teaches me tactics, processing a race at higher speeds and makes me more well rounded. It gives me experience and knowledge that gravel cannot offer. Do I want to become a roadie? Well, it did cross my mind. But more of a curiosity question of what I could accomplish if I trained specifically for this. That was quickly met with realization of where my heart is at and where my resources are at. Gravel allows me to have a space to compete but also to have direct impact and say in what I am doing. You lose some of that with a road team. I have complete control over my schedule and how I can race and why I am racing. I can work directly with my sponsors giving them feedback and working towards shared goals. On a road team, I would likely have little say. Those that know me, you know that my voice is an important part of why I do what I do. I do think it would be fun to work with a team for a shared common goal. Maybe we can see that in gravel down the road if a team can organize and race collectively for a specific rider at the UCI level as that grows, but we are a long ways away from that. It’s just different.

Road racing also lacks the community feel that gravel offers. This is a stark contrast in road vs gravel that I see. For the road, you go to the event and basically leave right after. There’s no expo, no community activation or direct conversations with the industry itself. It has more of an elitist feeling from my perspective. Part of my view may also be skewed that I go to these events as a solo rider - completely on my own without a team or crew of people and I recognize that may also increase the isolation. But my point is, I just don’t feel the same as when I go to the gravel events. This may change in time as I get to know some of the other road racers, but it’s just different. I also want to highlight that it isn't bad. I think if you have a solid road team that has a good team dynamic, then you’d feel completely different. Your team is your community at these events. My situation is different. I’m a gravel privateer showing up to the top road race individually. I know that coming into the weekend and this is my choice. I would do it again despite feeling this way as well. Mostly because road racing is fun for me and I’m learning. Fun is fast and riding fast is fun!

For the equipment people:

  • Bike: Trek Emonda with SRAM 2x 52/39 with 10-33 on the road race; Trek SpeedConcept for the TT with SRAM 54 1x and a 10-33.

  • Tires: I raced on 26’s with latex tubes for the TT and on the road I was on 28’s set up tubeless

  • Wheels: HED disc and HED Vanquish V8 on the front for the TT set up and the Vanquish V6 for both wheels on the road race.

  • Helmet: Abus gamechanger for the road race and ABUS full TT helmet for the TT

  • Clothing: Voler skinsuits for both, and in my custom gravel design

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