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Spring Prairie

Hill-aciously Worked Over (2010 Spring Prairie Road Classic)

Just a simple 6.4 mile route carved out of rural hilly roads with a parking lot plopped down on a small slice of field.  Ronit and I were surrounded by many other team colors but ours.  Not a big deal, but a rarity.  Nobody seemed any too eager to mingle.  To mention, though, it was a junior heavy race, so most of the crowd were parents focused on the kids.  After two junior classes were released, the Cat 4 ladies gathered.  It was there we found out:  neutral rollout but we had to ride “the wall” (18% grade hill) to start atop.  From there on out, the 6-8% grade hills would put a continual burn in the thighs, with a brief stretch of down (top speed 35 mph…wee!).

Lap 1:  all too common, I quickly was on the back end of the gap. Ronit’s chain had dropped on the rollout hill, so we were separated immediately.  There was one other rider that was close enough to work with, but dropped 2 miles in.  Alone … again.  Lap 2:  more wind, more hills, more burn.  I passed some juniors with immense potential.  I got swallowed up by two lead juniors, totally amazed by the strength in their young, developing legs.  Lap 3: It’s Gu time!  Lap 4: ride hard, save something for "the wall”.  I kept wishing I had one more gear, but then I wondered if anyone would be sick enough to ride a single speed.  Up and over, sprint … done.

I checked on Ronit's status.  The officials said she did ride and “finished”, but on lap 3.  Come to find out, when she finally returned back to the car, the judges had urged her to finish with the lead ladies, but she wasn’t done with that course, so she willfully pushed on to complete the 26 mile ride.  Impressive.  An added shout out to Ronit in her first, cruelly brutal road race!

We might not have come anywhere near placing, nor rode the prettiest bikes, but we both “rode with heart” and added a chapter (or more) to our racing knowledge ….

 -Jen Groen

Spring Prairie: My First Road Race

For some unknown reason, I decided that the Spring Prairie Road Race would be my introduction to road racing. Maybe it was the allure of the brochure boasting “tendon tearing climbs.” Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment.

My racing experience has been in mountain biking, which means I understand mud and grime, rocks and roots. This year I’ve been doing a lot of road training -  learning about drafting and spinning, and figured why not, let’s try this road racing thang.

Spring Prairie was 26 miles (Women’s 4s). Four 6.5 mile loops. I’m more of an endurance athlete, so that was a little short for me. But, I figured it also might be a good first race.

I signed up for the event with teammate Jen Groen.  We were nervous about the 18% incline that we’d have to ride four times. And that monster hill had sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles. An extended family of hills awaited us.

Jen and I rode with the pack up the first hill to the starting line. There were about 15 of us. A third up of the way up, I dropped my chain. Not ideal – dropping one’s chain before the race starts. I quickly put the chain back on, but the field had already taken off.

I swallowed a fireball of frustration at my misfortune.

“I can catch up,” I told myself as I spun furiously and concentrated on the blur of riders moving farther and farther away. I spotted Jen trailing the pack slightly and tried to catch her. But the gap was widening, stretching like melting taffy on a sweltering day.  Any chance of working together was quickly slipping through my fingers.

Keep steady, I told myself. You’ve got the endurance. You’ll catch ‘em.

But I could barely catch my breath. I labored heavily as I wobbled up the hills. My chest felt tight. My lungs were sore. I cruised down the hill only to be hit by the wind trying to blow me sideways.

I saw Jen and the pack recede like ants shimmering against the road, father, father, until they were just specs on the horizon. Taunting me. And, then gone.

I continued alone, braving the crosswinds and hills. Joni Mitchell was stuck in my head in an incessant loop, “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Of all songs, why this one??

“Good job, good job!” spectators in deck chairs cheered as I wrestled up the 18% grade hill welcoming me to lap two. “No,” I thought to myself. “Not a particularly good job. I’m so far behind that the pack is in a different zip code by now.”

My lungs were getting tighter by the minute.  It dawned on me that I should use my inhaler. I reached into my back pocket, grabbed the dusty thing and took two puffs. My lungs began to open up. It was refreshing to breathe in deeply and fill the lungs with sweet air.

Once the iron cage lifted, I started biking faster, but I still was by myself. Soon the junior riders began to catch and overtake me. That’s hard for the ego, but I have to give them props. They were fierce.

I was nearing the end of lap three when the women’s pack came up from behind and lapped me. I tried to hang on to their wheels, but they were too fast. They shot past and sprinted up the 18% grade to the finish line.

I slowly climbed behind them.  My bike wobbling in all directions.

“You’re almost there!” an encouraging spectator shouted. “Almost done!”

“No, I’ve been lapped.” I stated. “Got one more lap to go.”

But the course officials had a different idea.

“Race is over,” the official told me as I began lap four.

“Not for me, I still have one lap to go.”

“You’re done, it doesn’t matter. We’ve scored you.”

“But I came out to ride 4 laps, 26 miles. Can I finish the last one, please?”

They let me continue the last lap. I tried to make it count. Tried to gain some momentum, some reason for being out there.

The first wave of  Master’s Men 50+  passed me. “Hold your line,” they admonished, but followed up with “good job.”

“Thank you,” I smiled. I was feeling more charitable than earlier in the race.

Yeah, I was last. I mean really, really last.  But it was my first road race, and I had to deal with a dropped chain, a bike that weighed a ton, and an asthma attack.

I can’t say I felt elated when I finished. I never did tap into that blissful state of euphoria. But I survived, learned a lot, and am looking forward to trying this road thing again.

 -Ronit Bezalel

Hangin' on through Spring Prairie

On Sunday Isaiah, Zach and I made the drive out to Burlington, Wisconsin for the Spring Prairie road race. This is the road state championships race, and as such WCA gave us Chicagoans our own 4/5s non-cheesehead field. The course is about 6.5 miles through rolling country roads with a steepish longer climb right before the finish. The short up and down course reminded me of a circuit race, our field was doing 6 laps.

After our neutral rollout the race started on the "big" climb. The pack made its way up very slowly. The course was 4 corners but with enough twisty bends up/down and sideways that one could get away. And they tried for the first two laps, setting a rough tempo.

It was obvious that this would be a race of attrition, the pack would lose a couple of guys every lap on the climbs and descents. Although all of the elevation gains were only rollers they were enough to send guys out the back with their breakfast in their throats.

Coming in with good form and fresh strong legs I was able to hang on to the back with Isaiah and Zach. In the first couple of laps, Zach got popped out the back. After the first big climb there was a fast descent with a turn into another roller at the bottom. It was around here that I found my way off the back with a couple of riders including Isaiah and a Spidermonkey rider. I led them out to a Tower Racing fellow who was going back also. After a couple of shouts of encouragement from me and others it was obvious that I would have to dig deep into my suitcase of uncertainty to catch back on. With the desperate knowledge that if we didn't close the gap our race would be over, I put my head down and got aero on the hoods. Not wanting to wait for anybody else I took a big pull to bring us back to the pack.

Hoping that I hadn't burned too many matches, the pack settled into a much more relaxed pace for the middle laps. Conversational at times, it gave Isaiah and me opportunity to talk about our plans for tomorrow, and how surprised we were that we were still here etc. Not having had a great 1st half of the season I used this race to brush up my pack riding skills trying to move up ride more conservatively.

Once we started the bell lap I was feeling confident, at the big finishing climb I was always starting from the ass end of the pack but was able to move to the front half during the climb. I could probably make a big move and move up a bunch of places at the end. I also noticed that I had stayed in the big chainring the whole race except for the finishing roller. Hmm, I thought maybe I should try riding in the small chainring to let my legs rest a little. Big mistake. I shifted down to the 39 while we were on a flat section. My timing couldn't have been worse as the pack descended. A mental lapse cost me big. I went out the back at a bad time.

Just as I reached the bottom the pack was cresting the next climb. I tried for little bit to catch up, had this happened earlier in the race I might have had a chance.

So I finished by myself. Upset that a simple mistake made me miss the fireworks at the end, I was also feeling kind of good. I had managed to stay with the pack almost to the very end and accomplished my race goal of finishing with the 1st half of the pack. With my legs feeling this good in already I can't wait until August.

 -Adrian Silva