Sunday, July 29, 2012

A New Stage: Tour of the Valley

The weekend of July 13-14-15th was an entirely new experience for me.  Having just returned from a nice week's vacation in Maine and Maryland, it was off to Youngstown, OH for the 2012 Tour of the Valley Stage Race.

I've never done a stage race before, but the team was going (or rather, much of the team was going) so I decided this may be a very limited opportunity to A) do a stage race and B) do a stage race with a team.  Time ebbs by more and more quickly, and I know that in the coming years it may be harder and harder to do things like this.  So I jumped at the opportunity.

The order of events is this:
Friday evening: 9 mile Solo Time Trial (TT)
Saturday: 26/54/80 mile Road race (RR) (depending on Category)
Sunday: 35/40/60/90 min Criterium (C) (depending on Category)

I drove up on Friday morning, arriving in Youngstown at about 1pm.  After a disgusting sub from Subway (my own fault for trying to just eat veggie and combining avocado with sweet onion sauce), I got to the Mastropietro Winery at about 1:30-2:00.  I had lots of time to do...nothing...because my start time wasn't until 6:27pm.  I was a little worried about when I should eat, what I should eat, and when I should start my warm up, as the race was so late!  I knew I'd need lots of warm up after taking the day off the day before, due to my time trial effort to get Derek some meds 2 days perviously, essentially because I thought he was dying.  Haven't heard that story? Find the short version here

I got my TT bike ready, chatted with team mates Mike, Shawn, Jeff and Ben, and tried to just stay super relaxed.  After a bit Shawn, Jeff and Ben went and picked up our keys to the Youngstown University Dorms, our home for the next couple of days.  This left Mike and I to make some adjustments to our bikes, but mostly just sit around and chat.  We sat in the shade of our sweet Cannondale team tent, and talked about what we'd been doing the last couple of weeks, about work, and the races to come.

I have never done a solo time trial.  All of my time trials are smack dab in between a swim and a run.  So, despite much "Jerry this is what you do" by team mates and others, I was unsure how I'd fare in the TT.  I figured 9 miles was a ~23 minute effort depending on the terrain (this looked flat from the maps).  23 minutes is very very short for me.

But I kept thinking about cyclocross, and the intense effort needed there, and kept reminding myself that (while yet only a Cat 4) I do ok at that.  Mike had also never done a time trial.

After a bit, the others got back and team mate Brian and Billy showed up separately.  After more sitting and munching on food, we all geared up and went for a pre-ride of the course.  Ben pulled off almost immediately- there was a stiff wind and he decided not to run his super deep (90mm) aero wheels.  I had my 60mm deep wheel on the front and a 55mm on the rear.  I was fine- but it was a stiff "breeze"!  Serious head wind at times, awesome tail wind at others.

The course was an out and back, and there was only 1 corner, and 1 turn around.  The corner you could take in the aerobars and at speed, but of course the turn around had to be done slowly.  The course rolls to the turn, then makes the left and goes slightly down for a while.  Despite the profile map, it's not exactly all down to the turn around, but it's definitely more difficult coming back.  Team mate Ben pointed out that we shouldn't save anything for the last bit after the turn, because we would have a screaming tail wind to help push us along.  I agreed, and made the mental note.

After our "warm up" (we all probably went a little harder than was really smart- or at least I did at times) I got my trainer out and did further warming up along with team mates Shawn and Brian.  A great surprise was the winery let us use the bathrooms inside, so I took advantage of that, and also filled my water bottles with the sink.

At start time, I took stock of how I felt.  I didn't feel great, I was still a bit tired from the Derek bee sting ordeal (see link above) and the general fatigue from the previous weeks travels and camping (5 hours of sleep in 2 days).  But I didn't fell horrible.  I wasn't sore at least- which is more than I can say for most of the road races I've done this year!

At 6:20 I was in line to start.  I was the first to go on my team in Cat 4, and had no idea what to expect as all the Cat 3 guys were either still on the course or cooling down.  I only had 1 Cat 4 rider in front of me, and I was very determined to catch him.  I knew going into the next couple of days our team would need as much time as possible if we were to think about taking the Cat 4 overall.  And I knew this event was probably my best chance to contribute to the team.

At 6:27 they called my number up onto the trailer.  As I sat there on the bike, watching the guy in front scream away from me, the volunteer holding me up, I got serious butterflies in my stomach.  I took a deep breath, grit my teeth, and my mind cleared.


At "GO" I did the pro thing and CRUSHED the pedals, throwing down 700+ watts over the first 15 seconds, and I rocketed away.

I was surprised how far the rider was in front of me.  I guess I hadn't really thought about how far away someone can get in 30 seconds when they're going down hill and trying to go as fast.

I did NOT do a very good job of keeping my effort level under control in those first 5 minutes.  I made the exact mistake I had been repeating to the team, and went out a bit too hard.  Not overly so, but probably about 10% too hard.  So by about 1/3 of the way through, I was deep in the pain cave and well into anaerobic land.  I let up as I continued on, but tried to keep my power as close to 250-260 as I could- this is where the power meter is a huge help in pacing.

At the turn around I remember glancing down at the powertap computer again and seeing it said 10:03.  WOW!  I was flying!  If I could maintain this power output I knew I was on course for something like a 21:00 final time.  I also saw that the guys behind me were pretty far back; I was not going to be caught from anyone behind me I could tell.  This may not have been such a good thing, as it made me a little less panicky to stay in the red, and as the pain increased, I started to slow down.

In the cross wind and head wind and rough pavement I could feel a lot of resistance from...?  I'm not sure.  I've had some intermittent dragging problems on my TT bike and I think it's due to the ~1mm clearance I have between my front tire and brake (thought it was due to a wearing hub on my powertap but that has since been replaced).  I think the wheel deflects enough just with me fighting the wind that it drags occasionally.  Tire wear supports this.  I'm still trying to prove it though.  It's very frustrating!

On course I saw Cat 3 team mates Ben and Billy going the opposite direction, and on the way back saw that team mate Jeff was about to catch the 2nd person in front of him (he had already passed 1).  Nice!

By the time I got to the slight grade before the turn going back, unknowingly, I wasn't breathing as hard, I could see clearly again, and my power numbers had dropped a lot (30 watts!).

NO!  "What are you doing?!?!?" I thought.  I only had a mile or so to go, and was about to get the boost of the tail wind- I had let off too much (or went out too hard).  Crap.

So I threw the gauntlet down again, and when I rounded the corner I could see that I was gaining on the guy in front of me.  He was still some way off, but I was shutting the gap down.  I really wanted to catch him.

I buried myself for the next several minutes, and screamed across the line.  I wasn't nearly as close to black out as I had hoped (i.e. I don't think I went hard enough), but I had got the gap to the guy in front of me down to about 10-12 seconds.

With that I saw my time was 21:31, which equated to 24.3 mph.  I was happy with that!  Pretty much what I expected.  I yelled to team mate Mike waiting in line to start that he had to beat 21:30.  He nodded but didn't say anything.  He looked ready!

After all was said and done, I ended up 29th out of 66 "omnium" Cat 4 riders (those doing all 3 races).  Jeff got 14th, Mike 22nd, and Shawn 56th.  The time separating Jeff and I was less than 1 minute, about 3/4 a mile/hour, so the competition was stiff.  I think if I had a goal time to shoot for I would have done marginally better, but really I had a good ride.  I don't ever do 20 min super hard efforts, except maybe in a road race, so I was happy with my result.

We wait around for the results, hoping that Jeff would podium, as there was a rumor his time last year would have won.  But we saw the results, and packed up to leave.  Mike took a quick snap shot of the overall to give us an idea of who the potentially strong riders would be the next day, and which teams we had to compete with.

It was clear that Team Bike Shop was going to be the toughest competition.  We weren't sure where we stood exaclty, but we were about 2:30 down to them in time.  We found out later that we also were 10 seconds behind team Waslabs.

Still we were opptomistic, and at dinner that night (very late) we were happy and excited for the next day.  2:30 was nothing if we could get Jeff or Mike into a break away, and prevent any breaks from Bike Shop or Waslabs...

We discussed this at length over Mexican food (maybe not the ideal pre-race food) before heading back to the dorms.  By the time we unloaded our stuff, got situated, showered, and ready for the next day it was midnight.  I turned the light off by 12:15, and was asleep quick...

The next day I woke up around 8.  Our race didn't go off until 11:30 and it was only a 30 minute drive.  I had a quick breakfast of 2 english muffins with peanut butter and a banana.  Everyone else was already up, and Mike had already left to go to the race site.  I think nerves were a little high this morning for everyone.

The plan was for us to go to Dunkin Donuts for more breakfast but a Junior from another team that was staying with us dropped the bomb on Jeff that his race was starting in only 40 minutes!  They barely made it, but Jeff had to leave of course immediately.  Then the rest of the group got scattered, and I ended up by myself driving to the race site by about 9.

After going in circles a few times trying to navigate on my phone, and look like I wasn't, I got to the race site by about 9:50, after stopping at another Dunkin Donuts -of course- (got a multi-grain bagel with reduced fat cream cheese and a small iced coffee- love DD).

Once at the school, I checked in and put my numbers on my jersey, and then got everything set up (trainer, bottles, wheels for wheel car, food, etc) and hung around with the team for a bit.  No one seemed especially enthusiastic to warm-up, but I knew I had to.  I knew after the day before, I'd need a nice long warm up to get myself back into the swing.

So after discussing some tactics (basically cover moves and try and get Jeff or Mike into a strong break) and munching on some cereal and drinking some Camelbak Elixir I jumped on the trainer to get a nice warm up in.

Well, I forgot to bring my wheels over to the wheel car, and then I had to pee and I guess I didn't plan very well because I only had about 15 minutes of warm up on the trainer before everyone was about to head over to the start time.  Ugh.

At the start, I made sure I was right in the front.  With a field of 75, I knew I didn't want to end up in back- yo-yo-ing off the back and in danger of being caught in a crash.

After a pre-race talk by JR and the Officials, we took off.  I immediately moved into about 15th position.  The pack was being really nervous, they were right on the wheel car's bumper, and people were trying to move through the pack for no reason, and they were trying to go too hard around the initial corners.  For no reason.  It was so stupid.

And, of course, people paid the price in the back.  Within the first half mile, during the NEUTRAL roll out, I heard a horrible screeching noise, then the sound of metal on the pavement and the popping of a tire.  I didn't look back, but I guess two guys touched wheels and it ruined a lot of guys day.

The next several miles were uneventful.  I stayed near or at the front, with team mate Mike.  He actually rode off the front for a little while.  But soon he was back in the pack.

Right before the first significant gain in elevation a guy attacked, and a rider from The Bike Shop team went with, and I jumped across the gap- and as soon as I got on his wheel, they both glanced over their shoulders, and gave up.  I'm sure it's because the first rider didn't want to take a TBS guy with him, and the TBS guy didn't want to pull a Dynamic team member along, so my counter worked I guess.

We went over the top of the climb and I stayed right on the front, and was surprised that I was not drifting back through the group.  Maybe I would be able to hang with the group after all.

About this time Jeff rolled up next to me and we rode along near each other, and he told me he thought Shawn had crashed out.  Bummer (turns out he hadn't, but after the first loop he dropped due to knee pain).

A little further up the road and the course takes sharp left and we hit the first of the "rollers".  Note I said "rollers" not rollers.  These were climbs.

I survived the first one slipping back through the group.  When I glanced down at my powertap, it was reading a consistent 365-375 watts.  I started to get nervous; if this kept up, I was going to get dropped- and soon.

Aaannndddd I was right.  The first roller goes right into the second, and by the start of the third, I watched Jeff and the rest of the group ride away from me.  I tried as hard as I could to hang in, but the group was pretty strong and left me seeing stars and hoping I'd get a flat so I could just stop...I just wanted to stop.

I was by myself for a pretty long time, no idea where I was, how many were in front of me or behind me.  Probably 20 minutes went by without me catching anyone or being caught.  After a bit further, and some more rolling terrain, I finally caught a single rider who completely refused to work with me and just kept trying to drop me.  So I let him go.  I was pretty irritated.

Once I got onto the flats I could see a group of 4 riders pretty far up the road, and I was determined to try and get into that group.  Not long after, a group of 5 guys rolled up next to me and scared me so bad I just about caused a wreck!

The group looked strong, and contained Mike from Steel City that I knew was a pretty strong rider.  I was so glad to be able to get a little rest as I tagged onto the back.

I cycled back to the front eventually, and when it was my turn to pull off, I was surprised to see our group of 6 had swelled to group of 9!  Great, now we can work together to catch the four in front of us, and perhaps then our group would be strong enough to catch the peloton.

My hopes were squashed pretty quickly though.  It was clear several of the guys in the group either didn't know how to ride in a group or just didn't care about catching the groups in front of us.  They kept doing long pulls and the whole group would stall.  I yelled a couple times "shot pulls" and "pull through" but they wanted none of it.

This went on for what felt like an hour, but was probably 20 minutes or so.  And the group of 4 in front of us just kept slowly moving away.

And then a rider got to the front and just completely stalled out the whole group.  We literally dropped 2-3mph.

That was it.  I couldn't take it anymore.  I was in 3rd position, a perfect place to attack.  As we came over the top of a riser, I jumped out of line and threw the hammer.  I wasn't so concerned with dropping the group as I was in motivating them to chase.

But, my attack had a different effect.  When I looked back about 30 seconds later, I had 1 rider about 15 feet off my wheel, and another about 50 yards back- the rest were in the distance, unable or unwilling to counter.  It made me feel awesome!

I let the rider catch my wheel, and he was very willing to work with me.  He was strong through the flats, but told me he'd struggle as we got to the climbs.  But we worked together for a while opening up the gap behind us, and closing the gap down in front of us.  After about 5 minutes we let off a bit, and the rider who had been trying to bridge to us latched on- it was Mike from Steel City.

So now we had a good group of 3 and we quickly caught the group of 4-5 in front of us.  After about 5 more miles, only 1 of those riders remained with us.  We closed in on another group of 4 or 5.  This time the group stuck together, and I got some needed rest.  Back in a group of ~8, I knew we had a good chance of catching a bunch more riders.

But again, after about 5 more miles, we were 1 rider down again.  And after some hard pace lining over rolling terrain, we were down 1 more.  So when we hit the rollers, we were down to a group of 6.

The guy I attacked with was dropped on the first roller, and the group of 5 of us- Myself, Mike of Steel City, a The Bike Shop rider, a Merrel Lynch rider, a team I didn't know (neon green kit).

We rode together, worked together, and pushed each other along.  It was a solid group, and I was constantly at my limit on the climbs.  The Merrel Lynch rider was a MONSTER on the downhills and flats,.  I consider myself a strong flats rider (for Cat 4) and I would have to duck into his slip stream when he got on the front.

But it was clear that the TBS rider was the strongest climber of the group.  Mike asked me if I was "OK?" and motioned towards the TBS rider, knowing we were in the hunt for the team jersey, and that TBS was in first.  I shook my head yes and told him that that was one of the faster guys from the time trial the day before.

After that, he did me a couple of favors by pulling me back onto a wheel, or doing an extra pull up front.  Not a lot; but he did do me a couple solids.  I owe him.

Through the next miles we dropped the guy in the neon green kit.  I was hurting pretty bad, and my legs kept cramping whenever I tried to stand up.  I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to stay with the group.

But several huge gulps of electrolyte drink and a Honey Stinger gel, some flatter terrain, and just some time to recover from the "rollers" and I was feeling better again.

One of the best parts of the race came next; we were cruising along some section of the course, and could see that there was a group of at least 7-8 guys in front of us, riding in a pretty disorganized manner.  I was on the front, and the TBS rider rolled up next to me and said "make sure you go by these guys with some speed so they can't latch on".

Great idea.  So we swung around a corner and I started to ramp it up.  It was a long straight and I really got the train rolling.  We stayed quiet and when I was withing about 30 feet I really turned the screw and pulled out to fly by.

When we went by we were probably doing 30-31mph.  A rider yelled "hey!" as we went by, but we just hammered it.  I kept my head down and stayed on front for another minute or so, as we rolled up on another small climb I pulled off and glanced back.  I'd done it!  The group was at least 200 yards behind us, and it was clear they were chasing, but we were away.  And the other guys in my group took over and we motored away.  It was great!

The rest of the race I just tried to hang.  We caught a few more random riders, and even some masters riders that were stragglers from the race before us.

The finish has a small climb followed by a downhill into a grade that finishes with a short flat.  I was dropped on the first small climb.  The TBS rider beat the other 2 guys in our little group, with Mike from Steel City close behind.

I was so tired and and cramping pretty bad at the finish; I just wanted to lay down.  I had 54 miles, 2:31 minutes (21.1 mph avg) and 3700ft of elevation gain.  Average watts were 211, with my best 10 second peak of 1040 watts (no idea when I did that).

When I got back to the team tent, Jeff was already laying down.  It had been a tough day.

He told me he had got dropped on the second loop and tried very hard to catch back but never made it back on.

It was worse for the others (Shawn and Mike V) on our Cat 4 team.

Turns out, Shawn had dropped out after the first loop due to knee pain.  Mike V had also dropped out after the first loop because of both physical and technical problems- his seat was slowly lowering while he rode because he didn't tighten it.

So that was it.  We were out of the team competition.  Things happen, but we were all a bit disappointed after the previous days results in the time trial.

Our Cat 3 team of Billy, Brian, and Ben did significantly better.  Brian got 6th in the sprint to the finish, with Ben and Billy very close behind.

We hung around for the results, and then all got in our vehicles and proceeded back to the dorms.

I was beat.  After my shower all I really wanted to do was eat as much as possible and go to bed.  My ankles were starting to bother me a bit.  I was also getting a head ache from electrolyte imbalance.  Some Camelbak Exilir and salt tabs helped with that.

I wasn't kidding; Jeff was literally laying down.

We all then headed to Danny Boys italian eatery for some pizza and pasta.  I got a really good calzone, and was very pleased with the prices and food.  The live music was a bit loud because we were right under the speakers, but besides that the atmosphere is really nice too.

When we were all said and done we got back to the dorms again around 9.  After taking some more salt tabs and doing a little bit of rolling on the foam roller, I was ready for bed.  But the team was sitting up drinking some beverages, so I sat with them for a little while.  But around 10:15 I couldn't do it anymore, and headed for bed.  I read a bit of my book, took a benadryl, and it was lights out at 10:30.

Day 3 started shockingly well.  I woke up with my alarm at 8am.  I felt bad, but not really bad as I had expected I would.  Again I quickly ate a couple english muffins with peanut butter and a banana, got my water bottles all filled up with electrolyte drink, and headed down to my car with a load of stuff.  After 3 more trips, I was on my way, following Jeff and Shawn, to the Criterium course.

The course is a square, with 4 corners.  Starting at the start line, it's about 100 yards to the first left corner.  Then it's a flat straight stretch to the next turn (left).  It's then a pretty long gradual downhill to the next left, then a shorter flat section that had a middle island in center that you could go left or right around.  Then a very narrow left turn onto a side street and quickly up a very steep short climb. From the top of the climb it was no more than 50 yards to the finish.  We would have to do this for 45 minutes.

We got to the site later than we wanted too because it was tough to find parking.  After getting all my stuff out of the car for the third time now, I headed to the start line to check in.  There was a race going on, and they were going pretty freaking fast (Cat 5?  I can't remember).  I started to get nervous...

Jeff, Shawn, and I head out for a good warm up.  Mike V was already set up on his trainer.

After only a couple minutes riding around at a very light pace, Shawn decided his knee was hurting to bad to continue.  We were out of the team competition so it didn't matter anyways, so no sense in anyone hurting themselves.

After about 15 minutes of cruising back and forth on a 1/2 mile section of road Jeff headed back.  I got my final bottles together and just kept cruising up and down the road.  I did a couple hard sprints, and was not overly confident in the way my legs were feeling.  I decided to eat more.  I had a Raw Rev bar and a Waffle and a Gel.  That should be enough.

Since I've never done a "Crit" before I was really worried I wouldn't have the power to hang with the group.  I'm not a sprinter, I don't have a lot of power, and I have very little experience- so I figured I'd make it a handful of laps and then get dropped.

The womens race that was before us finished and we quickly got on course and rode around the lap.  The little hill was brutally steep and after riding it I felt even less confident than I had while warming up.  I just kept saying to myself "it's your first one, it's a free-bee".

We got back to the start line and guys were already lined up.  I squeezed into the second line with Jeff.  Mike V was just behind us.

During the pre-race briefing the official said that due to such a big field (60 riders+) he was going to be  pulling lapped riders, or those that looked like they were going to be lapped, off course as he deemed. Any rider pulled off course would be given the last place time, but order would then be determined by number of laps completed.

I was TERRIFIED of being pulled off.  I had very little confidence I'd be able to hang on.  I had little confidence about the road race the day before, and that had gone even WORSE than I had expected, so I figured I was totally screwed.

At the whistle, I quickly got right up towards the front of the field as we tore away from the startline.  I was not surprised by the savaery of the starting speed, but that didn't mean it didn't hurt any less.  We were going so hard already- and it had only been mere minutes.

I settled in to the front third of the field, and Mike V went by me in the first lap, and he actually helped in chasing down an early break/attack.  After a few laps, I was already sliding back in the group.  Every time we had to do the climb I'd fall a little further back.  But I'd always be able to bridge back to the group on the first flat.

After about a 4 or a half dozen laps, Mike V slid back beyond me.  I never saw him again.  I also hadn't seen Jeff since the start.  I figured he was right around me but I just hadn't seen him make his move yet.

The laps just kept going by, and the pace never slacked.  In the beginning I saw a guy from The Bike Shop totally eat it- flipped right over his front wheel slamming into the pavement.  Luckily, even though he was practically on the front and in a corner, no one hit him and no one else was involved.  I also saw a guy get squirrelly and almost go down on another corner.  But overall, I was very pleased with how well guys were holding lines.

By lap 8 or 9 I was at the back of the group.  Every time we hit the hill I would fall off, and I would then slowly battle my way back onto the group.  Initially I used other riders who were not being smart, to pull me across to the group.  But after a while there were no more of these riders because they were either in the group or behind me and many of those had been pulled off course.

I actually used the course to my advantage when this started happening.  I would keep my cool and not go too hard across the top flat, but just slowly reel in the group.  Then, on the downhill I would just continue with the effort and would really make up some ground.  By the bottom flat I would be back in the group.  This worked for probably 4 or 5 laps (7-12ish).  I even stayed in the group for 2 laps in the middle of this (somewhere around 6,7,8,9) because the group had caught some attackers that went off the front and the pace slacked just a bit.

Around lap 8 or 9 I also noticed that Mike V was sitting on the curb- with some other riders, including Mike from Steel City.  They were out of the race!  This was both a bad thing and a good thing.  It was horrible to know my team mate was out of the race, but it was a pretty good motivator to know I had to represent, and that I was probably doing fairly well if these super strong riders were off course- unless they had a technical (which turns out they did not).

So this is what sustained me for the later laps.  As did the single Honey Stinger I was able to choke down during the chaos.  It just kept getting harder to get back in the group.  By lap 13 I was just barely getting back to the group at the bottom of the hill.  I was in trouble.

I held on for another lap (or 2 I can't remember now) and then was finished.  I couldn't get back int the group.  Now I just had to stay out for a few more laps and survive to the finish.

I saw that it said we had to do 4 more- so 19 total laps.  I was panicking- I had worked so hard, I wanted to make it to the finish!!!!

I ended up getting pulled along by a Merrill Lynch rider for a couple laps.  I yelled "pull through" and even tried to pass him but he wanted none of it.  Which was fine with me!  Let him do the work.

So we made it to the final lap together, somehow, passing a couple riders and then catching 1 more.  He jumped on the back and we drafted the the Lynch rider along the top flat.  He then tried to pull get up front to do some work, like I had, but the rider wanted none of it.  So he just passed him and kept going.

This finally evoked a response from the Lynch rider and he jumped on this guy's wheel.  This was fine with me, since I was in 3rd position now and set up perfectly to make a move.

On the corner before the bottom flat, the Lynch rider slowed a lot and I quickly went around him.  It was now me and the other guy (no team I think).  I had planned to attack here and leave the Lynch rider because he was not as good a technical rider.

But, with me on the front unwilling to do any work until I attacked, we had slowed, and the Lynch rider came up next to us and blocked my path around the corner.  I thought he was going to pull the same move I was planning- but he didn't.

No matter.  Instead of attacking right into the corner, I attacked right after.  And it still had the desired result.

Hitting the hill I was at full power, and crested still ahead of this little group, and just tried to hold myself up right to the finish.  I did.  I had made it!

I got 35th of 53 finishers, but there were a bunch who dropped out I guess.  Mike V had been one of them, dropping after the first 1/2 dozen or so laps.  Jeff was not feeling it that day, said his legs had never felt so bad, and ended up being pulled at lap 13.

Myself and the other 2 riders were the last ones to finish on the lead lap (completed all 19).  I was very very proud of this result.  I learned so much and I think in the future I could really learn to like, and perhaps even do well at, Crits.

So with that my first Stage Race was over.  I hung around for a bit, had some of the free food, checked the results- which were wrong but luckily Ref Ryan Post figured things out- and cheered on my Cat 3 friends.  They ended up doing well again, and won the team competition overall!

After that I drove home the two hours back to Morgantown.  I had lots of time to reflect on what had happened, and on my races.

I decided it was a lot of fun and I can't wait for next year.  I learned more about my strengths and weaknesses over the weekend than I have in all my races combined to date.  With the stiffer competition, the 3 different events where you compete against the same people, and the difficulty of racing 3 days in a row, I think the stage race is an excellent venue for beginners and seasoned riders a like to really be able to assess their strengths and weaknesses to a higher degree than in a single day race.

I think with another year under my belt I should be able to do even better in the TT, and hope to at least make it to the 2nd lap in the field during the RR, and perhaps make it to the field sprint in the Crit- or even throw an attack myself.  But there are a lot of days between now and then, and I hope to really grow as a cyclist using every minute to my advantage.

Thank you to all the sponsors that sponsor this team for providing me with great gear and nutrition to get me through the weekend, and the sponsors of Tour of the Valley Stage race for helping put on a top notch race, as well as ABRAracing for an absolutely amazingly professional race experience!

Thanks to Fred Jordan and Mike Briggs for many of the photos