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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Nature Valley Grand Prix

Nature Valley Grand Prix is a 6 stage race in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is also where many of our sponsers are based including Optum, HED and Lazer. Throughout the week we all got to meet many of the people behind the team and try out some awesome new Magneto Lazer glasses! Optum and HED threw some pretty sweet party’s too.

Stage 1 was a 12km, no aero equipment, time trial. It was hard! Everyone totally killed it with 4 Optum riders in the top 10 and Carmen taking the top of the podium to beat one of the world’s fastest time trialists Amber Neban! That put Carmen in the yellow jersey. The strangest thing was that there was also a Queen of the mountains in the time trial (which I found out afterwards). They timed from the bottom of one of the hills in the to the top and Jade got the fastest time!! That put Jade in the mountains jersey. Great start to the race!

                                       Warming up before the time trial.

Stage 2 was the St Paul downtime criterium. With 100 odd riders and a course that is fast with lots of corners, I learnt that it is CRUCIAL to start at or close to the front. So when you start near the back and cannot get your foot in, your race is almost over before it even starts. For the remainder of the race I tried to work my way to the front, and failed miserably. I also had one leg that decided not to turn on so overall the race was a total disaster for me. However further up in the pack my team mates were drilling it. In the end Leah finished 2nd and Carmen 3rd thanks to a lead out from Janel and Jade. Another great day!

Stage 3 was the Cannon Falls road race. Finally! A Road Race! The crazy part is that it is a 120km race starting at 5 pm, who does that? We woke up to rain, and then it just kept raining and raining and raining. We headed out to the race, an hours drive. By the time we got there it had started thundering and lightening and was absolutely persisting down. After a lot of managers meetings, standing around and plans on changing the race it got cancelled, for the second year in a row. We then got back in the car and drove home. Another day of intense carbo-loading and defending the yellow jersey complete.

This basically sums up stage 3 of NVGP (photo thanks to Jasmin Hurikino)

Stage 4 was the uptown Minneapolis criterium. Today, I lined up at the front, half an hour before the start. I debated even bringing the trainer onto the start line and just warming up there but thought it wasn’t worth the looks. The race started off fast and I actually got to see the front of the race for the first few laps. Next minute there is a crash and I am braking while sliding sideways. Thankfully I stayed on my bike but because half the field came down they neutralised the race and we re-started. The team controlled most of the race sitting on the front, and then with a few to go there was crash after crash after crash. I think I counted 3 all on one lap, but apparently there were more at the back. Unfortunately our sprinter Leah Kirchmann came down getting pretty scratched up and hurting her shoulder. That changed the strategy for the finish as we no longer had the sprinter, but Carmen once again changed her tt legs to her sprinters and finished 3rd! This increased her lead over Neban thanks to the time bonuses she not only got at the finish but also got throughout the race.

Finally, stage 5 was a road race that we actually were able to start. However I was a little ambivalent as we stood at the start line in the POURING rain. After getting through the first few circuits and getting out on the course the rain had eased and attacks were going. Anna, Annie and I sat on the front controlling the speed and chasing down attacks. For the next 110ish kms we sat on the front keeping the tempo and leaving the occasional rider up the road for awhile to use their energy just to be picked up again before the finish. Coming into the finishing circuits the three of us who had led pretty much the entire race hit the wall and waved good bye to our team mates as they sprinted towards the finish. Carmen sprinted her way to 5th, keeping the yellow jersey for another day and Jade kept the Queen of the mountains jersey. Success!

                                Beautiful weather conditions to start the day. 

The final day was the inaugural Stillwater criterium which included a very steep hill. Today was a big day, we needed to keep the yellow jersey and queen of the mountains. We went in with a really great plan to control the race (thanks to the master of all plans, Rachel). The team delivered amazingly and Carmen won the jersey, Jade secured the QOM jersey and the team won overall. Not only did the women’s Optum team kick arse but the men’s team also won the yellow jersey and team classification. So basically Optum Pro Cycling Presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies owned Nature Valley Grand Prix. It must have been the support from all of our sponsers that came out to watch each and every race.

A massive thanks goes to Rachel, Adrian, Jeremy, Karen and Daniel for running around after all of us and making life super easy. Also, I would like to mention Leah just found out that she had actually broken her collarbone in the Minneapolis criterium. She then went on to riding the entire 130km race the next day and finishing in the front bunch.. all with a broken collarbone!! Amazing!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Air force Cycle Classic 2012

Next up was Air force Classic which involved 2 criteriums just outside of Washington DC.

Doing the touristy thing, infront of the white house and then infront of some other iconic American building (not a clue what the second one was). 

Unfortunately they did not go so well for me personally, I road to the first race and was totally stuffed. Started, and then blew very early on. I was much too cooked going into this race with extra hard training the previous week and was not completely recovered from Exergy. Rachel decided Nature Valley, the race that was 2 days later, is much more important to be going well at so instead I sat on the sidelines and watched my team kick some butt instead. Hard to do, but still cool to watch. 

The first race the team rode awesomely. Emma got in a break of three including one Tibco and pure energy rider. She totally killed it and with about 5 laps to go attacked and got off the front by herself. The rest of the Optum girls did a great job of slowing the bunch down and chasing attacks. Not only did Emma win the race she also got very close to lapping the main field.. What a tank! Leah brought the bunch home in 3rd place, so a solid day for the team!

                                         Emma on her way to the win at Air Force classic. 

                                                       Emma and Leah on the podium. 

The next day was hot, so hot! Around about 40 degrees. The race was fast and Emma got in a break for quite a lot of the race. The girls rode really well and Leah finished 3rd again in the bunch sprint (with a solid lead out from Lex). With two third places she finished the omnium in 1st overall. She is now the Air force undefeated champ 2 years running.

The team with some of the race organizers and people who do the hard work to make the race run.  

Next up is the Nature Valley Grand Prix in Minneapolis. This is a big race as it is Optum head quarters and there is a big starting list. It’s going to be a good race, can just feel it. 

Exergy Tour 2012

Exergy tour was by far the most amazing race I have ever participated in, ever.

From the moment I stepped off the plane I was looked after like a celebrity, the organisers bent over backwards to support us and make sure we have an amazing time. The night before the prologue was an official presentation with all the teams and organisers, an amazing buffet and even an Exergy ice sculpture! There were flags for almost every country represented, including Italy, Taiwan, Canada, Australia, Germany, Belgium, US, Ireland, Columbia, Belgium…  The start list was BIG.

The prologue was first up, starting in the evening. We rode to the start on our road bikes to find our amazing Orbea tt bikes sitting there waiting our arrival all fancied up with our HED disks and tri-spokes and Lazer tt helmets. Couldn’t get much better than that! Adrian and John were rushing around making sure the bikes were all tuned, Karen and Jeremy were keeping us well fuelled and Rachel was getting the bikes checked, sorting our start times, and making sure we were all good.. So all I had to do was hop on my kinetic trainer, warm up, then bike fast. Easy, right!? It was only 3.1 kms, and I was 3rd off. The course was completely covered in people, it was awesome! 4 of the Optum riders finished in the top 20 (out of over 100 riders) which was pretty dam impressive. I had a bit of a disaster with my leg deciding to seize half way through, but I am getting used to that. Unfortunately America’s top cyclist and Olympic champion time-trialist, Kristen Armstrong came down on one of the 180 degree turns. In doing this she broke her collar-bone and was out for the rest of the tour. She is strong though, and will no doubt be back and rearing to go for the Olympics.

                                                                    Stage 1

The next day was a 123km road race in Nampa, ID. It was wet, really wet, which just makes the racing better. Most people turn off in the rain, but Optum definitely does not, it just makes it more exciting! Nothing much happened at the start of the race, there were a few attacks but other than that people were just cruising along trying to stay on their bikes. When we got to the first climb I felt great, although a little curious as to why my bike all of sudden had a lot of suspension. I looked down to notice my tyre was slowly deflating. Not what I wanted to find. After the climb I stopped to get a new wheel. Unfortunately this took a lot longer then I was hoping, by the time I got back on the bunch was no longer in sight. I put my head down and about 10kms later I had rejoined the back of the main bunch, pretty much blown. At this time there was a small group up the road which included Leah so I could recover for a little, then it was full gas to the finish line. It ended with a big bunch sprint where unfortunately the world champ Georgia Bronzini came down with a few others. Leah came super close finishing in 4th place with Theresa Cliff-Ryan from Exergy in first. Optum riders did a great job coming into the finish, but unfortunately it was not our day.

                                                                      Stage 2

Stage 2 was a 16.6km out and back time trial, again in the pouring rain. The start was super dodgy with tight, narrow corners and a very slippery road surface. A handful of riders came off before the race had even started, in the starting gates. Luckily all Optum riders stayed on top of their bikes! It was a hard head down, butt up race and we all did our best. Specialised Lululemon crowded the podium finishing 1st, 2nd and 3rd.

Awesome photo taken by veloimages of Denise and Joelle crossing paths in the time trial. 

                                                                        Stage 3

Stage 3, finally what we do best.. road racing! The race started off fast and my job involved a lot of chasing. From go I followed every attack I could. After what felt like 100km’s I was at blowing point, looked down.. 15kms!! Only 15kms into the race. I will not repeat what went through my head at this point but it was not pretty. Thankfully Janel and a few others went off the front in a small brake so the attacking slowed down a little and I could have a breather. We then hit a 15km climb, all of a sudden I felt good (I think the BlueRidge parkway riding came in handy for this one). I rode in the bunch as people dropped one after the other. The bunch split in half and I was about to join the front halfit until I sore a team mate that should be in it miss the gap. I dropped back and helped pull her back on, then blew.. then felt good again and got back on (this happened a lot this race). We started a descent, then went up again, followed some more attacks, made a couple of attacks then we started the long descent to the finish. It started raining, which made some pretty exciting conditions. I played it safe but stayed in-tact with the front bunch. With 5kms to go Optum blasted off the front one after another, I tried at 5kms, got caught (dam). Then with 1km to go Optum took control, Jade led out Janel who led out Carmen who did a bloody AWESOME lead out to Leah. Leah went head to head with Ina Teutenburg, one of the world’s best sprinters, and got 2nd by what looked like an inch. So close! But so well deserved for Leah and the girls. To finish 2nd in this classy field was pretty dam impressive. To show how hard the race was there were 4 DNF’s and 21 people who missed the time cut. I finished somewhere in the front bunch, glad to see the end!

                        On one of the long climbs with snow surrounding us. Crazy views too. 

                                                                  So so so Close. 

                                                                          Stage 4

The 4th and final stage was on a super hard, rolling course. Optum still had all 8 riders starting (which may I add, is pretty cool considering most teams had halfed). The start was awesome, we had army planes fly over top and the crowds were HUGE! Unfortunately the race did not last very long, however, for Janel and myself. 100 metres after go there were people on the ground, Janel swerved left to miss it I swerved right but it was too late, we were both down. I was fine, scratched up and bike pretty screwed up (my poor HED wheel had snapped in half). I jumped onto a spare bike that Adrian had got to me and set off again. But it was too late, the bunch was gone, long gone. The race was over. Janel was not in a good place, she had landed on her hip and had to go to hospital. Luckily she is on the mend now and is able to race almost at 100% again.

Back to the race, it blew to pieces on the first climb. Carmen missed the break so the optum girls got to the front to bring it back, then Joelle did a totally awesome 100% pull to bring it back together. She was totally blown afterwards but had got the team back with the leaders so did an amazing job. The rest of the race looked brutal. 14 riders were off the front by a rather large margin including Carmen. At the end Evelyn and Claudia (Lululemon and GreenEdge) rode off the front and Carmen was close behind getting 2nd in the bunch kick (4th overall).

That last night the Exergy organisers put on a Rodeo for all of the riders. First time watching anything like this, was definitely an experience! We also got given some super cool Exergy tour belt buckles to end the night, so country!

One of the many gifts we got from race organisers. A delicious chocolate shoe! How cool is that!!

All up it was a super awesome tour. So much fun, we were so well looked after. The race organisers were incredible and Rachel, Adrian, Jeremy, Karen and John made life so easy for all of us riders. Couldn’t ask for a better team!