I am learning how to race, and I am gaining confidence. After our success at Agen, the race promoters really wanted us to head to the next race in their series, in Bordeaux. They provided us with a hotel room in Bordeaux, so we would participate in the last race of their 3 race “Coupe”. We drove the 3.5 hours to Bordeaux, and didn’t know a whole lot about the race.
Basically, 3.4k circuit, that we would complete 23 times. That is roughly a 50 mile circuit. It was basically flat, with a couple of false flats, and some wind. The course wasn’t very selective, and Chris had decided that I was going to work on my “time-trialing”. Basically, wait until about 10 laps to go and then start attacking and try to get away. Races rarely go as planned, but that was our “plan”.
However, Chris gave me a couple numbers that I should watch for, because if they went up the road, I would have to go as well. In our race the previous weekend, there had been some strong riders in our chase group. One of them, a girl riding for an Orbea team, wasn’t the best climber but she would always attack in the flats. We started referring to her as “Big Blue” in our pre-race meeting. She was a French national time trial champion and could be a threat on this course.
We didn’t get a call up, but I probably had one of my best crit starts ever. I gained a bunch of spots, and found myself in the front within moments of the start. The problem with this is that the course isn’t as clearly as you would expect. I ended up almost taking a wrong turn as the course marshals were not pointing me in the correct direction. Oops, it was acceptable because the peleton was blindly following me as I was leading them astray. It took me at least 10 laps to figure out when I was supposed to turn.
The attacks started right after this confusing beginning, and I responded to a couple. A counter attack ensued and Sinead jumped on it. I looked up the road and realized that it was Big Blue towing Sinead and one other girl up the road. I needed to get up there, and I needed to go now. I thought, “what would Brooke do…”. She would tell me to find a free ride up to the break. No one was taking the bait. Finally, a girl from a Spanish team jumped to bridge the gap. There was my ride, however, she soon ran out of gas and popped. I found myself in no man’s land, and had to bridge solo up to the motivated break.
When I finally arrived, Sinead was relieved I could come assist her. That bridge hurt, and we still had 20 laps to go. We quickly started working together and maintaining our gap of 15 seconds. 3 laps later, we had 30 seconds, then 45 seconds, and finally with 16 laps to go we had put 2:00 on the peleton. For awhile after that, it was about finding a steady rhythm, allowing Sinead to take shorter pulls to save her legs for a possible sprint. Things were going great. Finally, with 10 laps to go, Chris dictated that I start a barrage of attacks on Big Blue. The fourth girl in our break was completely toasted, and had refused to work. We had great cards in this break—a sprinter and a power rider against one girl. Two to one, and the odds were in our favor.
As we found our rhythm, Sinead and I begin to discuss our possibilities of attacks, counterattacks after primes, and other ways to isolate our competition. Considering that we were racing in France, and these girls struggled to speak our language, we decided that English was our code language and could be used freely and loudly within our break. I was happy with the fact that a flick of the elbow for someone to pull through, or a motion of my hand could communicate with these French girls. With a language barrier, it would be difficult to communicate with our break.
The dialogue went as followed:
Alison: “I think this next lap is a prime lap, Sinead, why don’t you go for it and I will counter your sprint”
takes of sprinting with a confused looking announcer and crowd, apparently the prime was the next lap
Sinead: “Is this a prime lap?”
Alison: “I think so, he is waving his arms wildly”
Sinead: “Oops, why did they sprint?”
Alison: “That is our chocolat chaude et café au lait money, Sinead! The next prime will be ours“
Sinead: “This yellow girl is bugging me, she isn’t working”
Alison: “Yeah, she is a cling-on, let’s drop her, I’ll attack out of this next corner into that headwind”
Sinead: “Whoa, that Big Blue girl ‘got a jump’. But maybe we lost our clinger”
Alison: “Yeah, where did she come up with that one? After this next turn, I’ll attack her again. There is no way she can do that again.”
Sinead: “Man, Big Blue is still hanging”
Alison: “Yeah, she has a jump, but you will own her in a sprint. There is no way she will out sprint you. I’ll just keep attacking her, and make sure you just stay on her wheel when she responds”
After a barrage of attacks and surges, Big Blue does not want to work the break anymore, and refused to pull through.
Alison: “I guess Big Blue doesn’t want to play anymore, we might as well just keep trying to shred her legs”
Another attack…and faintly we here from the yellow girl, “on your right”
Sinead: once we are back together again “I could’ve sworn I just heard someone say right..”
I glance back to see Big Blue placing her finger on her lips to motion to the yellow girl to be quiet as she listens to our conversation… Very smooth, Alison and Sinead….
2 Laps to go. The attacks keep coming. I am not going to get away, and I will lead Sinead out. With 2 turn to go, I turn on the gas full throttle and drop Sinead right off 300m from the line into a nasty headwind. Big Blue jumps on her wheel, Sinead holds off the sprint, Big Blue gets 2nd, and I cruise over the line for 3rd.
Nice teamwork! Big Blue cruises up to us after the race, “Great race, ladies…will I be seeing you at the French Cup in Paris on Sunday?” And then Sinead and I had a full conversation in English, with barely no traces of a French accent with Big Blue. Oops. What else did we say in that break? Note to self, do not assume your foreign language is a code to be used against your competitors.
It was a great race that worked out perfectly. Sinead needed help in the break, but her explosive sprint had the race in the bag if necessary. It was a good day for the USA National Development team, and we learned some valuable lessons as well. The French love their flowers, trophies, and kisses. The podium was followed by a reception where they served cake, brownies, caramel corn and cookies to celebrate the end of their three race series. Sinead and I were 2nd and 3rd in the series as well, which meant more flowers, kisses and trophies, along with some euros. I love racing in France, do I have to go home?