Welcome to the country where everything is bigger and cycling teams are sponsored by Peanut Butter companies. The beginning of March saw me madly running around attempting to organise myself before boarding a plane not due to return until September. For future reference, packing the evening before a six month journey overseas is not ideal, I think Mum’s blood pressure rose a few more points as she watched me stumble around in a disorganised mess. Unlike last year where I headed straight to Europe my 2010 overseas adventure instead begins with a month long stint in supposedly sunny California, USA.
The month long trip organised every year by the hTC team is a great way to ease you back into racing after four months where your legs have been gathering dust. It’s also a fantastic way to avoid the still freezing temperatures of Europe.
The race calendar has three scheduled races; the Merco Tour which we have just completed, the San Dimas stage race to be held from the 19th-21st and the Redlands Cycling Classic to be held from the 25th-28th. Emilia Fahlin (Sweden), Ina Teutenberg (Germany), Evelyn Stevens (USA), Kim Anderson (USA) and myself make up the hTC team for these races.
The past weekend saw all the girls, our two sports directors, and mechanic travel to Merced, California, a small town with the highest unemployment rate in the United States, to participate in the Merced Cycling Classic. The Classic is a series of three separate races (a Team Time Trial, a criterium and a 115km road race).
The weekend of racing kicked off with the TTT which the team won, but I don’t talk about.
The criterium the next day was a much better start to my American racing experience. Ina, Kim, Evelyn and I all lined up along with some of the biggest American professional teams such as Tibco, Peanut Butter & Co and Colivita for the 50km criterium in downtown Merced.
Unfortunately Emilia, after contracting a cold before heading to the US from Spain, was confined to the comfort of the hotel and wasn’t able to race; this upset many of the spectators who had come out to watch. I know this because a young guy called out, “Where’s Emilia!? She’s the only reason I came out!” (For those of you unaware, Emilia is a stunning blond, Swedish bombshell.)
Despite disappointing much of the Merced youth, we raced really well. With a team of only four riders racing against teams that had up to 12 it was surprising how well we were able to control the race. With three laps to go there was a nasty crash towards the back of the 60 strong peloton that sent one girl to hospital and blocked the road, causing the race to be neutralised and re-started 20 minutes later with six laps to go. I can only imagine the chaos that would have ensued had the race been restarted with three laps to go.
From the restart it was the hTC train. I am completely serious when I say that no-one from any other team touched the front of the peloton for the remained of race. Evelyn kept the pace high for four laps before Kim took over for the last lap. Under Ina’s orders I was positioned last on the train to sweep her wheel; which essentially means I had to glue myself to her wheel and not allow anyone else to have the benefit of following her through the pack or having the sit in the final metres of the race.
With 800metres to go Ina performed what I learnt afterwards is affectionately known as the ‘Saturn Sit-Up’. A term coined by our DS, Rene Wenzel, some 16 years ago. Essentially the manoeuvre involves the team in control of the lead-out train in the final kilometres letting one rider sneak off the front of the bike race unbeknown to the peloton spread out behind them. Allowing the rider who snuck off the front to take out the race.
Kim would have pulled it off had the race been a hundred metres shorter. Instead, 100metres from the final left hand corner Ina signalled for me to vacate her back wheel and to lead her out. I jumped around and flew through the final corner with Ina on my wheel. It was pretty awesome accelerating out of the corner knowing that one of the best sprinters in the world was glued to my wheel waiting for me to fade.
With 100 metres to go, while I started to slump lower and lower over the handlebars I saw Ina and Shelley Evans (Peanut Butter & Co) power up the left hand side of the road. It was strangely satisfying knowing my race was over before I had crossed the finish line and that I was able to watch the race unfold.
Despite being almost a spectator I still held on for third. Ina took out the race making it a hugely successful day for the hTC team. It was great to get some positive feedback from Ronny, our team sports director, when he said “I’m good at telling you what you do wrong, but today you rode really well.”
The next day saw all four of us take to the line again for the 115km road race. It was disappointing to see the American teams race exactly as they had the day before; defensively and waiting for us to make the race. Conveniently, we have one of, if not the fastest sprinter in the world on our team and so when the race came down to a bunch sprint we pretty much had it covered. Ina took out the race again from Shelley Evans but not before she had gone on a 25kilometre solo break-away effort 30 kilometres into the race. Kim and Evelyn seemed to be in every attack that went away no matter how short lived it was and I even got myself into a few expeditions.
It was definitely a fantastic beginning to the hTC campaign in the USA. We won all three races we competed in and showed why we are considered one of the best teams in the world. It was funny to read reports from the weekend’s racing and see them constantly misquote the number of riders we had racing, it would seem like they thought we had eight riders rather than four.
The next week and half will see me continue to relax (or not) in San Luis Obispo, affectionately known as SLO, with the girls and continuing to train up a storm. Although I’m hoping my training rides are not quite as eventful as today’s where I was flagged down by a woman on her second story balcony in desperate need of rescuing. Ten minutes and half a power bar later I had successfully broken into the lady's house, convinced her two intimidating looking dogs not to attack me (mainly through bribery), and unlocked her second story balcony door.