Bike racing – sleeves, socks, careful color coordination, calculated backstabbing, shaved legs regardless of gender. On a good day, you might feel great and be in the right place at the right time. On a bad day, you might miss a break that sticks, get caught up in a crash, have a flat, or find yourself in the back of the pack before the final sprint with nowhere to go. There are no "finisher's" medals, and for placing near the top you're more likely to go home with a check or an envelope full of cash than a shiny plastic trophy. It's a no-frills culture that contradicts itself, at times, with its rigorous fashion rubric and petty intrigues. In essence, if you're up for a challenge and a gamble with Lady Luck, a weekend of bike racing is about as entertaining as it gets.
Holland Racing has a reputation for putting on well-organized races at exciting venues, and true to form, the Alsation Country Omnium was run with business-like efficiency and panache. Held in Castroville, a small town about 30 minutes west of San Antonio, the two-day event included a circuit race, time trial, and road race, with a total purse of $10,000 and fun, drinkable primes like cases of Honey Milk and bottles of locally made Deep Eddy Vodka.
For results from all categories, click here
Saturday circuit race, 12:20pm:
The circuit-race course, closed to traffic, was a 2.5-mile loop on a wide, smooth road in an area dedicated mostly to medical research facilities. For the women, the race was 40 minutes. Although we were originally scheduled to start with the 50+ Men's race, a last-minute verdict allowed our 16-person field to start separately.
The main player for the women's race was, without a doubt, Bicycles Outback. With six riders in the mix, they set the pace – and a fast one, at that. They launched attack after attack, with the rest of the field scrambling to chase them down. With three riders, Team Brain and Spine also had the strength of numbers. That left seven of us to our own individual devices, including Tracie Akerheim of Think Finance, Shannon Gaffney of Bicycle Heaven, Morgan Patton of Team Type 1, junior rider Amber Vredenburg of T3Multisports, Annalisa Fish of Austin Flyers, Suzy Snell of Colavita, and myself for Snapple-ATC Racing.
It was an interesting race – something was always happening. With the coordinated attacks from Bicycle Outback, the pace rarely slowed, and the turns were sharp enough to keep it exciting. Just after the officials announced a prime lap, Annalisa and I broke away. We held off the rest of the field to get the two-deep prime, but the pack was working hard to catch us. We were taken back into the fold after another half-lap, still with two or three laps to go.
The last hill into the finish was a slight incline, not steep enough to eliminate the advantage of being in the draft, but enough to increase the difficulty of the final sprint. We were all crammed in tightly together when someone started to sprint around 400 or 500 meters. Stuck near the middle of the pack, I realized I wasn't where I needed to be. A crash had happened around this point in the race for the Cat 4 Men, but I reminded myself that I was not a Cat 4 man and neither were my fellow riders – we could get through this without bloodshed. I had to ease up to go around the rider to my left, but then I had a clear path to the finish. I crossed the line just ahead of Tracie Akerhielm, who took second.
Saturday TT, 5:00pm:
All categories completed the same 4.8-mile, out-and-back time trial, which was gently rolling except for a final rise into the finish. We were well prepared for it, since it included a large part of the circuit race course. Now we would be using both sides of the road, no longer completely closed to traffic, but the pavement was wide and the few cars driving through seemed to mostly be race spectators or participants. The top Pro 1/2 men, coming in at an average of 31mph or higher, were probably cruising close to the posted speed limit.
Because of my mechanically minded husband, Jack Mott, I have every aero gimmick that's fairly important and within reason – a Cervelo P2, an aero helmet, a deep front wheel, a disc cover for the back wheel. When I started riding my first tri bike – again, a gift master-minded by Jack – I got a fairly aggressive fit from Austin Tri-Cyclist, so I didn't know enough to request a more comfortable, slower position before I was used to the "right" one. TTs and duathlons were my first introduction to the world of cycling.
Many women roadies don't do multisport events or TTs outside of omniums and stage races, so they often complete the TT portion on road bikes. That puts them at a heavy disadvantage, as much as three or four seconds per kilometer. Still, many would argue that it's not enough of a disadvantage to invest in the equipment or go to the trouble of bringing two bikes to an event. In an omnium, you don't get as many points or as much prize money for a TT as for a crit or road race.
All the Bicycles Outback riders were on their new custom Calfee frames with Ultegra Electronic Di2 gruppo. (Now those are beautiful bikes.) But I knew Nadia Barrera of Team Brain and Spine was a strong time trialist and had the gear, and I saw a few other aero helmets and TT bikes. I knew I was going to have to work hard for it. Plus Jack and I had a bet going for who could post the fastest time – he'd placed 8th in Cat 4 at 10 minutes and 30 seconds. I didn't have a watch, but I figured if I gave it everything I could come close.
I used to look forward to time trials. Now that I've come to know them better, however, I've lost all my affection for them. A time trial is just a pure test of pain, a question of how bad you're willing to hurt and for how long. A terrible opportunity, too, to get to know your inner self a little too well, all those voices in your head lining up to tell you why you should or shouldn't slow down.
Sunday road race, 11:50am:
It was a gray day. The sort of grayness that should be spelled the British way – a watery, weak, cold, completely drained-of-color grey morning. Rain was forecasted for the afternoon, and we had 47 miles ahead of us.
We'd been warned that the course would be narrow and rough in spots, with cattle guards and less- than-perfect road surfaces. Starting from the Hotel Alsace, it was a lollipop – 14 miles out to a 19-mile loop, and then back again. The warning was no exaggeration. Wad up a piece of paper into a tight ball, lay it out flat again, poke about two hundred holes in it, and then turn it into asphalt, and you've got something like the Gilliam Switch Road loop.
Bicycles Outback ruled the day again, sending attack after attack up the road. Sheri Rothe, along with Shannon Gaffney of Bicycle Heaven, was in one lasting break, and Kathleen Hattaway soloed away for another. The rest of the pack wasn't pulling together well for the chase, but after a while someone would get the job done, and then the cycle would start again. Like the circuit race, the road race was interesting because something was always happening or about to happen. Since women's races often lack organized teams, not to mention male bravado, they can sometimes be quite slow, with no one willing to push the pace. Bicycles Outback was keeping us on our toes.
Oddly enough, we got a brief sprinkling of rain on the loop and some of the roads were soaked, including the final stretch into the finish line, but we never hit the heavy downpours. And though it was cold, at around 45 degrees, it wasn't miserably so. I was definitely looking for the finish about 10 miles before we actually got there, but overall I was feeling good. So when I had an opportunity to work with Sheri Rothe in the last few miles in a two-woman break, I took it. We put our heads down and kept a high, steady pace until the end. The pack chased at first, then fell back enough that we knew we were safe. I think in my excitement I actually said, "We got this."
I took first in the road race and in the overall omnium, certainly my best-ever weekend of racing. Sheri took second in the omnium, and Tracie Akerhielm came in third. To view the full results, click here.
Many thanks to all the organizers, officials, sponsors, and others who made the weekend fun and safe!
Event Photos By Robert Mercado
Video compilation by Bicycles Outback Racing