by Allison Atkinson
|ATC Racing lines up at the start|
My morale was shot going into Sunday's Team TT. With the dark clouds of a disappointing individual performance looming from the day before, I reluctantly suited up, applied more chamois cream than normal, pumped up my tires to a hard 120 psi, and refilled my aero water bottle with the usual mix of lemon-lime Accelerade. After a quick warm up, I found my teammates, Anne Flanagan, Marla Briley, and Anne Stevenson. We devoted plenty of hours to team practice and had a good strategy. My teammates would take their turn in the wind for 30 seconds each while I, because I am the biggest, would take longer, one-minute pulls at the same pace. Putting emotions aside became easier as we lined up to start.
The team did not want me to get burnt out. Every bit of recovery between pulls makes a huge impact on overall speed; therefore, I lined up behind Anne S., as she is the next tallest, thus offering more of a draft. We took off and quickly formed a tight line. When it was my turn to pull, I stayed 30 watts above my average watts from the previous day's individual effort. 290-300 watts for one minute felt good. I drifted to the back for recovery.
Feeling a real need for our team to not only win the Cat 3 title but to get the best overall team time for the women, I became anxious. I knew that Jubilee Subaru and Think Finance would bring their "A" game, so we absolutely had to do the same. Maybe we're not pushing hard enough, I thought. I believe I made the mistake of going out too easy, so subsequently, my watts shot up to 300-400 on each pull—not part of the plan. After drilling up a false flat, I heard Marla yell, "Gap!" The group fell apart, so I sat up until everyone was back on.
I realized that I was hurting my team by failing to stay steady. I wanted to win so badly—instead of sticking to the plan we practiced, I let the mistakes I made from the previous day selfishly determine the way I rode. As I retreated to the back of the line, Marla remarked, "The second half will hurt way more." I eased off as we approached the U-turn, where both Marla and I forgot to get into easier gears. We mashed, up out of the saddle, up to Anne F. and Anne S. to regroup.
Settling back into my saddle felt like trying to get comfortable on a bed of stabbing needles, so I did my best to tune out my body's longings for comfort. The pain went away when torrential rain began pounding out of nowhere. Winds howled and thunder boomed. Between the weather conditions and the fact that it's tough to hear anything besides the whooshing wind inside an aero helmet, we could barely communicate or keep formation.
Rain? Really? It was almost impossible to see anything, especially when following a wheel closely. Rooster tails of nasty water flew into my mouth as I breathed heavily from mashing my pedals to fight the winds. It was after a few minutes when we regrouped and adjusted to the drastic change that an intense feeling of trepidation began to grow inside. I started thinking about my tire pressure, how slick my race tires were, and how much I was being blown around from my disc wheel. I started wondering how slick the roads were and whether we appeared visible to the oversized trucks that flew past.
I will admit that I spent the first 10 minutes of rain clutching the grips of my base bar, bracing my entire core every time a gust of wind blew. I was inspired by Anne who, despite having the least experience on a TT bike, rode down in aero position the entire time! I trusted my bike, teammates, and skills enough to eventually get down because the relentless headwind undoubtedly impacted speed. Settling into my aero bars, I found that I had more control in the crosswinds than I did sitting up.
Conditions blew apart many teams—we must have passed half a dozen dropped riders. Roads were flooded in some areas, with muddy water at least four inches deep. The final left turn was a bit tricky. I believe that was the point where we ALMOST lost Marla. I looked back after leading us through the turn fast and saw Marla at what seemed like a dead stop. We soft pedaled till she caught on again.
"I'm not tired or anything—I feel great!" she yelled as she roared past. "I'm just scared!"
"Don't be scared!" I shouted automatically.
I thought about the very wet road race that was part of the Joe Martin Stage Race earlier this year. The Joe Martin course was hillier and had very technical descents, but I still pulled out a win. I remembered paralyzing fear radiating from my chest every time I approached a descent. Still, my dread of failure and desire to win outweighed my crashing phobia.
|State champs Allison Atkinson, Marla Briley, Anne Flanagan & Anne Stevenson|
It is possible to be scared and strong at the same time. No quitting allowed, no matter what. We all wanted to win. Somewhere in the distance we saw signs of the finish and held a quick, steady pace to cross the line—what a relief. All I could say to my teammates was, "Dude, that was EPIC. I love rain!".
Team time trials have got to be one of the hardest events in cycling—you either think that you are the weakest link or that you are superman. In the end it really is a race a truth, a true reflection of a team's strength though unity. I'm so proud of us for meeting our goal of clocking the day's fastest women's time and becoming this year's Cat 3 state champions!
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