Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Friday, May 1, 2015

2015 Fayetteville Stage Race, W40+ Race Report

W4 and W40+ field, Photo by Ino Sofjan

Everyone loves Pam Downs. She’s quirky, funny, and always exceedingly encouraging and nice. A mom of two teenage boys, Pam spends her free time paper crafting and riding bikes. You always learn something new about a person when you ask—originally from Michigan, Pam moved to Texas in 1984 to work for Texas Instruments as a computer programmer. Before getting married, she taught aerobics and competed in bodybuilding contests for several years. She transitioned from running to cycling after she had knee surgery, and quickly fell in love with bike racing. Pam has been racing for the Colavita Texas Regional Team since 2012.

Pam was the dark horse going into the Fayetteville Stage Race last weekend, April 25 and 26. There aren’t many time trials in Texas, so few riders knew the friendly Pam Downs was also a time trialing demon.  

FSR report from Pam Downs

This was my first experience doing the Fayetteville Stage Race. (It always fell right after Spring Break, so I never had a chance to do it before.) When I drove into the tiny town on Friday, I fell in love with it. It looked like a Norman Rockwell painting. The homes were well kept, the lawns were mown, and the shops were unique and inviting. 

Pam Downs in her bodybuilding days, circa 1990
My friend and I drove up to the Hall (race headquarters), and since it was too early to pick up our numbers, we decided to change into our kits and ride the TT course. It was hot and humid, and the sun was beating down on us, but once we made the first turn, the road was shaded and smooth. We finished riding the course and were excited for a weekend of racing. I picked up my numbers and headed back to the hotel, smiling when I saw a sign that said "God loves you, praise Him." 

Stage 1 Road Race

Oh my! What a difference a day makes with the Texas weather! It was cloudy and overcast when I woke on Saturday, but I thought the rain and storms that were predicted would hold off. They did, but only until I parked my car at the Hall and signed in for my race, which was scheduled to start at 8:20 that morning. Then the thunder and lightning started. My heart sank. I will race in weather like that, but I don't like bit. I stood there thinking about the slippery roads and corners, wondering why I do this to myself, and then came a bit of good news: the race had been postponed 30 minutes. 

But rather than getting better, the storms actually seemed to be getting worse, and my spirits were dashed. My friend was sitting in my car with me and she was telling me that she wasn't racing in these conditions. I told her, "Let’s just ride our bikes to the hall and see how the roads are and THEN make a decision. It's a stage race— you have to finish in order to continue racing, after all.” As we were getting our bikes out of the car, a gentleman walked up and told us that the race had been postponed yet again, this time two hours from the original start time. I did a happy dance. What a relief! Surely the rain would stop by then...the radar said it would...and isn't the radar always right? HA! By this time, my breakfast had worn off and I had to dig into my recovery food for nourishment. I drove back over to the hall to double check the TT start times. They had been postponed two hours also. Now all I could do was wait and hope that the weather cleared.

At 10 a.m., I rode my bike over to the race start. The roads were wet, but the sky had begun to clear. When I heard the race official tell the W123 group about a metal bridge we had to ride over and how slippery it was when wet, my ears perked up and fear started to set in. I have crashed on wet roads before, and it still haunts me. I wasn't looking forward to the wet corners and definitely not a wet metal bridge. Ten minutes later when the W4 and W40+ lined up to start our race (the fields started together for both road stages and were scored separately), I ended up near the back. That's okay, I told myself. I'll just play it safe back here.

The race started out at a good clip. It was easy staying with the pack, but it was hard descending at the back. I am big, 5'10" and 150 pounds, so I descend at a faster speed than most everyone else. I don't like to put on my brakes when I descend, but being at the back of the pack with a yellow line rule in effect made me pay attention and ride with caution. Only one advantage to being at the back...I saw ALL the sketchy riders and knew who I wanted to avoid. I saw my teammate racing near the front in a perfect position, riding strong and smart (this was her first stage race, so I was very proud of her). I saw who could climb with ease, who was trying to climb in too big of a gear, or who couldn't climb at all, so I knew who to get in front of going up the hills, and I scoped out all of my competition (W40+ had numbers that were 370 and above). We took the corners safely and slowed down for the metal bridge, which we traversed with no problems. 

I kept thinking, "I need to get closer to the front of the pack. I need to get up there before the hot spot." I just didn't (or couldn't see) a clear path to the front, and I wasn't willing to take a chance at being guttered or crossing the yellow line to get up there, so I just sat in. The hot spot came and went—there was a surge at that point, but nothing major, in my opinion. I put in a little sprint effort at the 2K mark, which helped me pass several girls, but my "sprint" was not all out. I finished the race with the pack and with a lot of energy left. I did not exert myself at all, which at the time was a big disappointment, but looking back, I had a lot in my tank for the TT, so maybe it was all good. 

Stage 2 Time Trial

I was fortunate enough to have Jack Mott analyze my TT bike and equipment at ATC several months before the Fayetteville Stage Race. He suggested changing a lot of things—my bars, helmet, booties, rear wheel, and tires. I changed all of this and got an aero wheel cover (from instead of a disc wheel because it was cheaper. I had ridden with the new "stuff” on training rides, but hadn’t felt too good about the watts I was able to produce. I didn’t know how I would stack up to the rest of the field, so I went in with a bit of a heavy heart...

My teammate left her room at 4:30 p.m. to head over to the square to warm up. I was running late. I decided to load my TT bike up and then come back to the room to get the rest of the bags. I was headed to the elevator as I heard the door shut and realized that I didn't have my room key. "That's okay,” I thought to myself, "I'll just tell the front desk and grab a new key on the way back in." But the first two keys the lady at the front desk gave me didn’t work, and the elevator was painfully slow. I began to panic. When I finally got into the room and back down to the car, I drove like a bat out of hell to get to the town square, with just enough time (thanks to a 10-minute delay to the start) to get a good warm-up in.  

I was relieved to see that there wasn't a ramp at the start. I have bad experiences with ramps...really bad. I thought, "Darn it! I should have reread that chapter about time trialing in my Racing 101 book. Too late now." I started nervously chitchatting with the girl in line in front of me. She was a triathlete and had a fancy bike and was all decked out in her aero stuff. She jokingly said, "Now, don't you pass me!” She was really tiny, petite, and younger than me, and looked like she was very fit. I said, "There is NO WAY I will be able to pass you!" I sincerely meant it. We slowly made our way up the line to the starting clock. I nervously watched all the girls take off in front of me...looked at how they were holding their wheels and brakes, what gear they were starting in...every detail I could glean. Then it was my turn. As the official was saying, "10 seconds...5, 4, 3, 2, 1,” I was silently saying a little prayer and hoping that I could pull this off. I took off without falling over, YAY ME! I stayed to the left of the white line so I could stay far from the rumble strips on the shoulder. I focused on the girl in front of me. She kept getting closer and closer. I was able to see how she took the first corner and I mimicked her. I didn't want to pass her until AFTER the corner. Then, as I overtook her at mile three, I didn't know whether to say, "On your left!" or, "I'm sorry, I am passing you!" I decided to say "on your left.” I slowed way down on the corners, but I hoped to make up for that on the straights. I passed another girl, then another, and another. Every time I passed someone, it gave me more energy. I remember looking at my Garmin a couple of times and my power not being as high as I would have liked, but I kept pushing. I finished feeling like I had nailed it. It was a good feeling.

I knew I had done well, but didn't know how well until the next morning when my friend Anne texted me to congratulate me. 22 minutes and 24 seconds. I was 1st place GC for the W40+. My time was the best in my cat!!! BUT what made me even happier, was that Mina Pizzini (I love saying her name!) had a time of 21:53, and Allison Atkinson's time was 22:05, so I had the third fastest TT time across ALL the women’s categories.  

One side note...Since I had been in the back of the pack for the first road race, no one even had me in their sights as a surprise to everyone when I showed up on the race results as first place in GC.

Stage 3 Road Race
W40+ GC podium:
Pam Downs & Michelle Lewis Sirianni Gacki

On Sunday, I woke up wishing I could drive back to Austin. I wanted to leave while I was ahead. The sky was cloudy again, and it started raining as I was loading up my car. "Not again!" I thought. I had talked with my teammate in Austin the previous night, and she told me that Shelby, her friend from Dallas, was a strong, steady wheel to follow. Just by chance, I ran into Shelby as I was leaving the square to ride to the start. She was really nice, and she was currently fourth place GC. We decided that we should stay near the front and take the first lap at a slower pace. I told her I just wanted to finish the race upright and get back to Austin. She asked if I would mind doing two laps instead of three. That really appealed to me. I didn't know you could request that.

We lined up behind the W123 again. I listened to the race official tell them that they would be doing three laps and would be riding over that metal bridge each lap. Oh man, I really hoped we could do just two laps...I'm old (53) and if I go down, I would probably break a hip. Shelby asked the race official. The official said if it was unanimous, we could shorten the race. We voted. The only woman that wanted to do three laps was the girl in third place in the W40+, the one who started before me in the TT. So the official asked a second time, "Who wants to do two laps instead of three?" Everyone but that girl raised a hand. So the official asked one more time, "Is there anyone opposed to doing two laps instead of three?" This time no one raised a hand. 

We started out and I was at the front with Shelby. I was nervous and started out fast—way faster than Shelby had intended, so she let me pull. I pulled and pulled. I knew it was stupid…all I had to do was sit in. I was WAY more comfortable at the front, though. I could take the corners the way I wanted and at the speed I was comfortable with, and I could descend without having to watch wheels or put on my brakes. At one point the whole group went around me, and I was at the back of the pack again. Then I heard a loud POP! I knew someone had blown a tire, but didn't know who. It was a bit scary as the whole group slowed and looked around to see who it was so we could avoid her. It was the girl in third place GC in W40+... I hate to say it, but I thought, "That's one less person I have to worry about," and that put Shelby in third GC.

We went over the metal bridge and through a patch of dirt road. I looked for the first opening and rode up to the front again, slowed down, and hoped someone would go around me and I could get on a wheel. That didn't happen, but Shelby came up next to me, and I told her I was nervous about the gravel. She said just ride through it like it was pavement. It would be packed from the rain, so nothing to worry about. She calmed my nerves, and the second time we went through that section I got on Shelby's wheel and rode through it like a champ. The hot spot and finish were on our second lap. I was thinking that there would be a sprint to the hot spot, but there wasn't, maybe because everyone was saving energy for the finish that was coming up. With 2K to go, Amber Smolek, the GC for the W4, and I were neck and neck. Eventually I started to get tired and she pulled away, and some others passed me too. There was a small gap between the first group and myself at the finish. I was hoping that wouldn't affect my place.

After crossing the finish line, I heard that there had been a crash. Someone hadn't held their line and wheels had touched. A girl had gone down hard. Fortunately, no broken bones...I was thankful that I had been in the front of the pack that day. 

We waited and waited for our results. For some reason they were going to give the girl that flatted the same time as the rest of us. The Red Bull guy started to take apart the podium. I don't get on the podium much, so I told him that he needed to wait until I got my picture taken. HA! And he DID!!! Then we found out that there were no trophy's for the W40+, just the W4's. So we had our pics taken with the trophies and had to give them back so the W4's could have them. That's okay. I just wanted to get back to Austin and take a shower. :)

Aeroweenie Consulting

Pam met with Jack Mott at Austin TriCyclist to go over her TT setup and gear. She already had a great frame (a BMC TM02) and wheels (ENVE carbon clinchers), so he made the following tweaks and changes:
  • Added a wheelbuilder cover to her rear wheel to make it a disc wheel
  • Switched from Michelin Pro 4s (not bad) to Continental Attack/Force (really good!)
  • Recommended 105 to 110psi air pressure
  • Swapped out the factory aerobar for one with internal cable routing and an airfoil-shaped base bar
  • Swapped out her overly large TT helmet for a properly sized LG P-09 aero helmet
  • Picked up some Zipp aero skewers
  • Suggested holding head low and looking up with the eyes, as well as riding the TT bike more during training to increase overall comfort 

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