Speed Week – An Amateur Perspective Racing with the Pros
Speed week is a prestigious cycling event, where riders race 6 criteriums in 8 days while touring around North Carolina, South Carolina and a finale in Athens, Georgia. As a category 2, amateur female racer, this is a tough week of racing against world class stars.
Lining up day 1 in downtown Charlotte, I looked around and saw 70 aggressive women getting anxious to throw down. Several of these women were my heroes, women I watched and envied from the sideline and here I was, lining up to race against them, hoping they wouldn’t make me feel like a child trying to play alongside her older siblings and friends. The field was labeled P/1/2, meaning we had amateur category 2 women, including myself, all the way up to professional athletes, racing together for the same prize money. The spread in experience and power output is enormous within the women’s fields making it difficult for category 2 women to feel they belong. As an amateur racing with the pros, it feels like your emotions are all over the place from day to day. One day you will have a great start, stick with the field and finish mid-pack. The next day you could get caught behind a split and get pulled 10 minutes into the race. With the former you feel awesome and high on life, while the later you feel like a failure who shouldn’t even be allowed to ride a bike.
Your starting position is essential in criterium racing. The courses tend to be technical and starting at the back of the field, if you aren’t one of the strongest people in the field, can be very difficult to work your way up to the front. Riding near the front, you waste less energy while flying through the narrow, technical course. At the back, you experience more of a slinky effect requiring greater accelerations through the corners. I had good position in Charlotte, but I had to line up 30 min before the start and elbow my way to hold that spot. The start of these races is frequently more stressful than the race itself. It makes you feel like cattle being herded to the slaughter house. The whistle blew for the start of the race and I was head down, all out, trying to hold my own. The first two laps I maintained good position, but I struggled through some of the narrow corners to find the correct line. Two of the corners I kept getting thrown out near the barriers and lost too many positions in the process. After two laps, I figured out the flow but it was too late, I had already been pushed too far back in the field. I tried to work my way forward, but these women already had me at my threshold. I got stuck in a group that was split from the main field, chasing to get back on. We never caught back up but were placed as a chase group. Day 2 in Belmont the start was the same. Smooched like sardines trying to inch forward to gain a slightly better position than the girl next to me. The course contained a small incline making it easy to break up the field. Coryn Rivera attacked from the start and on the gun I was flying through the corners trying to grasp enough air and hold the wheel in front of me. One small gap in a field like this and you better say goodbye to finishing the race with the field.
After Belmont, Speed Week gave us a rest day before racing Tuesday and Wednesday in Laurens and Walterboro, South Carolina. A lot of the power teams didn’t show up for these midweek races making the field more manageable for cat 2’s like myself. The top end racers are still present, there just are not as many of them. The category of these races were also changed to P/1/2/3, making the difference in ability much wider. For Charlotte and Belmont, if a small gap opened up between and a group, better just pack your bags and go home, bridging those gaps was hard. At these midweek races, gaps were easily closed but they also opened more frequently with less cornering ability and general racing experience existing in the field. The race in Laurens was on the Michelin Test Track, a flat, open, windy, gentle corner course with little to break up the field. Attacks were plentiful with my teammate taking a little solo flier, but everything was chased down. The race ended in a field sprint with no riders getting dropped. At the Michelin Test Track, my teammate and I were lucky enough to meet Nina, the dachshund. She was touring Speed Week with her owners.
Walterboro was much faster and a course which better suited my abilities. The atmosphere while racing in Walterboro was amazing! It felt like the entire town welcomed the racers and treated it like a party. There was a huge crowd all around the course cheering us on. It made you feel like a superhero coming through the final stretch as everyone screamed and cheered while the peloton rallied through the streets. I could not get over how big of a crowd showed up for a Wednesday night event. I had a good day, raced strong and ended up finishing 17th, a good placement for this race. We got to say hi to Nina again but she found a piece of pizza in a bush. She was more interested in eating the pizza than getting her head pat from us.
Racing fast multi-day races like this quickly drains our bodies. Recovery between races is a key component to keep us performing at our top level. We use Cocoa Elite to get our muscles the protein and carbs they need right after hard races so that we can wake up the next day and ride and race strong.
One of my favorite things about Cocoa Elite is that it tastes so good, even when mixed just with water.
After Walterboro, my teammate and I had to make a 4-hour trek to Asheville, NC where we had housing for the next two nights. Racing the Walterboro twilight race put us into arriving at 2:00 AM. But after racing these fast, technical races, your adrenaline is pumping. I mixed my Cocoa Elite, with 4 oz water and 4 oz cold brew to get an extra caffeine boost and WOW! It tasted great! And I was caffeinated to make the late night drive!
After a rest day in Asheville, we went down to Spartanburg, SC. The town of Spartanburg put on an entire carnival a block from the race. This attracted a huge crowd along with VIP tents lined up all along the finishing stretch. Once again we experienced another amazing crowd cheering us on as we raced. After our race, we even got invited into one of the VIP tents to cheer for and watch the men race. The grand finale in Athens, GA was no different with the crowds. Beer tents lined the course and moving around outside the course was like trying to get to Walmart on Black Friday. More power teams showed up and the race was fast right from the gun.
Here are a few of my best recipes for Cocoa Elite!
Cocoa Elite Mocha
4 oz Cold Brew
4 oz Water or Milk of Your Choice
2 scoops Cocoa Elite
Mix ingredients and shake!
Pre-Race Power Oatmeal
1 Cup Almond Milk
½ Cup Rolled Oats
1 Tbs Peanut Butter
1 Scoop Cocoa Elite Unsweetened Cocoa
1/3 Tbs, Maple Syrup
Mix all ingredients in sauce pan on medium heat stirring frequently. Cook until desired consistency.
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