Before I start writing this blog entry, I want to thank Olaf, the team director of Team Stuttgart and my teammates for such great two days.
Well, where should I start? Wednesday and Thursday were part of a stage race. Wednesday a criterium and Thursday a road race which was also the German National hill climb championships.
The crit on Wednesday started at 7pm. I made plans with another rider to drive 3 hours to Stuttgart. On the way to the race, I asked her every single question, one could have when racing in another country. She patiently answered all of them.
I learned that Team Stuttgart is basically a German pendant to an American NRC team. For that particular crit, I found two differences to racing in the US, the number of laps in crits was predetermined (30 in that case), and the lap length was super short: 1km (0.6mi).
We would be about eight Team Stuttgart riders. I was excited.
The weather on the way to the course was ok until then, maybe high 40s; however, it turned to rain, then hail and then snow!!! And that in May!!! I couldn’t believe it!
Olaf handed me a new jersey and bibs. He also took care of my bike, changing wheels and tires, oiled chain and everything else which had to be done. Olaf even let me borrow some sweet deep dish wheels for the race. Wow, this was all so new to me! Everything was so professional!
We rolled to the starting line and I was standing fourth row or so of about 64 racers. And that was the only time I saw the front because two second after the start signal, there was only dust and a Monika who still tried to clip in.
There was no such thing as a peloton because the field was spilled across the 1k lap within minutes. I found myself in a chase group and stuck with it. I might also want to mention that the course entailed a roundabout which we rode 360 degree around.
Adding the rather wet conditions, it caused quite a lot of crashes. In total, I saw about five crashes in such a short race. Since I would not consider crits as my favorite races plus it being my first race in Germany, my goal was to finish safely somewhere in the middle. That I did accomplish.
After the race the support team took my bike which I wouldn’t see until the next day. We went back to the car and drove parts of the course for the day ahead – the German National hill climb championship. I had no clue what to expect but I soon was enlightened when the engine of the car made some worrisome noise. We drove up a steep climb, followed by a false flat followed by more hills. The course would then descend and make a u-turn up another super steep section with a more shallow descent back into town to the start line.
One lap was about 10k (6mi) with 250m (820 feet) elevation gain. The race had us ride 10 laps of it; thus 8200 feet in 60 miles. Well, I needed some sort of strategy to survive that. I had until 1pm next day to think of one.
After recon the team went to the sport school where we ate dinner in the community hall and slept in 2 person bed rooms. Everything was arranged for us. Dinner, rooms, breakfast. We didn’t have to worry about anything.
Next day. Still chilly (40s, low 50s) but at least sunny. We drove down to the course two hours early and watched the Men amateur TT before our race. There were also fest tents where people got hot dogs and beer and watched the races.
Getting ready with my teammates, I asked what to expect in this race compared to the crit the day before. They told me that the race would start fast again, not as fast as the crit but the attacks would be right from the beginning.
For the warm up, I was handed my clean bike, still with the borrowed wheels. I asked for a pump so I could pump up my tires. They looked at me confused. Why would I need a pump? I said I haven’t pumped up my tires yet. I was told everything is taken care of and I wouldn’t have to worry. Wow! That was pretty cool!
Finally 1pm and about 64 racers lined up at the starting line. The moderator made sure we knew who we were dealing with when he introduced the competition. A former World champion and some upcoming stars were in the field. All names were new to me so I just hoped to follow the right people.
There was at no time any chill-out tempo and we were shedding racers by the minute. Spectators were lined up on the two climbs and cheering.
I realized soon that I could not match the climbing tempo of the leaders. However, I also realized if I go my own speed I would be able to catch them on the flats. I got dropped behind the follow vehicles and fought my way through to the front again. That was my strategy for eight out of ten laps.
We were down to maybe 20 riders by lap 5 and I saw the former World champion attack before the climb. There was a split and I was in a chase group. The course is all about attrition and thus a matter of gauging the effort so it would possible to being able to climb 820 feet elevation even on the tenth lap.
People started going backwards. Hyperventilated. Got off their bikes.
I played the same game with the chase group for another three laps when they dropped me on the climbs but I caught them on the flats. But the last two laps I had to fight by myself.
Actually not really because a few racers from the Mens’s race that start two hours after us passed me. I attached myself to the wheel of a guy with German stripes and followed them to the next climb and waved good bye.
My other encouragement was our support vehicle as it followed me patiently up the hills. I got gels and water whenever needed. I started appreciating the engine four feet behind me.
However, it was not allowed to follow me the last lap and the silence made me worry. What is if I have a flat? Who would tell me when suddenly a group of 30 catch me?
I also started losing concentration and had to force myself to focus. I was exhausted and felt the feeling of bonking coming my way. Oh no!
But exactly that time, another male rider passed me and more or less forced me to follow him. He would accelerate and when he realized I wasn’t on his wheel, he slowed down. I was happy I could follow a wheel because my energy was draining quickly.
Finally, after 3 hours and 46minutes, I saw the 200m sign and then the finish line, thanked the guy, handed my bike to the support crew, lie down and couldn’t believe how I just made it!
I still dont know my placement but I was told somewhere between 14th and 16th. Very happy about that.