The sun came up on Sunday and it was time to get ready for the last race of the Tour. My muscles ached and creaked beyond their 20-something years, so I downed some Aleve and hoped that I would have enough left in the tank to pull me through the race.
The real goal of this weekend was to grab the last 6 points I needed for my upgrade. A GC podium finish would be nice, but I kept returning my focus to those upgrade points. I had received 3 from the criterium, so I needed 3 more. I absolutely had to finish 5th or higher in the road race. I could not settle for anything less.
We rolled out of the teeny town of Waitsburg at 8:30 am into the endless rolling wheat fields. I knew that I had no room for error, so I fought to stay in the top 5 riders the entire time. I actually spent most of the time sitting 2nd wheel to Sarah B, who you may recall won both the time trial and the criterium. I rode that wheel until that wheel started to pull away from me. That is really when the race started.
We had been gradually climbing for a long time and I was giving it everything I had to hold onto the draft. I’m not a gifted climber, so I wasn’t surprised when the gap opened up. What did surprise me? When I looked back over my shoulder, the rest of the remaining pack looked just as tired as I felt. No one was going to answer Sarah’s effortless dance up the hill.
Not much after, Jessica (sitting 2nd in the GC) decided to go and a few of us went with her. I was in so much pain at that point, it was hard for me to even figure out who came and who didn’t. In the end, there were only three of us—Sarah C from Starbucks, Jessica and myself. I knew we’d have a lot of work to do together and we started pace lining.
Now, at this point, you might know, if you’ve been following along at home, I was in position for a top-4 finish. I tried to not get too excited because it was still a really long way to the finish line and a lot of things could still happen. I was motivated to make the break stick though so when our pace line finally caught Sarah B, I did not let us take it easy. One of my favorite phrases when I’m in a break is, ‘there are no free rides here.’ I used it liberally here.
All four of us were riding really strong when I hear Sarah C say ‘shut up legs’ under her breath. She was starting to crack. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how much I had left, but I sure wasn’t going to let anyone else know that! To say that I’m a loudmouth is an understatement, but I am pretty good at keeping things quiet when it matters.
Moments later, or miles later, (its amazing how much you forget when you are deep in the pain cave) we start to go up another steady climb. Sarah B broke away again, and this time, took Jessica with her. (INSERT SERIES OF EXPLETIVES HERE.) Behind me, Sarah C was struggling. I had two choices: stay with Sarah C and see if we could work together to chase the other two down, or risk suffering in ‘no man’s land’ and try to chase the two strongest girls in the peloton by myself.
This was a not only a pivotal moment for me in this race, but in my cycling career. I was fully aware that the chances of me catching them were slim, but there was some unexplainable drive that made the choice for me. I was going to pedal until I caught them or I might pass out trying.
For the next, oh, I don’t know, 7 or 8 miles, I dangled in agony 12-15 seconds back from the leaders. It was painful to watch them sharing the work as I suffered through the brutal headwind alone. On the downhills, they were coasting, so I pedaled hard. There was no time for coasting. No time for riding conservatively. I was riding with my soul. The only thing that matched my level of exhaust was my level of resolve.
With the final peak of the last ascent within reach, I did it. I finally caught them. If I hadn’t been so tired, I’m sure I would have been overwhelmed by this accomplishment.
Now, what goes around comes around. I was so tired and wanted to skip out on pulls so that I could get some proper rest going into the final sprint. I heard my words come back to me, ‘no free rides.’ Ugh. I dug deeper and gave it everything I had.
Headed into the final 1K, I did stop pulling. Both of these girls had beat me twice and already had an advantage. I lined myself up behind Jessica, thinking she would be my best chance at a leadout to beat Sarah B. At 200 meters to go, Jessica took off, I went with her, and Sarah B came trailing behind us. We finished in that order. It felt fast, but I’m sure it looked like we were riding in slow-motion due to fatigue. the next rider to cross the line was 2:45 back.
I finished 2nd! By my celebration, you would have thought I’d won. Not only had a dug deep and succeeded, I had just earned 6 upgrade points—3 more than I needed for my upgrade.
So, I had finished 3rd overall in the GC, podium-ed in every stage, earned all my upgrade points, but the most important take away from Walla Walla was knowing how deep I can dig. I am so thankful that Sarah B and Jessica raced. They pulled ME out of me. They made me take risks and go into survival mode and bust down my own boundaries. I truly feel if the level of competition hadn’t been raised, I would have raced conservatively, held back and hoped for the best in the final bunch sprint. There was something about this performance that proved to myself that I had nothing left to prove.
1:56:53 (18.99 mph) for 2nd place. 3rd overall in the GC after all three stages.
And that is it. That was my last mass-start race as a cat 4 rider and my last mass-start race before Ironman Coeur d’Alene. All my training will now focus on making me the best I can be for that fateful day in June.