The Tunis Roubaix wasn’t as harsh as I expected. With the stories from last year, combined with the stormy weather outlook I was prepared for something similar to this year’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (you should seriously check out that youtube video) that occurred just a few days earlier. Besides the wind, it didn’t end up being so bad.
Since the weather was on the gloomy side, the Women’s B field did 3 laps instead of the scheduled 4, and we set a pretty pedestrian pace most of the course. Sarah Simmons from A&M, Meredith Vernon from OBU and myself did the lion’s share of the pace making, and everyone was content to go as slow or as fast as we wanted to. About halfway through the first lap we tried to make a break for it, but we couldn’t get anything to stick. As the three of us set the pace for entire race we joked to each other about how this meant we had no hope of winning.
It definitely wasn’t a brutal pace, but the miles and the wind caught up with me and my legs cramped for the whole last lap. In the last pass through the gravel, it was everything I could do to keep my head up and power through as we managed to push an LSU rider to the front to endure the headwind and the pace making. I was tired and started making stupid mistakes: I dropped my chain twice but managed to pick it back up, I couldn’t keep my head up, and I couldn’t quite stay on the wheel. I looked over to Sarah and said “You better win this race because I just don’t have it.” I don’t remember her response or even if she had one. Then it started to rain on us for the first time.
The rain made me feel better, it always does. We passed the 1000 meters to go sign, and I moved to the front again. The last right hand turn was really wet, but I took my chances. I looked under my arm and there was a small gap so I went for it. Even though I would have preferred that it end in a sprint I couldn’t pass up the chance. I bombed the last descent and started to drive up the finishing hill. Out of nowhere a girl from University of Houston blazed passed me. I bonked. A group of like 12 girls went around me like a swarm. My teammate Kate Thompson, who had crashed in the first lap and got back into the group (it was only her second road race ever!!), rode around me, and looked back perplexed with the situation. I tried to catch her but there was no hope: I rolled across the line 12th, accepting the consequences of the nature of my attack. An MSU lady won, Meredith’s teammate got second, and Sarah was third (thanks for not letting me down.) Afterward, I asked Meredith how she did and she said “I dunno I was just somewhere back there” I laughed, “me too.”
I skipped out on the time trial, ate some Taco Bell and went back to base-camp to collect my thoughts and prepare for the criterium the next day.
Sunday was stunningly beautiful in all senses: the sun was shining, it wasn’t too hot, it wasn’t too cold and there was almost zero wind. The crit course was, for lack of a better word, awesome. It had a nice non-classical shape to it, and I liked it. The scariest part wasn’t the two quick turns or those “I-will-eat-your-tiny-wheel” grates between them: it was lapping riders; with the cones and weird gutter things certain parts of the course were pretty narrow and we were a group of about 15 (I made that number up, I only looked behind me once the entire race).
I rode third or fourth wheel most of the race and when it came to two laps to go, a lot of girls that I hadn’t seen (see previous parenthetical observation) the whole race came out. I think I was at the back of the pack for awhile but I was patient.
I was still 4th wheel right before we went into the last turn. A girl from UT opened up the sprint right out of the final turn; I squeezed my way between a girl from Rice and another UT rider, and jumped. As soon as I came out I realized that my gear was too small and I might not make it; there were maybe 4 or 5 bike lengths to make up before I even got to her. The only thing I could see was the front wheel of the UT girl while I pounded at my pedals.
I have always wondered how you know you’ve won when it’s that close. How can you seriously be confident enough to put your hands in the air? (Again, watch the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad from this year.) But now I know: you just know. I guess it’s the same when you lose by that little; the disappointment hits you with the same swiftness of a flat tire. It couldn’t have been by more than half a wheel. Coming across the line first after the road-race-let-down made it all the better. It’s possible that I’ve never yelled so loudly in my existence.
This turned out to be a really good race for the ladies in the B’s. It’s the first time I’ve seen us ride so cohesively because things typically break up really fast, or there aren’t many of us to begin with. I hope that the attendance is just as high at the other races, and the competition just as fierce.