You never know what you’re capable of until you choose to push past your limit.
Tour de Nez Race Report from Healther Nielson from the Elite Touchstone Climbing team.
Heather is a good friend and I asked her to write a report of what its like to race on an elite women’s squad. I hope that you read this and get an idea of what its like for elite riders moving up the ranks.
Tour De Nez
By Heather Nielson
I’ve learned over the past few seasons that writing race report within 24 hours of the event is really crucial as the memories, feelings, thoughts and emotions are still fresh. I had wanted to do some NRC races earlier in the season but my job situation would not permit it. Later in the spring I ended up getting laid off, which was actually a welcome blessing as I had been working toward working in the cycling industry doing something flexible and portable so that I could train and race at the ‘pro’ level while still paying my bills.
NRC means National Racing Calendar
It’s the series of races that the domestic men’s and women’s professional teams focus on. It can be quite difficult for an ‘amateur’ or even for someone like myself who is on an Elite, but not professional team, to do an NRC race. The one-day races like Tour de Nez make it easier to attend. The logistics, cost, transportation, need for a race director (especially for stage races), and also having someone guide you through the rules, regulations etc adds a layer of complexity to doing an NRC race that require about as much time to navigate through as the actual racing itself.
The drive to Reno
Reno is quite a drive for all of us and the race was in the early afternoon on Sunday so we chose to drive up Saturday night and spend the night. Most of the women who participated did the same thing. As an amateur or, ‘semi-pro’, while you’re on a team, the goals are actually quite individual as the pace can be so high that the goal quickly becomes about survival. One might ask ‘then why participate if you can’t win?’ The experience and fitness level gained from participating in races of that caliber when you get a chance are invaluable and help raise you to that next level.
Getting to know teammates
On the drive to Reno I had a good time getting to know my teammates better and we had a few good laughs. I had been moving all week and so was completely exhausted on the drive up and was really hoping for a good night’s sleep as I know that my ability to perform was already going to be impacted and I didn’t want to go into Sunday still tired and further sleep-deprived. I woke up finally feeling like I caught up on all my sleep though still sore from moving. We found a great place for breakfast and then went back to the hotel to rest until it was time to get ready to leave. This season I have noticed something interesting in my body’s reaction in the hours leading up to a race. It’s almost like I get really tired, quiet and have this intense desire to do as little as possible. It was comforting then to talk to my teammates that morning and find that they go through the same thing and although we couldn’t pin-point the exact reason for it, we guessed that it had something to do with our body having become adapted to the rigors of racing, anticipating the energy necessary and then ‘slowing down’ every other unnecessary energy expense.
Arriving at the race
We got over to the course well ahead of our start time as we wanted to really become familiar with the course prior to the race start. Knowing the course, especially at an NRC event, gives you that much more of an advantage as you can anticipate corners, difficult elevation changes, rough pavement etc which also helps to save valuable energy during the race.
We then ventured off into the residential area in search of appropriate warm-up roads. I felt like I got in a nice good spin, a few hard efforts to open things up and in plenty of time to get back to the course, use the bathroom and be ready at the start-line. Everything for my preparation for the race was perfect then. I had given myself every advantage possible to help me perform my best during the race; and with the difficult move that I did during the previous week I knew accomplishing this goal was absolutely necessary. As a result, I was very calm at the start of the race.
‘A funny thing happened on the way to the bathroom’….
I knew that Amber Raise Malika was going to be there. She’s from Reno but is currently living and racing in Europe. I have been following her career since I was just starting out four years ago and watched her go from the domestic professional racing scene onto the much more difficult European racing scene. I had also started following her on Twitter (naturally) and had been reading her blog. I guess you could say she’s one of my ‘heroes’ on women’s bicycle racing. As I was using the water fountain at the bathroom, she rolled up with Alison Starnes and I was star-struck. I reached out my hand to introduce myself and she said ‘Oh give me a hug Heather, I feel like I know you!’ I have no recollection as to what my response was as I was completely shocked. We chatted for a few minutes and then I wished them both good luck. I was still trembling slightly as I rode off.
Call to the Line
At the start line of NRC and also notable local races it’s not uncommon for the race director to do ‘call-ups’ of the ‘who’s who’ amongst the participants. After that was finished, they called the rest of us to the start line and after the obligatory officials instructions the start was announced and away we went. I struggled to get clipped in which meant I was immediately on the back of the field, a very bad place to be. I spent the next 5-10 laps on the rivet as I yo-yoed with the back of the pack through every corner and hung onto whatever wheel was in front of me in complete desperation. I kept thinking ‘I have GOT to move up or I’m going to completely blow at this effort and be dropped!’ I did manage to move up a few spots along the parts of the course that lent itself to that tactic but at one point when we passed through the start-finish and I noticed the clock reading that we had only completed 20 minutes of the 60 minute race I was certain I was going to be dropped and eventually pulled.
I’m really not sure how I survived the next 20 minutes
I turned off my brain and ignored the fire burning in my lungs, throat and eyes as I was fully committed to suffering until my legs wouldn’t turn over anymore; and that’s pretty much what happened. With about 20 minutes to go, there were a few final attacks at the front of the field that strung the peloton out and proved to be too much for a handful of us still dangling on the back. There had been a thunderstorm developing as well and the winds had picked up quite a bit and I was fighting those cross winds with my 45 carbon tubular wheels, though I still wouldn’t have chosen differently as they are much lighter and faster than any wheel set I’ve ever had.
Myself and two others continued to chase
The remaining 5-7 laps and as we crossed the finish line, Amber was behind us finishing the race in a victorious solo win. I was both elated for Amber as well as demoralized for nearly being lapped by the winner of the race. We were allowed to finish our final lap and were placed amongst the finishers. In my mind though for e, that was complete 100% success. There wasn’t anything I would change about the way I raced from my tactics chosen to the level of effort I put out.
I think it’s absolutely critical that you go into an event giving yourself every possible advantage as well as being realistic about what you’re capable of versus your competition so that your mental state can remain strong as that is what will carry you through those split seconds of ‘I’m not giving up!!!’ vs. ‘I can’t do this……’ You never know what you’re capable of until you choose to push past your limit.
Heather Nielson is an elite road racer in for one of the top women’s teams in Northern California, Touchstone Climbing Cycling Team; and is also a USAC Certified Coach. She began racing in 2008 and started racing in the Pro/1/2 fields in 2010. Heather is heavily involved in the cycling community in Northern California and abroad. She is also an artist, working to launch her own cycling-based clothing designs. http://www.heathernielson.com