A few days ago, I rode up a 23% grade 10 times and it’s a good thing I started the race not knowing. It’s quite amazing how a mere 350m can feel like a kilometer. But what is even more amazing, and truly electrifying, is how hundreds of people screaming, yelling and cheering along that hill can supercharge your mentality and in turn your ability to keep pushing physically. The crowds that surround the course at a crit is something to be a part of, either as a competitor or as a spectator.
North Star GP, formerly Nature Valley, returned this year after having taken a hiatus for the women’s races last year, to Minneapolis. I’ve had this stage race on my radar for a couple of years now because it contains 3 crits and because I have heard many good things. My coach, Jenny Trew, encouraged me to take part as she herself competed at it.
The rundown is 6 stages in 5 days. The first day is a double-duty day with a morning time trial (some might call it a prologue) and a crit in the evening in downtown St. Paul. We then continue in the fashion of road race, crit, road race, and crit. Each race takes place in a different area around Minneapolis.
I raced as a guest rider with a local club team, SPBRC. There were 5 of us, 3 coming from different teams and 2 as local riders. The organization and volunteering that occurred amidst this club was spectacular. I was driven to the races that were out of town, trainers were provided with a tent, people in the feed zones, and they even had race foods for us. It might seem silly, but those are little stresses that I no longer had to worry about and could be much more focused on the races.
At the 5-mile time trial, I surprisingly hammered out a 15th place finish. I remember thinking my legs felt heavy and played in my head that it wouldn’t be such a good ride. When I found out my result, I was surprised, but happy!
The crazy race of the week goes to the first crit. An L-shaped course with a mild climb and slightly rough terrain in spots ended with two laps to go. The race officials decided to nullify the race i.e. it didn’t count. It didn’t happen.
I started the race with a call up (this is where the announcers call you to the front line), which is a nice treat. About halfway a big crash happened before the final corner. The officials neutralized the race and stopped us until the course was cleared. With 3 or 4 laps to go, wheels went out and riders went down in the first corner. Again, neutralized, and decision was to stop the race altogether. It was a tough night for several teams.
The road race in Cannon Falls was to be my longest race ever, but this was changed after we were held up for about an hour due to a crash in the men’s race that had left before us. After the first sprint, I decided to attack and managed to be off the front gaining about 10-15 seconds on the group; however, this lasted for a short time. It was a controlled race with people riding safely. I had come here to show myself, so I continued to send a few more attacks or follow anything that went. For this, I earned the Most Aggressive Rider jersey (Coryn Rivera vouched for me, so thanks!).
The next crit took place in uptown Minneapolis, which I have learned is party central. It was flat, fast and I got a slow-mo tweet for a sprint points lap. I’m sure people have been wondering what I am like in slow-mo (https://twitter.com/nsbikefest/status/743951435692335104)
Hot weather had finally caught up to us, and on North Mankato road race day. It’s a rolling course with a great puncher of a hill at the end of the big circuits, and we finish off with some smaller circuits. This was a good day. It was a day for the break and an All-Canadian break at that. My Cyclery-Opus teammate, Justine joined me to start and we had Joelle come along as well. It was fantastic (my first big break) to have two other hard workers. We had a gap of about 45 seconds, only to be brought back near the end of the lap. Even though I couldn’t manage to stay with the group for the final closing circuits, I [slowly] walked away with a huge sense of accomplishment with my ride. My legs were tired, I had been risky and I overcame that fear. At the expense of being risky, sometimes you don’t finish the race, and it definitely has prevented me to race more aggressively at times. The cool thing was I lived to fight another day and got to chat with Cari Higgins (she’s a cool cat). Also, Justine Clift laid it down with a 10th place finish!
Final day is the crit that could be referred to as a circuit race. It’s got that steep climb right from the gun, some more less steep climbing and then a screaming fast descent into a couple corners. By this day, all the riders legs are tired. We were all in the same boat, we were all hurting each time up that hill.
I’ve learned a lot this trip. I’ve had my first guest riding experience (and it was great!), I got a jersey, I rode in a break, and I did my longest stage race. Those small steps I was taking three years ago, have got me here and I am taking new steps.
At the beginning of the week I had decided my motto for the week was going to be “Let’s play bikes”. And that’s exactly what I got to do. I am a lucky girl in that I get to race my bike. It’s a small population that get to do that. I had a wonderful week!!
I’d also like to mention that on Sunday, my teammates competed at the Preston Street Crit in Ottawa. They snagged 1st (Ariane) and 3rd (Emily) on the podium with the first place finisher getting their weight in beer (looking forward to that when I get back!!). Congrats!
A HUGE thank you to SPBRC and Bonny (best airport pick up and drop off!), Monty, Denise, Tom, Alix and others I may be forgetting. Also, a shout out to my SPBRC teammates Brenna (great racing!), Mel (you’re awesome), Lucero and Angie!!
Canadian Nationals are next… so I’m going to eat some candy, put the legs up and get myself recovered and ready!