When I got the email from Amy D Foundation saying I was selected for Joe Martin Stage Race, I was not excited. I didn’t finish the last two stage races – Tour of the Gila in 2016 and Redlands Bicycle Classic in 2017 – and wasn’t so sure I wanted to be disappointed again. It was safer to just let the idea of racing UCI and Pro Road Tour stage races go, instead focusing on local and paracycling.
Thankfully, when I doubt my own abilities there are others who don’t. Others who softly – and sometimes not so softly – push me to get back up, to keep pedaling forward. So by the beginning of the year I had applied to race with the Amy D Foundation, and when selected responded to the congratulatory email with the list of races they were going to in the order of my personal priority. Then I went on with life, waiting to see which stage race I would be selected for. I got it while in Rio: “Hello ladies! I wanted to let you know you have been chosen to be part of the Amy D Foundation team for the Joe Martin Stage Race. Please confirm by the end of the day that you will be able to do it.”
There was the initial spark of excitement before panic set in. Maybe I shouldn’t go. It’s roughly two weeks once I get back from track worlds, will I be ready for a stage race? Is this really something I can spend the money on? I don’t know if I am ready. After texting [my coach] Creed to get his thoughts – “it’ll be tough, but doable” – and talking with Andrew – “I’m with you whatever you decide, but you need to decide and stick to the decision” – I still needed to sleep on it. Ultimately, and after the paracycling team’s team mechanic (who is also Amy D’s team mechanic) agreeing with Andrew and Creed to “do it,” I replied to Katherine: “I’m in.”
Creed wasn’t lying when he said the transition from the track to a UCI stage race would be hard, but I was motivated. The goal for Joe Martin Stage Race was simply to finish. And I had the best training partner I could ask for in my husband, who was by my side for each grueling ride and had nothing but encouragement to offer. With the two solid performances in the Saturday-morning group ride and heavy training load, I was not nervous anymore.
By the time I flew to Tulsa, drove with Des to Fayetteville, Arkansas, and was at our host house with my air mattress picked out and bike built, I only had a slight bit of nervousness. But that nervousness was more for meeting the other six women I would be racing with and not really for the race itself. That quickly faded too once I met all of the ladies and we rode around town together.
It was a relief when we all seemed to mesh from the beginning, and by the time we toed the starting line for stage one it felt like we were a real team and not just a composite team for the week.
The first stage of Joe Martin was 62 miles, after 6.1 miles of racing – err, I mean neutral rollout – before the left hand turn on Highway 71 signaled the start of the race. I made it until the last of the climbs, roughly two-thirds of the way into the race, before coming off the back of the main group. I stayed with the group of ten that caught up to me after the climb, and we worked together to the finish, coming in roughly eight minutes behind the leaders.
Not the performance I had hoped for, but well within time cut, I was satisfied. I had made it to stage two.
Stage two had thunderstorms predicted in the forecast and, with temperatures in the high sixties, it was a little cooler in temperature than the 80 degrees that was the first day. Again, the race would be over 60 miles. This time, however, it would include a nine-mile stair-stepping climbing right in the middle of the race.
From the beginning, I proudly found myself in good positions in the middle of the pack and in even better ones on the climbs.
That is until the strength of those in the peloton became too much for me to match towards the top of the nine-mile climb. Stay within yourself I told myself as I watched the group slowly pull away, you’ll be okay. A small group of stragglers formed by the time we reach the top of the climb 1.5 miles later, and we worked together to catch another small chase group that had formed because of the constant attacks the peloton had after the climb. We each took turns pulling at the front of the group, each of us focused on making time cut and maybe even catching the peloton, and together we caught the main group roughly six miles before the sharp left turn that signified the last 2K.
While I was tired, the sense of accomplishment for knowing I would now finish stage two with the main group gave me a second wind. This allowed me to do what I could to help Christie – our top-10 finisher from stage one – to the front of the group before that first turn in the set of turns that led to the finish. From there, Beth Ann – experienced pro and our mentor for the week – would take her to the through the turns to the finishing climb. Two of the others from the Amy D team were also there to provide support and a lead out for Christie, so I knew my role would be to make sure Christie was where she needed to be for the rest of the women to do their jobs. It took a few times of bringing Christie to the front of the group before she was able to hold her position and Beth Ann was able to get to the left side of the group from her position at the right of the group. I had done my job, burning all my matches to make sure it happened, and rolled across the finish line towards the back of the main group, finishing 60th out of 90+ riders. But the 60th didn’t matter. I had made it to the finish with the main group. I had helped increase Christie’s odds for a successful finish. I hadn’t panicked when I came off the back of the group on the long climb. I had been a part of a chase group that rode over 30 miles an hour and caught the main group. Again, I had made it to the finish with the main group.
Stage three was the individual time trial. Really it was a climb trial, with 3 miles of uphill switchbacks. The weather was much cooler at this point. After the thunderstorms – and a tornado that rolled through a part of the road race course thankfully after we were long gone – the weather was in the mid-forties and wasn’t predicted to get any warmer. Despite my best efforts to warm up well and stay warm, and despite having the best power I have had for a time trial, stage three wasn’t my best result.
I did, however, end up making time cut and moving on to the last and final stage.
The temperature continued to drop, and the morning of stage four’s criterium snowflakes scattered across the deck of our host house. It warmed up to a chilly 38-degrees by the time we left for the afternoon crit, and we all did our best to stay warm in between watching our breathes form clouds in the air.
The effort proved futile as we staged for the start in jackets we would give our team directors before being called up to the start line and by the time call ups started I was uncontrollably shaking and Esther was rubbing my arms to try and warm me up. Everyone was so cold, in fact, the race started a split second before the announcer had time to finish saying “start.” Despite the cold, I wanted to do well again on this stage, knowing that in this case it meant staying in the race as long as possible before getting dropped and pulled (one of the hardest crits in America, roughly one-third of the field finishes all 16 laps of the crit). When my leg muscles seized up on the climb in the first lap because of the cold, I knew I was in trouble. I made it another lap before coming off the group with another woman, and making it halfway before ultimately being pulled and receiving a prorated finishing time.
But, you guys, I received a finishing time. I made the results of the crit, which also secured a 63rd in the general classification out of the 94 girls who started Joe Martin Stage Race. I FINISHED A UCI STAGE RACE. That was my goal going into the event, and I had been successful in completing it. It was possible for me to finish a stage race, and to do somewhat decently in it. And it was made possible because I had the support of others who believed in me, who didn’t question my abilities.
Because of Amy D Foundation, as well, I was able to be given the chance to prove to myself that I could do it. In the company of six other amazing woman, an unbelievably compassionate foundation director and an encouraging team director. While stage two was the highlight for me on the bike, the women I was fortunate to spend the week with – to be a team with – was the highlight off the bike. I miss each of them now, only two days after saying goodbyes, and look forward to seeing each and every one of them at the next stage race I choose to do. Because now that I know I can, I will do more.
Please take a moment to visit Amy D Foundation to witness the amazing things they are doing for women in the sport of cycling and dream chasing in honor of Amy Dombroski, who tragically lost her own life training and pursuing her own cycling dreams in Belgium. Without them, this experience would not have been possible.