Positive Patty Goes to Hillsboro
and Blows Up Beautifully

dream on dreamer

Photo courtesy of BXXLGHT, Stockholm

Coach had instructed me to do two things for my first road race of the season: race smart and have fun. Well, one out of two ain’t bad, right?

Hillsboro Roubaix is considered a spring classic here in the midwest. Located in southern Illinois in a sleepy little town about an hour north of St. Louis, the course is 29 miles (multiple loops depending on your category) of mostly flat country roads with a couple of kicker hills at the end and a very small section of pavers/cobbles.

Last year, in my first year as a “cyclist”, I had a lot of anxiety leading into all of my races. I wasted a lot of energy focusing on negative thoughts and senseless worry.  I made a conscious decision NOT to do that this year. No, this year I was going to be Positive Patty! I was going to employ all the “fake it ’til you make it” wisdom, cliche as it is, and hold on to the hope (and blind faith) that the pure desire to do well would deliver me to my goals.

And it worked! All the way up to mile 24, just five miles short of the finish.

Aside from all the positive energy and (dis)illusional thoughts I had swirling in my head in the weeks leading up the to the race, I had a lot going for me:

  • I knew the course
  • I had done well at this race last year
  • The weather was perfect–70s, sunny and with an easy 8mph SW wind
  • Road Results (the ever-so-accurate race predictor) placed me in the top 10 of the 70 registered

So with all this hope and faith and pep in my step, I lined up on Saturday thinking, “I can win this!” Never mind all the things I had going AGAINST me like, oh, I don’t know, fitness. Never mind that just weeks ago, coach reminded me that MY season starts in August. Never mind that I have only been training five days a week, have done exactly zero (spirited) group rides, and only two VO2 workouts in the last two months. Nope. Who needs all that when you have the DESIRE to win?!

Oh, beautiful dreamer.

Okay, okay. It actually could have worked had I not been SO confident and employed even just a tiny bit of restraint. My plan was to attack the hills early on in the race and hope for a break. And I attacked those hills! I strung out the field and was the first one at the top, but I never got the break I hoped for. I did that twice and then I realized a break was not going to happen. This race would come down to come down to a sprint finish. So no more work for me. Nope, I’m sitting in. However, my disillusional self did not recognize that “sitting in” is NOT sitting second, third, or fourth wheel, which is where I placed myself for the second third of the race. Around mile 20 I took a gel and the pace ramped up, but I was still there. I was powerful! I was doing this!

And then…”oh crap”, I was second wheel and the leader was pulling us at 27 mph and I was having to really work to stay on. At mile 24 (or so), “it” happened. I was asked to pull through on a hill, stood to climb, and then BOOM–a simultaneous explosion! An attack by another rider and my complete blow up. Riders were rushing past me and I could not grab a wheel. Any wheel. There were so many–“Just pick one! Any wheel! LEGS??!!! Where are you?!! No, no, no, no! This is NOT happening.”

Pop! I was off the back. Just far enough to be dangling. Still there, so close, yet so.far. away. I stayed calm. No longer in attack mode, but recovery mode: just spin, rest, then bridge back up. I could see the instigator up ahead, dangling off the front. I watched the field catch her. I was so close. I was NOT giving up. My legs might have said “STOP”, but my brain was not ready.Other detached riders came by and I sat on, but even holding those wheels proved difficult. I was pushing way too big of a gear just to hang on. I was spent.

Anything can happen in racing and it’s not over until it’s over. Crashes happen when people are nervous and tired. And I assume that is what happened as I rolled up on the back half of the field, about eight or nine women on the side of the road–all standing thank goodness–some with road rash and missing helmets. Had I been able to hold on to the back of the group, I would have been in that crash. I got lucky. REALLY lucky.

I pressed on with only a couple miles to go. I tried to attack the final hill but it was futile and I just spun up it, bombed down it’s backside, pushed through the cobbles, and rounded the final corner for the finish. I laughed at the slow claps I received as I came down the shoot. Yep. Instead of cheers and bike throws, podium photos and upgrade points, I got the slow clap.

I smiled as I saw my teammate up ahead, knowing she had crushed it. She missed her goal but still pulled out an impressive top ten. Together we took a quick spin, recounting our mistakes and taking turns with words of encouragement and congratulations. We found our teammate who was involved in the crash who thankfully had only minor scrapes, and got the story on what had happened. A final teammie rolled in, unscathed and with a beaming smile. The first road race of the year, done.

I finished 20th out of 65. There were lessons learned, i.e..: what not to do in the first race of the road season when you are training for cyclocross. I will race again next weekend–circuit races. I will still carry a small amount of Positive Patty with me, but a with a little more of Conservative Connie, on my mind.