Kern Carnage

June 7, 2010 · Print This Article

I went to Bakersfield to race the Kern County Stage Race with Andi Mackie, whom I first met in 2002 when we both were experiencing it for the first time. I think this year was the 7th Kern for us.

Stage 1- Bena Time Trial

Friday morning started off with a 10 mi TT. The temps were in the 80’s on Friday, 2009 was 95+. After check in, number pinning, getting trainers set up, watches set to the “official” clock (which actually, was non-existent), warm-ups started.

I discovered my bike wanted to stay in my big chain ring, never found out why for sure. Ah, not a big deal for a TT but this one has a bit of a climb on the return. My ever-positive teammate Liz tells me “You know, Monica I’ve never gone into my small chain ring on that climb.” Ooo-kay…I can do this.

The Pinkie (Kalyra Women’s Team) rider who started behind me is a bit of a TT specialist so my goal was to keep her off my tail. At the bottom of the climb, she was a bit closer than I’d hoped so I did all I could to get over that thing without losing too much time. I wished I’d had that small chain ring several times but I got over the hump and when I crossed the line with my mouth dry and lips stuck to my gums, I knew I’d given it a good effort.

Later, Liz tells me ” I gotta tell ya, Monica, I thought of you as I shifted down to my small chain ring on that climb.” Cammy took the TT by more than 40 seconds. I sat in 4th but only 10 seconds out of 2nd. For the record, Liz won 35+ and I think would’ve been 3rd in Cat 1/2 Women…not bad for a fellow AARP card holder!

Stage 2- Woody Basin Circuit Race – Saturday morning

Saturday we started with Cammy in 1st, me in 4th, and Andi and Linda not too far behind us. This race consists of 5 rolling laps with a time bonus on each lap and at the finish, which is at the top of a 200m roller with a decent pitch. Our goal as a team was to get the win for me and to gain as many of the bonuses as we could so as to keep 2nd and 3rd place from soaking them up.

We tried various combinations of lead-outs and sprint starting points on each lap, trying to win the time bonuses and thwart our opponents. Each time we got some time bonuses, and got smarter, until we nailed the ultimate combo on the final lap. I had been waiting too long to sprint, so I decided for the final uphill drag that I would go earlier…and it worked. I had a lot of help, of course…thanks to the Bellas for the awesome leadouts.

Stage 3- Havilah Hill Climb – Saturday afternoon

GC had Cammy in 1st, I was tied for 2nd, 10 sec back and 3rd place 16 seconds back. Andi was sitting in 6th and Linda 10th (I think). The Havilah Hill Climb consists of a couple mile run up over several rollers to loosen the legs, then you turn off the road, cross over a cattle guard (my favorite!) and immediately start climbing. Bob moved the start area this year for better parking, level ground and more space, but this added 2 miles to the lead in to the climb. According to Bob’s data, the main climb is 2900 ft in 7 mi with an average grade of 8-10% with some 12% pitches.

It was business as usual to the base of the climb, then Kim Wik, who I was tied with, and I set the pace. We quickly became a group of four – Cammy, Jill Gass, (Kalyra – Pinkies), Kim and me. Within the next few corners Kim & I were alone. I was setting a decent pace but she was matching me stroke for stroke. After a bit I looked over at her and saw that she looked hot and taxed, so I decided to up my cadence a bit to see if she could hang, but she was right there. Dang it, I started thinking, I gotta make sure I don’t blow this, because if this thing turns into a sprint at the end I need to have something left.

About a third of the way up the climb I got into a bigger gear and put on another seated acceleration. I gained a little gap so I got out of my saddle to try to increase this. Around the next corner there was a nasty pitch again so I sat back down and settled into a spin. The terrain was steep here, with a number of turns which kept me out of sight. It’s always mentally draining when you can’t see the person you’re chasing. At a clearing I looked back to see where Kim was, and felt confident I had a comfortable lead. Not knowing her fitness I tried to maintain a high pace but stay within myself so I didn’t blow. When I saw the 1 mile marker I knew I had it.

The hill climb is on a narrow, twisty one-lane road, and I’m not even sure cars actually travel up it anymore. Everyone waits on top for all the riders to come up before we start the descent. Personally, I hate descending it…there’s lots of debris on the road, gravel, dirt, rocks, it’s steep, and on top of that you’re cold, hungry and tired of being on your bike. This year I descended with Suenago and Julie Nevitt, of SJBC. Sue and I were stoked with the speed and confidence we went down that baby this year. Maybe we were just hungry enough to let ourselves go – who knows!

Saturday at Kern is an incredibly long day. You leave the hotel about 6:30, and drive a good hour out of town for the start of Stage 2. You warm up, suffer, hang out, then drive another half hour for Stage 3. More hanging out, tons of suffering, then the drive all the way back. We hit that little Mexican place in Bodfish for some well deserved burritos, tacos and beers. Relaxed and with full bellies, we headed back to town, arriving at our hotel at 7:30 ready for showers and rest.

Stage 4- Iron Mountain Road Race – Sunday

After three stages, I was leading on GC, Kim Wik 2nd @ 1:28, Jill Gass 3rd @ 2:16, Cammy 4th, Andi 6th, Linda 9th or 10th. The team plan was to keep the GC, win the stage, and move Andi and Linda up.

Everyone is tired at the start of this stage, and it’s hilly fifty mile road race. The start and finish were in different places this year, with the finish was at the top of a 1.5km fairly steep climb. Everyone secretly hopes the stage starts out slowly and doesn’t get too heated until lap 2. Ha!

Kim came out right away to make something happen, and she got on the front and drove the pace enough that people got shuffled off. Soon we came around a big sweeping left hand turn and there was a car in the middle of the road with the door open. Yikes! We all hit our breaks and discovered it was the support vehicle for the Cat 4 women, and two of them were on the ground. Ugh, hate seeing that.

On the back side of the course there is a long working descent filled with some rolling climbs. As we were headed down the descent Linda caught back on…YAY! She put out a pretty big effort to fight to get back on, so I went to the front and asked if we could ease the pace, just a touch, to let her recover. Ha! But it was worth a try, at least.

The second lap things began to heat up further, with Kim still driving the pace. I stayed in the back, protected – I had no reason to work. My legs felt good and I was enjoying the position I was in – five girls and three of them Bellas, Cammy, Andi and me. The pace was picking up a bit on each of the climbs, and finally Andi told me she didn’t think she’d be able to hang on much longer. We had a good gap from any other riders and we were nearing the end, so Andi’s 5th place seemed secure.

There’s climb followed by a fun twisting descent, a run out and then the 1.5-2km climb to the finish. As we neared the crest of the climb I picked up the pace and went for it, figuring what the hell, I had good legs and if I could get away I’d have a lead going into the climb…and if they caught me they’d have blown a match and the race starts over. With a 1:28 cushion I felt comfortable that unless a mishap occurred I wasn’t going to lose that much time before the line…plus I could lead down the descent.

I got a gap, with Kim and Jill in full chase. They caught me before we started the climb to the finish. As we all shifted down I kept the pace high, and just past the 1km sign I went for it again, jumping out of the saddle pushing the pace. I kept looking back wondering if they were going to catch me. Finally at the 200m sign I knew it was mine. Behind me Kim lead Jill up the climb only to get jumped by Jill at the line. Final GC was me, Kim 2nd @2:04 and Jill 3rd. Cammy was 4th, Andi 5th and Linda 9th

We headed back to the parking area, changed clothes, ate and hung out for the awards ceremony. For those of you that haven’t experienced Kern County, Bob Leibold makes all the awards, and they all tell a story. We have photos I can share. The Bellas took Masters 35+ with Liz 1st and Sue 2nd. We also took 45+. We had quite the collection of hardware.

My wins couldn’t have happened without the sacrifice and hard work of others, from Linda making me coffee every morning, to the lead outs she and Andi provided…it’s all about the group connection. If you haven’t experienced this race, I highly recommend it. It’s rewarding, challenging, fun and ever so satisfying. Think about it, where else at our ages can we race a stage race like the pros? Playing out strategy, taking on roles and thinking about the final GC, not just the event of the moment? It’s a special time indeed…and that’s not to mention all the goofy, silly girl stuff.

—Monica Nielson
Brentwood, California

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