Kern Carnage

June 7, 2010

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

Monica Wins Kern in Team Effort

June 17, 2009

Kern County Stage Race
Women 35+

By Monica Neilson

Velo Bella Kern

Bellas! Andrea Atkins, Stella Carey, Sabine Dukes,
Linda Locke, Sue Lovecchio, Laura Sanchez, and Me, Monica

I went into the weekend with no expectations except to race my heart out for whatever Bella among us, was in the best position to win. I’ve watched the 35+ group of Bellas race with strategy and team tactics at Kern before. I was excited to play with them. And once again, they raced liked seasoned pros!

Stage One – Bena TT

Check in time was 11:30-12:30 with starting times posted at 12:45. We figured we’d be going off around 1:30 but discovered actual starting times like 2:32 & 2:36 & 2:48 – so this began the first round of killing time, sitting under the pop-ups, avoiding the sun, resting your legs on ice chests, drinking as much fluid as possible – all of which was repeated over and over and over again before the weekend was finished.

I’ve always done TT’s by heart rate but when I took off and hit the start button I wasn’t in the right view. I spent the first 500m or so messing around with it to no success. Finally, I told myself %^$# it, just put your head down and go! Your legs will tell you whether you can do more or not.” I managed to pull out a half-way decent time and came out of it in 2nd place, only 23 seconds back. Sue and Stella weren’t too far behind me.

Stage Two – Woody Basin Road Race

This race offers time bonuses each lap plus time bonuses for the finish. Our goal, as a team, was to get the stage win, keep first place from getting any bonuses and get as many bonuses as we could to move Sue up in GC. My job was to do nothing, sit in, if I could steal some bonuses without any big efforts go for it, but other than that do nothing. Sweet! I like this.

First lap was text book perfect, Linda and Andrea went off the front about 2.5 miles before the line to steal the bonus times. This same plan didn’t work so well as the others caught on to our tactics so we had to adjust. We made steady attacks to try and gobble up points, but our attacks were a little harder than needed and wore some people out. Stella, Linda, Laura, Sabine, everyone took turns playing (working).

Late in the race Sue popped a spoke. She told me to go to the front, slow things down so she could get a wheel change from the car. It was classic! I went up front and just started chatting with Janet, (girl who was in 1st in GC) As we talked I pedaled just a little bit softer, slowing the pace down as did Janet without even realizing it. Funny thing was, neither Janet nor her teammates ever looked back to see what was happening. Sue, Laura, Linda, Sabine were all back in no time!

As we approached the finish Sue and I whispered about who’s wheel to be on and where to be in the corner. As always the finish was a little dicey but I managed to get over the line in 2nd place. Best part was Janet didn’t get any time bonuses but her teammate Sonia scored several including the win.

Stage Three – Havilah Hill Climb

This stage should really be called Hellish Hill Climb as I swear its hotter than hell and the climb is a bitch! Throw in a little headwind and WHOA…we got us a real gem.

We started out with Sonia and Janet tied for first in GC, me sitting 2 seconds back, Sue about 35 seconds behind that. Our game plan was for Sue and I to stay protected on the 2-3 mile lead into “the climb” then try to get away. If we can do anything to help each other great, if not remember it’s a drag race to the top. As soon as we started Bev Chaney the only non- Bella or non-pinkie in the field took off. No one responded. Bev is an accomplished mtn biker, not a real experienced road racer, and new to this event. The feeling among the team was that she wasn’t a threat for the long sustained effort this climb took.

As we turned into the climb the field quickly went down to Sue, Janet, and I. We passed Bev before long, she was mixed in with some of the Cat 4’s who started 2 min ahead of us. Sue and I were watching Janet to assess her status and we both felt like she was hurting. I felt great. I moved in front, tried to keep Sue protected.

Sue came up along side, gave me a look saying “ if you can go, go” I added a little more pressure to the pedals and soon found myself with a gap. When I saw Michael, Tyler, and Erika at about the halfway point I really began to think I could pull this thing out. I took all the water I could get, thrown on my back, over my head, I think Erika even just sprayed me all over – it was really refreshing. I ended up nailing this climb, giving myself close to a 3 min advantage on the field. Sue had a fantastic ride, coming in 2nd and putting about 30 seconds into Janet.

Stage Four – Iron Mtn Road Race

There’s a saying I’ve heard about Bakersfield – it’s not hell but you can see it from there. Well, Sunday we might’ve agreed with that. It was hot, really hot! Some say 108, with temps on the road of 114.

Going into the stage, I had 1st in GC with a 2:50 lead, Janet in 2nd, Sue in 3rd about 45 seconds behind Sue, and Sonia, Janet’s teammate about 1 minute behind Sue. Our goal for the stage, protect Sue’s and my GC standing, get the stage win and move Sue up if possible.

The first lap was very uneventful, almost boring. I sat on the back, just riding it out. I’ve never had this experience before. It was sweet, I was diggin’ it. I was also thinking, man when is something exciting going to happen, then boom – . Laura pops a spoke…uh, oh. No follow vehicle.

Boom #2

I flat.

Laura, Sabine, and Linda do a quick check of who has Campy, who has Shimano and Linda gives me her wheel. Laura and Linda were so calm as we changed my wheel. They reminded me not to panic, you’ve got plenty of time. I told myself, “ just a controlled, concentrated effort, don’t blow your wad getting back, you have teammates up there, they’ll be controlling the pace. Stay within yourself.” Sabine was 1km or so up the road to ensure I was up and moving. I asked if she wanted me to keep her with me. She said, “No Monica just GO!”

I made contact with the group just at the base of the main climb and just like seasoned pros, Stella and Andrea were sitting on the front keeping the pinkies in line. Evidently, they did try to take advantage of my mishap but the girls shut them down. Sue kept giving me hand signals to remind me to take deep breaths, relax, and settle in. The pinkies let Stella set the pace up the climb which shocked me, as they had the perfect opportunity to make a move but nothing happened.

As we neared the long descent off Pine Mountain the pinkies started making their move to the front. I knew there was no way those girls could out ride Stella on a descent. I decided to take it easy down the hill as I had this borrowed wheel which was a sew up and I’ve never ridden one. Plus, I started thinking things like “ did we lock the skewer well? Is the wheel in there straight?” Andrea and Sue both checked to make sure I was ok.

At the bottom of the descent one of the pinkies took the lead and began setting the pace. You’d think they’d start trading pulls and showing signs of racing this thing to the finish but this didn’t happen. I told Sue I think they’d settled, they weren’t looking at anything but the stage results. There simply wasn’t enough time in the race left to make up 3 min.

This is when Sue started telling me she was cramping and not feeling so great. She asked me to keep a watch on the pace, don’t let it get too high so she doesn’t get dropped. Stella was covering the front with the three pinkies. As we made our way through the working descent before the final climb to the finish I moved up with Stella, filled her in on Sue and slowed things down. I kept looking around fully expecting the pinkies to jump but nope, nothing. Sue was sitting on my wheel reminding me to ease off when necessary, but showing no signs of distress.

We started going up with maybe 2km to the finish, Stella said “ you know if you can go, go. You’re the strongest one here, they’re not gonna do anything so go if you can go.”

When we got to the ridge where I could see the finish I put more pressure on my pedals, stayed seated and rode off. Sonia and Janet jumped and caught me. I sat up. I didn’t want them sitting on my wheel so we had a little cat fight.

Then Janet took the lead. I sat on her wheel, and we dropped Sonia. Janet was out of the saddle pulling me up with her. About 50m from the line I tried to get her, but didn’t have it. 2nd for me. Sonia, 3rd, with Sue and Stella rolling in right after. We hung onto our 1st and 3rd in GC for Sue and I.

Thank You Bellas!

Sorry for making this so long, but I wanted to share the team work that went into this win. All I did was ride a decent time trial and nail that hill climb it was what everyone else did that made the win happen. I’ve been trying to work today, you know like my real work, but I find myself overwhelmed by the weekend, the sacrifices made, the encouragement shared, the raw will and determination everyone had, it’s got me all verklempt. Thanks ladies, you’re all my heros, can’t wait ‘til next time!

Saying thank you doesn’t do justice for what Michael, Tyler, Erika and Rick did for us this weekend. You guys make us all feel like queens even tho, only Stella wears the tiara.

Great job everybody!

Carrera de San Rafael

July 9, 2007

Coyote Creek Race in the morningby Monica

Saturday night 6:35pm start time
W 1/2/3
Downtown crit, $1500 purse for women

This was the second race of the day for Stella, Sarah, Natasha & I having done Coyote Creek in the AM. I arrived at the starting line a bit nervous as the crowd was huge and I was staring at some pretty impressive, much younger riders.
At first I was feeling a bit intimidated on the line than I thought “what the ____? what other sport can someone like me, at 47 yrs old, be on the starting line with chicks racing as pros?” just have fun. Then the, very loud gun went off.

The first third of the race I sat on the back, timid and not riding with confidence at all. I decided I needed to get my ass up there as I was in danger of being the victim of an accident. I moved up and I was swallowed up and in the back again. Then I decided, dammit, get your ass up there so I moved up to the front third about half way thru the hour long crit

Soon a chick went off the front a Jazz (Y) Apple rider and everyone was pretty content in letting her dangle out there for a bit. Then Rachel Lloyd of Proman jumped, she was on the outside with a decent jump and I knew that was the move to go on so I went. I managed to get myself up to her and we worked together for a few laps to pull that other chick in. It was really exciting hearing the cheers of the crowd and many people all over the course crying out my name. Rachel, Jazz Apple & I were out there with a decent gap. At one point I heard the bell for a prime but the crowd was so loud I wasn’t sure what was happening. As we came around to the finish line I heard something about who was going to win this $200 prime. Jazz Apple was sitting on the front with me second wheel, so I went for it and got it. Yeah!

Not too long after that Martina Patella of Value Act bridged up to us, so now our little break had 4. It wasn’t organized, there was some trading of pulls but nothing with a concentrated effort. I really wanted to not over work as Proman and Value Act had the numbers in the field yet, I also didn’t want our little foursome to get caught. Everything was going great and I thought we might make it until i looked at the lap count and it said 9 …shit, that was way more laps than I wanted. Yikes! I decided then there was no way they were gonna lose me. I gotta say here, thank you to all of you in the crowd cheering my on, it was really sweet and so HELPFUL!

We got caught by the field with 2 laps to go. As we got caught a Tibco rider, Stacy Marple (not sure …all those girls look the same to me) jumped, I latched on to her wheel. She immediatedly sat up. The entire field swarmed, I settlled in mid pack. We came around for the last lap and on the hill there was a crash, unfortunately, I had to go around it and then it was too late. I came in at the end of the finishing field. I believe Sarah got up there for some of the purse money….nice going girlie!

It was a great race. Nice to hear Michael on the microphone and some good publicity for VB Kona.

Once again, thank you everyone for all your yelling, cheers of encouragment…it really does make a difference!

Leesville Gap Road Race

July 1, 2007

by Monica

W 1/2/3 Sunny, 85-90 degrees

This was my first race after almost a month off. Life just got in the way-a new job, crazy schedule, family stuff, car accident ….you know, all that stuff life throws at you. I didn’t know the course at all, never having raced it before but I heard many stories about the crappy roads, gravel sections, nasty climb and flat, windy section that goes on forever. Great!! I managed to crawl out of bed after a lousy night’s sleep anyway, at the crazy hour of 4:40 AM.

The field was small, (15 I think) but there was some power on the line, Jane Despas, Molly Van Houleing (sp), Pat Ross, Jen Joynt, and Ashley Zimmerman among them. I was mentally prepared to suffer.

The pace started out mellow enough, even stopping for a pee break after 35 min or so. Soon we crossed over Hwy 20 and hit the rough road section with the rollers. I stayed within the front three here so I could kind of pick my line through the pot holes. We were moving at a decent pace thru all this. As we got closer & closer to the start of the main climb I moved to the front and tried to set the pace. I ended up cresting the top of the climb 3rd with Jen Joynt & Pat Ross off the front. Behind me with a little bit of a gap were Zimmerman, Despas and then Van H., int that order and all spread out a bit.

The decent is definitely rough but turned out to be much better than I feared. Zimmerman and I teamed up, we could see Joynt & Ross ahead of us. We knew it was going to be in our best interest to have Despas catch us, which she & Van H. both did as the terrain flattened out. Molly had no reason to work since Jen Joynt is her teammate and was up ahead. Jane & I began trading pulls, with Zimmerman coming in every now & then. Soon each of us started playing this game so our efficiency wasn’t great. Plus, Molly was doing what she could to disrupt our chase. What was frustrating was that Joynt & Ross were dangling about 500-750m in front of us.

To keep this report from being too damn long, I cut to the chase – we caught them (Ross & Joynt) at the feed zone hill but then they actually got away again, not much but gapped us off a tiny bit. We hit the next, shorter climb and Molly & Jane picked up the pace. They gapped me a little and I dropped Zimmerman. The decent from there was a blast! Wicked fast, open and really fun. When I hit the bottom Van H and Despas were just one good effort away from me. I saw that Despas was driving the pace so I knew I had my work cut out for me.

I told myself, “don’t blow your wad here, you can reel them in slowly..don’t panic, stay within yourself.” Soon I caught them and soon after that we caught Joynt & Ross. Now we were in the windy, long flat section of the course. No one really wanted to work. There was a little bit of an effort to get organized but it wasn’t working. After about 7 miles of this Ashley Zimmerman caught us. So now we were six again.

I had a headache (hydration related?) and no idea how much further we had. I had no computer, nothing to go but time. Jen Joynt attacked, I waited for someone else to make a move as I knew she couldn’t stay away. We regrouped quickly. Then Van H. attacked, once again short lived, we regrouped. At this point in time, I took an assessment. I felt really good. I felt like the people to beat were Despas and Van H. but Zimmerman is a good sprinter so don’t discount her. I’d worked a fair amount in this race so I sat on the back and saved energy.

After a bit Van H. attacked and Despas jumped, I didn’t react right away as I wanted someone esle to. BIG MISTAKE! (Remember, I just said they were the two to watch…hello brain? ) After a slight hesitation I went with Pat Ross helping me in the chase but then we hit the final stretch of gravel (which was long) and got stuck behind a group of men. By this time it was too late, the two of them were gone.

We hit the 1km sign and everyone slowed down, no one wanted to lead. You could see the finish line ahead and the road was as flat as a pancake. I figured Zimmerman was the sprinter of the bunch so I got myself behind her. At the 200m sign we were barely moving, just crawling along. Jen Joynt jumped, Zimmerman on her wheel with me in tow. We came across the line, neck & neck, all three of us throwing our bikes. Jen had 3rd as she was just ahead of Ashley & I but I thought I nudged out Zimmerman. Evidently not, as they gave me 5th place. Pat Ross finished 6th. Up ahead Despas out sprinted Van H to the line for the win.

I thought the course was much more fun than I expected. It wasn’t as hot today as some years which helped. Other Bellas racing today were Andi Mackie who won her age group, Julie Porter – don’t know how her day went and also Mo (Meredith) racing in the 4’s. I didn’t see her afterwards either so not sure how her race went. I missed Marian- she must’ve had something come up as I know she was planning to come.

Thanks for reading. I hope Fremont went well for everyone