October 26, 2023

What's there to Lose?

What’s There to Lose?

After a long season of hard work, it is good for us all to take a step back and reflect on

what went well, what didn’t go well, and how we can make adjustments and improvements

moving forward. This time comes for many people around January 1 st as they reflect on the

happenings of the past year or after a busy quarter at work or a semester with a full load of

classes. For many riders, this time comes at the end of a season of hard training and/or racing.

For me, this time is now as summer road racing comes to a close and many riders start to turn to

some off-road riding as a change of scenery while enjoying the beautiful fall temps and colors.

I’m going to try to keep this brief, but wanted to share a little of my cycling journey over

the past year or two as I think it might encourage others to go all in (on whatever it may be:

cycling related or not) and see where it takes them. If you fail, at least you tried. If you succeed,

even better.

In August of 2021, I went to watch Athens Twilight for the first time. I had just started

working part time at the Hub at that point and figured I ought to see what this whole bike race

thing was about. I decided to hop into the Women’s CAT 4/5 race the day before just because I

could, and the race was only two blocks from my front door. I got dropped like a hot brick on lap

2. This was fine at the time as I had done no specific training and didn’t expect much. That night,

I watched the pro races which sparked my interest to come back next year and do better.

As spring of 2022 came around, I tried XCO mountain bike racing and LOVED it. May

came around and it was time for Athens Twilight again. At this point, I had put a little more

focused training in on the bike, so I was ready to give another stab at a crit. I made it about 12

minutes into the race and got dropped at the first real attack of the race. That night, again, I

watched the pro races, but this time with a fire in my belly. I wanted to be out there. I wanted to

be in the mix. Could I ever be good at this? Only one way to find out.

As fall came around, I set my sights on building the best base fitness I could on the bike

with the time I had. This consisted of lots of “sweet spot” training and overall, just staying

consistent with at least 5 rides a week, two to three of those rides consisting of some sort of

intervals. When winter came along, I stopped running in order to devote more training time to

time in the saddle while also lifting heavy twice a week to help support riding performance.

Early spring brought with it early season races with the opportunity to test where the last 5-6

months of consistent, hard work had gotten me. I went into the first races with low expectations.

I just wanted to learn from the more experienced riders around me and give the best effort I had

on the day. And this is what I did. And well, I came out with the win in the first two races!

Admittedly fields were small, but this was quite the confidence boost coming from a place of

thinking that I didn’t belong in the crit racing scene. Training intensity started to ramp up, time

in the saddle stayed high, and I started hitting power numbers I had never seen before.

Late April was now here, and it was time for Speed Week! Twilight was a hard race, but I

hung in there! I took a few more pack finishes during speed week, learning TONS along the way.

I also got rather acquainted with the pavement in LaGrange where I learned that wearing gloves

is a REALLY good idea, and sometimes taking certain risks in the corners is not worth the

following two weeks of dealing with road rash. After speed week ended, I took a short break

from structured training, graduated from grad school, traveled, then went back to work. I had

now proven to myself that I could hang in with the better riders, but could I get to where I was

the one at the front contending for the win?

June, July, and August consisted of some more hard, consistent training on the bike

starting with some “sweet spot” work then transitioning to more race specific VO2 and anaerobic

intervals on the bike. I did several local road races and a few mountain bike races where I was

able to practice different race tactics like where, when, and how to attack, how to better preserve

energy in the field, and how to take corners smoothly. I succeeded some and failed some, but

each time I learned something new to bring with me for the next race. My sights at this time were

set on the Gateway Cup that was the first weekend in September. This would be 4 days of crit

racing in St. Louis and would be an awesome way to end my season and see where I stack up

against other riders from around the country.

Before I knew it, September came around and I was feeling fit and just ready to leave it

all out there. The first race of the weekend, I took a pack finish, and was truly thrilled with the

result. I had never raced in fields this big [50-60 riders] and was happy to sit in and learn how to

move up in a group that large. Race number 2 was another flat, 4 corner crit. I practiced taking

the outside line in the corners and decided that I was going to really fight for a good position in

the final lap to see where that put me. It put me in the first 6 or so wheels into the last corner. I

sprinted for the line and came away with 3 rd ! The last two races I also finished in the top 10 even

after being taken down in a crash with 4 laps to go in the last race!

I share this not to give myself a pat on the back. These are exciting results for me, but this

is just the beginning, and there is SOOO much more to learn and improve on. I share this mainly

because a year ago, I was rubbish at racing on the road. I REALLY wanted to be good at it but

didn’t think I could be. There were lots of times in training or after races where I wondered if I

belonged. Like many things that are worth pursuing, this sport is HARD, but that is what makes

it so fun and so rewarding. The challenges faced in a bike race by no means compare with other

life challenges we face, but I do find that the battles fought to get the best out of ourselves on the

bike are not too unlike our efforts to get the best out of ourselves in other areas of life. If we

never go all in and try, then we’ll never really know what could have been.

Sarah G