CAMP, CORNERS, BROTHELS, BIKES: IRONCLAD PLUNGES INTO 201

originally published 11 April 2012 on veloforma.com

 railing a corner on my way to a solo win, Franz Criterium 2011, ©Catherine Leigh Cooper

railing a corner on my way to a solo win, Franz Criterium 2011, ©Catherine Leigh Cooper

This week kicked off the first series of races happening within Portland. Aren't we lucky to have the opportunity to play bikes in our own backyards almost every night of the week in the summertime? Sure we are, but it's only because we are hearty enough to survive the Portland winters. I feel that I have some authority to claim that Northwest winters are tough, since I come from the land of frost bite and blizzards, and I rode my bike in all weather in Minnesota. In fact, I even trained for a marathon (yes, the running kind) in bitter Fargo, North Dakota during my freshman year of college. I only escaped to the indoor gym when the wind chill dipped below -10 degrees F. And still I say that Portland is more challenging. Winter where it freezes is predictable. If it's snowing, it's dry, not wet. If it's not snowing, it's cold as hell but sunny. In the Northwest, it gets as cold as it can possibly be without freezing, and then it rains. ALL THE TIME. And then we ride our bikes in it. ALL THE TIME. For example, it is not uncommon in the spring for Portland to be like this:

sun

clouds

sun

hail

BIG HAIL

INTENSE HAIL

sun

daffodils

mean sky in the distance

hail

HAIL

snow?

sun

rain

The winter weather really got me good this year with an incredible array of nasty lung infections and seasonal viruses. This is why I found myself on the sidelines last Thursday night watching the first of the Rose Garden Circuit Races. What an action-packed course. It looked so fun that I almost crawled out of my skin in anticipation of being back at the racing!

 Anona Whitley mastering the Rose Garden circuit. ©Catherine Leigh Cooper

Anona Whitley mastering the Rose Garden circuit. ©Catherine Leigh Cooper

In the meantime, I realized something. I got to watch my teammate race in the Senior Women's field and see how good she looked. Really, after the first lap of navigating the tricky, technical corners of the course, she fell into her grove. She looked smooth and natural on the bike. By the second half of the race, she had nailed her line on the trickiest off-camber tight left hand corner I've ever seen (and that claimed at least one bike racer in each field). Seeing how she got stronger and faster as the race went on was impressive. No, it's not the least bit surprising that Anona is a stellar bike racer – I already knew this – but my image of her has never been from the sidelines, it has always been from next to her in the race. I love my new image of her, and it makes me a billion times more excited and giddy to get back out there racing with her.

I feel this way about all my teammates: They amaze me with their talent, grace and power as cyclists and as fellow humans. I am spoiled, absolutely spoiled in bike racing terms. I entered by first bike race as an Ironclad rider and probably wouldn't have started racing had I not met this group that quickly became something more important to me than just matchy folks on bikes. 

Sometimes I forget how fortunate I've been until I read someone else's race report and realize that so many folks (as amateurs) go it solo. I admire every single person who pins on a number and races a bike. I have nothing but respect for those who race without teammates, I just can't operate in that format. I am a terribly social creature and I can't even ride my bike without a companion. I have even made a point of seeing how many friends I can gather on my commutes to and from work – and my commute is long, about 20 miles each way. I enjoy people and they energize me.

I still remember every detail of my first bike race as a Cat 4 with Steph and Lanabear, and how our plan worked and I knew I was hooked like never before. I was off the front about two-thirds of the way through the race and I had the support and power of my teammates back in the pack. I gave it my all knowing that if I was caught, we had another move to play. Plan, strategy, racing as a team, as one cohesive unit – done, hooked. This sport is my battle and these riders are my weapons, and I theirs. 

I have only done one race solo when I traveled back to the Midwest last summer. I realized, at the start line of the crit in South Minneapolis, “Shit – I've never raced without at least one teammate and I've never raced without a plan Aand B.” So, of course, I raced aggressively, but like an idiot – I attacked a lot, chased every move, and finally settled in for a secure fourth place finish in No-Man's-Land between the break and the pack. I had fun, but the race felt a bit shallow to me, lacking the depth of experience and conversation that all my other races with my teammates have had. 

 The Ironclad ladies, keeping it classy. ©Catherine Leigh Cooper

The Ironclad ladies, keeping it classy. ©Catherine Leigh Cooper

A few weeks ago we enjoyed another most-successful training camp in Pendleton, Oregon. Since the majority of us are the poor-bike-racer types, we train close to home. We escape the rain and catch some chilly sun and dry in a semi-arid region of Eastern Oregon. We also do things like rent out an entire old brothel called the Working Girls Hotel, complete with an unsettling life-size diorama and a 'broom closet' that opens into an another world (this actually happened). We logged our 220-odd miles with smiles and tasteless jokes, and the rest of the weekend was filled with the usual: fridge full of beer; bottles of whiskey and tequila; bowling with oranges down the hall; late night poker betting iPhones against fake 5' plants; moon shoes; yellow trench coats; apple boobs; and teal jump suits.

With all that training camp experience tucked safely in our memories and the road season gaining speed, we're poised for a summer of racing, adventure, successes as well as the inevitable mistakes and learning. We make it through the crazy-rain-wet-snow-hail-cold Portland winters and all it's shades of gray because we do it together and we do it for fun. Here's to the 2012 season and all it's wonders! Say hello to us if you see a flock of black and yellow headed your way, or just give us the finger. We'll be pleased either way.

 

Source: http://catherineleighcooper.com/