Tour of St. Louis

By Annie Byrne

Apparently us BFFers like to report on our races after we’ve had some time to really let the experience sink in, reflect, and gather our thoughts. Or we just procrastinate and procrastinate until we finally feel moved to start typing.  In any case, a few weeks ago I raced the Tour of St. Louis, a two day, three race omnium and this is my race report!

To say I was excited to race would be a gross understatement. I was CHOMPING AT THE BIT. I had been training hard all winter, and just wanted to hit the road and GO. The feeling was becoming palpable and I thought if I did not race soon, I may explode. That is a good feeling to have going into the first race, an 11.7 mile time trial.

My category raced the time trial bright and early on Saturday morning. The course was about 45 minutes outside the city, on a quiet, winding road.  It was a chilly morning and despite my efforts to allow plenty of time to warm-up, I failed miserably. Normally I would shrug and tell myself, “Ah well, I don’t really need a warm-up” but I have come to learn that it takes me a long time to warm-up so I was bummed to not feel more prepared. I rolled up to the start just in the nick of time and off I went. I pushed hard, got up to speed, and settled in. Then I got in the zone and pedaled. It felt as good as I thought it would and I felt my whole body going “Ahhhhhhhh.”

I had never done a time trial this long before but I know pacing is important. I have a pretty good gauge of my limits, so I pushed hard but kept it in the safe zone. The course was out and back on the same road with a 180 at the turn-around. Shortly after I made the 180 and was headed back, the woman behind me and I passed each other as she was approaching the turn-around. I was convinced she was gaining on me. There were two minutes between the start of each racer and I thought no way that was two minutes worth of distance. Fear of being caught gave me enough adrenaline to take it up a notch and so I did. I kept it steady and fast all the way to the end and when I saw the finish line I shifted in a harder gear and surged forward to the end. I felt happy with the way I rode and was anxious to see the results.

Unfortunately, they did not post the results until much much later and they were not showing up on the website. So finally at about 9pm I emailed the race organizer to see if he could email me the results. This is an omnium so knowing your standing and competition is important! He was quick to respond and told me I got 1st place. WOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

After the time trial, my companions from the Chicago Cuttin Crew and  I had to hustle back to the city for the first criterium. There were some normal time-crunched high stress moments with finding a bathroom, water, and parking but in the end we managed just fine. I had done my homework and knew the race had some serious competition in it, and there were several teams with multiple racers so was expecting a lot of tactics and teamwork. At this point I still had no idea what my result in the time trial was, so was unsure how I stacked up. I was the only BFF so decided my strategy would be to not do any unnecessary work, let the well represented teams chase down attacks, and stay near the front on high alert ready to respond as needed. I lined up and the woman next to me asked if my teammate Jenny was with me. Nope, just me. She gave me the tip that the women on Velo Force, which had at least five or so people in the race, would be keeping this fast and just stay with them. Noted.

Off we go and dammnnnnnnn do I love racing. It had been a while since I had done a crit and I was a little unsure if it would take me a minute to get the hang of it, but it did not. It felt totally natural and awesome. The course was a really fun loop through a park with some nice swoopies,a down hill with a turn at the bottom that then led back uphill and into a more narrow stretch of road. All this plus several teams launching attacks kept the first few laps really fun.

As we were finishing the 5th lap, a Velo Force woman attacked, her teammate went with her, and I went with her. We got a little gap so bearing in mind what I knew about this team and breaks with multiple people from the same team, I thought this could stick. I should rewind for a moment and say that my ideal plan for this race was to get in a break, and eventually attack to finish it solo. I knew that would be tough, but it was the surest way I could win and I wanted to win. So here we are, with a little gap and I am ready to work and make this break stick. So after they each take a pull, it is my turn. We are on a slight uphill and the fear of being caught is strong, so I push. I hear one of the women say “get her wheel” and I look back and they are off. I am feeling pretty darn good, like just ready to get started, so I think to myself, “Is this it? Yes this is it, go.” And so I go. And again, that “ahhhhhh” feeling hits, my legs burn but I’ve come to like that feeling. It’s like each pedal stroke is stoking a big beautiful fire, making sparks fly in the air and the flames grow higher. Yeah, I know…. but it helps!

I am officially alone and settle into threshold mode, keeping it steady, bombing the corner at the bottom of the hill, and taking deep controlled breaths. I hear people cheering for me and I tell myself to keep pushing. After several laps I heard someone tell me I had a 30 second gap and wonder if I should/could ease up a little, but I decide not to since a) I am doing just fine at this pace and b) THEY COULD CATCH ME!

When I am nearing the start/finish with two laps to go, I think to myself, “I think I can win this.” I have not won a crit since 2013 and this would be my first win as a category 3 racer, so IT’S KIND OF A BIG DEAL!!!  I get excited and think about standing on the top step of the podium and keep pushing through the pain. Soon, it’s the last lap and I cross the finish line. I DID IT!!!!!

Sadly, I am not quite able to post-up so was a little anti-climatic.   I soft pedal and some guy on the side of road gives me a thumbs-up, a nod and wink, a gesture I truly appreciated. Several people unknown to me congratulated me and I felt pretty darn proud. I caught up with my friends from Cuttin Crew and was happy have familiar people to hug and rehash the details with. Shortly after I have a conference call with a couple teammates who lovingly grill me for every detail and literally hoot and holler with excitement. It makes me really really miss them.

Day Two

The next day I wake up when it is still dark and am making coffee and breakfast when our host comes in the kitchen and informs me that it is snowing. I shout  “No” and walk over to the window. It is in fact snowing, and not just a little, but the big fat wet flakes that make a mess. Hmmmpphh. This is one of the reasons I do not really enjoy cyclocross as much as road. Oh well, back to the coffee.

We get to the race and it’s still coming down but as we unload the bikes and start to get final race gear on, it stops. There wasn’t much time to warm-up, and I was more concerned with making sure I knew where the start/finish was and to be there on time so I headed that way. The full results from the time trial were posted so looked them over. To my surprise, I saw I had over a minute lead on second place. This made me smile, but also realize that I am officially a marked woman and today would be harder to make any moves. I hadn’t really formulated a detailed plan, so was just going to wing it.

We start racing and the spray from the road is terrible and makes me not want to be on anyone’s wheel. So I spent more time in the front than the previous race but was keeping a fairly easy pace. A few times, someone from Velo Force would come up and ask if I would get in a break with their teammate who was 2nd in the omnium. They assured me I would win the omnium no matter what and they would block for me. I responded with silence, thinking this over and once said “hmmmm.... I don’t know.” But I decided against it because I did not know if she could beat me in the sprint and I wanted to win the race.

The course was basically an oval with very wide open turns, with one little chicane and very slight incline. There were attacks and surges, but nothing was getting away. Finally with two laps to go, I decide I better make a move. So I put the hammer down and go. After one lap I see a few people were very close to my wheel so I thought I better not do all the work and I shout, “come on let’s go” trying to get them to work with me. I ease up for a second and look back to see if they are coming, and instead I see a look of complete pain and exhaustion on one of their faces.  So I say to myself, “oh they are spent, go now.” So I go and finish the final lap with a little gap behind me. Then I said to myself,  “Daaannng Annie, you just won all the races and the omnium. Nice work.” It was hard to believe!

Then the cold sets in and I can’t stop shivering. I registered to race the women’s open that day too and had about 45 minutes before it started. I went to the park's visitor center to warm up, put on dry socks, and have a snack and some water. I chatted briefly with Daphne, Mia, and Jannette who were all in this race and start to get excited for what’s ahead. I knew this race would be a lot faster and I couldn’t wait. I did not have a goal for this race and was excited to have fun and not think about “racing smart” and conserving energy. We line up and off we go, fast off the start line. Again there were several teams well represented, but it seemed like the Cuttin Crew was the team making most the moves.  I launched a few attacks and did some chasing and it was REALLY FUN.  

As we were about  to start the final lap I see the Cuttin Crew ladies up near the front and decide to go do some work.  I get up there and as we approach the start finish line I get in the front and put on the gas. We fly around the course until we come  near the last corner and I think I better get out of the way so they can get their sprint together. I ease down and move to the side and Jannette and Daphne fly by me. A number of other people pass by but I keep the pressure on, though I can’t say I really sprinted... womp womp. Afterwards I got some very nice feedback from Daphne and Jannette and it felt very satisfying to know I helped them.

I went to St. Louis hoping I’d do well, but not really knowing what would happen. I trained hard this winter and different than I had in the past, and was feeling confident and optimistic, but still unsure. Well now I know all that training worked and I couldn’t be happier! Having reached a major goal so early, I need to set some new ones! It’s going to be a fun season :)