by Sarah Szefi
The ladies of CWEC took a road trip over to Zanesfield, OH this weekend to race the first annual Women’s Midwest Road Race Championship. Thanks to Base Tri Fitness and Lady Gnar Shredders for a super sweet race on a course where Greg LeMond had his training rides! It is a fantastic event and we encourage all lady shredders of the Midwest (OH, MI, IN, KY, IL, WI, MO, IA, PA, WV, and MN) to tear it up next year!! Podium boys are also welcome.
On Saturday, Daphne, Jannette, Ellen, Dani and I packed up the rental van along with Cuttin Crew racers Ella Neurohr and Maria Larkin. CWEC President Cathy Frampton followed us on the 5.5 hour drive with no less than eight bikes on and in her trusty Subaru. Maria's take:
“The whole trip was a great experience, the (sweet) van helped everyone to bond almost more than the race did. I heard a few stories that should never be repeated for the sake of decency, and told a few myself. Driving 12 hours in 36 will help you to learn a lot more than you thought about your fellow racers.
As a category 3 racer I felt lucky to be able to tag along with the CWEC team. The program provided a great opportunity for me to hear race strategy, review course details, and experience life on the road with Chicago's fastest women racers.
Junior rider Ella was along for the ride and bankrolled the trip with more sour patch kids than we could eat, and took home the 15-16 championship as well as finishing in the top 10 of the W4s field. I know this experience also helped her enthusiasm for bike racing continue to grow.”
— Maria Larkin, Chicago Cuttin Crew
We arrived in Zanesfield with time to check out the 15.5 mi loop course. We’d start with a quick roll to a tough half-mile climb followed by rollers and then into a long, gradual climb. It actually seemed like the entire course was uphill until a big, fast and fun downhill after the finish line. After the race we saw we hit over 50 mph, which was way over the speed limit in Zanesfield.
Our plan was to chill the first lap and feel out the competition. We had 60 miles to race and everyone was fresh on the first lap, so no need to be overzealous. Unfortunately, at this point one of our riders was pulled from the race due to a miscommunication with the moto. The head official apologized afterwards, it was the moto's mistake.
On the start of the second lap, I found myself in a break with two others. I was happy to keep the break separate for a while, but not work TOO hard to keep us away for the whole race. That’s a huge difference between riding for yourself versus riding for a team. As an individual, I’d be thrilled to work with the break to finish top three. As a team, not so much. We wanted 1st, and I knew our best chance at victory did not include me trying to out-sprint two strong riders. I had some very talented teammates behind me, so the longer these breakaway riders worked, the more my teammates got to rest.
The chase group of 10ish riders caught us up the big hill after the start. I was happy to sit in and get a rest!
Ten minutes later, I chased down an attack and was in a break of three again with two riders on different teams. The three of us in the breakaway worked together. With about one lap to go, the moto informed us: "30 seconds until a chase group of four, and a minute behind that to the field." A rider in my group asks, "Do we wait for them?" The other breakawayer thought we should. I looked back and saw two ladies in blue. Yes! "We should definitely wait." Daphne and Dani soon caught us with two others. CWEC had 3 out of 7 in the break. Nice!
The seven of us hit one lap to go together.
Then we got to the big hill for the last time and we were quickly no longer together. As Dani said after the race, “Sarah fell off a bit on the last hill” —which is a nice way of saying I got dropped :)
The lead group rode away, and I focused on pacing myself back to them.
Dani and Daphne slowed the group up to let me catch back on. I got back in the group with about 10mi to go. We discussed our plan for victory as we rode along. Then with two miles left, I hear behind me, “Oh! Hi Ellen!” Our teammate, Ellen Ryan, bridged the gap with one other rider up to the lead group. This was great —we had four out of eight in the final group! New plan: BLUE TRAIN LEADOUT.
I got to the front and rode hard for a mile while we got organized. Ellen came around me with 2MK to go and went all out until 1KM. I was next and kept it up as long as I could until about 500M. Dani came around me at a sprint pace until 150M when Daphne dropped the hammer. Daphne’s words about the end of the race:
"When your team plays all their cards on your finishing sprint, the pressure is on. We had worked so hard throughout the race— exercised patience, put ourselves in breaks, laid out attacks in the right moments, communicated well, and watched out for each other. The last 1KM moves in slow motion, with nerves at an all-time high. At 150M, Kristin Arnold (who had raced a fantastic race and conserved energy beautifully) was sitting on my wheel and I felt her come out and initiate the sprint. I had to GO. I came out from behind Dani and started my sprint. There was a moment during the sprint, when Kristen was a little too close for comfort, when I said to myself—you can't lose this, this is for the team. That extra motivation helped me cross the line first."
Daphne won!! Dani, Ellen and I finished 5th, 6th, and 7th. I love that. Everyone sacrificed personal accomplishments in order to get #1 on the podium. Knowing how competitive these women are, I’m really proud of how well we were able to come together to reach a common goal. The competition was fierce, and it took a team to get to the top step. SO awesome!
It couldn’t have been done without the support of our community and sponsors. Thank you, everyone, for all of your support. We were happy to bring the championship jersey home to Chicago!
More Photos: instagram.com/chiwomenselite
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