Cantua Creek Race

Sarah Beaver

By Sarah Beaver
Date: February 18, 2006
Category: Women 4
Filed Size: 7
Teammates: None
Place: 1st

I feel surprised yet excited to have won my first race. Our field was small, only seven people. The 52-mile course is out and back on a mostly flat, windy stretch of road through farmland and orchards. We dropped one rider after the first couple of miles, but otherwise, because of the wind, the group stayed together until the last kilometer.

Riding the same stretch of road four times meant that halfway through the race I got to see the end of the course. For a mostly flat course, the finish was surprisingly hilly. The climb started maybe two or three miles from the finish line, and was still fairly windy. Signs at the side of the road marked one kilometer to go, and then 200 meters to go. The final climb was so sustained that I told myself repeatedly that on the last lap I shouldn't speed up for the finish line before the 200 meter mark because the effort would be too much.

The downside of the repeated laps, however, was that, without a change of scenery for distraction, I had a lot of time to contemplate how the race was going to end. A couple of the riders had persistently attacked the group throughout the race and I was pretty sure that they were reasonably tired, but a couple of riders hadn't worked to bridge any of the gaps and hadn't taken any turns in front pulling, so I wasn't sure how much energy they had. I spend the entire race dreading potentially coming in last if I didn't time the final stretch right, so by the time we got to the final climb on the second lap the suspense was killing me.

We started the final climb and the group stayed together at a steady pace, riding into a cross wind. After telling myself repeatedly not to go before the 200 meter mark, the closer we got to the finish, the more nervous I got about being about to beat anyone to the finish line in a group sprint. As soon as I saw the 1 km to sign, I heard the clank of my chain as I shifted gears and, against my better judgement, felt my body move forward as I surged around the group!

After a short while, I was sure that I'd made a terrible mistake. My body was just spent. Responding to all of the small attacks throughout the ride had worn me out more than I'd realized and my sudden burst of speed ended sooner than I expected. I got closer to the top of the hill and felt myself losing energy. I stood out of the saddle to try and push myself up the last bit of hill thinking that if I used different muscles I would have more energy, but it was no good, I had nothing left. I struggled to crest the hill, only to come around a corner and see another hill! I hadn't even passed the 200-meter mark yet.

I could barely turn over the pedals. I was envisioning crawling over the finish line in last place, having to explain afterwards that I'd given it all I had but got the timing wrong so would have to learn for the next race. Finally, I looked behind me to see where people were, and no one had gone with me! The pack was still together, a good distance down the road. It looked like I might have enough time to spin out the pain and keep my gap across the finish line.

I closed my eyes and kept spinning and after a while I got my energy back and settled into a steady pace for the rest of the climb. I didn't look back again but hoped for the best. As I got near the finish line I could hear people cheering and some one yelled, "Keep going!!!" so I kept turning the pedals as fast as I could until I was sure I'd cleared the line.

I was in such shock that it looked like I'd actually won a race that I started to panic that that wasn't really the finish line, that maybe that was just the 200 meter mark and I'd blown it by slowing down too soon, or that maybe I'd miscounted laps and instead of crossing the finish line, I was supposed to go around the cone again and keep riding down the course.

Regardless of the outcome, I feel good about crossing the finish line with absolutely nothing left. In fact, I actually felt a little sick at first, it took me a while to recover from the effort. At the Santa Cruz Criterium last year, my second race, I'd finished with more spring left in my legs, I just didn't know how to time my efforts right. I ended the race feeling frustrated that I had more energy than I knew how to use. At Cantua Creek, with over 50 miles to contemplate the possible outcome, I was worried most that I'd hold back too much. I was glad that I ended feeling like I'd given it everything that I had.