lessons learned at every level

The last four weeks have been obviously huge for me and I feel like I’ve barely had time to breathe!  I feel like I should back up and try and recap and evaluate everything that’s happened since my big result at Sea Otter.

Tour of the Gila

After getting home from Sea Otter (literally right after) I had messages from both Liza Rachetto and Susannah Gordon from Primal/MapMyRide Women’s Racing asking me if I could fly down to New Mexico to race Tour of the Gila with them.  Within 6 hours I had talked to Niels and coach, bought my ticket, and was working to adjust my work and training schedule to prepare for what would be my very first race on the NRC.

I could probably write a novel about Gila but I’m going to keep it to the highlights.

I got down there and was racing for the first time on one of the team’s BH bikes that they had done an awesome job setting up to fit me.

The first day was a little bit of a cluster with the break getting sent the wrong way and then being neutralized.  We were fast from the gun, averaging over 25 mph in the first hour.  I tried really hard just to stay in the front, take direction from my teammates, monitor the race, and cover moves.

Just before the decisive climb of the day – the legendary Mogollon – there was a huge crash just to my left when a girl went into the dirt, lost control, and her head actually bounced off my leg as she was going down.  I was able to stay upright and work with my teammate Emily (honestly she did most of the work … I was pretty gassed) to try and catch on to a move that was going up the road.  We worked together at the base of the climb and Emily was able to finish in the top 10 with me maybe a minute behind in 11th.

I don’t have any pictures of myself climbing Mogollon but I’m pretty sure it looked roughly like this.  It was really steep.

The second stage was the inner loop road race which oddly I didn’t think was going to be too hard.  I guess I hadn’t looked at the course profile? Or noticed that there was a sprint at mile 6 and a QOM at mile 12? Or really paid attention to the fact that there was a terrifying descent followed by a much more terrifying descent in the first 30 miles.

This was definitely a day that I showed my grit.  I feel like this should be in an itemized list.

1. I missed the split of about 20 riders over the first QOM;

2. I descended like a maniac to catch the break;

3. I got popped again through the feed zone;

4. I descended like a maniac again to catch three other girls who had been dropped from the break;

5. I Caught the break just in time to get popped again and fall outside of the caravan;

6. I dangled maybe 100m back from the caravan for probably 20 minutes before the pace let up a little bit and I was able to chase back through the caravan, grab bottles from my car for Emily and myself (I took bottles from a car! pro!) and get back into the group.  Once I was back in the fold, I did my best to feed and protect Emily since I knew I was probably going to blow again.

7. I got popped again with Tara Whitten over the next feed zone climb;

8. Tara and I (along with a couple others) chased back on just in time to hit the final QOM climb where … I got dropped again … and chased back on again to finish with the break.

I don’t know what to say about that race except I guess I like to do things the hard way? Lesson learned.

The TT and the crit were pretty straightforward.  Emily and I were able to go 12th and 13th in the TT and she was able to maintain her GC position after both races.

I spent a little time (like, very little) off the front of the crit and it was nice to know that I was able to even be up there like that and do my job covering moves.

The last day my job was to take Emily as far up the Gila Monster climb as I possibly could.  The race was hot from the gun with NOW attacking like crazy.  I was able to feed Emily once or twice and just tried to stay in the front and monitor the race.  At the base of the climb Emily made the break and I popped off.

Then I looked up the road and saw she’d been popped from the break too.  I burned every match I had getting to her and did my best to push and pull her back to the break.  And I did!  We worked together and we both made it back into the break.  I immediately went to the front to do some work so that she could sit in and be ready for the next attack.  When the next attack came, Emily was able to stay with the move and I fell off again, my job was done.  I mostly soft-pedaled the last 10 miles of the race, totally elated that she’d been able to stay in.

Emily was able to finish around 7th on the stage and hold on to her 6th place GC, right up there with several of the best women in the world!

Mutual of Enumclaw Stage Race

Enumclaw was originally an “A” race for me but became a training race after signing with Primal/MapMyRide.  I decided to do it anyway since I had a free entry, Carly wanted me to race with her, and the weather was looking pretty good.

Enumclaw was a weird lesson in tactical racing for me.  Basically, I won the time trial by 4 seconds and got another 3 bonus seconds in the crit but missed out on the big bonus seconds at the finish where I did what I often do in crits and was just like “no you guys sprint, I’ll just sit here and take same time.”

Not going for it in the sprint in the crit cost me the leader’s jersey since Jen Wheeler who had gotten 2nd in the TT won the crit taking the full 10 bonus seconds.

The road race, my job was to just make it hard.  This was a frustrating race because it was pouring which of course sucked; and every.single.time over the climb Courtenay, Jen and I would get into some combination of a break that wouldn’t really work together and we’d get caught just in time to break away again over the climb.

The last time over the climb, unfortunately Courtenay dropped her chain (which sucked so bad because she was racing so strong and was #1 most awesome teammate the whole race).  I drilled it (sort of) the last time up so I could establish a break that would stay away until the finish but I didn’t go so hard that I screwed myself for the last few miles.  It worked and we got a break of 3 with me, Wheeler, and my pal Kristine.

I knew Kristine likely wouldn’t go for the sprint and going down the descent and through the last flat miles to the finish I was feeling good.  I came through the final corner with maybe 250m to go sitting third wheel.  I jumped early and then the most amazing thing happened.





(i put in three photos because i’m not sure if this will ever happen again).

At the end of the day, I won two races but Wheeler won the race by 4 seconds.  Lesson learned, never take same time when there are bonuses available.  I thought I could maybe win the road race solo but that wasn’t the case that cost me the GC.

Lake Bluff and Glencoe

Last weekend were the Lake Bluff and Glencoe crits, both are just outside of Chicago and are part of the NCC.

I got to Lake Bluff and was immediately terrified and intimidated.  The course was narrow! and technical! and these girls are really fast! and aggressive!

I’m not going to lie, I really didn’t do well at Lake Bluff.  I was too scared to try and move up even though I knew it would be easier in the front.  Other than monitoring the front and blocking for maybe (?) a lap after my teammate got off the front, I didn’t do much at all to help the team and I braked into (and sprinted out of) every corner.  We still ended up 2nd and 7th on the day but it was very little thanks to my help.

Thankfully, Kori Seehafer was racing with and directing us and she and I talked for a long time about what I need to do to be more of a benefit to the team in a crit (i.e. stop being terrified).  I felt so crummy about my performance and it was really good to be able to get some excellent feedback from such an experienced racer about what I needed to do better.

Saturday was another day and  I was determined to do better.  The Glencoe Grand Prix was still technical but the roads were wider and I had my mental cheerleader turned up to roughly 11.

I worked the whole race trying to stay in the front and know where all of my teammates were.  I tried to cover moves and even spent a lap off the front of the race.  In the end, I still wasn’t able to figure out getting in line to lead out Nicky (I was in the front but on the wrong side of the race) but it was the first time that I didn’t let myself move backwards in the last two laps and I aggressively fought for position through the last corner (money went 20 deep so since I couldn’t be there on the leadout train, I wanted to at least get myself as far up as possible to win more money for the team).

We ended up with three in the top 20 but just off the podium with 4th, 13th, and 16th.  We may have made a tactical error as a team spending a lot of our energy fighting NOW rather than watching the individual sprinters and making them do the work.  At the end of the day, Laura Van Gilder and Erica Allar, neither of whom had many teammates, were able to go 1 and 2 with NOW taking 3rd.

I feel like I’ve learned more about racing in the last month than I have in the last 3 years.  It’s such a different ball game when you’re on a team of super smart, strong, and experienced women (not that my Peterson gals aren’t all of these things, It’s just so … different at this level).  I’ve always raced my best when I’m racing for someone else and even though I’ve got a long way to go I’m so excited to keep learning.

This weekend is Tulsa Tough and I’m so glad that I did Lake Bluff and Glencoe to prepare.  I am so enamored with my new team and I can’t wait to turn myself inside out to get us on the podium!

Thank you to Kevin Tu, Ali Engin of Endurance Picture, and Lyne Lamoureux of Podium Insight for the photos. Please contact the photographers for purchase and licensing information.

About Jess Cutler

35 year old pro road and cyclocross racer. National Champion. Generally nice person.
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