CRASH!! (2013 in review)

This whole last year I kept telling myself that with all my bad luck, I couldn’t wait for the year to be over. I pretty much quit blogging after June and my battle with Alexander the Grapefruit (not quite RIP but pretty much on his last leg … no pun intended). Looking back at the year though, I actually had what is definitely my best season on paper despite so many huge setbacks.

So here is the year in review starting with …

THE BAD (CRASHES)

Crash 1: The birth of Alexander

Memorial day, I hit the Imagedeck while in the lead group at Pro Nationals in Chattanooga, TN and chased back on despite a broken shoe and shifter.  That night, Alexander was born.

Alexander was/is a Morel Lavallée lesion which was fantastic because there’s literally nothing known about how to actually treat this type of injury.  I basically spent several months with an ace bandage around my leg trying to smoosh Alexander into submission.

By the time I left for Cascade Classic (one of my favorite races of the year before which I was hit by a car in 2012) Alexander was about 50% smaller than when he was born.  Little did I know that the best thing I could do to help get rid of him would happen during Stage 3 of Cascade Classic …

Crash 2: Punching Alexander in the Face

Broken Bike

goodbye, dear friend

Despite having taken a lot of time off the bike going into Cascade, I was riding surprisingly well.  I’d made the lead bunch over MacKenzie Pass and had finished a solid 7th in the TT which had me sitting 9th going into stage 3, the Cascade Lakes Road Race. I was sitting middle to front of the pack on a descent following Liza and Sophie when someone hooked Soph’s bars and took her, Liza, me, and about 20 other girls down in a massive pileup.  I landed hard right on Alexander’s face and my left wrist and elbow.  With the help of Jono, Niels, and Liza I managed to get on a new bike and chase back into the peloton and with the help of Emily, I finished with the pack … barely.

I went straight to the med tent and my leg was already starting to swell, badly.  I wrapped the heck out of Alexander and figured my race was over.  Amazingly, the next morning Alexander was smaller and the swelling in my leg was completely gone.  Apparently I made the unintentional medical discovery that crashing again on a Morel Lavallée lesion can cause it to rupture and mostly go away.

You’re welcome, science.

Crash 3: I can’t believe I just f**king crashed again

This one was so f**king ironic and stupid.

I was racing our local Friday night track omnium and I had just finished bitching to one of the officials that I wasn’t going to race with the Cat 3 men because they had allowed a particularly sketchy and dangerous rider to return to racing after years of issues and causing a huge crash a few weeks prior.  I decided to race with the women instead because in 4 seasons of racing on our track, I’d never seen a crash in the 1/2/3 women’s race.  Not less than 3 minutes into the first race of the night, a 15 lap scratch, some non-local girl took out her own front wheel and crashed out 6 people, myself included.

Thanks to Dennis Crane for catching this amazing photo series of the crash which includes a bonus photo of me angrily gesturing towards the girl who caused the crash.

Even though this crash wasn’t bad, I did hit my head which sidelined me for a couple days.

Crash 4: Okay, this was totally my fault

I’m embarrassed to say that not more than a week after Coach Kendra scolded me for never training with gloves, I managed to crash on a recovery ride and land smack on my palms.  My timing was impeccable since this was only 4 days before Starcrossed and Cross Vegas, two notoriously dry and bumpy races.

The best part about this crash was that I did it in the most dipshit way possible.  I was riding no hands and trying to get a bottle back into my pocket when a light breeze or a pebble or something knocked me off my path.

cool.

Crash 5: Pretty sure I just broke every bone in my arm

hello, I would like to bite your arm

hello, I would like to bite your arm

November 30th was my favorite race of the year, Baystate CX in Sterling, MA.  I love this course and had been looking forward to this race all year.  I had what felt like a great start … for about 10 seconds.  I was moving up the left side of the pack when I felt someone start pushing me hard on my right.  I leaned back into her and kept my eyes forward.  I thought I was in the clear when she came back into me so hard that I was pushed into someone else’s wheel and did a swan dive off my bike putting my arm through the orange fencing as I was flying through the air.

I have never been in such immediate and excruciating pain after a crash.  I couldn’t move my left arm and had to support it with my right hand.  I was taken away in an ambulance and given anti-nausea medication because the pain was making me physically ill.  I was 100% certain that my shoulder was separated, my arm was broken in at least one place and that my CX season was over.

Amazingly, I managed to not break a single bone or separate my shoulder just further proving that vegans are actually invincible.

THE GOOD (RESULTS)

Looking back on all of these crashes could be extremely discouraging and upsetting if I hadn’t in fact had such an awesome year.

Good Result 1: Pro Nationals

My first National TTbig achievement was finishing 9th in the TT at the inaugural women’s pro national road championships.

Yes 5th or 3rd would have been better but after 18th last year and a lot of illness going into Nationals I was pleased as punch to finish in the top 10 and surrounded by very good company.

Good Result 2: Cascade Classic

Despite being low on fitness and training volume and despite Crash 2, I rode well at Cascade.  I had a good ride for 7th in the TT and even got a nice nod from Cycling News. Even after the crash I still finished 10th which was a better result than I had hoped for given my injuries, fitness, and the crash.

Good Result 3: National Champion Baby!

You guys!  I won an elite national title!  National Champs!

With literally (not figuratively, literally) no team pursuit experience, my dear friend Ruth Winder had enough faith in me to ask me to be on her team pursuit team for nationals.  This was a calculated risk because despite the fact that I can pedal a bike very fast, I have no indoor track experience, and can’t get off the line in a standing start to save my life.

After just a few days of training, me and Ruth along with teammates Colleen Hayduk and Jade Wilcoxson (aka the Bad News Bears) took our motley crew to the boards in LA and pulled of a win in the 4k Team Pursuit!

Niels was so proud of me that he took me out for vegan soul food …

Vegan foodsAND ice cream!

Ice CreamGood Result 4: Starcrossed

Starcrossed is our only local UCI CX race.  I just wanted to finish in the top ten but managed to have a good start, make the lead group, and finish 5th!  I even got some tweeps to notice me!

signed,
someone else

Good Result 5: NCGP

After Crash 5 and a disappointing week of racing on the east coast where I’d hoped to walk away with 30-40 UCI points but managed to eke out only 7, I made the last minute decision to head to North Carolina for the NCGP of Cyclocross.

holy crap!

holy crap!

Long story short, I had a very good start and was off the front in the first 1/2 lap with my friend Beth.  We worked together until I was able to ride one section that she opted to run.  From there, I was on my own for the entire cold, muddy, rainy, sloppy race.

The whole race I was just saying to myself, “holy shit Cutler, don’t mess this up.”

I rolled across the line about a minute up on second place and was amazed to walk away with my first UCI cyclocross win.

When I started racing at the professional level a year and a half ago my only goal was to eventually win a pro race.  There were times this year that I really didn’t think it would ever happen and I was shocked that when it did happen, it was in a CX race which is … not my strongest discipline to say the least.

Good Result 6: I got way more Twitter followers.

There is nothing that is more important in cycling than your level of minor celebrity.  This year I proved that I’m doing something right by going from 50 twitter followers to over 600.  I would say this was my biggest win of 2013.

I head to CX nationals to contest the single speed and elite races next week.  Even though I’m nervous and excited I am also really ready to take a break and start regrouping for next year.

Hopefully less crashing and more winning.

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The Upside of Injury

It’s interesting but in the last few weeks I feel like Alexander Alexander the Prima Donnathe Grapefruit has gained more celebrity than I’ve ever had. I think it’s kind of going to his head and I’m not going to lie, I’m getting a little jealous of all the texts and emails that I get asking how he’s doing.  He tags along everywhere I go and is a total prima donna who requires constant pampering.

A little more background on Alexander, he is what’s known as a Morel Lavalée Lesion which is an extremely rare type of hematoma / lesion that can be really hard to get rid of.  It’s cool though because if I can’t be good at Euro racing, at least I can have a French-sounding injury.  My awesome Doctor tried to aspirate him with the biggest needle known to man but stubborn old Alexander wouldn’t budge.  Since he couldn’t be drained I was told that in order for him to heal I had to stay off of my bike for at least two weeks.

I’ve been doing everything TigerI can to get rid of him.  I wear a compression dressing almost 24 hours per day, I do epsom salt compresses on him, I take anti-inflammatories, I take arnica, I use Traumeel gel on him, I dress him up with Rock Tape, I even got a tattoo of a badass tiger on my hip to try and scare him off of my leg.* I wanted a quick fix and none of this has worked quickly however it is working slowly.  He’s getting smaller and a lot less painful.  I can actually sit down and fit into my tight jeans and shorts without feeling like I’m being stung by a million angry yellow jackets.

It’s no secret that when an injury happens to you it feels like it’s the longest and worst thing in the world.  When another rider is injured I always think “oh six weeks is nothing!” but here I am at the end of two weeks and I feel like I may never be able to pedal a bike fast again.

Despite being off the bike I have been allowed to swim which has been my saving grace.  Since I used to race triathlon I have a bit of swimming experience and a super extensive collection of fun swimsuits.  I also have totally atrophied t-rex cyclist arms which were sure to propel me through the water with ease.

So what is the upside of injury?

For one, I have been able to do a lot more around the house with Niels.  No, I still haven’t scooped the litter box because cat poop is gross.  I have however helped with our awesome garden.

I also have been able to spend a lot more time with one of my best friends, Sharon.  Swim across the lakeSharon was even kind enough to escort me in her kayak in an ill-conceived nearly 3 mile swim across Lake Washington. She was then kind enough a couple of days later to escort me to coffee after I threw my back out from swimming too much 😦

SwimsuitsAlso with swimming I am doing a lot less laundry.  So instead of a constant laundry explosion all over our house, I just have a suit or two hanging in the laundry room.

PeddlerFinally, the coolest thing I’ve gotten to do with all of my spare time is to speak at an event at Peddler Brewing that was put on by my favorite local bike shop, BikesportJess & Savannah I was overwhelmed by the turnout.  The place was at capacity and they were actually having to turn people away.  I got to hang with Paralympic gold medalist  Meg Fisher who is the COOLEST and I met and hung out with #1 Vanderkitten fan, Savannah who is going to be my new riding buddy come Cyclocross season!

Today’s the day I get to get back on my bike and try to get back into a training routine.  I’m still targeting Cascade Classic even if a slightly deflated Alexander the Grapefruit is still tagging along.

*JK it’s a matching sisterhood tattoo with my #1 lady, Mimi

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Fueled by Stubbornness

The last week and a half has been tough.  It’s been tough enough that I’ve had a hard time figuring out a lighthearted way to talk about my last few weeks of racing.  That said, I wanted to write this before I get the results of my MRI this afternoon (want to know why I had an MRI? stay tuned …)

Let me back up a little though.  2013 is the first year that USA Cycling has created a “professional” classification for women and as a result the U.S. women’s pro peloton was invited to race Professional Road and Time Trial Nationals in Chattanooga, TN rather than Elite Nationals as we have in the past.  This was a huge honor and I was extremely excited to be part of the inaugural event.  I was also nervous since this would be my first foray into the domestic pro peloton this year after spending most of my spring abroad.  I had yet to even race my new Wilier Twin Blade and only had a rough idea of how the riders on other teams were going.

I spent the 4 or 5 weeks going into Nationals training and racing at home mostly against the Pro/1/2 Men with my teammie Rhae Shaw.  I even managed to ruffle a few feathers (sorry, not sorry).

u mad

u mad

I also raced the Mutual of Enumclaw Stage Race with the women.  I’ve been trying to win this Crushed itding dang race for 5 years and I’ve never been able to do it.  Last year I won two stages and still got second solely due to letting the eventual winner take more time bonuses in the crit.  This year, I was determined to crush the TT to the point that I could afford tMOE TTo not win the other stages and not have to chase every time bonus.  Let me just say, goal, accomplished.  Over a super short course, I finished 27 seconds faster than last year and won the TT by over 50 seconds averaging about 28 mph.  With my cushion I was able to MOE RRplay around in the crit and road race without having to stress about losing the GC.  It was so fun to reconnect with a lot of my local Washington and Oregon racing friends and to meet some new Canadian pals (watch out for these girls, they’re FAST).  I was happy to finally win the GC at this race and to go into Nationals with a little bit of extra confidence under my belt.

I left for Nationals on Tuesday and met up with my teammate Ruth.  We spent the week doing recon on the road and TT courses and trying to make new friends in Chattanooga.  We were suuuuper lucky to meet Jamie Ingalls of Hub Endurance who set us up with a home base, trainers, a second person to ride in our caravan vehicle, and even helped us find extra wheels for our wheel car. His hospitality was so above and beyond and I can’t thank him enough.

Niels and our other teammate Amy arrived onNational TT Friday morning and Saturday was the TT.  The TT was really my target and I then hoped to work for Ruth in the Road Race.  How do you write about a TT?  I went out hard but not too hard, I tried not to panic, I didn’t throw up in the first half of the race, I threw up just a little in the second half of the race, I caught my 1-minute girl, I didn’t crash, I didn’t get caught.  The course was rolling, breezy, a little technical, didn’t favor any particular type of rider, and was super fun.  I finished in 44:04.04 which was good enough for … 9th place!  I was so pleased to finish in the top 10 after a really marginal ride last year and I was extra pleased to be less than a minute and a half down from the winner, Carmen Small!

As pleased as I was with my time trial I had to move on right away to the road race.  Our plan was to protect Ruth and be smart with our matches since we only had 3 riders toeing the line. The race started out with three laps of an 11k technical circuit, two times up and over Lookout Mountain, and then three more laps around the circuit.  It felt like a crit followed by a road race, followed by another crit.  We mostly sat close to the front for the opening circuits and then Ruth and I moved up towards the very front on the run in to Lookout.  Once Ruth was close to the front the first time up the climb I sat in and monitored things from her hip.  When she slid back a little I pulled up next to her and then in front to try and protect her.  About 2/3 of the way up the climb there’s a short descent with a sweeping left hander.  By the time we hit this section I was in a lead group of about 12 riders.  I don’t know what happened but I somehow took myself out through the sweeper. broken shoe I hit the deck HARD on my left hip and immediately hopped back up to see that I’d broken my left shoe and left brake lever.  Neutral support was there immediately and used a toe strap to tie my foot back into my shoe.  My brake lever was flopping around but was still held on by the brake cable.  I got back on my bike and began furiously chasing through the dropped groups despite a throbbing hip and broken gear.

I chased with a small group back through the caravan catching the peloton about 7k before the next ascent of Lookout.  There was a break up the road and we made the snap decision to try to send me across on the next time up the climb.  Amy and Ruth were awesome and led me out into the climb so I hit it about 2nd or 3rd wheel.  I tried.  I tried so so so hard to stay with Evie’s bridge attempt up Lookout but I just didn’t have it.  I finished in a group of about 8 riders rolling in 17th.  I was and am still so disappointed in myself.  I finished 17th after crashing hard and burning a huge match chasing.  I feel like I disappointed my teammates, our sponsors, and all of my supporters.  It was such a stupid crash and it likely cost me a much better finish than I had.

The day after the race I woke up to find that despite having almost no road rash, my hip and thigh had swelled up to about twice their size and I had grown what appeared to be a small grapefruit under my skin.  I could barely sit, stand, or walk.  In fact all I really could do was feel sorry for myself.  I flew to Philly that Tuesday afternoon for the Philly Classic which was set to run on Sunday.  I had 5 days to work real hard to get rid of the swelling and the grapefruit.

By the morning of Philly I knew my concerted healing Alexander the Grapefruit!efforts had failed.  I had accepted that the grapefruit and I were now in this together.  I even gave him a name and thought about letting the left thigh of my shorts out a little to accommodate him.

Alexander the Grape(fruit) and I went in to Philly with the sole goal of doing our job and helping out the team.  The plan was thwarted though when I got tangled up in a huge pileup towards the front of the race on the first lap.  I didn’t go down hard but I did go down right on Alexander’s face.  I was back up and on my bike almost immediately but by the second lap I was having shooting pain and numbness down my leg.  After the second time up the Manayunk Wall I dropped back to our team car and told our director what was going on.  He told me to go to the med tent.  race over.

I will not go into the nitty gritty of my injury because frankly I don’t know what it is.  I can still ride my bike but my left leg is pretty weak.  I had an MRI yesterday to try and determine the nature and extent of the damage and I’ll get the results today.

It’s hard to be lighthearted and funny when I’m feeling crummy but I am so grateful for the support of my team, family, community, and friends.  I’m supposed to head to NVGP on Monday and god willing I will be there either with or without Alexander.

Thank you to Billy Wynn of Cycling Illustrated and to Amara Edwards of Wheels In Focus for allowing me to use their photos.

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All About Niels “Manderkitten” Thogersen III

I’m not usually one to gush over my significant other or to form my identity based on my Night Rideromantic relationships (I’m too much of a crabby feminist for that) but the fact of the matter is a huge part of why I am able to do what I do is because I have the support of my husband Niels.  Niels is not only my number one fan and supporter, he’s also the Vanderkitten Team mechanic (an official Manderkitten) and an outspoken ally of the movement for equality in women’s cycling.  I thought about writing a post that praised Niels for all the awesome things he does but instead of that, I thought I would just own up to what a pain in the ass I can be to deal with and make a list of all the things I do that he has to deal with.

1. Prerace panic

Does not matter what the race is, I will completely panic beforehand.

Local road race that I’ve done 100 times? panic.

National championships? complete meltdown.

Particularly competitive group ride? in tears.

2. I made a Flickr page with pictures of all of the things Niels writes his name on

Okay so I find it super charming that Niels writes his name on all of his stuff so against his protests I made a flickr page dedicated to this.  Maybe not so nice, but super cute and charming.

3. I can never find anything … ever

Niels leaves every day for work before me and at least 3 days a week I will call him completely panicked because I’m running late and I can’t find my flat kit, helmet, shoe covers, keys, garmin, left leg warmer, etc.

4. I won’t scoop the litter box

At least 100 times I have told Niels that I will scoop the litter box for our three cats “next time.” I have yet to ever do it.

5. I will put off doing anything Niels asks me to do until he gets frustrated & does it himself

Some examples of this are:

– planting the gardendishes

– mowing the lawn (I still don’t know how to use a lawnmower)

– cleaning the bathroom

– doing the dishes

– sweeping any floor in the house

6. I ride my race bikes in the rain and then make Niels clean them

Despite knowing thatdirty bike I live in Seattle and obsessively checking Weather Underground I consistently take my race bikes out on s**tty and rainy days and then just leave them on the stand in the bike room and wait for them to magically be clean.

I’m also really good at feigning ignorance about what the weather was and what I thought it “should have” been.

I’m sure there are a lot more things that I’m not remembering but at the end of the day I know I can be a pain in the ass and I’m so grateful to have my awesome Manderkitten to take care of me and clean up after me.

 

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Small Fish in a Big Dutch Pond (an exercise in being humbled)

I’ve been thinking super hard for nearly two weeks about how to properly write about my first foray into the European peloton.  Every time I think I’ve got it nailed in my brain, I panic and I can’t even write.  Fortunately I have a bunch of other stuff that I want to procrastinate on even more right now so I’m making myself sit down and write.

I started my trip super early in the morning of April 1 with an uneventful flight to Washington D.C. followed by a scary flight to Brussels when I realized that United, in an attempt to save money, had foregone getting a second wing on all of its airplanes.

i'd be more relaxed if my airplane had two wings.

I’d be more relaxed if my airplane had two wings.

Upon arriving in Brussels I was greeted by our Soigneur Andrew.  Neat!  I’ve never had a Soigneur before! F**k having to make my own sandwiches or do my own laundry!  I’ve hit the big time!

First Ride!That afternoon while the rest of the national team ladies raced Grand Prix de Dottignies I rode backwards on the course in my awesome new USA National Team kit and got totally scared by how huge the peloton was and how narrow some the roads were (sidewalk, yo).

My third day in Europe and it was time to race.  We were racing Energiewacht Tour in northern Holland.  A 5-day six stage race totaling over 500k and with a monster total of 12m of climbing throughout the tour (we went over a few highway overpasses).

I was told by several people going into myBig Bike first race to stay in the front and hide behind a tall Dutch girl.  Seriously, the women in Holland are super tall! and fast!  Just to put it in perspective I took a picture of Niels next to one of their bikes.  Despite their height I would soon discover that holding the wheel of a strong Dutch racer, no matter how tall, was about as easy as walking a tightrope blindfolded or trying to draft a hummingbird.

Tall girls aside, road furnituregoing into the first race I kept hearing people talk about “road furniture” on the course and kept thinking, “those silly Dutch, why are they leaving their sofas in the road.” Well I learned really quickly that road furniture is actually just medians and obstructions in the middle of the road (“obstakels” in Dutch which made me feel like I was in a CX race) usually with a dude with a whistle and a flag standing on top of them hoping that no one rides straight into him.

I had also heard about how narrow the roads were and how much the wind could rip the peloton apart but really nothing could prepare me for these roads.  The roads would go from three lane highways down to roads that were barely wide enough for a small car in the blink of an eye and once the front of the race would start to echelon in the crosswinds I would watch helplessly from somewhere in the back 50% of the race as the 700m long peloton would shatter in front of me.  If you weren’t in the front, moving up even 1 or 2 wheels was a near herculean effort and once the girls on the front started to hit the gas you would be dropped before you knew what happened.

The first two days of Energiewacht I finished in the back group which left me close to the bottom of the general classification going into the TT.  For the TT, I got to do something I’ve never gotten to do before, I got to roll it!  My only job in the TT was to not get time cut and to not expend too much energy.

easy now

easy now

Since it was the first race where I wasn’t going cross-eyed trying to hang on to the tail end of the peloton or suffering so far into the gutter that I could only focus on the wheels in front of me, I finally got a chance to look around at the Dutch countryside.  I even almost managed to crash myself out when I was watching some pretty horses run alongside me!

The same day as the TT was a crazy circuit race that was run back and forth along a canal.  This was the first race I managed not to get dropped but I still couldn’t figure out moving more than halfway up the peloton.  This was also the first race that I saw girls crash off of a dyke into a canal.  cool.  Ruth finished 15th on the day which was fantastic!

The next day was another flat circuit race on narrow roads. It was the queen stage totaling 130k and I was in the groupetto almost immediately.  I felt terrible, I couldn’t get my heart rate up and I felt like I wasn’t able to turn my pedals over.  After 2 of 4 laps, I was barely holding onto the groupetto and I did what I’ve pretty much never done before, I pulled out of the race. I felt terrible, I should have kept riding but at the time I was just suffering so badly that I wasn’t even thinking straight.  Energiewacht Tour, USA Cycling women's teamI especially wish I would have stayed in the race because the next day was straight up American style crit racing on a 14k circuit with wide roads, lots of turns, and a lot more room to move up.  Ruth managed to initiate and drive the break of the day finishing 6th and taking the Most Aggressive jersey for the entire tour!  I was so proud of her that my heart felt like it was going to burst.  I was just sad that I wasn’t there to contribute to her awesome day.

After Energiewacht we had a week off to train and recover at our home base in Sittard.  USA Cycling's Fitland Team Facility, April 2013We spent some time team-building, drinking coffee, and posing for the paparazzi. Niels flew in this week so I was able to spend some time with him exploring Sittard and Liege.  We did recon on the Fleche Wallonne course and … I was so happy!  There were hills!  6 of them!  I spent the day happily chasing Kristin McGrath up all of the climbs and totally looking forward to my first world cup!

However before Fleche we had to get through Ronde van Gelderland.  I was actually fairly excited for this race because there were 6 short climbs in rapid succession before dropping into another race full of flat, narrow, windy Dutch roads.

hills!

hills!

This was the first race where I felt like I was getting the hang of things.  During the neutral I was pushy and even sprinted into oncoming traffic to get to the front.  Unfortunately though just as I was moving up on the first climb, I got tangled up in a crash where I mostly rode up onto another downed rider and tipped ungracefully over into the dirt.  I untangled my bike and worked hard to get back on. I was covered in dirt.  It was in my hair, on my face, and all over my embro soaked legs, and I still had 130k to race.  I worked my butt off over the climbs and managed to stay with the third group on the road which then caught the second group on the road which then (with a huge crescendo of crashing that unfortunately took out two of my teammates) caught the lead group.  I hung onto the lead group for another 15 or so kilometers when I once again found myself out of position on a narrow road and watched a gap open up in front of me.  I finished the race in the last group of riders to not get pulled.  There were over 170 starters and about 100 finishers.  Our mechanic made fun of me for being so dirty.  C’est la vie.

Two days later it was time for La Fleche Wallonne.  I was so excited because I’d seen the course, I loved the climbs, and I was getting the chance to race one of the most epic races of all time.  We started out in the front (if you think U.S. women line up early, do a Euro race, we would camp out on the line for 30 minutes minimum) and as we rolled out I found myself right next to Marianne Vos! OMG! I concentrated really hard on not crashing her out and looking cool and casual.

Over the first few climbs I was really finding my rhythm although I was still way too timid on the descents.  My poor descending bit me in the butt when I allowed myself to drift backwards through the peloton on the last descent and get gapped off on the flat run-in to the Mur.  I was in the caravan inhaling all of the burning clutch fumes the first time up the Mur and Dropped GroupI somehow managed to catch a group of women who chased onto the second group on the road and eventually back up to the lead group just before the first climb on the second lap.  As I was getting dropped on the second climb, I heard our director say into the radio “okay I need you all to move to the front on this climb.”  Too late.  I found myself in a group of 6 riders and with 20k to go the broom wagon offered us a ride.  I was tired and crabby and something on my bike was feeling rough and making noise but dammit I was going to finish.  The other riders and I decided not to get in the wagon and keep riding.  I finished the race about 14 minutes down but all of the women who finished more than 10 minutes down were not placed.  Kristin did awesome finishing 21st and Lauren was in the top 40.  Ruth killed herself on the front of the race in the first lap while I was mostly useless, not able to find my way past the middle of the peloton.

I went into the last race, Omloop van Borsele, feeling both demoralized and desperate to just once be able to do my job in a race.  Borsele is notoriously flat, windy, narrow, and filled with crashes.  It starts off on a wide road before making a nearly 180 degree turn on to what was essentially a bike path.  My job was to do an all out pursuit leadout effort for my teammates in the first 3k before the turn.  I started in the front and went as hard as I could  I didn’t stay in the front the whole time but dammit I was up there. My bike was still squeaking and I still felt like I was fighting my rig but for the first time in the whole trip I felt like I did my job.  The beauty of it was that because I did my job, I found myself close to the front going into the narrow technical part of the race.

I stayed with the lead group for most of the first lap.  I was in the second group when there was a HUGE crash in the first group and as I was getting around it I saw my teammate Kristin struggling to get off the ground and get her bike working.  I turned around, gave her my bike, and dutifully waited for the team car which was stuck  with the rest of the caravan behind 2 or 3 other groups on the road.  The first spare bike that I got was approximately 3 inches too tall for me, the next one was the proper size, and then the next one was my bike.  By this time I was so far out the ass of the race that I knew I  was going to get pulled.  I caught Kristin who had taken too hard of a hit in the crash to continue on and rode in with her to help her treat her wounds.

I left Europe feeling sad that I was mostly terrible at Dutch racing but motivated to learn better bike handling, get fitter, and train harder.  I didn’t have the results or performance to make me think I’ll be invited back soon but I am determined to go back and do better and be more useful to my team.

A quick post-script.  As any of my readers know, I really don’t have much patience for people’s excuses when it comes to bike racing.  As Sue Butler once told me, “excuses are like a**holes, everyone has one and they all stink.” I hope what I’m going to share next doesn’t come across as an excuse, it’s not, it’s just another fact.  When I got home I had Niels go over my bike and try to figure out what was feeling so weird and making so much noise when I pedaled.  Niels pulled the bottom bracket bearings out of my bike and discovered that one was dragging quite a bit and the other was frozen solid.  I don’t know how or when or why this happened so I don’t blame my performance at all of the races on frozen bearings but it did make me feel better that some of my struggles may have been, in part, due to trying spin a frozen bottom bracket bearing.

Last Saturday I raced Olympic View Road Race with the Cat 1/2 men.  OVRR is a 144k flat, windy, narrow, and rainy race.  It was time to put my Dutch skills to the test.  The race itself ended up being fairly slow when the winning break went from the gun but I felt approximately 100x more comfortable than I ever have in a men’s race.  I was able to steal wheels, attack, bridge, chase, and be comfortable bumping and moving around.  I even anticipated and avoided the dude that swept my front wheel sprinting for … 20th.

So I don’t really know how to end this.  There’s no appropriate epilogue except to say I am so unbelievably grateful for the opportunity afforded to me by USA Cycling and even though I’m disappointed with myself in countless ways, I know that I gained more than I can even begin to quantify.  It’s strange that it’s May and I haven’t yet done a U.S. domestic pro race but I don’t feel like that’s a disadvantage.  My next big race will be U.S. Pro Nationals with a couple of my Vanderkitten teammates and I can’t wait.

Thank you so much to USA Cycling, Vanderkitten, and most of all Niels for helping me live my dream of getting to Europe.  I only hope I can live it at least one more time.

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Big News in the Cutler House!

Guess what?

Have you guessed yet?

Okay I’ll give you a hint.

wizard of oz?

oz?

Did you get it yet?  No?  Okay let me give you another hint.

chilling with my buds

chilling with my buds

You must have gotten it by now?!  If you haven’t, too bad because I’m dropping the news now.

I’M GOING TO EUROPE!!  I’m going to be racing a block with the U.S. National Team in Belgium and The Netherlands beginning with the Energiewacht Tour and ending with Borsele.  I am going to race La Flèche Wallonne! La Flèche motherf*&$ing Wallonne!

My dream has always been to race in Europe and my super big dream is to race in Europe for the U.S. National Team so I am beside myself and so honored to have been asked.

There is no way I could have gotten this invitation were it not for the support of my husband Niels (Manderkitten), Vanderkitten DS Jono who put me on the radar of the National Team, and the Washington State Bicycle Association who helped fund my trip to El Salvador.

I will do my best to update my blog, twitter (@jessica_cutler  – give me a follow, yo!), and facebook throughout the trip.

Thanks to all my friends, family, coach Kendra, and fans who have given me the support I needed to get where I am today.

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The Rules of Racing in El Salvador

February is early. Really early. In my mind it’s too early to race your bike absent a lethargic and lackluster local time trial or a Strava throwdown with your husband’s team. Since this is my feeling and attitude, naturally I decided that racing what would not only be the longest stage race I’ve ever done but also the first UCI road race of my life would be a great idea this February. I mean it’s not like my CX season had only ended a little over two months ago or anything like that (who needs an off season? not this lady).

Niels and I headed down to Vanderkitten team camp on February 20th where we mostly concentrated Team Camp!on being awesome and photogenic. It was so great to see my friends and meet my new teammates! We rode up hills, drank tons of espresso, learned about Canary Foundation, drank our weight in Osmo, and brushed and braided eachManderkitten others’ hair. We even got to go on a ride from Mike’s Bikes with our fans wherein Niels was christened as the official Manderkitten.

I should back up a little bit though. I’ve never travelled to a third world country so in an attempt to be real diligent I went to the UW Travel Clinic (awesome) to learn all about how to not get sick in El Salvador. I was prepared! I got vaccinated for stuff! And three types of water purification systems! And two types of bug spray! And 200 texts! I was not going to get sick! I was going to be able to text!

So naturally I caught a nasty cold on the last day of team camp. Before I’d even gotten on the plane to El Salvador.

Take our bikes

would you like some bikes?

After 4 days of fun five healthy Vanderkittens, one sicky, and Jono (OG Manderkitten) headed down south for our adventure (!) at Vuelta El Salvador. When we arrived at the airport we had no idea who was picking us up, where we were staying, or how to fill out a customs form (it took me 3 tries).

Adventure!

Luckily there was a very official looking Thule guy named Robert with “Vanderkitten” written on a sign at the airport waiting for us. He and a small child loaded all of our bikes and luggage into a truck and the truck drove away … without us. Thankfully Robert came back and drove us without our luggage to the race hotel (The friggin HILTON!!!) Doubly thankfully when we got to the hotel our luggage and bikes were also there.

Our first full day in El Salvador we met Wilfredo who would be our driver for our entire stay. recovery time Wilfredo was the perfect fit for us because he didn’t speak a word of English and none of us spoke a word of Spanish.  Luckily Jono and Wilfredo managed to make up their own special language that they used for the rest of our time there. Wilfredo is also seriously the fastest and best driver I have ever met in my life. We quickly learned that there is not a single problem in El Salvador that cannot be trafficsolved by using your horn.  Wilfredo would often get us to where we were going faster than if we had a police escort.  It was unreal, but I digress.

On this first day, Wilfredo drove us out to the coast where we did a beautiful shakeout spin followed by some serious recovery time at Ruben’s (the race director) beach house.  Unfortunately on the way home we got caught in a little bit of rush hour traffic but it was no big deal, Wilfredo just honked his horn, drove us down some stairs and through a field and we were magically back at the Hilton.

quiet little loop

no bicycles

“prohibido bicicletas” whatever that means

In cycling and in life it’s very important to make friends. The Vanderkittens excel at making friends so on our last day before racing was to begin we met up with the Colombian national team to go on a short escorted ride. It was our understanding that we were to be taken to do a few laps on a quiet and low-traffic loop just a couple of kilometers from the hotel.  The loop just so happened to be on a 6 lane freeway with many signs like the above that we ignored (they were in Spanish so I plead ignorance).

mascots!After our shakeout spin it was time to get dressed and prepped for team presentation!  The presentation party was at San Salvador’s beautiful 333m outdoor velodrome and featured everything you could imagine!  beauty queens! large stuffed corporate mascots! PresentationA Salvadorian Rolling Stones Cover band! Fireworks!  The MC asked us what song we would like played when we were called up on stage.  I said I would appreciate anything in Britney’s vast library but my request fell on deaf ears and they played “American Woman” when we went up.

The first day of racing was a 1-day race called Grand Prix de Oriente and I … bowed out.  I was so sick on that last night before we were to start racing that Jono and I decided it was better for me to not start in hopes that I could heal a little before the stage race was to start.  I stayed in the hotel and concentrated real hard on not being sick. It didn’t completely work since I was still coughing the next day but I was so grateful for the extra rest and recovery.

The first day of the stage race was a rolling coastal stage that took the peloton through 4 terrifying unlit tunnels tunneland finished up an exposed 6k climb.  I like to get a crash out of my system early in the race so I rode straight into a pileup during the neutral rollout. Once Coke!that was over and done with it was time to race! Adventure! Through each tunnel I somehow managed to start in the front and then magically end up in the back except for the one time that it counted, the time we were being photographed.  When we hit the final climb, I popped almost immediately.  My heartrate had been spiking the entire race and I knew that I was still sick and couldn’t hang on.  Kate and Ruth killed it though finishing 7th and 9th on the stage!  I rolled in a few minutes back in 16th and was rewarded for my efforts with a seat on a local bike and a Coke!  Coke became my best friend during this tour.

The next day was the TTT and a circuit race both right in the heart of El Salvador.  The TTT PracticeVanderkittens had practiced our TTT skills in the hotel room the night before so we were totally dialed. Just after the first few teams went off we received word that two riders on the ISCorp team had been hit by a car on the urban run-in to the main part of the TTT course.  I refuse to post the video here because I don’t want to see it again but I will say that there is a video out there of the collision and it is terrifying.  After hearing this we were pretty cautious for the first part of our race.  I have never done a TTT before but I think we did pretty well at communicating and taking appropriate pulls.  We finished 7th about 1:20 down from the winning team.

That same day was the circuit race which was … interesting.  It was on the same highway as the TTT so we were familiar with the course.  After the neutral rollout we were stopped and announcement was made in Spanish.  I didn’t bother to ask anyone what the announcement had been but would later find out that what was said was “we are moving the finish line.” Whoops.  Ruth and Kate finished in the top 10 and I found out we had finished 20m after we had actually finished.

The next day was el Boqueron.  It’s as terrifying as it sounds.  The race is a 36k flat-ish run in to an insanely hard 14k climb with pitches as steep as 21% and an average grade of 10%.  El BoqueronStarla was kind enough to go in a break in the first 5k of the race while the rest of the peloton farted around, everyone dreading the impending climb.  We hit the climb and I did my best to protect Ruth by moving to the front and trying to set a false tempo.  This lasted approximately 500m before everyone just pulled around me and eventually rode away from me.  I ended up riding the rest of the race with two other women and finished a surprising 13th on the stage which moved me into 13th on GC.  Not bad for being sick and having almost no climbing in my legs.

Next was the circuit race which looked flat-ish on paper:

not so bad

not so bad

everything looks flat from above!

everything looks flat from above!

But actually started straight up a brutal 2.3k climb before twisting through the city into a somewhat technical run in to the finish.  I did my best to cover moves, pull back breaks, and protect Ruth for the finish.  Even though I still wasn’t there for an organized leadout, Liza was able to set Ruth up to finish 6th!  In the UCI points!  Despite Ruth’s good result, for some reason though I ended up being the one taken to doping control!  Doping control!  UCI!

The next day was the longest race of the tour, 115k and I woke up feeling like absolute death.  I started the race and somehow found my way to the finish line but did it on almost no food.  I couldn’t keep anything down.  Thankfully Liza made the break and finished 5th!  More UCI points!  Starla and Ruth had to pretty much coax me all the way to the line.  I lost 2 GC places and 5+ minutes on the stage.

The final day of racing I was still having a hard time keeping food down but was feeling at least 50% better than the day before.  This was probably the most unforgiving stage of the tour beginning up a 14k  climb with barely a flat or unexposed section of the race:

RU4REAL?!

RU4REAL?!

I made it with the lead pack just about to the first QOM but couldn’t match the JessetRuthacceleration to the line.  I ended up in a group of 4 that included Ruth.  We rode tempo together all the way to the finish line.  I didn’t have much in my legs so I was happy for the company and to get through the final day of the tour.  Jono was awesome and for the most part stayed with us the whole time feeding us bottles and coke.  We lost a lot of time on the stage but by that point, given my health struggles throughout the entire tour, I was just happy to have gotten through it.

The next day was a rest day before the last two one day races of the tour and this was my time to say goodbye.  I was sad to not race the Immigrationlast two days with the team but needed to get home and didn’t want my health to suffer further.  Wilfredo drove me and my gear to the airport where I hopped a plane to San Francisco. When I arrived in San Francisco I was greeted by this line for immigration.  I’m not lying, this was only the back 25% of the line and I only had 1:45 to get through immigration, pick up my luggage, get through customs, walk to the domestic terminal with my luggage, re-check my bags, and make my flight to Seattle which happened to be the last flight of the night.  Adventure!

Lesson of the day? Crying will get you everywhere.  I cried and begged my way to the front of that line and somehow managed to make my flight back to Seattle with about 15 minutes to spare.

Since this post has already become a novella I am going to add an epilogue to turn it into a true novel.

Without exaggerating I have to say that I could not be happier on my team.  I don’t think I personally have ever gelled so quickly and easily with a group of women and I don’t think that there is a more fun team on the VKFUNplanet than Vanderkitten.  At every meal and before and after every race I would look around at the other teams who were often sitting quietly together or playing with their phones (okay we played with our phones too but much less) and we were always cracking up over one thing or another.  Every woman on this trip added something cool and interesting to the team to make us into this vibrant and awesome whole.  Kate was without a doubt one of the wittiest and funniest people I have ever met.  Liza and Jeannie were constant sources of laughs and wisdom.  Starla is one of the most selfless teammates I’ve ever met. Ruth, despite her youth is funny, fearless, and focused and knows bike handling and tactics inside and out.

I guess what I’m trying to say (OMG FEELINGS!) is that I am so happy to be part of such an awesome team of women with such unique and fun personalities.  I love the mission of our team, I love our sponsors, and I love spending time with them.

VK4LIFE!!!

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