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Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf


Diarist Amber Rais
Photo ©: David Pierce
(Click for larger image)

The Amber Rais diary 2007

Relatively new to the sport, Amber launches into her second season racing at the professional level for Webcor Builders in 2007. A former collegiate swimmer, Rais found her passion in bike racing during graduate school, where she earned a Masters degree in Earth Systems. Throughout the season, Amber will give an up & comer's perspective on racing, as well as some suggestions for becoming more environmentally conscious with her 'Go Green Tips'.

March 21-25, 2007

Redlands diary

The Webcor Women
Photo ©: Karen Brems
(Click for larger image)
With one day at home to recover and pack, we loaded up the cars for yet another road trip Tuesday morning. Katheryn and I caravanned behind Bernard (for close to 7 hours), rolling down the windows as we neared Redlands to take in the heavy-sweet smell of orange blossoms.

Most of the team stayed with our beloved hostess, Cid Breyer. She has been hosting cyclists almost as long as Redlands has been a classic. She knows most of the peloton, because they've enjoyed her hospitality at one time or another. She also teaches a fourth grade class, so the team gathered Wednesday morning in the school cafeteria to meet them.

They were fascinated to hear the various accents of our teammates, and asked great questions: "Approximately how fast do you go on your bike?" "How many times do you win?" "But, isn't it more important to have fun than to win?" It's always encouraging to see so many hands fly into the air when asked, "Who likes riding bikes?" I mean, who doesn't?

Prologue, or attack of the killer particulates

Christine is 2nd
Photo ©: Karen Brems
(Click for larger image)

The Redlands Prologue is a tricky course: about 5k gradual uphill, finishing with two steep pitches and an extended climb. The effort is almost too short for pacing, except the finishing climb demands enough that you need to save a little. The weather had cleared for a bluebird day, and we warmed up and donned our new Bell helmets - properly huge and aero. Despite having developed the worst sore throat I can remember the night before, my hopes remained high for this event - cold or no cold.

I got into a good rhythm over the first roller and onto the only flat(ish) stretch; hit the climb and already felt blown, but opened it up anyway, attacking the hill (and myself) over the crest and onto the second half of the "wall." By the time the climb flattened a bit into the last 700 meters or so, I might well have been sweating pure lactic acid and threw my arms into forcing my legs to keep pace. My mind managed to swim above the inundation of agony in my limbs and decided it was time to sprint. With grit over agony, I passed two women, crossed the line and was promptly awash in pain. Proper.

Our team rode impressively well, stacking the GC early: 2nd Christine, 4th Mara, 6th Katheryn, 7th Rachel, 13th Amber, 14th Bev. Amber Neben won the stage in characteristically dominant form, while Dotsie Bausch rode to an impressive 3rd.

This prologue, though short, has a habit of sticking with the riders for the rest of the stage race in the form of a deep chest cough. Riders all over the finish area hacked as they sought water, though the hack seems to persist despite hydration. The hack didn't do much for my sore throat, and I seemed to become more congested by the minute - what timing! Getting a cold the day before Redlands - seriously, who does that?

Oak Glen - 'Nuf said

Mara is Queen of the Mountains
Photo ©: Karen Brems
(Click for larger image)

Facing the mother of all stages, I awoke with blocked sinuses and a rumbling chest cough. I was bummed, yes, but I long ago decided that how I feel before a race - nervous, sick, tired, excited, fresh, whatever - doesn't change how I approach the race. No matter what, I give everything I have and never give up. Some days, what I have to give is more than others, but I've had enough bad days turn good through nothing but grit to know that no race is a foregone conclusion. Besides, I had a mission before me: to help our team secure a GC win.

About 40k into the race, I flatted and got a lightening-quick change from Mavic and chased back. Up the first QOM the group had eased, when Alison Powers appeared at the front saying sweetly, "Okay ladies, no more picnicking. Let's go!" as she set a strong tempo. This girl rocks. (I like her draft, too; we tall folk appreciate one another in the pack!) Nearing the QOM, the front turned green with Webcor riders, as Mara went for the QOM sprint. A break got away on the descent, and as soon as it was caught, Katheryn launched a beautiful attack (I swear I saw her smile as she jumped) that initiated the break of the day. Her break stayed away to the base of the climb, where she launched again, leaving the break behind.

As Amber Neben wound up at the base of Oak Glen, gaps began to crack open as the field stretched thin behind her. I gunned up the left and paced Rachel (7th in GC at this point) up to a strong group with Kim Anderson from T-Mobile. At that point, I imploded a bit and opted to ride a steady tempo in hopes that I'd still have good legs to help the team in the crit the next day (and with some luck stave off bronchitis).

Rach was in good company, and our girls at the front forged ahead in battle. Amber Neben had dropped all but Christine and Mara, and the three caught Katheryn with only 2k to go. One of Mara's goals this season was to win a race where she would be presented with flowers, so Karen got on the radio and said, "Mara, if you win, you get flowers!" So, Mara attacked. Christine nearly laughed out loud when she heard this in the radio. Amber Neben didn't respond immediately to Mara's attack, but increased her tempo. Mara won the stage (and flowers!), with Amber Neben 2nd, Christine 3rd, and Katheryn 4th.

Criterium and pre-birthday surprise

The peloton sings Happy Birthday
Photo ©: Thien Dinh
(Click for larger image)

Last year, I spent my birthday in the hospital following a spectacular crash in this criterium. I broke three bones in my hand and bruised my femur through my quad when I dented the steel tube of the fence on which I landed. I tried not to think about this as we hurled ourselves around the course. Except for a few moments of heebie-jeebies riding past the site of the crash, I maintained focus on positioning.

Ina Teutenberg (T-Mobile) countered a large cash prime, initiating a break of four including Laura Van Guilder (Cheerwine), Brooke Miller (TIBCO) and Christine Thorburn (Webcor). Christine put forth an enormous and courageous effort to bridge; then continued to drive the break in a relentless quest for time. Christine is not one to race for the podium. She races for the win and understands the need to put it all on the line to do so. She has the heart of a true champion.

The break stuck, with Ina taking the win, Laura in second and Brooke in third and in very good company. Christine put time into Amber Neben, setting us up well for the Sunset circuit race the next day.

That night Christine and Katheryn made dinner for everyone. Not only are they both great leaders and teammates on the bike, but they also take care of us behind the scenes. My whole head throbbed and felt swollen with congestion, but I diligently ate a full plate, despite my utter lack of appetite (just to be clear, Christine and Katheryn cooked up a very tasty meal; I just felt too under the weather to want to eat much). I knew I'd need the pasta the next day during the circuit race. Ready to fall asleep on the couch (I think Karen managed a sweet candid photo of this), Bev talked me into one last cup of tea before bed.

THAT'S not a cup of tea!
Photo ©: Karen Brems
(Click for larger image)

She emerged from the kitchen with what amounted to a giant mixing bowl full of tea. Bernard cracked a quick Crocodile Dundee impression: "That's not a cup of tea; THIS is a cup of tea!"

Keeping her composure despite the laughter, Bev, our English expat, primly began pouring mugs of tea from the crazy monstrosity, "This is how the English do tea."

Laughing incredulously, Rachel, a current resident of England, replied, "Clearly you left a while ago!"

Suddenly Katheryn emerged with a decadent chocolate torte, complete with candles, and everyone began singing Happy Birthday. I just about fell out of my chair. I had completely forgotten! Technically, my birthday was the following day, but they thought this would be the best time to celebrate.

"The box said it serves eight," Karen said, as I cut the cake. I figured I'd cut small slices to start.

Eyeing the petite pieces, Helen announced, "Here are the climbers' pieces!"

"Yeah, what is this, eh?" Laura demanded, frowning at her tiny slice. "How did I end up with a climber's piece?! I need the sprinter's piece," she gestured toward the remaining 1/3 of the cake. "They must have meant the cake feeds seven climbers and one sprinter."

Sunset Circuit Race

The peloton sings Happy Birthday
Photo ©: Thien Dinh
(Click for larger image)

Today was my real birthday, and I would have forgotten in light of my intense focus on the race, except that the whole peloton sang 'Happy Birthday' to me at the start! Apparently every one of my teammates (and director!) had independently approached the race announcers about singling me out with a blush-inducing a cappella. I'm sure I turned several shades of pink, but appreciated the gesture nonetheless. The brief festivity helped me relax a bit before the 25 mph "neutral" climb to the circuit.

The "neutral" rollout quickly deteriorated into a frenzied fight for position, and the speed only increased the moment we reached the circuit. The QOM sprint shattered the field before we finished one lap. I managed to hang with the front group, readying myself for the job at hand. The laps flew by with furious speed, as we buried ourselves up the climb and hammered through the twisting, rollercoaster descent (awesome course). The first three laps rode like a fast crit, even though we still had 80k or so to go. On lap 2 (I think), Rachel and I began attacking. On the next lap, Ina Teutenberg (T-Mobile) and Felicia Gomez (Aaron's) got away from the field. I countered another attack by Rachel and kept the pressure on, leading half way through the descent.

Eventually, I popped off the back of the lead group, along with Rachel and Jessica Phillips (Expresscopy). We picked up Andrea Dvorak (Colavita) and Chrissy Ruiter (Cheerwine) and finished out the race as a group, our jobs done. We passed countless riders who had dropped out, and every lap I heard a couple of "Go birthday girl!" shouts. When we finally saw the 1-lap-to-go sign, Rachel cheered in a great Dave Towle impression, "One-to-go-one-to-go-one-to-go!" Finishing this stage race elicited a deep sense of accomplishment, made all the sweeter by getting to cross the finish line arm-in-arm with my teammate Rachel. We grinned at each other with satisfaction as we rolled through the finish.

Webcor Builders
Photo ©: Karen Brems
(Click for larger image)

Ahead of us, Ina and Felicia had been caught, and a second break got away, one with Amber Neben, Kim Anderson, Kori Seehafer and Mara Abbott. The four stayed away to the finish, where Kori went down through the final corner. In a most unfortunate crash, she broke her collarbone, but showing true determination, got back on her bike despite the pain and crossed the line in fourth. She would keep the sprinter's jersey she had earned through the previous stages. Well done, and we all wish you a quick recovery, Kori!

Kim Anderson (T-Mobile) won the stage, sprinting out of the break, while Mara took second and Amber rolled across the line having ensured a hard-fought GC win.

Mara won the QOM competition and maintained 2nd in GC (more flowers!), while Katheryn moved up into 3rd in GC. Further, we won the Team GC, and with all eight of us on the podium, the podium boy had his hands full! Taking pride in our work as a team, this moment together on the podium meant a lot to all of us. You can probably tell by our ear-to-ear smiles.

With another successful race under our belts, we have a little down time ahead of us. The coming weeks will provide opportunities for recovery and, in my case, kicking this cold and getting a lot of work done.

Thanks for reading,

Amber

Go Green Tip #4

Running with the theme of reducing energy consumption, let's talk about water bottles. Next time you throw a pile of dirty bottles into your dishwasher, turn off the dry cycle and let them air dry instead. They will dry without the extra heat, I promise, and you'll be saving a heap of energy (and even more on your energy bill). Clean bottles - cheaper. That's how we roll.

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Thien Dinh

Images by Karen Brems