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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

Diarist Amber Rais
Photo ©: David Pierce
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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'.

Catching Up

I've been on the road for several weeks now, and with all the racing and travel, I now have a lot of material to cover! After Redlands, I came back to my home in California to rest up and get well. Thankfully, I recovered from my cold by the time Sea Otter rolled around.

Sea Otter madness, or 'Operation Noah's Ark'?

Webcor's Rachel Heal, Helen Kelly and Beverley Harper
Photo ©: Ted Huang
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The annual three-ring cycling circus held at Laguna Seca in Monterey, California, began with a gloomy downpour. That made us a bit anxious as the racecar track on which we'd be racing (and screaming down the infamous Corkscrew descent at 100 km/hr) would likely be slick, especially when you consider the oily residues left by the race cars. By the time we were ready to warm up, however, the sun had popped out and dried the landscape, leaving us sweaty and slathering on sunblock. At the start, though, we could feel small rain droplets foreshadowing more.

Within a few laps, the rain fell in earnest. Still, conditions weren't bad: nothing we hadn't seen before! Our team rode a beautiful race. I gunned for the intermediate sprints, aiming for the sprinter's jersey, while Rachel and Mara worked together going after the QOM (Queen of the Mountain) title.

I won the first two intermediate sprints and felt great, gathering momentum with each lap. The team helped set up Mara and Rach on the QOM laps, and they were doing quite well, trailing Aaron's Felicia Gomez by just a few points. About eight laps into the race, the skies opened without mercy.

A river runs through it: the course at Laguna Seca
Photo ©: Karen Brems
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The rain fell so hard it stung like hail as we careened through the Corkscrew descent. I could barely see eight feet in front of me and couldn't get a full breath as the wind blew so hard through that section, but this is bike racing. I kept my focus on the race and on taking good lines, considering the elements in my peripheral thought as nothing more than a factor to consider through the corners.

We tore through rivers of mud and attacked through flowing water inches deep on the course as though they weren't there. With about 12 laps to go, my teammate Bev attacked on the climb, separating the group through the Corkscrew, and I got caught behind a few slower riders. I began leapfrogging from wheel to wheel and bridged solo to the lead group.

I caught them just as they rode through the start-finish. As we started up the climb, I looked around: six riders in the break, three of us Webcor. Just then, the lead moto cut us off halfway up the hill – completely halting the race. The weather had already begun to let up, so we were confused as to why they would stop us. We had already endured the worst of the storm!

A happy team, despite the weather.
Photo ©: Beverley Harper
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As we huddled in cars, soaked and mud-covered, we learned that they'd cancelled the race: no results, no prize money, no jerseys, and no podium. So much for those hard-fought 12 laps! We had been having so much fun! I was particularly bummed about the sprint and QOM jerseys, as I had been leading the sprint competition. But life goes on, and we had a good time anyway.

After bundling up in some dry clothes, we embarked on a Tour de Sponsors, visiting all the folks who make it possible for us to race our bikes. Sea Otter presents a unique opportunity for us to meet and thank a large number of our primary sponsors for all their help and support.

Despite the rain-soaked mud paths and countless puddles, we had a great time talking with everyone. We're quite lucky in that the folks with whom we work not only support us, but are also fun! We visited Justin Slarks and Tony Karklins of Orbea bicycles, those responsible for our fleet of sweet racing steeds (the stylish and sexy Orcas); Suzette Ayotte of fi'zi:k saddles; Henry Horrocks of Schwalbe Tires; Chris Wyman of Kaenon; of course, our friends John and Linda Elgart and Jim Helser from Voler; Alana Stewart of Lake Shoes; and Andy Jasper of Speedplay.


Helen Kelly, Amber Rais, Laura MacKenzie, Nenad Rodic,
Photo ©: Helen Kelly
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After Sea Otter's deluge, we carried on the standard of riding only in epic weather systems. Helen, Rachel, Laura and I packed up and drove to Reno, Nevada, which is where I grew up and where my parents still live. My parents kindly welcomed my teammates into their home for a casual two week training camp.

The day after we arrived, we went for a quick easy spin, during which we encountered winds of up to 30 mph (50 km/hr). On a five percent climb, we opened our jerseys as sails and the tailwind alone pushed us uphill as we coasted!

That evening Rachel and I entered a local co-ed criterium out by the airport. As we rolled around for warm-up, we noticed an ominous black cloud approaching from the west. It swallowed the mountains completely, silhouetting the downtown casinos. On the next lap, the casinos had disappeared into the black, as had the sun.

The black sky was nearly upon us, so as we rolled to the start, the local guys decided to cut the race down to only five laps. We raced five very hard laps, and upon finishing into a 30mph headwind, snowflakes began swirling about us. The tiny flakes were a novelty to our Aussie teammate, Helen, who has not seen a winter in four years!

We packed up and headed to the grocery store, where midway through shopping, we noticed the weather had turned to blizzard conditions. This was funny and exciting, except that I only had cycling shoes with me and had opted to walk around the store in my socks, instead of my cleats, hoping no one would notice. I now found myself in a bit of a bind. Helen was quick to the rescue, she went out and drove the car around to the front, handing Laura her shoes out the window. Laura then delivered the shoes to me in the store. Now that's teamwork!

Amber and Rachel contemplate options
Photo ©: Helen Kelly
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The next day – Wednesday – we opted for a sweat session on the trainers in the garage. Thursday, determined to ride outdoors despite freezing temperatures, we climbed to Geiger summit, on the eastern side of the valley. The snow fell in earnest as we neared 6000 ft, and by the time we reached the summit, conditions worsened to a near white-out. We quickly zipped up jackets and descended the hill, emerging from the blizzard into dry desert air below the 6000 ft mark, continuing a cold but mercifully dry ride around the valley. We didn't have a camera to document the insanity, but we felt satisfied with our ultra-hard-core-extreme road riding session.

The next day, we climbed over Geiger Grade through the old mining town of Virginia City, down Gold Hill into Silver City, and back up the truckers' route to Virginia City, where we stopped for fudge at Grandma's Fudge Factory. We had seen the sign for the fudge factory back on Geiger Grade as we climbed, and it had bolstered our spirits as we attacked the hill. Grandma's Fudge Factory was everything we had dreamed of and more. Rach and I settled on some chocolate-vanilla swirl - an excellent choice.

Outside the fudge shop, we watched a quick-draw competition in action. Yes, you heard right: quick-draw, as in cowboys and cowgirls lined up with pistols in their holsters, poised to draw and shoot on signal. The lone cowgirl in the bunch seemed to be outdrawing and outshooting all the cowboys around her. We could not believe how fast they moved their hands. If we blinked, we'd miss the whole thing!

Our Commonwealth riders got a kick out of this Wild West spectacle and the old mining town. Virginia City looks like all the old western towns in the old western movies, except that all of the buildings are true originals and that the town is truly an old western mining town, built around the gold rush and silver lode, complete with gambling halls, saloons and old mines that threaten the structural integrity of the whole mountainside. If you're ever in the Reno area, this is a must-see. They also have camel races in the summer, with real camels. Seriously!

A woman has got to have nice shoes!
Photo ©: Karen Brems
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Another great climb in Reno is the climb up Mount Rose. The Mount Rose Highway starts down in the valley, at around 4000 ft, and climbs up the western side of the valley into the Sierras to 8,889 ft at the pass (highest year-round Sierra pass). We had to do this one as well and were rewarded with breathtaking views of the mountains and the valley below.

While the roads were dry, we climbed up through snowy alpine terrain, past ski resorts, over the frozen, forested summit and down into Incline Village on the shore of Lake Tahoe. The descent into Incline Village left us thoroughly chilled, so we stopped in at Starbucks for some cozy warm beverages. These did not seem to do the trick, as we remained very reluctant to venture outdoors again!

Laura, our resident sprinter, ventured an optimistic observation about our route: "Thank goodness it goes up!" Hearing this from our sprinter, we nearly collapsed with laughter and promised to quote her on it later at the Tour of the Gila (a notoriously hilly stage race in New Mexico, to which we were shortly headed).

Other highlights of our camp included eating at Awful Awful, a hole-in-the-wall burger joint at the smallest casino in downtown Reno, where they serve the infamous Awful Awful burger, so called because it is "awful big and awful good". At Awful Awful, your burger is cooked to order, and it is the best burger you've ever had. When Rachel tried to order her burger rare, the guy at the counter was caught off-guard by her British accent (rare = ra-ah) and couldn't decipher what she meant.

After repeating herself countless times, he finally said, "Oh, you mean ray-er. I thought you were a cheerleader, saying rah, rah, rah!" We doubled over with laughter. Next, we watched live trapeze acts at the Circus Circus Casino arcade, played video poker at the Silver Legacy Casino, and enjoyed some sweet down time at the Chocolate Bar (I recommend the dark hot chocolate with a shot of Chambord liqueur – pure decadence!).

Rebuilding Together

Painting never looked so good!
Photo ©: Patt Baenen
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We returned to the Bay Area for Webcor's annual Rebuilding Together event, just before leaving for Gila. Webcor strongly believes that as a successful company, they have an obligation to meaningfully reinvest in the local community. To this end, Webcor annually chooses a local community building project to which they donate materials, time and manpower. All of the employees volunteer a Saturday to join forces in building, landscaping, cleaning, and painting for the project, allowing administrators and field workers to work side by side on the job site in a way that gives back to the local community.

The whole gang poses
Photo ©: Patt Baenen
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Last year, we renovated a Boys and Girls club in Pacifica, and this year, we repaired and upgraded the Bair Island Aquatic Center (BIAC) in Redwood City. BIAC is a non-profit organization offering community rowing and paddling programs, allowing community access to some beautiful, protected natural waterways for exercise, sport, education, and recreation.

We rebuilt and reconfigured the docks and boatyard, in addition to upgrading and improving the boathouse, handicap access, and landscaping. We were inspired by the commitment, generosity and hard work demonstrated by all of the Webcor employees. Plus, we got to work with power tools.

The upcoming block of racing promises a bunch of good stories, so stay tuned for entries on Tour of the Gila, Joe Martin Stage Race, and the Tri Peaks Challenge.

Thanks for reading,

Go Green Tip #6

As much as possible, buy locally-grown food. According to the Worldwatch Institute, buying and eating locally grown foods offers many benefits: enjoying fresher and tastier food; supporting your local economy; avoiding the risk of large-scale food contamination; ensuring animal welfare; and limiting the effects of transportation costs on the environment and your wallet. A healthier you = a healthier local economy = a healthier environment. Win, win, and win – just what cyclists love to do!

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Beverley Harper

Images by Karen Brems

Images by Helen Kelly

Images by Patt Baenen

Images by Rachel Heal

Images by Ted Huang