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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'.
Our trusty mechanic Bernard had driven the team car - crammed with trainers, chairs, tents, wheels, parts, tools, and a year's supply of Coca Cola, which would likely be consumed in less than a week by said trusty mechanic - ahead of us to Tucson, so when we landed at the airport, he was there to greet us. He gave everyone a hug, except for me. I think this is because he did not want to be associated with me after I ran across all of baggage claim toward Mara in melodramatic, pseudo-slow motion with arms outstretched (i.e. huge dork).
We loaded up our vehicles: a rented minivan and Bob's Big Red Truck, the only vehicle that would fit all of our bike bags. Bob is Helen's husband, and he would be our director for this race. Bob is about as Aussie as they come and had perfected a drawling, Western American accent, which he used to claim ownership of the Big Red Truck, as well as at every other possible opportunity.
The drive to Silver City proved more entertaining than expected, thanks to team radios. We enjoyed clever (well, debatably clever) banter - most of which involved jokes about Brits, Canadians, Aussies and Americans in a sharp-witted repartee. The Americans bore the brunt of the abuse, though the Canadians came in a close second.
The drive followed a seemingly interminable and desolate stretch of road through what I found to be a familiar landscape, as I grew up in the deserts of western Nevada. The endless colored layers of sprawling saguaro plains, colorful soils and wide-open cloudscapes revealed the stark, subtle beauty of the desert. Arroyos punctuated smooth plateaus, cut sharp and rugged by intermittent rushes of water.
The desert has a raw feel. It has not been slowly smoothed over by gradual or constant rain: instead, the coarse rocks and soils have been violently carved by flash floods and cracked by freezes and drought, extremes which embody the raw intensity and power of the desert, a fittingly fierce backdrop for this throng of athletes pushing one another to the limits of human performance, suffering and will.
Gila Stage 1: Time Trial
Our clan arrived in high spirits, laughing and joking despite the gusting arrival of a large storm cloud and raindrops. This is one of our secrets to success: we have fun no matter what! We love what we do, and we love racing together. And we live in a magical world of rainbows and puffy clouds. Seriously, though, we do have a good time, and I believe that's why we perform so well and so consistently. The Gila time trial was no exception.
The relentlessly rolling and windy course proved a good one for us. Rachel won the stage over Colavita's Dotsie Bausch, who also put forth a fine performance. Mara placed third, I placed fourth and Beverley finished eighth, so we stacked half the team in the top five and the majority of the team in the top ten. We celebrated that evening with wine and chocolates. Excellent.
Gila Stage 2: Mogollon
The speed for the 'neutral' rollout just about matched the speed of the 'neutral' rollout for Sunset at Redlands. Ouch. Once over the hill and on to the course proper, the pace slowed considerably. We went for the first intermediate time-bonus sprint, and I led out Rachel for the line. Dotsie threw down the gauntlet, though, giving Rach a run for her money, but Rach got the sprint. One down, one to go.
Expresscopy attacked the field in a good imitation of rapid-fire artillery, and Bev, Laura and Helen covered all of it without hesitation, making an extremely difficult task look effortless. For bonus sprint number two, I again led Rachel out to the line. Two for two. More attacks. Jessica Phillips (Expresscopy) got away solo. Our hesitation allowed the gap to expand too quickly and too much for comfort. Helen, Laura and Bev began an organized chase. I soon joined them, and together we brought the gap down from three and a half minutes to under a minute.
Near the base of Mogollon, they drove the pace yet again, closing the gap to Jessica Phillips even further and giving us a perfect run into the climb. We caught Jessica, and unleashed the Mara. Mara disappeared into the ether, climbing into the leader's jersey with a well-earned stage win, leaving the rest of us to fight it out through the gritty, winding ascent. Brooke Ourada (Cheerwine) climbed into second place on the mountain with a stellar performance, followed by Dotsie in third and Rachel close on her heels. A little tired from chasing, I knew I had to focus on climbing my own pace. I tore myself inside-out to keep the highest possible pace, but couldn't afford to surge. I finished eighth on the stage, just behind Leigh Hobson.
At the finish, we were all hugs and breathless smiles, cheering wildly as everyone finished. Laura had raced so hard that even her thumb cramped! Even bonked, cramping and oxygen-deprived, our attention remained on mutual admiration, thanks and celebration. Together, we owned this accomplishment. We celebrated that evening with wine and chocolate, again. Excellent.
Gila Stage 3: Inner loop road race
One of my favorite cycling memories occurred during this stage.
After leading Rachel out for the first intermediate sprint, (three for three!), the attacks began, and in the chaos of a highly aggressive race, we lost Bev, Helen and Laura. Rachel, Mara and I rode diligently and remained confident that we could play our cards well, if only with three of us. I ended up off the front in a break (for the fourth time that day) for the next intermediate sprint and sprinted for the bonus (four for four!). The peloton came back together as we approached the base of the final climb.
Suddenly, we heard a joyous announcement over the radio: "Webcor is back! We're back!" Sure enough, Helen, Laura and Bev flew up the side of the group, and - not content just blending in - swept across the front of the peloton, turned, smiled and waved. They had chased for over 80 kilometres to catch back onto the group. I was so excited to see them that I thrust my hand in the air and cheered. This was to become my favorite cycling memory to date. Seeing that strength of heart and fight and commitment in our teammates gave us all an enormous burst of energy and motivation.
Our teammates didn't just tack onto the group, either. They covered everything to the end, and even attacked going into the finish. These are the moments I cherish: moments of feeling completely connected, committed and selfless. We are in this for each other - all of us. I won't soon forget that picture of those three waving from the front of the peloton: we're baa-aaack. For me, this memory embodies the heart and determination that grow from selfless commitment to a team goal - working with teammates like these makes me a stronger, better rider.
I don't want to detract from how well other teams rode that day: everyone contributed to a highly aggressive race, which is always a treat. Dotsie won the stage after several courageous earlier attacks, and after smoking attacks by Bev and Laura inside five kilometres to go, with a lead-out from Helen and me, Rachel sprinted into second on the stage, followed by Gina Grain (Expresscopy).
Gila Stage 4: Criterium
We continued our podium sweep in the criterium, with Helen working an early break, from lap two, to the finish. Jill McLaughlin of Touchstone won the stage - a surprise to many, but not to those of us who know how strong she is from the local Northern California racing scene! Helen sprinted to the line for second after closing a gap to Jill following an attack in the last few hundred meters.
After the race as we warmed down on trainers, the TIBCO team realized they were parked into a corner, blocked by our team cars and trainers, as well as a line of very large cement barriers. Bernard, team mechanic and apparently a former (perhaps current?) World's Strongest Man contestant, hoisted the enormous cement block out of the way, freeing the TIBCO van and staff. Not wanting to leave downtown Silver City in disarray, he then shoved the cement barrier back into its original position. We half expected him to jump into the nearest telephone booth and emerge with a red cape, but no. Don't be fooled by his mild-mannered alter ego in the grey Webcor shirt: we have the buffest mechanic around.
That night, we ate at Jalisco's, a great Mexican joint downtown in Silver City. If you're ever in Silver City, I highly recommend the chocolate cake at Jalisco's - epic proportions, and epic taste. We couldn't finish a stage without chocolate now, could we?
Gila Stage 5: The Gila monster
The last stage is the crown jewel of this tour, finishing on a grueling climb into Pinos Altos. At the start, we heard that it had been snowing at the finish that morning. We rolled out through the neutral section with our whole team at the front. Helen had to get a last-minute radio swap at the start (very smoothly handled by Bernard), so as we rolled along through the neutral, Bob came over the radio to test the new earpiece: "Helen, talk to me." In response to her husband, Helen said, "Oh baby!" We could not help but crack up in hysterics, always a good way to start the race
I led Rachel out for the first sprint, which she won (five for five!). Soon after, I covered an attack by Sarah Tillotson (Colavita) that initiated the break of the day. I was instructed to sit on, as our GC leaders were back in the main field. Sarah was also sitting on, so we took the opportunity to discuss the history and implications of the Gila cave dwellings as we passed the sign. She imparted some fascinating observations and historical facts (for example, earlier dwellings were constructed in open plains, suggesting a time of peace, whereas the cave dwellings are more defensive structures, implying unrest among ethnic groups and a need to protect against aggression by other peoples during the time of their construction). I like to think that I learn something from every race, but today's cornucopia of knowledge proved far more bountiful than usual!
We soon came up on the last intermediate sprint. I moved near the front, as did Sarah. Soon, it was just the two of us at the front, wheel for wheel in a bit of a drag race. It was clear we were the only two going for it, and we found it a little funny that we were so obviously half-wheeling one another as we ramped up our speed for the sprint. We actually laughed out loud briefly, and I jokingly mimicked the theme song from Jaws as we approached the line: "Duh-nuh. Duh-nuh. Duh-nuh-duh-nuh-duh-nuh…." Then we sprinted. I managed to squeak up the right in a good-natured tussle for the sprint bonus (six-for-six!).
The break stayed away to the climb, and my job was to mark Brooke Ourada (Cheerwine), as she was highest on GC in the break. Marisa Asplund (TIBCO) attacked out of the break on the climb, and I continued to mark Brooke, as Marisa was over seven minutes down on GC. In a very strong performance, Marisa stayed away to win the stage. Given the way the tactics played out for the stage race, Brooke was left to set tempo to the finish, whittling our little group down to four: Brooke, Sarah, Melissa and I. Sarah jumped first for the final sprint, followed by Melissa, then me. I won the sprint out of our little break to take second on the stage. My teammates Rachel and Mara had attacked the group behind to bridge up to us, and nearly caught us by the finish. Taking first and second on GC, they rolled across the finish line hand in hand, grinning from ear to ear.
Our gracious and gastronomically gifted hostess - Sue Schiowitz - baked us homemade brownies, which she gave to us at the podium ceremony. I can't think of a better way to end a stage race!
Later, she made us a decadent meal of home-cooked beef brisket, roasted chicken, salad, potatoes, and polenta. We ate until the onset of food-coma prevented any further movement, then laughed our way through a little celebratory wine. We found Bob a cowboy hat to go with his western accent, both of which suited him very well in Bob's Big Red Truck as we drove back across the cactus-dotted landscape to the Tucson airport.
Stay tuned for stories from Joe Martin and Tri Peaks, as I continue catching up on all the crazy fun we've been having on the road.
Thanks for reading,
Go Green Tip #7
Play the Planet Green Game at http://www.planetgreengame.com: it's full of interesting facts and helpful suggestions, all of which are based on sound economic and scientific research.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Bob Kelly
Images by Helen Kelly