While her teammates battle it out at Superweek, Jessi Prinner had the opportunity to guest ride for Team Danbury Audi at the Tour de Toona. Following is Jessi's report from The Prinner Posts
Sometimes the most entertaining part of bike racing is not even the racing itself, but the other trials one must endure in the sport. One such trial for me was trying to get to Pennsylvania, which I ended up driving the 600 miles from Chicago by myself. I departed from home at a brisk 6am and made my way along interstate 88. All was fine and dandy until 88 disappeared. Just like that the road turned into 290 and 294 and 290-something else and my trip suddenly turned into a cluster. Was I even headed the right general direction anymore? Was I even in Illinois anymore??? Was I even in the United States?????? I don’t know but I ended up going straight into downtown Chicago, right in the middle of rush hour and confusing roads splitting in a million different directions. And then I found the Skyway. Just about everyone and their cousin were jammed going into the right split and I curved left onto a gorgeous piece of pavement that one could look for miles without seeing another car. So I put the car in cruise control, sat back and cruised my way out of Illinois and through about a fortunes worth of tolls in Indiana, Ohio, and finally Pennsylvania.
When I finally got close to the house the team rented, my car’s muffler decided to stop working, which would have been bearable if it had not been for the steep, brutal climbs that lead up to the top of Blue Knob Mountain Park. I apologized to the locals ahead of time for any inconvenient noises my 1998 struggling Saab was making. It took me several tries to find the cabin atop the mountain along a gravel twisty road in the woods. After arriving I immediately went for a spin to get the juices flowing after 10 hrs in the car, and my only option was a swift descent that made me climb for about an hour to get back to the house. Like I said, easy spin.
The Tour de Toona required only 5-8 rider teams in order to race, so all during Nationals I was networking and meeting Pro Women’s Teams to see who could accept a young guest rider for this race. Luckily Danbury-Audi agreed to pick me up, directed by Greg Wolf.
After spending just a day and a half with the team I was already feeling comfortable and welcome, as everyone was exceptionally friendly and fun to be around. The team consisted of Kathleen Billington and Rebecca Wellins (who were permanent riders for the team) and guest riders Emily Collins, Alisha Welsh and Liza Rachetto.
The first race was a 3 mile prologue on Wednesday beginning at 6:50pm around a fast, exciting course that featured quick, steep hills, fast downhill turns, and a downtown crit-like finish with about 10 turns. It was more like a punchy sprint interval workout without any real consistent effort, perfect for the fast-twitch riders like Tara Whitten who ended up winning the race. And not so perfect for the not so fast twitch riders like me who came in half-way down the results sheet, only 34 seconds off the winning time.
Luckily our cabin atop a mountain happened to be about 200 feet from the finish of Stage 2, which is priceless to an exhausted cyclist that just climbed 6 km after a 70 mile race. Early on it was our goal to keep the race fast and aggressive, which called for attacks, chases and counterattacks on my part. I was quite surprised at how well I rode up the first few QOM climbs, staying in the first 20 riders on the steep Pennsylavanian hillside. Of course I can’t say the same about the last long climb, but I was quite satisfied to finish in 28th place, with teammate Alisha Welsh in 2nd for the day, all 30 lbs of her somehow taking the green sprinters jersey. Not sure how they worked that one out.
Friday was a rest day, and I was awarded the Dirtiest Bike Award for having the director take a scrub brush to my frame. I honestly cannot fathom how my bike always comes out so much filthier than everyone else’s. I would think it was a fluke if it weren’t for the fact that I also won the Dirtiest Bike Award just about every day at Nature Valley too.
We had to wake up at a painful 5:30am on Saturday for an 8:10 am start, to which I insisted we protest such a ridiculous decision on the promoters’ part and go back to bed until noon. Unfortunately no one else seemed as reluctant to wake so early as me. The stage was supposed to be 91 miles with at least three longish climbs, including a 6 km one that simply went up the opposite side of the mountain that we climbed at the end of the Thursday stage. I wasted myself early on, keeping the field together as one of our riders had gotten up the road in a break. Tibco was especially keen on getting a rider to bridge to the break as they kept hitting the field left and right with attack after counter attack. It wasn’t hard to pick up on the pattern and soon I simply began following Tibco rider wheels knowing that they would probably fly next. I made the mistake of trying to cover Tara Whitten’s wheel, who happens to be track omnium World Champion. For me it was basically the hardest 700 meter pursuit I’ve ever done in my life that ended in me hovering about 30 feet off her wheel straining every muscle in my body at a perceived effort of about 10 for about 20 seconds before physiology dictated that my VO2 max was not up to the task and I sat up only to have a half-mile long, strung out field blow by me with no mercy whatsoever. I think it took me about 5 minutes to recover to the point I could finally see straight.
And then just when I’d about pulled a muscle trying to stay on the Whitten train, the motos pulled over the entire field and informed us we had gone the wrong way. So we got turned around and began racing again when about 15 minutes later we came to another screeching halt only to be informed that we had once again gone off course and had to turn around in the middle of the road. By that point the race petty much seemed like a huge joke, and I’d have been laughing if it weren’t for the fact that our 91 mile race suddenly turned into a 99 mile race.
After getting dropped on the mid-race 6 km climb, I settled into an 8 woman group that rode steadily to the finish over another two climbs, one of which had what seemed like a 30% grade on a gravel surface. For the first time in my cycling career I actually worried I might not make it to the top of a climb without falling over from 20 rpms and blown out knees and an inability to track stand. Fortunately my fear of looking like a fool prompted me to wring out my legs and make it to the top. After what seemed like 12 hours I crossed the finish line with a stomach ache. It turned out Alisha Welsh had an unfortunate crash and lost her 2nd place in GC, while the break up the road with our teammate got caught before the end. It was a brutal day for everyone, to say the least.
The next day was a 30 mile criterium, and I was secretly hoping they might shorten it the same distance our road race was increased by. Nope. Cycling is a merciless sport. My legs were trashed and it didn’t help that it was a technical course with an uphill and a fast downhill section with turns that would string out the field.
My first failure was not getting to the front on the line, which subjected me to the miserable back of the strung out mess with all the exhausted riders that kept opening up gaps and the riders that couldn’t corner to save their lives. And then on about lap three a crash happened in one of the turns and just like that I was off the back and my race was sadly over. I only lasted about another six laps before they pulled me.
But it turned out that I wasn’t the only one who had a weirdly miserable race. The yellow jersey wearer’s group got lapped by the field, and lost her minute lead and her jersey. Three of my teammates managed to stay in the front group and despite all their obvious pain faces got a top ten finish at the end. I’m disappointed I couldn’t finish but on the other hand it’s been perhaps one of the hardest physical challenges of my life. My mind said “GO GO GO!!” but my body said “hell no”.
Thanks again to team Danbury-Audi for supporting me in this race, as well as ABD (whose socks I wore for some events) because I couldn’t have done it without that sweet Madone.
See the second rider in the photo? Yup, that's me.