Race Report - Independence Valley Road Race

Team Thrive! And Ibie!
The long awaited IVRR ! Why is IVRR so exciting? Because it's the "hilly" road course in Western Washington road racing - there are two major hills that make or break this course, each with about 250 feet or so of elevation gain real fast. In fact, the race basically starts at the base of hill one... so let's begin there!

We had 4 members of Team Thrive representing in the women's 4/5 - Lulu, Carolyn, Nikki, and me (Lo! Yay!). It was raining at the start (of course - are you surprised? You shouldn't be - rain is the null hypothesis West of the Cascades). We did a neutral roll out till the base of the hill (which means we went at 15 mph or so) and then BAM, the lead car honked his horn (see ya!) once we could see the hill in it's entirety (I confess, I audibly gasped. So much for psyching out everyone else).

We did two loops on this for Women's 4/5
So I was of course, standard dying troll at the beginning of the race, but Nikki came off like a bullet (how do I get stuck with this race beginning bullet people?). She, Lauren (team Cancer alliance), and a girl named Brooke (Bike Sale) sprinted up the hill. I remember seeing the gap between me and them form and internally thinking "this is it... this is the race... I have to get there". I was hurting as dying trolls hurt, but then I remembered what Jeremy Z once told me on a ride (picture a moment of clarity with Jeremy wisdom descending down) - "everyone is hurting. You just have to keep going and know that this isn't easy for anyone. They hurt just as much as you do". Another pedal stroke, a few more... then I crested the hill and kept going to catch up, zooming down the descent like dying trolls were chasing me (eek! It's better to be one!)

Nikki happily remembering that paceline
There were two other girls right behind me - Allison and Robin. When we caught up to the initial pack, this interesting dynamic happened. Lauren and I immediately kind of took pseudo leadership, both of us calling for a paceline immediately. Why? This was the breakaway group - if we could work together instead of trying to wear out our breakaway, we could separate ourselves from the rest of the pack and comfortably paceline to about 4 miles to finish (re: 36 miles in).

Well that's exactly what we did - we formed the most stellar paceline in the history of Women's cat 4/5 racing in 2017, each of using taking ~1 minute pulls and keeping the pace at > 20 mph. To keep it exciting, we made it a goal to pick off as many men as possible. Lauren and I, being the people we are, may have cheered as we picked off the men (give us a break, it was a long ride). We had 3 introverts and 3 extroverts in our paceline, haha. Occasionally Lauren would launch attacks to make sure there were no weak ones in the flanks. By doing so, Lauren really controlled the dynamic of our breakaway group - it felt like Lauren gave the directions and we were the responders (Air Traffic Control Lauren!). Hill 2 went by... Hill 1 again (ugh I really didn't like that one, but it went down smoother the second time) and then Hill 4...

Second Pass on Hill 2 marked the point where suddenly, it was every woman for herself. Our breakaway consisted of 2 2-man teams (Nikki + Lo, Lauren + Allison) and then two soloists (Robin and Brooke). It REALLY sucks to be on your own... and you're about to hear why.

Oh yeah, picture mud everywhere and in your eyes
 while going 20+ mph for 26 miles
Brooke was an extremely good hill climber and launched a mini attack (attempt to breakaway) on the second pass on Hill 2. Her attack was met with a counter attack by Nikki and me... incidentally caused by me yelling "Nikki, ATTACK" which was supposed to mean Brooke was attacking but then Nikki attacked (it worked better than I thought it would!). This sprint fest on a hill almost dropped Allison and Robin. Allison, to her credit, is a real champ - she was coming down with a cold and was hurting by this hill. However, her team mate Lauren, slowed our pace a bit to give Allison the chance to catch us (you do this by going to the front and changing the pace). Allison ultimately went on to win the race #spoiler #thePowerOfTeamMates

The last four miles drove Nikki absolutely nuts. After having this beautiful paceline for literally 35 miles, suddenly no one wanted to be in front and our pace slowed to 14 mph. Nikki and I had pre-established that she was going to be our sprinter - chips were on Nikki. This meant that I planned to lead out Nikki into the final sprint which is effectively a move that costs the lead-outter a victory but can really benefit the team mate. We had a bit of a role reversal where I was yelling at Nikki to get off the front ("but I just want order again!")

Ultimately, we forced poor Brooke to the front from -4 miles to -1000 m from finish. I was behind her, with Nikki behind me and Team Cancer Alliance behind us, biding their time (smart women). Brooke did this interesting thing (almost fish-like) where she would move side to side in the lane, basically making impossible for me to draft her. I was fine with that - I was working for Nikki and Brooke wearing out in the front was A-OK with Operation Thrive. Brooke, we owe you a finish at some point.

IVRR podium
Brooke started sprinting at 1000 m to go, and I passed her pulling everyone with us. 200 m line came up fast though, and the Cancer Alliance team passed us without Nikki unable to get out from behind me (who was resuming dying troll after a 1000 m sprint). Next time Nikki, our beautiful plans will come to fruition! It was a super close finish, with Allison taking 1 (Lauren led her out), Lauren 2, me 3, and Nikki 4 with Brooke and Robin behind us.

 It REALLY pays to have team mates with you... I can't imagine having done this race without Nikki who carried me a few times and checked on me - we were in this together! Carolyn and Lulu, likewise after the field fracture at Hill 1, found each other and pacelined together to pick people off. That's how this works. If the Cancer Alliance Team had had 3 members instead of 2... well, it might have been really ugly for Nikki and me.

This was an amazing race though - Nikki's face after we found each other after the finish line was nothing short of priceless - "THAT WAS SO MUCH FUN!!!!" By "FUN" Nikki means safe and somewhat masochistic, without imminent doom from dropped water bottles and with multiple hills to cause near cardiac arrest. When Lulu and Carolyn finished, they had the same post-race euphoria (Lulu: "THAT WAS AWESOME!") As we do more races, I just feel closer and closer with these ladies, both my team and my arch nemeses (but hey, it's all good. No water bottles were thrown).

Go Thrive! Go Bikes!

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