Doris Diaries: My First Out of State Race Weekend, Denver Edition
Eyes bursting open at 2:45am, the day of my trip was finally here. Several months ago, I had decided to fly to Colorado to visit some friends and participate in two criteriums. Worrying about the altitude, I opted to fly in the day before the race so that maybe I’d have a good level of oxygen remaining in my bloodstream from New York. Getting altitude sickness was the last thing that I wanted while on vacation. I caught an Uber at 3:30am to make my flight which boarded at 5:15am. Though it was early, I was bursting with excitement. Using BikeFlights, I had shipped my bike to Colorado beforehand so that I wouldn’t have to trek it through the airport or pay any extra fees to take it with me. After boarding the plane, I promptly fell asleep for the majority of the flight and made polite conversation with the passengers in my row for the hour that I was awake.
After we landed, I grabbed my suitcase and made my way to the train into the city center. Barb met me at a coffee shop next to Union Station where we shared a large hug, a coffee, and discussed our agenda for the day. Unfortunately, she had to work for most of it, but that was fine and I wandered around the city for a couple of hours to occupy myself. The city was relatively empty in my opinion… at least it seemed that way compared to New York City. It was designed as a grid system with wide streets and a plethora of bike lanes. There were also a ton of these motorized scooters that were randomly in the middle of the sidewalk. Upon closer inspection, I saw that they were called ‘Birds’ and could be rented with an app on your phone. I also saw lots of people using them in the city. The ratio of cars to birds/bikes was much closer here than in New York City where cyclists are fighting for their right to be safe on the streets. For me, it was refreshing to see that the infrastructure of the city supported alternate modes of transportation.
Barb and I met up then went to the Denver Milk Market for lunch. I had passed the alleyway where the seating area was and thought it was super cute so I made a mental note to go back. Similar to Chelsea Market, the Denver Milk Market had several eclectic establishments under one roof with small seating areas both inside and out. After a loop to see the options, we settled on salads and sat outside to enjoy the weather. In the shade, it was quite comfortable despite the thermometer reading low 90s. What made it not feel absolutely unbearable, like in New York City, was the lack of humidity. Luckily for me, Barb was able to leave the office a little early so we went back to her house where I got to meet her husband Rod and Sophie (their golden retriever). Sophie and I became fast friends!
I had used BikeFlights to ship my bike and it was supposed to arrive on Thursday, the day before I arrived in Denver; however, the delivery was pushed back to Friday. Barb and Rod were running registration for the Littleton Twilight Criterium and had to go to the bike shop for number pick up. My bike needed a signature upon delivery so I couldn’t go with them. Instead, I stayed at their house and hung out with Sophie for a few hours. I wanted to do an easy spin that evening, but I guess that wasn’t in the cards for me. My bike was delivered around 6:30pm and I hurried to put it together. I was finished by the time Rod and Barb returned and we went out for dinner, including Sophie. For the third time in my life, I had a burger (The 1st being McDonald’s in 11th grade, the 2nd being homemade by my bf about 2 weeks prior). After dinner, the exhaustion from my long day caught up with me and I promptly fell into a dreamless sleep.
We got up early and took a walk to Steam Espresso Bar, which was part of Rod and Barb’s morning routine. It had a very nice outdoor seating area so Sophie could come too. The thing I noticed about Denver was that everyone and their mother had a dog and brought them everywhere. People were also very friendly… almost offensively kind. Being from New York, where people would sooner curse you out, it was a little weird how nice people were! They held doors open for me even though I was nowhere close at the moment, asked how my day was even though I didn’t know them, and wished me a good weekend. I found myself wondering how cold rudeness became so acceptable to me that I found genuine kindness odd. The people in Denver had it right.
At 11am, we began race prep. I filled up several bottles, pinned my numbers, grabbed some snacks, and packed my bag. For lunch, we stopped at Snarf's Sandwiches (this place was really good… highly recommend). We had to be at the race to set up registration at noon. I wasn’t an official volunteer but I couldn’t just sit around until my race at 3:50 so I helped out. I found that volunteering was really enjoyable. I initially assisted with Day Of Registration and helped the Cat 5 men pin their numbers. Doing this reminded me of what it was like to roll up to a race and have no idea what was going on. I was happy to help. The temperature was quickly climbing higher and by the time Barb and I had to kit up, it was 94 degrees.
It was too hot outside to do a proper warm up, so Barb and I did a few laps around the block, then headed over to the start line. The field was very large and was composed of Cat 3, 4, 5 level racers. I chose a spot behind Barb and clipped one foot in awaiting the whistle. An Audi rolled up for a joy lap causing our field to shift positions and squash together a bit to allow it to pass. When the whistle finally blew, I was boxed in and the girl next to me had difficulty clipping in which caused me to have to practically chase onto the field from the start. Trying not to let a bad start affect my race, I began moving up the field. The sun was blaring, it was 95 degrees, and after about three laps I was tasting pennies. This race was moving so fast! I couldn’t hang on and was dropped after about 15 minutes or so. A few others were dropped with me and I tried to work with them but they didn’t seem willing to push so I began bridging. I was able to catch a few more girls and absorbed them into our group. One of them exclaimed, “thank God you caught me”… I think she was struggling a little bit. With 10 laps to go, we were lapped by the main field. I was screaming for our group to move to the right so they could pass us, but some of them jumped into the peloton. Fearing that I would get disqualified, I did not rejoin the peloton and rode a few laps solo until some other girls caught up to me. I was confused by those girls rejoining the pack after getting lapped and pretty much gave up on this race so I sat in for the rest of it. Afterwards, I went to go complain to the officials but Rod informed me that you’re allowed to rejoin the field if they aren’t pulling people. Well, I guess now I know for next time. What are you gonna do? I got changed and headed back to the registration table.
Data analysis for the Littleton Twilight Criterium (used Alice, so no power data)
The next races ready for number pick up were for the Pros. Barb mentioned how Katie Compton was her favorite and less than five minutes later, she arrived to check in. Barb was so excited and asked for a picture. I am pleased to say that the Pro racers were extremely friendly. I had a nice conversation with the Williams brothers and really regret not getting a picture with them. The reg table ran out of safety pins so I was tasked with finding some more. I wandered around searching the floor and asking people to recycle theirs if they already raced for the day. About an hour later, one of the volunteers had brought more packages of them. Crisis averted.
Watching the women’s pro field race was really humbling. They were so incredibly fast. I couldn’t believe the speed at which they rode and how easy it all looked. The men’s field was also incredibly exciting to watch. Seeing Justin Williams fly across the finish wearing stars and stripes with his arms raised proudly over his head was magical. The Littleton Twilight Criterium was a blast and I can’t wait to do it again next year!
We began the day at the usual coffee shop. Over cups of caffeine and sweet treats, we decided that we would go on an easy morning ride and then race the Bannock Criterium in the afternoon. Plan in motion, we headed back to the house and prepared for our ride. Naturally, I forgot to attach my GoPro to my bike so I had to rely on my cell phone for pictures. Rod and Barb led the way along the bike path. What I really liked about the route was that it was nowhere near the street. I wasn’t afraid that I was going to be struck by a car when I least suspected it. Having a separate space for cyclists is really important city infrastructure. It would be great if New York could take a few pages out of Denver’s playbook.
This was basically a grand tour of Denver that I was looking forward to. We passed through parts of the city and parks. On the very tiny section of climbing along the route, Barb suggested that I might be a climber. This is not the first time I have heard this while riding; however, I have not been able to truly test the theory. Denver has an incredible amount of natural beauty. The mountains in the distance against the blue sky with the trees in the foreground just stopped me in my tracks. I had to spare a few minutes taking pictures. Before I came to Colorado, I heard a lot about altitude sickness and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to ride without becoming ill. Luckily, that didn’t happen. I didn’t get lightheaded or nauseous… just a lot of bloody noses…. which may or may not have been altitude related.
About an hour before race start, the rain clouds began rolling in. Rod checked the radar and determined that we would be hit with the fringes of a pop up storm cell. Racing in the rain is very unpleasant as I learned from the Women’s Woodstock Cycling Grand Prix this year and doing a crit in the rain scared me. I put my personal safety over results. To me, injury isn’t worth it. Racing is supposed to be fun above all else.
My field was comprised of several different categories: Women’s Cat 4, Masters 40+, Masters 50+, and Masters 60+. The first thing I thought about this race was that it was really fast moving. Looking down at my Garmin several times throughout the first half an hour showed that we were riding between 23-25 mph! I was able to hang in the pack much longer than Saturday, but it was a real struggle. After three laps, I felt like my lungs were on fire but I pushed through. I couldn’t seem to gain any ground from my place near the back of the field. Finally, with 8 laps to go, I made a hard push from behind Barb in order to move up but I went too far and ended up on the front. I burned some matches that I couldn’t afford to lose and was shot out the back. I dug deep and tried to catch back on but just couldn’t. A few other women were in the same position and we worked together to finish the race. I rolled in dead last place. Never have I placed so poorly in a race! A little disheartened, but really not much, I took a cool down lap. After I pulled off the course, I bumped into one of the women that I was working with and thanked her for her wheel. She was very kind and introduced me to a few other racers. We chatted for some time as I caught my breath. On shaky legs, I returned to the car where I promptly laid on the ground for several minutes. My body had officially had enough. As I lay there, I reflected on the race and Rod gave me some advice. He said that I need to get better at picking the correct lines. I was wasting a lot of energy taking the inside of the corners and I needed to work on hunkering down in the pack. Having Rod there was really helpful and having someone there to tell you what you’re doing wrong is great for making improvements. All in all, racing in Colorado was a mixture of challenges, exhilaration, and humbling experiences. There is so much that I’m taking away from this experience and I am so glad that I decided to do this.
I peeled myself off the grass, mostly because Sophie was trying to lick my face, and we drove back to the house to shower/get ready to go out. The last time I was in Denver I had gone to the Renegade Brewery, which is what got me into drinking beer. I hadn’t had a drink in about a week to ensure that I would not get altitude sickness. We each ordered some drinks and I felt like I could finally relax because I had no upcoming races. My favorite beer is the 5' O’Clock in Bangcock which is a lemongrass and ginger beer. Totally wish that I could have brought it home on the plane with me. That night, Rod barbecued for dinner and Barb made a salad. It was a nice change of pace not to eat out. Needless to say, I fell asleep early that night.
I woke up on the later side, Barb had already gone out for a walk with Sophie. She had to work and Rod was flying out to California on business. We had our usual drinks/breakfast at the cafe and then everyone headed in different directions. It took me forever to pack my bike, though it was easier than the first time. My plan was to play tourist but I really just didn’t have the energy so I stayed local. After Barb got home from work, we took Sophie on a walk and got Sweet Cow which is probably some of the best ice cream I have ever had. Being a notoriously picky eater, people always try to break me out of my comfort zone and this weekend, Barb and Rod tried to get me to expand my palate horizons. For dinner we had sushi and Barb ordered this Spicy Tuna Tempura thingy that was really amazing. I guess she succeeded.
The drive to the airport made me really sad. I wasn’t ready to go home and I enjoyed my little trip to Denver. Giving Sophie one last pet and Barb a huge hug, I walked into the airport. I am so grateful to Barb and Rod for hosting me and I can’t wait to visit again!