I never had the privilege of meeting Amy Dombroski, but I’d like to think that I share her passion for living life to the fullest, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity that the foundation established in her name has provided me.
I discovered the Amy D Foundation in late November, when a fellow Zwift Academy Competitor, Nicole Presspich mentioned that she’d raced with the Amy D Foundation Composite team at Pro Road Nats in 2017. I had just completed the Zwift Semi-Finals, and was trying to shake off the disappointment of having not been selected as a Finalist, my lofty dreams of a WWT Pro Team Contract for 2018 dashed suddenly, so I was throwing myself into making my own plans for the 2018 season: identifying and working on weaknesses, continuing to develop strengths, seeking out sponsors, and sending my resume to many US-based Professional Women’s Cycling Teams, in hopes of making the jump to the Pro Peloton “the normal way”. The general consensus from the teams that responded was that I needed more experience at the PRT/UCI level before being considered for a roster spot, so I switched my focus to identifying as many of the 2018 PRT & UCI races that I could manage to figure out a way get to & race on my own, while juggling my full time job . . .without destroying my finances!
While I was sending my resume off to Pro Teams, I also researched the Amy D Foundation, was touched by their mission, and everything that they have done to support, encourage, and enable women to chase their dreams in the sport of cycling. When the application window opened in December for a spot on one of their 2018 composite teams, I submitted my packet, crossed my fingers. . . and probably drove Des crazy with more than 1 or 2 follow-up emails over the next month or so!
Fast forward to March. . . I had discovered that finding Guest/Composite Spots at UCI races was more than a little bit difficult. How is an independent rider every supposed to gain the experience needed to “go Pro” if you must BE on a team in order to do so?!? I lacked connections at the “next level”, and I was still searching for roster spots at Joe Martin Stage Race, Tour of the Gila, Redlands Classic, Winston Salem RR, and the Colorado Classic, all of which require a Guest or Composite spot on a team of 4-8 riders to race. It was Mid-March, and JMSR was less than a month out, so I’d pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to make it to AR this year (and was SUPER bummed about it!).
Then, it happened! I opened my email Tuesday afternoon, March 20th, and there was an email from Katheryn letting me know that I’d been chosen to be a part of the Amy D Foundation team for JMSR!! EEEEEKKKK!!!! I think they heard me squeal in delight all the way in CA/CO! The team would consist of 7 riders (Beth Ann Orton – Mentor, Sammie Bosco, Tabitha Sherwood, Emma Swartz, Esther Meisels, Alex Christofalos, and myeself).
Fast Forward (again) to April . . . all team member, directors, and mechanic converged on the host house April 10th-11th. First off, can I tell you how AWESOME it was to have the ENTIRE team housed under a single roof! It made team meetings, planning, and coordinating effortless, and I can’t thank Rosemary & Jason enough for their generosity and hospitality while we were there! After all team members arrived, and initial introductions were complete, Katie immediately got to work cleaning and tuning our bikes as the team members & directors had our first team meeting, and were given our matching Lazer Helmets & Glasses, Pearl Izumi Race Suits & Kits, Handlebar Moustache Socks, and t-shirts. I was told that I didn’t need to worry about bringing a trainer because the team had Feedback Sports Omnium Trainers for all of us to use (SUCH a relief to have one less thing to worry about lugging around!). A couple of things here:
- It was an incredible and eye-opening experience to have a team mechanic who took care of EVERYTHING bike-related – from transport to cleaning to tire pressure to maintenance. I never had to give a second thought to my bike, how it would get where it needed to be, or if it was functioning properly on race day.
- Having a Team Director & Soigneur was again – beyond eye-opening, and an amazing experience. Our daily schedules were laid out for us every evening. We knew exactly where we needed to be and when to be there, and ALL we had to worry about was racing our bikes. No stressing logistics. No stressing feeding/nutrition/hydration prep. Just show up and race to the best of our ability. Wow. I never realized how much mental stress that other stuff added until I suddenly didn’t have to worry about it anymore. Kathryn and Des did a phenomenal job of “herding the cats” all weekend, and I honestly can’t thank them enough for such a wonderful “Pro” experience.
Shortly after our team meeting, we went for our first team ride. Although we all came from different backgrounds, ranged in age from early 20s to late 30s, had various strengths and weaknesses on the bike and a myriad of personalities between us, we all gelled extraordinarily well as a team right from the start. This was one of the things that I was a little anxious about heading into the week. I didn’t know if we’d have 7 riders all coming together as individuals, each with our own agenda, and racing independently, but in the same jersey, or if we’d truly be a team. A team, we were.
I think that we were all a little anxious riding in the team cars (yes. . TEAM CARS!) to the first race, but Tabitha kept things upbeat and kept our minds off of our nerves with her wit! 😊 I had all kinds of thoughts swirling around in my head. I’ve raced JMSR once before, 2 years prior, and had a lot of trouble on the hills. I was dropped in both road races about ¼ to ½ way through the race that year, so my own personal goal for day 1 was to race smart, position well, conserve as much energy as possible, finish with the peloton, and help my teammates out in any way that I was able to. I remember being uncomfortable/scared during the short neutral roll-out 2 years ago, so I was anxious about Day 1’s race -because we had a 6.5-mile neutral roll-out, which I knew would be full of nervous energy.
The team staged together, and being surrounded by teammates definitely helped with the nerves during the neutral roll-out. We had a head-wind over the bulk of the 1st half of the course, so positioning wisely was particularly important. I started out toward the front, but quickly fell into old habits and found myself shuffled to the back. Kathryn had given us some advice pre-race: try to ride in the general vicinity of each other, and if we noticed that we were behind all the other Amy D Foundation riders, it meant it was time to move forward. This advice proved to be very helpful for me during the first hour of the race. I’d slowly work my way forward, and then get shuffled back. . .over and over again. Every time I saw 6 Pearl Izumi Amy D Foundation Jerseys & bright orange Lazer Helmets ahead of me, I knew it was time to start the process again! Over time, I found myself having trouble moving up through the middle, and there was a small pileup in the middle of the group a few miles into the race, which made me all THAT much more comfortable moving up along the outside edges of the peloton. . . which of course meant that I was NOT positioning well, was eating wind unnecessarily, and was burning matches that I should have been saving! Beth Ann noticed what I was doing, made her way over to me, and informed me that my job, for the rest of the race, was to focus on moving up THROUGH THE MIDDLE, and holding my position better once I got to the front. . oh brother! Somehow though, hearing that from a teammate rather than dialogue in my own head was exactly what I needed. I moved up through the middle, and then doubled down on my efforts to hold my position and not give up wheels. Every time that I’d start to get shuffled back, one of my teammates would be there to give me a gentle reminder to hold my ground. And what do ya know – it worked! I realized after about 45 minutes of this that I wasn’t working NEARLY as hard as I had been over the first hour of the race. I found myself racing more confidently, and even covering moves on the front as we climbed out of Devil’s Den. From this point on, the race was honestly a bit of a blur because I was just focusing SO HARD on holding my position and trying to go with anything that looked dangerous. Beth Ann and I stayed fairly close to each other, and she helped tremendously by giving real-time feedback: when I was working too hard, when I wasn’t positioned as well as I could be, when I was racing really well! I went with several moves that didn’t materialize into much, but once we hit the tailwind over the second half, it was clear that the race was ON, and SOMETHING was going to go. Thanks in LARGE part to the help of the team – forcing me to focus on conserving energy early on, and calling me out on it when I wasn’t positioning well – I managed to make it into the break that stuck. The 12 of us worked together well for the first few miles, until we reeled in Emily Newsom with Tibco, who’d been off the front solo, but once we caught her, cooperation started to break down. I just let Beth Ann’s advice about patience and saving matches play over and over again in my head, as I battled the impatient voices in my head, and continued to do my share, but no more. A little while after the break was established, Katheryn and Katie pulled along-side in the team car (seriously – still so cool . . a TEAM CAR!), rolled down the window, and asked how I was doing. I gave them a thumbs up, and grinned from ear to ear. Was this really happening? Did a TEAM CAR just roll up to the break out of the caravan to check on ME? Yes. . yes, they did. Yet another experience that I will never, ever forget, and that I have the Amy D Foundation to thank for!
The rest of Stage 1 was fairly uneventful for me. The cooperation continued to diminish within the break, and attacks started going when we hit the final set of climbs. Our group splintered, and I found myself in 9th place heading into the final climb. I poured every last ounce that I had to give into my legs, glanced down at the Amy D Sticker on my top tube, and charged up the hill with everything I had left. Girls in front of me were fading, and I passed several over the final climb, moving into 4th about 200m from the finish, but my legs had given everything that they had to give, and as I clawed my way over the final meters to the finish line, I was passed by 2, and crossed the line 6th. The first thing that I saw after my eyes uncrossed was Des, standing there grinning and cheering and she gave me a big bear hug as I practically fell off my bike . What. A. Race!
Photo Credit: Brooks Bixler
The Peloton had pretty much caught the strung out break by the finish line, so the rest of the team crossed shortly behind me, and we re-grouped at the team car to debrief. We shared lessons learned, personal and team successes, areas for improvement, and I got the chance to thank everyone for their help getting me into the break. Race 1 was over, and we shifted our focus to recovery and preparing for the remaining stages.
This blog post is turning into a Novella, so I’m just going to briefly touch on Stages 2 – 4!
Stage 2 was the second Road Race, and was a point to point race with a tailwind most of the day, finishing in a downtown circuit loop, up the Crit Course Hill. It also happened to fall on my 39th Birthday! The team raced well again together today, and everyone worked hard to try to protect me/keep me positioned well in order to protect or improve our GC position. After ~60 miles of racing, we were approaching the sharp left/right that would lead into the final circuit, and Beth Ann had warned us that positioning was key at this point in the race, and that we needed to make sure that we were as close to the front as possible before that sharp left/right. I found myself drifting back, and fighting hard to move up, but was having difficulty being assertive, and “making holes”. . . The next thing I knew, Sammie was pulling alongside of me, motioning for me to jump on her wheel. She pulled me all the way to the front with a massive effort, and I tried to hold my position, but got “spooked” when a car found its way onto the course and there was a sudden shift of the peloton to the left. I was shuffled back to mid-pack, but Sammie saved the day yet again, and dragged me back up to the front, depositing me among the top ~15 wheels just before that sharp left/right. I held my position through the turns, and as we started up the next hill, Esther positioned herself in front of me and told me to “hold on!”. She helped to ensure that I held my position toward the front, guided me through the final two turns, and pulled me up the final kicker of a finish hill – the best birthday lead-out a girl could ask for!! Esther finished 15th, & I finished 17th, scored with the same time as the race winner, and the rest of the team finished just after us. I lost a few seconds to intermediate sprints during Stage 2, and slipped from 6th to 7th Place GC.
Stage 3 was the Time Trial, or as Beth Ann dubbed it, the “Climb Trial”! Time Trials are usually my favorite Stage of a Stage Race, and typically I can count on the TT Stage to move up in GC. . but this one was an entirely different animal, as it was 3 miles straight UP! The temperature had also plummeted overnight, and it was only in the upper 30s/low 40s in Devil’s Den Park as we rolled up. The team warmed up together on our Feedback Sports Omnium Trainers, and then set off one at a time to go tackle the mountain. I left it all out there, with an official time of 12:32, which placed me 32nd on the day and dropped me to ~16th (?) in GC. After the TT, the team regrouped and debriefed. We all shared the sentiment that we left it all out there, and were content with our efforts, especially considering the frigid temps. I was a bit disappointed in the fact that I’d dropped so many place in GC in the TT stage, which is usually my “clutch” stage, but everyone’s spirits were high on the ride home, and the positive energy shared by my teammates helped me not to dwell on it, and instead to shift my focus to celebrating successes and prepping for the next day’s Criterium.
Photo Credit: Dean Warren Photography
Stage 4 was the Criterium – an hour of racing around a 1.2 mile downtown circuit with one heck of a finishing kicker hill each lap. Everyone on the team did a good job of staging well, as we knew that positioning from the whistle was the key to success in this race. Unfortunately, although I was staged ideally, when the whistle blew, I made the newbiest of newbie mistakes: I **thought** I had clipped in, but realized as my foot slipped off the pedal with the first pedal stroke that I, in fact, had not… While I managed to hold my line and not panic, I went from ~top 15 wheels to nearly dead last wheel as the field surged around me while I was trying to get my foot back onto the pedal and clipped in. . . I spent the first several laps burning match after match as I worked my way through the strung-out single file back-end of the field, and riders that were getting popped up to the “main peloton” of ~50-60 riders that was more bunched up. Unfortunately, I connected with the back of that group at the very bottom of the finish hill on a time bonus lap JUST as there was an attack for the bonus points! The field surged forward just as I connected, and I just couldn’t will my legs to close the gap 🙁. Fortunately, though, after another lap or so, I found myself in a small chase group of 4 with Amy D Foundation Teammate Esther Meisels. Our small group worked well together in an attempt to minimize the time put on us by the maim field but ended up being pulled with 3 laps to go. The great news though, is that we made the time cut, so our finishing times were pro-rated for GC Scoring. We also had the chance to watch the end of the race play out, and cheer on teammates Emma and Beth Ann, who raced extremely well, and finished out the full crit!
Photo Credit: Dean Warren Photography
Looking back on my time with the Amy D Foundation team, I just feel so very fortunate to have been given this amazing opportunity. The program that they have really is amazing, thanks in part to their wonderful sponsors, and the amazing leadership/organizational skills of Kathryn and Des. They did an unbelievably good job of ensuring that everything ran smoothly from the time riders arrived to the time we headed home. The structure of the composite teams: providing a mentor who is able to give real-time feedback, advice, and encouragement to team members as they race, the knowledge shared during Pre-Race meetings and Post-Race Debriefs, the friendships made and stories shared – these things are absolutely invaluable. I can’t thank Beth Ann enough for ALL of the mentorship that she provided to all of us during our short time together. The knowledge and real-world race experience that I gained; the friends and comradery that was built with teammates, and the confidence that I’m moving forward with as a result are the things that I will forever be grateful to the Amy D Foundation for, and I’m going to leave the Amy D Foundation’s Heart Logo on my top tube as a constant reminder to #RideLikeAmyD.