Ontario Easter Sunday Grand Prix: Channeling my Inner Giraffe by Joy McCulloch
The first criterium I won was at Ontario. I snuck into a 3-rider breakaway in the women’s 1/2/3 race and as an unknown new category 3, I out-sprinted the others for the win. I had never practiced sprinting on a road bike and I really have no idea how I won. I just did it. Fast-forward 5 years down the road, things are much different.
Going into Sunday’s event, I knew it would be challenging. It was not the pace or the duration that would be an issue for me, it would be the thinking! I have spent much of the my road racing “career” as a domestique and lead-out for the final sprint, leaving me slightly befuddled at figuring out how to win a bike race for myself. Knowing the race was only 40 minutes long and would include categories 1-4, patience would be my biggest ally.
The players of the day would be SCVelo who had 5 riders and LaGrange with 3. There were also a handful of ladies who reminded me of my raw self five years ago: novice, strong and hungry. The best-case scenario for me would be to get up the road in a breakaway with one rider from SCVelo and LaGrange plus one of the strong “rogue” riders. However, I soon realized that nobody wanted to lose and everybody wanted to be in the move. What this creates is a snake-like string of riders welding moves back together so that they can be at the front. As frustrating as that is for me, I know all too well that this is how I raced my bike for a long time. I could throw power around like it was confetti, but when it came time to be there in the finish, the piñata had already been broken and I was left with tootsie rolls.
Being able to accept the course the peloton has chosen is tough. Half way through the race I knew the group would not allow a break and me trying to initiate one was like banging my head against a brick wall. The field sprint was inevitable which provided me a great opportunity for growth. I also realized I was an extremely marked women with a very large target on my back. I will take that as compliment, as I have worked hard to be a trusted wheel in the peloton, but it can still be just a bit annoying. It also pushes me to think, think, think – which is what I really need!
With 5 laps to go, I relaxed and settled into position out of the wind but also out of the fray. SCVelo and LaGrange had the chance to set up their lead-outs and I had the opportunity to surf their wheels and capitalize on their efforts. Coming into the final few turns of the last lap, I was on Angelica Frayre’s wheel, SCVelo’s sprinter. Her teammate Pam Schuster was leading the charge and took her through the last turn. Angelica jumped early as I followed, knowing the long drag-strip of the finish would be a tough one for me to conquer. Angelica started to fade and I felt the hot breath of the chasing riders on my neck, I knew I had kick it into gear and start my sprint.
It literally seemed like forever, and it was pretty close. Looking at my file from the race, I sprinted for 18 seconds – that’s over two bull rides at the rodeo! FOREVER! Keely Brooks of LaGrange had smartly tucked herself on my wheel and nipped me by a tire length at the line as we threw our bicycles to contest the victory.
I was super pumped! But I lost! Yes indeed I did, but I did several things I have never done in a race before which need to be tallied in the “win” column. I sprinted from the field and placed on the podium. I threw my bike in the finish. And I sprinted the way I have been practicing – thanks to my coach Paul Abrahams. I have had the opportunity to do several motor-pacing sessions with him and work on sprinting with some quality feedback. This is way less glamorous than it sounds. Having a skill broken down and viewed under a microscope can be very humbling and slightly humiliating. My first few attempts were compared to “a baby giraffe playing the piano” and that’s how my Spirit Animal was born. Since that fateful day, I have been assigned “giraffe work” on the bike and I am more than pleased to say that we are all seeing improvements.
Although I did not repeat my win of 5 years ago, I achieved many small victories which I know will culminate in more success down the road. Seeing the eager cat 4s and new racers compete with unabashed excitement was really cool and I am encouraged that the future of women’s cycling in Southern California is very bright.
Ontario Grand Prix Women 1/2/3: 1st Keely Brooks – LaGrange; 2nd Joy McCulloch – KHS-Maxxis pb JAKROO; 3rd Hannah Swan – Strive Racing.
Thank you KHS, Maxxis, JAKROO Custom Apparel, Shimano, Serfas, Hammer Nutrition, Rudy Project, IRT Wheels, Xpedo, Velo Saddles, Praxis Works, Rennie & Associates, Q2, Bike Religion, Chamois Butter, WD-40 Bike, Bicycle Blue Book and the Management of IPA sports.