It Takes a Village: CA/NV Elite Criterium Championship Win

Photo Credit: Danny MunsonPhoto Credit: Danny Munson

Crossing the finish line first doesn’t just happen. The framework for success is laid much earlier and by people and instances that today, seem like a brief blip on the radar. These happenings were paramount in sewing the fabric together to create a win. The tapestry that is my Elite Criterium Championship win has been woven for years, beginning in junior high with family, coaches and teammates instilling work ethic and passion.

Leap-frog to 2014 where I am surrounded by an extremely supportive team at KHS-Maxxis pb JAKROO, how could I not be successful! Our team traveled to the quiet coastal hamlet of Lompoc Friday for 3 days of racing at the 805 Criterium Weekend. The events were staged as an Omnium so we could receive points for our finishing places. The queen stage would be held on Sunday at the Avenue of The Flowers Criterium, also the CA/NV Elite Criterium Championship.

Paul Abrahams, our team director and my coach, stresses every day that each opportunity we have to pin a number to our jersey and race, is our World Championships. Every time we toe the line, we should race with passion and commitment to win while seizing the opportunity for learning and development. I approached this past race weekend with the goals of representing our sponsors on the podiums, winning at least one of the criteriums, and continuing to develop as a savvy bike racer. As luck would have it, I won the race that awarded me a jersey and a title.

Photo Credit: Danny MunsonPhoto Credit: Danny Munson

Luck: Opportunity Meets Preparation. I have never been one to hinge much on luck until I read the previous quote. From the sidelines it may look easy, but I have chosen to do extensive work and preparation while at the same time, giving myself the chance to see and capitalize on the opportunities for success the race presents to me.

Sunday I went into the race as I would any other event. Bantering with Brian, sending a few work emails over breakfast and last minute bike prep. Once at the race, I took some time to ride the course to watch and feel the wind while checking for weird pavement changes. This also gave me the opportunity to watch the finish of the 45+ Masters race as they came through the last left hand turn and see how they tackled the sprint. I have learned that my biggest allies are the elements and the course. The more I know about them before the race begins, the better off I will be.

Knowing the championship was on the line at the race and that I was a marked rider, I started the event more high-strung than usual. Brian and the boys were racing right after me and seeing their bright blue and yellow jerseys out of the corner of my eyes peppered around the course helped to calm me down. On a particularly windy portion of the course, Paul was standing next to the orange barrier giving me words of support. But all I could see was a talking head. Getting frustrated, I yelled at him “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!” At precisely the same moment he lifted up a white board with the word “WAIT”. Ugh – wait?! WHY! The race is going up the road, I’m 3rd wheel, not trusting the power in my legs to do their job. The next lap, a group of 5-6 threatening riders were up the road and I was clinching my teeth so hard I could have cracked a molar. Paul’s sign reads, in bubble letters, “GO TO THE BACK!” As any good 6 year old would, I yelled “NO!!!!!” If I could have stomped my feet and thrown my ice cream on the ground, I would have. But I knew he was right. I was having a huge inner battle, fighting my knee-jerk reaction to jump and weld and be in the move. Paul is teaching me patience and the importance of being crafty and very specific with my efforts. I knew he was right, and I to trust the plan. But man, it can be challenging – more difficult than any interval set I have ever done.

Photo Credit: Danny MunsonPhoto Credit: Danny Munson

What would you guess the next sign reads as I’m shaking my head in the back of the field? “BRIDGE!!” NOW??? The move is way up the road, gaining traction so I knew I would have to use the wind and counter another riders move as they attacked for a prime. Half a lap later, I had snapped the rubber band between myself and the field and I was railing through the wind solo, trying to straight line every corner to limit my time alone. Two laps later I snuck into the back of the breakaway, trying not to let them know I was there for a few moments so I could catch my breath and send another dagger look at Paul.

Shortly after, the field organized a chase and caught the break just inside 5 laps to go. Knowing it would be a field sprint, I tried to position myself close enough to the front to not be on the front. Having raced the course last year, I knew coming out of the last turn first or seconds was key to winning. The wind was a strong crosswind from the right, so I knew I needed to sprint up the left side and shut it down next to the barriers. By now I had released my jaw and was breathing slowly, allowing the teams represented in the race to set up their lead out trains.

Katie Donovan of Twenty16 was setting pace on the front to keep it fast going into the last lap with LaGrange train behind her. Another solo, rider Becky Siegle, jumped the group going into 4 turns to go with Omnium leader Alison Jones and SCVelo strong women Pam Schuster following. I knew this was move to go with, so I jumped in on the fun. Becky pulled off when we turned right into the block headwind leading into the last left-hand turn. Pam attacked and I knew she was my ride to the finish. I jumped as hard as I could and held her wheel through the turn, edging slightly to the left of her to get as much of a draft as possible. Pam slowed just a hair, I shifted and jumped to the left with every fiber of my body as close to the barriers as I could. Grabbing one more gear and unleashing a few more pedal strokes, I threw my bike across the finish line. First.

It was slow motion and I really couldn’t believe it. My whole team of boys were staged left waiting to get on the course for their race and were going bananas screaming encouragement for me. I thought they would jump out of their bib shorts! Each of my teammates has been pushing me to succeed, to have confidence and go farther than I ever imagined. Whether it is Dave literally pushing me back in at the end of men’s race, Fabi telling me to “C’mon Joy” to hold his wheel or Brian telling me he needs me to do work at the front of their race, they have each put me in uncomfortable training and mental positions that have fostered development and success. This championship is truly a team win!

Photo Credit: Danny MunsonPhoto Credit: Danny Munson

Poor Paul – the head of our Village, having to deal with such stubborn racers and having to break us like ponies. It is simple to train by data and efforts and do work on the bicycle. However, to become a great racer and a champion, I have to be willing to change my outlook and my thought patters – and that is more difficult than I ever imagined but more rewarding than anything I have done!

Joy McCulloch, 3rd Place Avenue of The Flags Criterium. Photo Credit: Danny MunsonJoy McCulloch, 3rd Place Avenue of The Flags Criterium. Photo Credit: Danny Munson

Thank you Paul, Brian and the whole team for having patience and belief in my abilities. I am starting to believe as well. I owe you all some churros and ice cream. Thank you also to my gracious competitors who continue to offer me encouragement, support and high-fives. This is truly an amazing sport and Village.

805 Criterium Weekend Omnium Overall: Joy McCulloch 2nd. Photo Credit: Danny Munson805 Criterium Weekend Omnium Overall: Joy McCulloch 2nd. Photo Credit: Danny Munson

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.

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