May 17, 2011 By jdevarennes
Advertised as challenging and technical, the Tour of the Dragons was a new 2-day stage race located in the “Shires of Vermont” between the Taconic and Green Mountains. The Tour of the Dragons consisted of three extremely difficult stages:
- Individual time trial, 11 miles
- Downtown Criterium, 1 km, 4 corners
- Road Race, 62 miles with significant climbing and dirt roads
The race was well attended by the NEBC women which was very exciting. Clara Kelly powered over the challenging climbs in the road race to take an overall GC 5th place finish in the Pro 1/2 field. Jacqueline Zider also slayed dragons in the road race securing a 4th place GC finish! Overall this was a great weekend of racing, team building, and hill climbing. We will mark our calendars for next year and practice our 4 km dirt hill climbs in anticipation of more Dragon slaying next year!
General Classification Results – Category Pro 1/2, 16 Starters
Clara Kelly, 5th Place
General Classification Results – Category 3/4, 30 Starters
Jacqueline Zider, 4th Place
Mary Hynes Johanson, 11th Place
Elizabeth Cummings, 14th Place
Katherine Snell, 16th Place
Julianne Oberle, 22nd Place
Lisa Ludwig, 23rd Place
Julie Lockhart, 24th Place
Clara Kelly, Cat Pro 1/2, GC 5th/ TT 12th /Crit 10th /RR 5th
Impressions from the Tour of the Dragons Race in Bennington, Vermont
Thank God for spring and end of the semester! Let’s ride our bikes!
I was drawn to this race by the opportunity to ride a new hilly road race course in Vermont. Unfortunately, in order to do this I had to ride a time trial and a crit- and get up at 4:30 am as I was too cheap to pay for two nights of hotel. Cold drizzle, time trial bikes, and a lot of brand spanking new kits greeted me Saturday morning in Bennington. I was happy to see that many of the NEBC Cat 3 and 4 women had come to race, also my former teammate Sam Derry. Another former teammate Elle Anderson was racing for a rival team. I had hoped that the race would draw some more Cat 1 and 2 ladies. With only 16, we were a small group.
Time Trial: This was my favorite time trial course yet – very pretty. I would like to ride it again. I think that it would be a very fun course to practice on and try to improve your time. I didn’t have a lot of ambition here considering that it was my first time trial effort of the year, I was riding the course sight unseen on 6 hours of solid sleep, and I was on a road bike. I wasn’t too surprised to find myself in the bottom half of the results. I was surprised that one of my ankles was quite sore after the race – this did not bode well for the road race. I later found out that my saddle had slipped back on the rails – so I need to beef up the pre-race bike inspection. It is a good thing that I wasn’t taking the competitive aspects of the time trial very seriously or I might have been put into a very grumpy mood at a left turn early in the course. I realized that the course was open to traffic when I approached an intersection with 3 cars backed up at a stop where I needed to take a left turn. I could not see a marshal around the cars nor did I have a lot of room to the right of the cars. I shouted a few things in an effort to vent my frustrations while generously applying the brakes.
Crit: Afternoon Bennington was a ghost town. Some cyclists whipped around an empty course all afternoon while others slept in cars or on open grass. After a nap with a soundtrack of persistent lawnmover, I killed time limping around looking for the sign in. Finally found it in an unmarked building that had appeared to by vacant. Strange vibe in that place. I did truly enjoy a little art gallery on the course which was no customers business as usual in spite of the race outside the front door.
I’d like to congratulate the ladies from NEBC who told me that this was their first crit. Way to give it a go, ladies! Sam rode very well which was great to see.
Remember that saying “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything”? Maybe I should move on to the road race impressions. I wish that I had a helmet video of this crit to show as an example of some negative aspects of local women’s racing. The course was a very short 4 corner circuit which consisted of a rise, two turns, a thrilling turn at the bottom of the hill, and another turn. We had 37 laps to practice our skills in right turns and sprinting out of a corner. Before I continue I will concede that the promoter was in a bit of a hard place when it came to organizing the race because 16 ladies is not really enough for a race. However, a teeny tiny course is not really big enough for two fields either. The women’s 1,2 and 3,4 fields were run on the same little course and things went haywire quickly. Ladies were called to the line together which led to confusion. Written pre race communication had indicated that the fields would be started and scored separately with different numbers of laps for each field. The officials made no effort to explain ground rules for running the two fields together and I think that we would have just set right off if the 3.4 ladies did not loudly protest at the line with their questions. We did not start, we sat as the officials explained their ideas for what I was sure would be a circus of confusion. The rules were that the 3,4 field would start 15 sec after the 1,2s. The fields were not to mix. The primes would be awarded on separate laps for the two groups. All would ride 37 laps. And with that we were off, well sort of. One of the Cat 3 ladies set off with the 1,2s, then had to stop and roll back, then try to clip in and change direction as the 15 sec were up and 3,4s sprinted off the line.
We set off with a good speed but even so I wasn’t shocked when some of the feisty 3,4s caught up and joined with our field. That was good to keep me on my toes as I couldn’t let my lack of confidence in the corners cause me to drift back away from the other riders in my field. I focused on working through many negative thoughts that I had about racing crits while staying ahead of the 3,4s. The downhill corner was a good challenge for me to focus on. One lap I was focusing on that challenge while negotiating the corner in the group when I saw a rider to the left of me wobble. Oh no, I tried to smoothly head to the right. Not sure what happen but that rider hit the ground and another (Elle Anderson I think) came from behind and made a spectacular flip of bicycle and rider over a hay bale than I could have ever imagined. Truly the most visually stunning crash I’ve ever seen. After that I decided to stop thinking about lines for the corners and consider the race as a video game. It was turning into an obstacle course with 3,4 riders spread all over. Meanwhile Silke Wunderwald was out collecting primes. I focused on moving into a good position for the finish. I was 3rd wheel with two laps to go, but failed to hold my place though the corners and ended up at the back on the last lap.
This was frustrating because I know I could have held my place with more mental focus and confidence.
I later found out that Katherine Snell also flipped over a hay bale in the same corner. I suggest more hay bales next year. Many it is good that there were no spectators because they could have been taken out!
Many of the 3,4 ladies complained after the race that some of them were drafting off of the 1,2 field. I think that this was true for the first part of the race. I didn’t see any ahead of me towards the end but who knows. In any case, I think that the results for the 3,4s were likely screwed up and I see why they would be upset.
Road Race: Yea! Road Race! We had a great day for it with sun and warm weather. The course was interesting. It was quite unusual in that the first half of the course was much harder than the 2nd half. The first 11 miles was ho hum, then a good climb on dirt followed by another good climb and a few more miles before the feed zone at mile 32 or so. Then another 30 miles with some shorter climbs. The 1st climb was a good challenge. I didn’t want to go so hard that I couldn’t maintain for the rest of the race so tried to pace off the yellow jersey, which is to say keep her in sight. I was happy to see Jackie from NEBC looking good after the first climb. The 2nd climb was also good, although in retrospect I should have pushed harder, anyway I made it over ok. At the bottom, we had a group of 4. Then we became 5. Then we lost a rider and gained a new one. Our group headed to the feed zone and rotated ourselves around for the next 30 miles. With just a few miles to go, we were neutralized so that the juniors could pass. Two lead riders came by and a few minutes later, I could see them hugging each other ahead of us. What was that?!? Hugging is for after the finish. We passed them and motored ahead.
I ended up last in the sprint. In retrospect there were a few places where I could probably have dropped at least one and possibly two of the other riders had I attacked on one of the later climbs. Unfortunately I did not give myself the opportunity to see how this would have played out.
On the way home, we stopped at a dairy farm to spend a good portion of my winnings on cheese. So much for dropping weight before the next race.
Jacqueline Zider, Cat 3/4, GC 4th / TT 8th / Crit 10th /RR 4th
Headline: great racing, hill climbing legs finally seemed to have returned after a 3 year hiatus!
TT: My only experience doing a TT was KSR last year. It was not pleasant. Headwind and not enough engine in my legs made me go slow. This time around I felt really great. It was a short (<11mi) course and while I had warmed up on the trainer beforehand, my legs didn't really have any kick until about 10-15 mins into the TT. Then I started to kick it and felt really strong, esp. since the mileage was going by so quickly. I powered up the hills and flew on the downhills. My goal was to make sure I wasn't too far off the leader so that I wouldn't have to make up too much time in the RR. Mission accomplished - only 3 mins off the leader in the 3/4 group. Finished 8th of 30 starters.
Crit: There are two words I can think of to describe them but neither are appropriate for a wide audience. Closest comparable: insanity. Short (1.0k, 0.6mi) loop and they only started the P/1/2 women about 15 seconds ahead of us. I got a great position at the start, which was a first for me. Usually I'm busy trying to figure out to get clipped in. We caught the P/1/2 field in the first lap and apparently there was a crash already! Fast course with 3 sharp corners and one less sharp one. People were being idiots, trying to ride with the pro field (not allowed) and cutting corners to try to get slightly better position in a pretty slow race during the first half. I thankfully maintained decent position and didn't get caught up with the pack of 40 women that hit a corner and led to teammate Katherine Snell's run-in with the hay stacks. My legs felt strong and I was working well with the top ladies. I mantained good position but made the mistake of leading the other girls too much, I think. Oh well. I don't consider myself much of a sprinter, so I was happy to stick with the pack until about the last 6 laps. Legs felt strong but did start to ache so I just tried to hold on.
RR: 62 mi course with 5 MAJOR climbs. First several miles was a walk in the park. They started all the women together, and people were chatty and hanging out. Then the onslaught of the first hill, which was on a tightly packed dirt road. Much to my surprise, I was hanging with the top girls! My legs felt good even though the hill was brutal. I fell off the lead 6 or 7 girls towards the top, but the 3/4 leader and I worked together to chase them down. We caught them at the bottom of that first hill and then we started working in a paceline. But my legs wouldn't go! Ugh. Oh well. I knew that another group of girls wouldn't be too far behind, so I conserved a little and TT'd for a while. Hit the second climb (ouch!) and got up that one but knew the second group of girls would catch me soon. I think they did at some point on the downhill or ensuing flat, and we had a great group of us working together for a long time. Uphills, downhills, flats - we were crushing it. Felt so good. Hills were tough but I was ok. Then mile 49 hit and my left thigh was cramping up. And we had a hill to climb! Unfortunately, that's when I lost my group of girls and ended up doing the remaining 10+ miles on my own, but I was happy to have finished 5+ mins ahead of the second group and only 3+ mins behind the group that I had been with before. RR finish: 4th place.
Overall finish: 4th place. I got some QOM points too, so I was pumped about that. The $35 I won for 4th place GC finish went to much-needed pizza and snacks with teammate Elizabeth Cummings afterwards.
Elizabeth Cummings, Cat 3/4, GC 14th/ TT 16th / Crit 21st / RR 12th
Time Trial: Weather: mid 40s and cloudy.
The time trial course felt fast, but challenging. The first half of the course included a few sharp turns and a climb that made finding a rhythm challenging. The second half of the course, however, was quick and fun. Overall, a great experience for my first TT.
Criterium: Weather: mid 50s and sunny
This was another technical/challenging course, with sharp 90 degree turn right after a downhill. The 3/4 race started the same time as the P/1/2, which was something of a logistical nightmare on the 1km course–there were 2 separate crashes within the first 5 or so laps! I rode much of the crit with fellow NEBC-er Mary Hynes Johanson; it was great to work with a team member during this stage. This was the first criterium race for a few women on the NEBC team and I think we were all happy to have survived!
Road Race: Weather mid 50s and sunny
All the women (P/1/2 and 3/4) started this race together; we spent the first 15 miles or so in a large pack at a moderate pace–it felt like a leisurely ride through the beautiful Vermont scenery! Once we hit the first hill, however, people made a strong push and the field broke into smaller groups. In the 3/4 field, the first group included NEBC teammate Jackie Zider. I rode with the second pack, including fellow NEBC-er Mary Hynes Johanson, for the next 15 or so miles, only to lose them on a fast descent after the second hill climb. I made a strong push to catch up to this group of about 8 riders, but could not catch them and rode the remainder of the road race alone. This course had a couple of monster climbs, some awesome downhills and fast flats too; it was a fun, but hard course.
Overall: This was a great weekend with a good group of challenging rides. We had a strong NEBC showing (and a B&B with the most amazing chocolate chip cookies ever), which made the experience even better!
Mary Hynes Johanson, Cat 3/4, GC 11th/TT 15th /Crit 22nd /RR 10th
GREAT showing by the NEBC ladies and I was really excited we had such a good crew there. Loved doing a stage race in 2 days and just getting it over with so quickly. I’ll definitely be going back, provided that the race promoters separate the field for the Crit and/or make it a longer crit so that the groups stay separated. It was just too dangerous.
Bennington Road Race
The women’s fields (all categories) started together. It was a neutral start. I was at the back. The group split up during the 1st major climb. I was able to pass several riders during this climb and after the descent we formed a group of 7 – 8 riders. We worked well together with a double pace line alternating back/forth.
The 2nd climb was long and steep. I reached the top (received 1 pt. for QOM) and headed for the descent where the other riders caught up and we worked together until the finish. We picked up several riders who fell back and ended up with approx. 11 riders. There was one unsuccessful attempt at a breakaway.
We slowed down about 4 miles from the finish. I’m not quite sure why — I thought it was some sort of race strategy. I was positioned in the back the final few miles which made it difficult for me to move to the front.
The finish was a slight downhill left-hand turn with a slight uphill finish. We all finished together. My placing across the line was in 10th place.
The mountain climbs (and there were several) were tough and this was not a race for the faint of heart. And yes I would ride it again!
Katherine Snell, Cat 3/4, GC 16th /TT 7th / Crit 17th /RR 18th
I very much wanted to support this new, and what sounded like a very challenging, event after first hearing about it at the NEBRA Promoters meeting in January. The Promoter, Jim Marshall was very enthusiastic and supportive of women’s racing.
Reading the tech manual had me a little concerned about the time trial course so I made sure I previewed the course when I was out near Bennington for Tour of the Battenkill. The TT course is technical and hilly but not overly so, making a time trial bike an advantage over a road bike. The TT started with a long, false flat climb which occasionally pitched up a little more and made itself noticed. There are a couple of short descents which led into turns forcing me to scrub any speed that I gained. After a sharp 135 degree left turn, there was a steep descent with enough curves to make me slow down a little. This then led into a significant climb which had me in my lowest gear and climbing at well under 10 mph. The payback for this was then a long gradual descent for the last 2 miles though one had to work to keep the speed up. Finally the course finished with a 400 m long climb at about 3-4% grade. I had figured that I should finish the 11+ mile course in about 33 minutes. I finished in 33:13 which was good for 7th place. The best time was just over 30 minutes. Although I was a little disappointed in my finish position, my Powertap said that I managed to pace the TT pretty well.
The Criterium was a fast four corner course with a wide, slightly graded run up Main St and into a tight right corner. There was then a climb up the side street and around the corner followed by a fast descent into the narrow third corner. The last corner was an easy wide turn back onto Main St. The start of the Crit was a disaster and a fine example of how not to stage a start. The plan was for a staggered start but both the Cat 1/2 and Cat 3/4 fields staged together and there was mass confusion. We were sorted out last minute after call-ups. I was in good position at the front but false started. With only 15 s between the fields, I was not ready at the actual start and started way behind the head of the pack. It was tough to move up on the climb and descent and then I was caught behind a crash in the last corner which created a big split. I tried to chase back on but couldn’t quite make it to the back of the group. Eventually I was lapped by the Cat 1/2 field and hopped onto our Cat 3/4 group. After a lap or two we merged with the Cat 1/2 field and shortly after there was a crash in the third corner about 4 wheels ahead of me. I had nowhere to go but over a hay bale or over crashed riders and chose the hay bale which I contacted at about 20 mph. I went down but was fortunately relatively unscathed and went to the pit to get a free lap. I got back in the race but my heart was no longer in it and I rode for survival. There was vast confusion in the results as well. I was listed as 17th but there were others who finished ahead (Mary and Julianne amongst them) of me that were shown as behind in the results.
I must say that I was not looking forward to the Road Race. The course was 62 miles with over 4600’ of climbing over 5 climbs. Two of them were 3-4 miles long with grades exceeding 15% with the first one on dirt. I managed to start near the front of the race where I felt comfortable and had options. We were combined with the Cat 1/2s, started and maintained a very mellow 20 mph pace with almost no one taking turns at the front. At one point the pace dropped down to about 16 mph and I got on the front to bring it back up a little. Surfing near the front was a good move and allowed me to get my only sprint points for the race since I had missed out at the crit. After about 12 miles the nice easy flat (relatively) stretch abruptly ended with a tight left turn which led into the first climb. I was about mid pack but drifted off the back by the top of the first step into the climb which kept going ever steeper for another 2 or 3 miles. By the time I reached the summit, it was just my self and Kate Leppanen from Quad Cycles which was cool since Kate and I had rode over 400 miles together at training camp in Arizona this past spring. We settled into a rhythm where Kate would pace me up the climbs and then jump on my wheel for the descents, one of which was over 45 mph. We worked together for 45 miles keeping any potential competitors behind us but not catching anybody ahead since we were both too tired to chase hard. As we pulled around the corner to Burr Burton Academy, Kate was just happy to see the finish line and I jumped ahead to finish 18th and 16th overall in GC.
Congrats to all of my teammates for finishing and doing great at a very challenging Stage Race (This was Julianne’s first stage race and I think Lisa and Liz’s as well). I’m looking forward to doing Killington with everyone on Memorial Day Weekend.
Julianne Oberle, Cat 3/4, GC 22nd/ TT 24th / Crit 20th / RR 22nd
I wanted to try a stage race this year but I wasn’t sure I’d be ready for this one. Last minute and in the spirit of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” I decided to go slay dragons, or at least try to survive them. So then Bennington became my first stage race experience J.
Time trial: This was my first ever time trial and it was painful. It seemed to go uphill the entire way except for one fast descent before a final push uphill to finish. The roads were nice with beautiful rural farmland, not that I enjoyed any views during my TT. I was in the hurt pretty bad despite not going that fast according to my computer. I remember thinking to myself how much fun pretty much ANYTHING else was and how there was almost nothing fun about the time trial. I’m usually scared to go downhill fast, but by the time I made it to the big downhill I was so relieved to get a rest that I didn’t care if I crashed… I wasn’t going to lose any free speed by touching my brakes! I was happy to be done with that. I was passed by a few riders, my legs hurt, so I thought I did pretty bad. When I looked at my power file later I actually did pretty well for where I was in fitness and managed to pace myself well.
Downtown Crit: 35 laps of high-speed fun and chaos, that pretty much sums up the crit. They started my field 15 seconds after the pro women. I am a strong starter so off the line I got in a great position for the first corner and by corner two we caught the pro women. Why did they think 15 seconds would keep us separate? Anyways, we tried to sort out from the Pro 1/2 field and do our own thing but more chaos followed. There were crashes on the downhill corner, one teammate went flying over the haystack at the bottom when racers crashed in front of her. At one point the race was neutralized to clear a crash. Our results were all pretty confused since lapped riders weren’t pulled. The course itself was great, fast, and fun. I’m looking forward to more fun fast crits like this now, minus the chaos. Hopefully next year enough women will race and we can separate the women’s fields into separate races.
Road race: I was hoping this would be where I’d do well, but the legs protested racing as soon as the first epic climb started. We raced with the Pro field, starting conservatively at an easy pace. The climbs were more challenging than I imagined despite the warnings on the website. Once I was dropped on the first climb, I got through the rest of the race with a teammate and that made for a very enjoyable ride. We went a comfortable pace for the most part working together using our strengths. She flies down hill with no fear so I hitched a ride. There was no easy way up the climbs and at one point had it not been for people cheering I would have gotten off my bike and walked.
Overall I was happy with the results. I knew this was going to be hard, but it proved more difficult than I gave it credit for. Also all the women in my race were pretty strong and for the most part more experienced. My goal was to finish all three stages and I did. So mission stage race accomplished…. next year I’ll come back and try not to get dropped on the climbs!
Lisa Ludwig, Cat 3/4, GC 23rd/ TT 26th / Crit 25th /RR 23rd
Bennington was my FIRST stage race and FIRST criterium. Considering the significant FIRSTs, I set achievable goals. 1- finish all stages, 2- stay vertical. The first stage was the TT. Very cold, damp morning and I felt lethargic. Just couldn’t get myself going. (Maybe due to missing my regular jolt of Starbucks?) Didn’t really “wake up” until the 10th mile and by then the race was almost over! The good news is I felt warmed up and ready to tackle the criterium in the afternoon.
I started racing in 2009 and have avoided doing a criterium due to fear of danger. However, I decided now that I’m 50, it’s now or never! I was concerned (terrified) about the Pro/1/2s racing with the 3/4s! And apparently, it was confusing for all. Basically, I just kept pedaling until the official in the white car told me the race was over! J A few notes about the crit… I started at the back even though I’m not supposed to. I avoided two crashes (phew…). Loved the fast downhill/3rd corner! J Got dropped from the large pack (where the other NEBC women were) near the first crash – as did others. So I worked with a few women from other teams for most of the race. We got split up towards the end when the pros came through. So I ended up pedaling to the finish alone. All in all, had a blast. Going around corners fast with no-breaking was fun!
The road race was the toughest and longest race I have ever done (62 miles and a gazillion ft of climbing). I was ready to get off my bike on the second major climb (grade 18%) but didn’t. J I wanted the race to be over at 30 miles but it wasn’t. L I didn’t want to slay dragons. I wanted to lay down and rest! Thankfully, the heavens sent a guardian angel down to rescue me from my misery early on. Her name was Julianne Oberle. Her wings got us up the hills and my big swimmer shoulders, got us down the hills. J About three miles from the finish, Julianne picked up the pace and I just didn’t have the oomph to hang on. In my mind, that was ok. I just wanted to finish steady. That’s what I did. What great experience and sense of accomplishment to get through it all!