Monday, August 20, 2007

Brandt 10th at Crit Nationals

Ally - after crit nats

I am VERY PROUD to announce that our lady, Ally Brandt placed 10th at crit nats last weekend. That's right, Ally was racing for Williams Cycling Pro Women's Team.

Ally's report below!

"Most races split up because a break is up the road and a chase group forms, or the pace is high and riders get dropped. But the attrition in the women’s elite field at Crit Nationals was because of crashes. Cool rain was the theme of the weekend in Chicago – all Saturday afternoon and into the night was a mix of light and heavy rain – never letting up enough for the streets to dry, and temps were hovering around 60-65 degrees. This was a stark contrast from the sauna-like weather we’ve been enjoying in Texas !

As I stood at the staging area in Downers Grove , I glanced down at my Williams Cycling kit and smiled, my Williams Wheels were race ready and my Quattro Assi was tuned to perfection. I was front and center and not to be budged or intimidated by anyone to give up my position, I cleared my head and relaxed. I’ve been practicing this routine of calming my nerves and focusing. But it’s hard not to get sucked into the tension and activity buzzing around us – the announcer rambling on and on about the illustrious resumes of my competitors, the “National Championships” banner stretched across the road above our heads, the spectators pointing at us, our bikes, our wheels and taking pictures, the empty podium off to my right awaiting the top 5 and new National Champion, the CyclingNews photographer snapping off a slew of pre-race pics. And then the call-ups begin. One day, in the very near future I’ll be among those girls to get called up at an NRC race, but until that point I awaited the announcer's famous words, “And the rest of the women’s elite field!” and charged the start line.

A few brief words by an official and we were off. The roads were soaked, but rain had subsided and for the first time in 36 hours the sun was peaking through the clouds. I honestly don’t remember much of the first 5-10 laps other than several primes being called. I recall not being as far forward in the field as I would have liked at all times, but also I felt very in control of my surroundings and able to move around the field when needed. Around 35 minutes I peaked at my watch. This is about the time during a crit when I start snooping around for breaks and itchy legs wanting to get up the road. My plan was to get in a late-race break – the winning break – and attack the break for the win.

As we neared the mid-race prime – one that is hotly contested because it’s worth nearly the same as 1st place! – I noticed the sky was darkening and the air dropped a few temps – rain was coming. The sprinkles started and the crashes began. It seemed for a few laps crashes were happening all around me – my sign I needed to move closer to the front to not have to use my brakes or be around those braking. Girls were locking up, washing out, overcooking corners and skidding along the curbs. I got body-checked by a girl going down and I fought to keep my bike upright, and then later avoided another crash off to my right by skidding around a corner with my left foot on the ground. As I refocused I felt my rear wheel was bouncy – I was sure I had a flat. I stared back at my rear wheel, trying to think if someone ran into it, was it flat? And thanks to my recent viewing of “Peaceful Warrior” I “threw out the mental trash” and convinced myself if it was a slow leak that I was better off than the other girls in the rain because my psi was lower and then forgot about it.

As we approached the final 10 laps it began to pour. It was also around this time when I realized a break was not going to happen. Each lap I worked to move up among the top 10, and slowly I would get squeezed out and pushed back to around 30th. I repeated this every lap, knowing the farther up I was in the field the less likely I’d be in a crash and the better position I’d have going into the finish. During each of the last 5 laps, there was at least 1 crash that took at several girls. It was crazy – I felt literally as if girls were crashing all around me, and I would stay up right and keep pressure on the pedals and ride through it.

As we came around with 1 to go it was a little surreal. I looked around and there seemed to be only about 20 of us – soaked to the bone and gritting our teeth in the pouring rain. I thought to myself, “This is it. This is THE group”. As we approached the backside of the course, Anna Lang launched an attack which caused a flurry of sprinters to try and grab her wheel. Our group was single file going into the last 3 corners with Jen McRae and Anna Lang with a slight gap over Tina Pic and everyone else. I sat in roughly 12th with a little smile inside seeing Jen up in pole position. As we rounded the last wet corner, delicately and on edge, I got up out of the saddle to pass just a few more girls to eek out a top 10 finish. I listened intently as the announcer proclaimed Tina the National Champion, Jen second and Anna third. Fellow Austinite Shontelle Gauthier finished 7th – that makes 3 Austin girls in the top 10!!! Must be all those Thursday Night Crits with the boys!

I stayed to watch the podium – top 5 grace the stage and receive flowers and champagne, and of course 1st place slips on the stars and stripes. I soaked in every moment of the podium presentation – the interviews, the announcements, the champagne spraying, the posing for pictures. Next year I will be up there…and next year I’ll be standing on the top platform. "