Marianne Melling: Tour of Lawrence Race Report

The Tour of Lawrence was my first exposure to bike racing years ago when riding my bike was simply a release from the stresses of architecture school, and 25 miles was a long ride.  That day as I watched a field of women fly through the streets of Downtown Lawrence I knew that someday I would be riding with them.

Cut to this past weekend, seven years later, my first year as a Category 3 rider in the 1/2/3 women’s field at the Tour of Lawrence.  The weekend started off with the Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Street Sprints on Friday night.  My first two years at the ToL I managed to sneak in to the final round to compete for 6th through 10th place of which I took 10th place both years by quite a few bike lengths.  This year I had been practicing my sprints and was hopeful my practice would put me in to contention for a better place.  Unfortunately, I still placed 10th, but only by a bike length as two girls pulled ahead of me thirty meters to the finish line.

The Meadowbrook Apartments Haskell Campus race on Saturday is the most challenging of the weekend.  The course winds around Haskell Indian Nations University, it is relentless with fourteen corners and being over two miles in length.  It is not my favorite race by any means so I will just say that I placed 9th of 15 starters which I was very proud of.

Sunday is the day that I most look forward to at the ToL, the Free State Brewery Downtown Criterium.  It is a fast and flat one mile course in the shape of a figure eight, a course that suits my strengths, and the race that I dreamed of being in years ago.  I had two teammates to help me out; we had a plan, they would chase any attacks made on the field and on the final lap they would lead me out.  Molly Benton, an incredible time trialist, would pull the two of us on the last lap around to the final two corners where Brianne Guilford would lead me out in the final sprint.  But plans are meant to change while racing bikes…

The fifty minute race was controlled by Midwest Cycling Trek Stores Women’s Team who made up six of the fifteen starters.  They did a beautiful job of sharing the work, keeping the pace high and sending girls off the front for the field to chase.  Most importantly they formed a leadout train for their sprinters for each prime lap and then sat up and blocked the field creating a large gap.

From the start line I held a great position in the field, consistently being about fifth wheel.  When a prime lap came around I held my position but chose not to sprint (I wanted to save it for the final lap), but this meant that I kept having to chase down the sprinters, this was not the plan.  After the third time I chased down a break I realized that I needed to chill out and let my teammates help me out, I needed to trust them.  So I moved back a bit in the field to sit in and just watch it all happen, to trust that we would not let a break stay away.

Forty minutes in to the race I started to focus on my plan for the final sprint.  I asked myself: should I trust my teammates and let them lead me out or should I use Trek’s leadout train?  I decided to trust my teammates, and let Brianne, sprinter extraordinaire, take me to the finish line.  We flew through the last corner and unfortunately I watched the Trek sprinters a distance ahead of me that I could not make up.

I placed 9th for the second day in a row.

The thing I love most about bike racing is that it takes much more than great physical fitness; it takes smarts.  To place well one needs experience, the ability to read a race, to watch what others are doing and be prepared for what may come.  Every race I compete in I learn lessons, and as these lessons add up I get better and better.

Looking back, I can see how far I have come as a cyclist since I first dreamed of racing in the Tour of Lawrence 1/2/3 field, and as I look forward I see a new dream, one that may take a few years, to win the Downton Crit.