Kern County Stage Race is an epic event on the NCNCA racing calendar, with four events over three days in hot, hot Bakersfield, California. This year the event was held May 19 - 22 and almost all of our women's team competed.
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So we loaded up the team car and headed to Bakersfield . . . hills that is, swimming pools and energy bars . . . (Sung to the tune of the Beverly Hillbillies song.) The McGuire women showed up in force to the 9th annual Kern County women's stage race with eight category 4 women, four category 3 women, one category 2 woman and one Red Donkey pi?ata. For some of us, getting there was half the battle. Molly Van Houweling and her husband Rob lost their car to a "mechanical" on the way. Getting to and from the race involved no less than a rental car and a U-haul.
Day one started with the ten mile Bena individual time trial. You've never seen so much fancy equipment warming up for this race! Courtenay Brown made an early McGuire statement of intent and took first place in the category 3 TT with Sarah Lightfoot placing 2nd, only 10 seconds behind. (The rest of their field was at least one minute back.) One of our resident triathletes, Katja Schumacher, smoked the course and took second place in the category 4 field. Kudos to the other McGuire women who competed in their first time trial and "made it hurt the whole way." Showing that the team can overcome any adversity, Elaine Cheung and Sarah Lightfoot chased Sarah's wheel along highway 58 after it popped off the team car on the way home. Evidently a wheel traveling at 65 miles an hour is faster than some very exhausted racers so they're hoping to find it next year!
After a good nap and a little food, the thirteen mile Mt. Adelaide hillclimb was later the same day. The hillclimb starts at the "Enchanted Forest" which is this odd plastic castle-like structure stuck in the middle of some farmland. Based upon what we saw near the castle, it appears that the Enchanted Forest really can be enchanted. While most of us thought that the hillclimb was pure misery, apparently thirteen miles is just enough time for Monica Gill to compose the following poem in her head:
One minute to go, to the show.
Up a big hill, oh what a thrill.
I can't wait to get to the top
and drink a big pop.
I know this isn't a dream, I can feel my head in the steam.
The McGuire women flew up the mountain. In the category 3 field, Sarah "light as a feather" Lightfoot placed 4th and Molly Van Houweling raced to 5th. Liz "mountain goat" Vitai made the other women suffer and took 1st place in the category 4 field with the help of Katja Schumacher on the climb, an early attack by Monique Quandt and early pacesetting by Elaine Cheung, Virginia Solomon and Monica Gill.
At the end of the day, McGuire had five women who placed in the top ten in the category 4 hillclimb. Liz Vitai - 1st; Katja Schumacher - 2nd; Monique Quandt - 7th; Laurie Simonson - 8th and Julie Baird - 9th. (This was Julie's first top ten finish, on a grueling hillclimb no less!) Katja was awarded the Red Donkey pi?ata for her 2nd place standing in the overall General Classification (GC). Not to be out done, the category 3s had three of their four riders in the GC top ten: Sarah Lightfoot - 2rd, Courtenay Brown - 5th, Molly Van Houweling - 6th.
At the team dinner that night, we dined on Bakersfield's finest and excitedly discussed the next day's strategy. But more importantly, Jen Joynt and Molly Van Houweling brought their home baked cookies for us to sample as part of the McGuire women's lemon cookie challenge. (Yes, we will compete at anything, even baking cookies.) Based upon the submissions at Kern, the cookie referee proudly announced that Jen Joynt had won the initial bake-off. The referee then promptly stuffed her pockets with cookies to take back to her hotel room.
Day two was the Iron Mountain Road Race. In the category 3 race, the plan was
to send Molly Van Houweling off the front early just to see what would happen. 68 miles
later, we learned what would happen if you send a McGuire rider off the front
and no one chases her - she wins!!! Molly rode off the front alone for 68 miles
often with a four minute lead to win the day!!! Courtenay Brown worked hard to help Sarah gain precious time over the women behind her. Molly was ceremoniously
presented the Red Donkey award at the team car that afternoon. Special mention goes to Brooke Kuhn who had the legs to catch the pack even though she missed her start time. (However, missing the start time was not her fault as the race organizers clearly did not follow their usual "wait for all the riders in the porta-potta" policy.)
In the category 4 race, Elaine Cheung, Monica Gill and Virginia Solomon and Julie Baird set the pace early with Monique Quandt doing some early attacking. After the pack was whittled down to the climbers, Katja Schumacher and Liz Vitai duked it out with the first placed rider to see who would top the standings for the day. Katja attacked towards the end, dropping the first placed rider and placed 2nd on the stage. Liz sacrificed her standing in the GC to hang back and mark the first placed rider and came in 3rd on the stage.
By the end of the day, Molly was 2nd, Sarah was 3rd and Courtenay was 6th in the GC in the category 3 field. In the category 4 field, Katja Schumacher was 2nd and Liz Vitai was 4th in the GC. The rest of us were grinning from ear to ear after a hard day of racing and earning some very flattering tan lines!
Day three was the Walker Basin road race. Courtenay Brown experienced an early setback even before the race when her trainer attacked her pinkey finger, pinching it, and making it "purpley." Which "is not at all a team color." Despite this, Courtenay, with the help of her teammates Sarah and Molly, who gave a strong lead-out, took 2nd place in a frantic sprint to the line.
In the category 4 race, Monica Gill, Virginia Solomon and Julie Baird set the pace early and helped protect Katja in the pack. Monique and Liz were up front the whole race keeping an eye out for attacks and protecting Katja. With the help of Velo Girls Molly Romm and Cecillia Su, we made the race aggressive and had some great attacks with Laurie Simonson giving several lead outs. In the last lap, Katja took off with the first placed rider chasing her down. They duked it out until the finish line with Katja taking second as the result of a fantastic team effort.
Jen Joynt, as a newly upgraded category 2 rider, took on the big girls in the Pro/1/2 category and made us proud. Jen showed true McGuire tenacity and took 4th place in the Walker Basin Road Race and did not at all rest on her laurels after winning the lemon cookie challenge. Jen was awarded the Red Donkey pi?ata for her tenacious effort and great result!
Frightening that after the last road race of the weekend, while we were all sucking down our recovery drinks and eating everything in sight, Katja and Liz put on their running shorts and shoes and went for a 7 minute mile run. There is really something wrong with this!
Special thanks goes to Virginia Solomon who was our resident mechanic in addition to being a dedicated teammate. Special thanks also goes to Rob Van Howeling who spent the entire weekend helping with equipment, planning strategy and even helping the race promoter, Bob Liebold, hang banners. Also, special mention goes to Monique "queen of the Kern t-shirts" Quandt who's smiling face and totally intimidating riding graces the front of all the t-shirts that we received at the end of the race.
Kern is always a special experience where the team suffers together, works
together and laughs together. It's a time where we learn more about ourselves
and about each other. For example, we learned that some of teammates will
snuggle when sharing accommodations, whether or not you are their boyfriend. We also learned that you can make a waffle in your hotel room and that just the thought of eating the waffle gives Monica Gill superhuman powers. We also learned that our teammates will work together, for each other, sacrificing themselves completely. But most importantly, we learned that we are a great team on and off the bike!!! So there you have it, another fabulous Kern County stage race. Our team had such a good time that the roommates in Ramada rooms 102 and 407 are already planning their reunion. It apparently involves some Basque food and some very cutting edge music that Brooke Kuhn downloaded onto Elaine Cheung's computer. (That is assuming that Elaine's computer has been returned by the Department of Homeland Security - see above reference to cutting edge music.) See you next year! (Look for us, we'll be the ones in the team car, with the Red Donkey pi?ata sticking out the window looking for a spare wheel on highway 58.)