SK Coaching athlete Vanessa Buccella is a wonder woman extraordinaire who manages to fit more into a day than most people fit into a week. Between owning Chicago's first women's-focused bike shop (BFF Bikes) and taking care of her newly arrived (and adorable) tiny human, she also (among many other things) runs the BFF racing team, is active in the Chicago race planning and cycling development scene, and is just an overall awesome person. We're excited to be working with her and stoked to see her back racing!
Actually, yes, a “comeback” is exactly what you would call it. July 26, 2014 was the last (real) criterium I raced before this past Saturday. That’s 631 days, or 1 year, 8 month and 22 days. However you count it, it’s been awhile. In 2014 I started a business and in 2015 i started a human life, both of which take time out of one’s schedule for racing and training. However, I REALLY wanted to start racing again. As soon as I could after having a C-section, I got back on the bike with a training plan in place from Sprintin’ Kitten.
My first time out to a start line was March 13 for a practice race in Kenosha, WI. That race was wet and rainy and cold. I was also basically racing with a group of masters men. The only other woman in my race was a 16 year old girl. At the start line i thought “please let me beat the 16 year old”. I did. There were other races starting at the same time, and I settled in with a group of 55+ masters men. I felt surprisingly good. I say surprisingly because I am pretty bad about underestimating myself in race situations.
After getting that first “race” out of the way, I went to Menomenee Park in Menomenee Falls, WI this past weekend for my first real USAC sanctioned, women open category race in 631 days.The weather could not have been better either! It was so far the MOST beautiful day of 2016. I mean, it was #flawless. The course was in a large park which was also beautiful.
As always, I was LATE, despite having my bag packed and my bike in the car the night before. I had a bunch of little things to do before leaving the baby with his grandma. I also underestimated the drive (and because it was in Wisconsin, OF COURSE I got stuck behind a farm machine I couldn’t pass). (Note to self - add at least 5 minutes to get to races in Wisconsin because of Farm Machines). My warm up was running to registration while updating my USAC license and being nervous. Good thing my race was 50 minutes!
I barely had enough time to pin my number on and put air in my tires before going to the start line where there were 16 other women lined up. This was good, as only 2 had pre-registered. Most of the field was ISCorp p/b Smart Choice MRI. It was nice to see familiar faces Michelle Moore and Kelly Clarke there, too. While waiting for the whistle, I switched from the small to the big ring. When it blew, I realized OOPS I was also in one of the smallest cogs, which meant I did not jump of the start line so much as almost fall over. While i was floundering, the race was starting. Thankfully my Liv Avail let me shift into an easier gear without complaint! (Di2 to the rescue).
At first I was thinking about my lack of a warm up and hoping I didn’t blow up. However, the first laps weren’t horrible and I kept thinking “I’m doing it, I’m doing it!” My last races in 2014 were bad, like off the pack after 2 laps bad, and those were 3/4s races. This was a smaller field, but an open race, so I was excited to be even hanging on. The course was beautiful through a park around a small lake. Most of the turns were soft curves and there were some very slight elevation changes. I thought to myself, you can’t really call them hills. How about land bubbles?
After getting over the fact that I was indeed racing, and able to hang on, I decided to try some skill building. I moved to the front for awhile, about 6th wheel or so. When I found myself further back again, I started to move up through the middle of the pack, a skill I haven’t exactly mastered. I also practiced ever so slightly laying claim to a wheel by ever so slightly edging someone from it.
The first half, the race was fast, but pretty bland. There were a few attacks, which I didn’t follow because I didn’t expect much from myself this first time out, I was happy just racing. Also I was pretty sure they wouldn’t get away.
After the midpoint of the race, a small group did get away and get a little gap. I believe it was after a prime. Anyway, I started to get dropped. This is where the “bad talk” in my head started. I do this during races where I tell myself things like “I’ve done well enough, I can ease off now” and “I’m not that fast, I’m not going to be able to hold it”. So as they were pulling away, and I was getting into the pain zone, I was telling myself it was OK to get dropped, I had done well enough. I was thinking well, this is where i get dropped, as if it were a fate I couldn't escape! Fate, however, actually had other things in mind and everyone seemed to be slowing up a bit.
I decided to push that stupid talk out of my head and get back on. As I was drawing really close, the pack started to pick up speed again. Shit! But instead of relegating myself to being dropped, I pushed a little harder and caught back on.
I then thought to myself, I need a goal! If I don’t have a set goal in mind, I am not going to make it the rest of this race with the pack. So I said OK for this race, my goal is to be with the pack the whole time. It really helped. I don’t know why I have to tell myself to stay with the pack. I think it’s because I don’t think I belong there. That I am doing well just hanging on for as long as I can.
After getting dropped, and catching back on, and finding my goal, I decided, NOPE I am NOT getting dropped again. When I saw a woman who seemed pretty strong gunning in next to me to get up to the front, I got on her wheel and hitched a ride.
At two laps to go I thought “I got this, I am going to accomplish my goal!” I SHOULD have set another goal, to really get up into the mix, but I didn’t. Instead, I was choking back bile and feeling nauseous. That’s always where I feel pain the most. Not my legs, not my heart and lungs, but my GI tract. It’s awesome. Not really. I felt bile and my breakfast making it’s own comeback up my esophagus. When that starts to happen, I really want to call it quits. Instead, I hung on for most of the last lap until the sprint started in earnest. As I was pushing toward the finish line, there was one Chicago racer right ahead of me (who’d gotten 2nd in the earlier women’s 4 race) that I coulda/shoulda been closer to. But what was going on in my head the last lap was a microcosm of what had been going on the whole race: I’ve done well enough, I can rest now. As I was approaching the finish, I felt like I had more to give and could have reached her, but the finish line was too close.
However, despite the bad decision making and the stomach issues, I felt the race was totally a success. It was my first real race back after a long hiatus and having a freaking kid. It was also my first time hanging on for a full women’s open race. I ended up 11th out of 17 and felt like I had more to give.
I learned a lot. Like “set goals before the race” and “set really lofty goals” and “maybe put ginger ale in my water bottle”.
It’s going to be really hard to take time out of running the bike shop, and being a mom to race, so the next time out, I am going to have faith that I can do a lot more.
// Vanessa Buccella