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Valley of the Sun February 17-19, Phoenix, AZ

Three Orion riders took part in Valley of the Sun, February 17-19th, myself (Anna), a new teammate, Cheyenne, and a returning rider, Sara. I treated this race as a training opportunity because I only began structured training in January after my 2022 racing season ended in December and I took a break, so still had little fitness to show for two weeks into February as opposed to most of the traditional road racing scene that begins their base training in October-November.

Racing-wise, VoS was uneventful, - no major crashes, breakaways, or other drama. Effort-wise though, it was rough. It’s always a shock to the system to push so hard again, but for me, the more difficult part was mental. Yes, the effort was painful; during the road race on the climb to the finish of the first lap, I thought I was going to get dropped because the field was going so fast, I was bringing up the rear and on my very limit. But it was harder mentally because I had a high-speed crash in 2022 at Joe Martin and while I didn’t break any bones, I had a concussion and the symptoms persisted into November. Although I’ve done lots of racing after that crash, the anxiety of being in a fast-moving and aggressive pack hit like a ton of bricks. I just couldn’t bring myself to move up in the pack and when I did make any progress, I’d be shuffled back quickly and would lose the motivation to try again. The fear of something bad happening was present and constant. I knew it’s better to be closer to the front, less chance of encountering sketchy bike handling, crashes, and no crazy spikes in power to keep up with the accelerations, but I resigned myself to hanging out in the back and letting the racing play out in front of me. I told myself it was okay to stay where I was and do what I could as I was already stressed physically and trying constantly to move up, but failing was just adding more stress. By the last lap I felt more comfortable claiming space and holding wheels and somehow, somewhere, found the legs on the last lap to finish 16th out of 59 riders so that was some semblance of positive feedback that I still belonged in the P12 field.

My teammate, Sara, on the other hand, was having a terrific race. Constantly positioned closer to the front, hiding from the wind, and had a strong start on day 1 of the time trial to build on. Unfortunately, due to no fault of her own, she crashed with another rider 200-300m before the finish line while contending for top 10 and didn’t start on the last day due to bad soreness. Sara is back on the bike and racing, but still doing physical therapy and we wish her a quick recovery!

And the following is a summary of how Valley of the Sun went for our new teammate, Cheyenne!

My first pro-level stage race brought a lot of ups and downs over the weekend! Going into the weekend I wasn’t sure what to expect but my only goal was to get some experience at this level before heading to Redlands in April. Finishing the TT in 20 th, I was feeling happy with how that went, but with my triathlon background the TT was the only aspect of the weekend that I didn’t feel like I was headed into unknown territory. On Saturday at the road race, I quickly learned two lessons right at the start 1) everyone lines up 15+ minutes before the start time … I was just starting my warmup! 2) neutral start in the p12 field doesn’t quite play out like it does in the cat 3 race, ha! It was fast and stressful with everyone jockeying for position the entire time. I spent a lot of energy early on; trying to figure out what was going on around me, trying to move up, trying to stay out of people’s way because I was starting to feel like I was out of my league …. and eventually I got dropped. I had mixed feelings finishing that race: on one hand I was super excited that I survived my first pro race with some big names in the field … on the other I felt like “what am I doing here?!” Luckily, I was at this race with a couple great teammates. Anna gave me some confidence going into the crit with a little pep talk on the ride to the start, reminding me I belonged on the start line just as much as any of the other girls there. Between her advice and not making the same mistakes at the start as the day before, I finished the crit strong with the field. I left the weekend feeling like I accomplished my goal and excited for this spring racing a full schedule of stage races with my Orion teammates!

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