The Homestretch Diaries
SoCal's Maddy Ward is a resident at the Homestretch Foundation. It's mission is to "level the playing field of salary discrepancy in sport, so that female professional athletes have the same wages and equal opportunities as male professional athletes." They assist up and coming pro cyclists with an environment and the tools to help with their progression as they prepare for the next level of the sport. Maddy Ward was chosen due to her hard earned race results on the national level and shares with us her experiences while at Homestretch.
My last Homestretch entry. Wow. I'm having a hard time believing that it's almost the end of February and I only have 2 more days in this incredible place I've called home for 3 months. Brace yourselves for a long, reflective post because so much has happened since I last wrote in. Looking back, I was shocked by how many things I've had going on - no wonder these past couple weeks have gone by so fast.
One highlight was finally making it over to the El Grupo clubhouse to join the kids on one of their workouts. El Grupo is a Tucson junior cycling program that holds after school practices three or four days out of the week. The night Janelle and I joined they had a VO2 workout on A Mountain and their hard work was inspiring. Rather than completing the workout with them, I went the easy route and cheered each of them on as they neared the end of their intervals. I'm sure they were all sick of my voice by the end of it. I had such a great time getting to know the girls I was with and seeing how excited they were about cycling made the few hours I spent with them especially worthwhile.
Then there was my quick weekend trip to San Diego at the end of January. First thing's first: I got my new team bike! It's a Tarmac Disc with a sick black and purple tinted frame. The purple perfectly matches the Spinergy logo on the nice carbon wheelset too. SDBC, UC Cyclery, and Spinergy, thank you for providing the team with such incredible equipment to race on in 2019! I can't help but be excited to show off all this cool stuff throughout the season.
Guess what my bike's maiden voyage was… an epic Palomar adventure. A group of my friends and teammates climbed 9 miles of dirt on Nate Harrison, continued up to the Observatory, and then descended South Grade. The new bike felt so good. So good in fact that I was inspired to push it up the climb and it wasn't until I was already by myself that I realized we never discussed a regroup point. That mistake cost us about 2 extra hours, as I waited at the general store for an hour before Esther found me, then the two of us spent an hour looking for the rest of the group. Oh well. We can laugh about it now. It's never a boring day up on Palomar.
My second day home was another full day for SDBC. In the morning, I met up with teammates in Encinitas for a social team ride and then we had our Club Banquet in the evening. I had such a great time hanging out with my friends and was honored to win Best All-Around Female Rider for 2018. The trophy has been passed from rider to ride since 1951, so it's a pretty sizeable piece of hardware to fit all of those names. I feel very special for having my name engraved next to so many incredible female cyclists from over the years.
I returned to Tucson with a new bike, new wheels, and good food (thanks mom) a few days before my first race of the season: the Oracle road race. On the Thursday before the race, my boyfriend David and I drove out to Oracle to check out the course. While driving and riding the roads, I kept an eye out for potholes, where the wind was coming from, when it would be good for me to put in attacks, and where I should start my final sprint. It also happened that I got my first flat on the new bike (and first flat with disc brakes) only 2 miles out from the car. At least my race recon helped clear the road of flatting hazards. I had the multi-tool for the thru axle, check, had a spare tube and hand pump, check and check. I did it - fixed my first flat with disc brakes! Fast forward to yanking the removable valve core out of the tube when taking off the hand pump, and suddenly I was stuck with my flat in a spot with zero phone service. Thankfully my lucky streak of meeting nice Tucsonans continued and I found a man sitting in his car who was willing to give me the short lift back to where we were parked. I survived the race pre-ride.
I ended up surviving the race itself too. It was an 80-mile race with about 20 racers and I was prepared to make the race hard. The course was in the shape of a Y, and had us go out and back on one of the legs twice. This meant we got to go over a 10 minute climb with one steep section two times, and my plan was to hit it hard the second time over in order to whittle the group down. A rider attacked right at the bottom of the steep bit but was reeled back in, then I put my attack in over the top. I got a gap with one other rider, but the two of us were not going to be able to hold off the group of 10 that was coming up behind us. We let up and latched onto the back of the group as they went by. My effort wasn't completely wasted: I did manage to split the peloton in half, so that bettered my chances for the final sprint, but not as much as I had hoped. It was a gradual 10 mile climb with some rollers up to the finish. I was feeling good, but was taking too much wind on the front so I slowed down to make the group go around me, sat at the back for a little bit, and then launched another attack. Once again I got a gap and one rider bridged, but our dual effort was short lived. That one really hurt me. I did my best to recover once the group caught us, but I could tell I burned one match too many and when one of the racers who I knew was going to be tough competition jumped from behind me, I couldn't respond. The rest of us didn't organize quickly enough to pull her back, so she was gone and we stayed as a group into the finish. I saw the 200 meters to go sign but couldn't see the finish line around the bend in the road and that was enough of a mental letdown that I allowed a small gap to form in between me and the wheel in front. I got a late jump on the sprint and finished third in the bunch for fourth overall. Although my final result wasn't what I had hoped for, I wasn't all too bummed. I was proud that I tried new things and made the race exciting and dynamic by putting in attacks. That was a step in the right direction.
Valley of the Sun, the first stage race of the season, came two weeks later. It started on Friday, February 15th with a time trial, then a road race on Saturday, and a crit on Sunday. I went into the TT with zero expectations since I only had a road bike to use, but I came out of it with some hard learned lessons. Never ever underestimate the importance of a good warmup and cooldown. The TT was only a 35 minute effort, but my legs later in the day felt like I had ridden 10 times as long. Not only was I downtrodden because it was obvious how big of a disadvantage it was to not have a time trial bike, but I was absolutely mortified that I destroyed my legs for the rest of the weekend. I couldn't remember a time when my legs felt worse. I did not mess around with recovery that night. I slathered my legs in AMP PR lotion, rolled out, took Ibuprofen, laid down with my legs up for as long as possible, and made sure to get quality sleep.
Things were much brighter when I woke up on Saturday morning. My legs weren't rebelling with every step, I felt rested, and went into the road race feeling like a good result wasn't totally unattainable. We had four 15-mile laps. The two teams that were there, Twenty20 and Hagens Berman, tried to roll a couple breaks on the second and third laps. Nothing was sticking so they stopped trying to get their riders up the road, but it was on the fourth lap when individual riders attacked and pulled a couple Hagens Berman and Twenty20 girls with them. Seeing that the two teams were represented in the break, I bridged up hoping that the good representation meant we were going to be able to get away. We had a group of 8 or 10 and formed a decent gap before the Hagens Berman and Twenty20 riders stopped pulling through and slowed us down so we would get caught. We were swallowed up right before the right hand turn onto the final climb of the race. I sat in the group to conserve and hide from the wind as everyone geared up for the bunch sprint until I decided to move up on the right side. It turns out I did it just in the nick of time because with less than 2K to go, there was a crash that stopped a good percentage of the peloton in its tracks. Now that I've raced against these girls for over a year, I know who has a good wheel to follow. I got in a position I was confident in and patiently waited for the sprint. I felt so good that I considered getting the early jump, but there was a headwind so it was smart that I didn't go. It was an uphill sprint to the finish and I crossed the line in 6th. It was by far my best result in a race of that caliber. My good result really helped to boost my confidence and I went to bed excited for the crit the next day.
Unfortunately the crit was less than satisfying. I have a bad habit of getting complacent during crits and not making the effort to hold a good position all throughout the race. Instead I find myself tail gunning for most of the time and wasting way too much effort to get in good position once I realize, “Woah! There's no one behind me!” only to lose it shortly thereafter. For this particular race I should have been 4th or 5th wheel coming into the last corner and I was nowhere near that position. I crossed the line mid-pack, feeling as I all too often do after a crit: unsatisfied because I didn't take risks, wasn't aggressive, and didn't make the moves necessary for success. I have to get better at going into crits with specific goals in mind to help me stay focused throughout the entire race. I have to change my tactics if I want to put an end to this string of ungratifying crit performances.
My last week here has been just as exciting as all the ones before it. I got my first ever real deal massage; I have to be careful that I don't get hooked. We also had a record snow day in Tucson. An article even dubbed it the storm of the century with Mt. Lemmon getting around 2 to 3 feet of snow. The snow on the desert plants was very majestic so I chose to spend time taking artsy pictures rather than riding that day. David also helped me put on my power meter and new handlebars. Look out world, I have power. And thank you Trina for getting me the bars!! Now Tucson Bicycle Classic is coming up fast on March 1st-3rd. It's cool that I get to race on the roads I've spent the last three months getting to know so well. I've reconned the TT course, looked over the stretches of road with particularly poor surfaces, and now I'm starting the mental prep game. This race will be a great way to wrap up my time at the Homestretch.
If there's anything I'm going to take away from my stay at the Homestretch, it's a great appreciation for everyone I've had the chance to meet in the Tucson cycling community. I first experienced in San Diego how powerful it is to have a community of people looking out for your well-being and pulling for you to succeed, and now that community has extended to Tucson. I will never stop being impressed by and thankful for how generous and helpful everyone has been for my cycling and personal growth. Thank you to my new friends at Sabino Cycles for all your bike maintenance help, worth way more than just the one Costco pizza I brought by as a token of my gratitude. Thank you Kathryn, Lauren, and Brad for being such amazing mentors during my stay here - I have learned so much from the three of you and I hope to continue benefiting from your guidance in the future. Thank you to the 14 new friends I've made out of the fellow Stretchies who were in the house with me over December, January, and February. I love knowing that I know more people in the peloton. I've already experienced great mentorship from some of you in the two races that I've done and it helps so much with my confidence. Thank you Cécile at ASU for hosting me for Valley of the Sun. I hope to one day be able to pay it forward and be even half as good a host to other cyclists as you were to me. Ayesha, thank you for your positive attitude and calming wisdom while we raced together at VOS. Thank you Janelle for being the best roommate I could have ever had for these three months. Meeting and getting to know you made this experience so much richer. David, thank you for telling me about the Homestretch, for encouraging me to take advantage of this amazing opportunity, and for helping me improve in so many ways.
Then there are those who have been with me from the beginning. Mom, Dad, Jenna, Esther, Lauren, Trina, SDBC, Brian, RJ: you've supported me so much over the past year, and your support was just as strong while I was in Tucson. I appreciate you all so much. Lauren, big thanks to you for letting me borrow your bike for two months. And Brian, thank you for giving me the opportunity and platform to share this experience with others. Recalling my time here has helped me cherish the Homestretch and my good fortune so much more.
So what's next for me after the Homestretch? I will be racing with the Amy D. Foundation at all the major stage races this season. This will be such an incredible opportunity and I am so grateful that Amy D. has the confidence and faith in me to give me so much support. My first race with them will be Redlands starting on March 13th. From one amazing thing onto the next!
Maddy Ward is a Cat 1 from San Diego California. She rides for SDBC and unintentionally owns a lot of QOM's in SoCal. When she's not riding she takes deep dives into classic novels and loves local coffee.