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Tour of North Georgia (TONGA) 2 Race Report

Diane Schleicher | Published on 8/15/2020

Pre-Race Perspective

As a road racing cyclist, this year has been challenging in many unexpected ways due to COVID 19. So many races all over the country and the world were either postponed or canceled. I had stopped riding outdoors in mid March and entirely trained indoors using a Wahoo Kickr and Zwift to try and maintain some level of cycling fitness. Fellow Sorella Cycling race teammate, Melanie King, introduced me to her CLS virtual race team with daily group rides and races. Melanie is a legend in the Zwift world and graciously answered the many technical questions I had regarding this virtual world of training and racing. In June, I finally was able to start getting in some outdoor group riding when cycling groups started cautiously with social distancing before and after rides.

At about that time in June, I was surprised and excited to find out that Topview Sports had secured a USA Cycling permit for a two weekend stage race series for June and July. I decided to jump in to race TONGA 1 in June along with fellow Sorella Cycling teammates, Melanie King, Saskia Hoppe and Sylvia Poulas. We all had strong results and representation in a strong 4/5 field during the weekend of 19 different 4/5 cyclists (largest starting pack was 12) racing in the same pack with 26 different 1,2 and 3 racers (largest starting pack was 22) which brings a totally different dynamic and speeds to each competition. My final omnium points placement from racing all 4 events that weekend was 6th. Saskia who planned on racing the whole series was 4th. I wasn’t sure if I would participate in the July event but noted that the race organizer had a separate omnium points awards for combined points (TONGA Corractive Omnium Points Award) from both weekends, so I was tempted to see how well I could do. If you haven't read Saskia' race report on that weekend, it's worth a read!

TONGA 2 Criterium - Friday, July 24, 2020 - Demorest, Georgia

The criterium was on the same course as TONGA 1 but the direction was switched. This change made the race faster and smoother plus the organizers split the two fields (Women 1,2,3 and Women 4/5) with a 10 second separation. Rain and thunderstorms were threatening from the start and the race had to be stopped and restarted within the first 3 laps when barricades blew over from gusting winds. Saskia basically dictated the pack pace for the 4/5 women since no one would go to the front and picked up 11 bonus points in primes. The paced picked up with about 5 laps left to go and my heart rate and respiration increased as I hung on to this “tail of the tiger”. There were 9 racers in this pack and 3 strong riders forced the pace as racers one by one fell off the back. The thunder, lightening and rain arrived during the last 3 laps. I was able to hang onto the 3 leaders wheels the longest and ended up placing 4th overall and Saskia placed 3rd in a sketchy, rain soaked sprint for the finish.

TONGA 2 Road Race - Saturday, July 25, 2020 - Lula, Georgia - 32.79 miles - 2,339 feet of climb

This 4 lap road race was also on the same course as TONGA 1 and same direction including relentless climb know on Strava as “Slog of Death to Uphill Finish” which we climbed 4 times. The race organizer tried to separate the two groups by 10 seconds again which quickly proved futile since the women 4/5 caught the women 1,2,3 within the first couple of miles. It definitely was an interesting moment working our way around the support vehicles to attach to the other group. I was able to hang onto the now larger pack until we hit the “Slog of Death” climb and saw myself and other 4/5 racers slowly drift off the back of the pack. We formed different groups along the way, but I knew my legs were paying me back for my exploits the day before. My goal at that point was to complete the course, collect as many points as I could and to hope to have the legs for the afternoon time trail. Meanwhile, my Sorella teammates continued to race strong, place high and collect points. Melanie King was able to race in the front back as the lone 4/5 in the 1/2/3 pack. (Do I hear Upgrade?) She was so strong and fast that she left the Women 1/2/3 pack somewhere on the “Slog of Death” climb and finished in front of everyone except one lone woman 1/2/3 breakaway racer. Saskia continued her strong racing by placing 4th in women 4/5. Such stellar racing by all.

Melanie said regarding this win/race, “I’m learning each race is unique. Saturday, I had the opportunity to cross the line ahead of the cat 4/5 field and all but one of the cat 1/2/3. With 2 miles to go, the group of cat 1/2/3 slowed down in anticipation of the final steep hill to finish. I was concerned about cat 4/5 catching the group, so I went off the front. Since I was cat 4, they weren’t too concerned. To my surprise, I got far enough ahead to cross the finish banner on my own 30 seconds up. I was a bit of shock and happy to be representing Sorella across the line.”

After the road race, Saskia realized that she had a great shot at 1st overall in the weekend’s omnium points, as well as the TONGA Corratec Omnium points for both weekend. A plan was forming. Melanie had the opportunity to upgrade on the spot to Category 3, but decided to hold off to the end of the weekend since she had an opportunity to help Saskia win Sunday’s race. The plot thickened.

TONGA 2 Time Trial - Saturday, July 25, 2020 - Lula, Georgia - 7.2 miles - 473 feet of climb

The course was also the same course as TONGA 1. The time trial was an out and back race with a downhill section in the beginning with some climbing in the middle, more downhill and a mid road turn around to the start/finish. The organizers give a 30 second bonus to racers who don’t ride aero. For the bonus time, there were restrictions on aero bars, helmets, wheels and shoe covers. It’s a tough call to go aero or not because the choice of bike and wheels definitely help you on the flat and downhill sections but feel like an anchor on the stiff uphill sections. I went aero mainly because I wanted the practice of racing my aero bike in all conditions. I just hoped that I had legs left after the tough, hot and hilly mornings road race. Due to Covid 19, the organizers had us wear face masks for the line up at the start with plenty of space between the riders, so we weren’t on top of each other. There were no holders at the start, so you had to push off strong at the start and clip in. For my start, which I would rate as my worst, I struggled to get clipped in. My shoe cover was the culprit.

The downhill section was very strong and I caught my 30 second rider just after the first stiff uphill section from the bridge. As I went downhill again and was approaching the turn around, I was gaining on my one minute rider. I almost came into the turn around too hot, but managed to handle it with my heart in my throat. As I swung around, I realized that my one minute rider was a couple of hundred yards ahead of me. It was now an ascent, so I paced myself to pass the rider without going into the red zone whilst being careful not to draft (it being a time trial and all so drafting is a big no no!). I saw other racers who started behind me headed for the turn around as I raced the return route knowing that I would get one more downhill bonus push opportunity. Right after the downhill, I was passed by a very strong triathlete racer on her time trial bike. She would end up placing first. I used her pace to motor up the last two hills to the finish. I had the third fastest raw time. With the time adjustment, I placed 5th. I was pleased that I had the legs for such a competitive field. I looked back at my time at TONGA 1 and I had made a 41 seconds improvement in TONGA 2. I had added weight lifting 3 times a week (legs only) to my training schedule and had raised my seat post for better extension for more power.

Melanie King placed 2nd and Saskia place 3rd. We now had two Sorella on the podium. A goal for Saskia to place 1st in weekend omnium points, as well as, the Corratec Omnium points was now a real possibility. She had to find a way to make up 9 points between her and the leader.

TONGA 2 Circuit Race - Sunday, July 26, 2020 - Mt. Airy, Georgia - 39.6 Miles - 2,054 feet of climb

This course was different than the TONGA 1 Race. It was about the same length but with less elevation. The organizer decided to mix all women’s categories in the same starting pack again. I knew this would be interesting since there were only rolling hills during the first half of the course, so it had the potential to be very fast. Within 3 miles of the start there was a serious crash. Multiple racers went down with 3 racers from the women 1/2/3 categories seriously hurt. I didn’t realize how bad one racer was hurt until we got to the start finish line one the first lap. The organizers had stopped all of the races that were on the course, so an ambulance could attend to the hurt rider. It was reported that she had some sort of bad shoulder injury. This stoppage time gave the Women 4/5 time to discuss then have a successful appeal to the organizer to have a 2 minute time separation between the two race group. We finally stated up again. I was able to hang on for another lap with the pack which was a prime lap before I was off the back with the slower racers. My goal at that point was to complete the race in one piece in order to be high in the omnium points race.

Saskia was able to pick up bonus points on that prime lap against the points leader. Teammate Melanie King continued to push the pace with the intent of weakening the legs all of Saskia’s rivals. Saskia did a “no real contest” finish sprint for 1st place for the race and the weekend. She had started the day with a 9 point deficit and ended the day with a 2 point lead.

It’s a Wrap

Saskia placed 1st in points for both the TONGA 2 weekend and TONGA Corratec points competition. I placed 6th place overall for TONGA 2 and, better yet, placed 3rd overall for the combined weekends, TONGA Corratec Omnium. Melanie placed a major impressive 4th overall in omnium points for TONGA 2. Melanie’s points total for the weekend is even more impressive considering she didn’t race the criterium and sacrificed her circuit race placement by working to get Saskia a win. About her win, Saskia said, “I would like to add that this was a TEAM win. Melanie King worked her butt (legs) off for me and set me up perfectly for the final sprint.”

All in all, it was a productive weekend. Sorella Cycling had multiple podiums and dominated races. It was great seeing such great teamwork in action. Also, a big shout out goes to the Sorella support crew under the orange Sorella tent - Libby Brown, Henry Zuver, Rob King, Mat Jenkinson and Peanut (the wonder dog). I can not over emphasis how great it is to have a home team base at a race. They provided the support, encouragement and oasis we all needed throughout the weekend.

TONGA p2 July 2020