The Inaugural Tour of the Dragons: Jessie slays 'em!

Our sole female member punished the category 3 riders in last weekend’s Tour of the Dragons. Here is her story:

The Bennington Race Report by Jessie Donavon

What could be better then a stage race in my home town and a tt course that literally went right by my driveway. We put the family in the car and headed down to Bennington Friday afternoon ready for a full weekend of racing.

I woke up Saturday morning, headed down the driveway and watched some of the Cat 5s go by in the TT. My kids stayed out for pretty much the next four hours cheering everyone on and picking up trash along the road for entertainment between riders, they are hard core race fans. The TT went well, I felt strong and passed all six girls who started in front of me so I knew I was having a good race. I gave a big wave to the kids as I flew by and they were there at the finish cheering me on. I finished 1st in the TT by over a minute, so excited to get my first yellow jersey at the crit that afternoon.

The crit, in my opinion, was a little dangerous, but I guess they all are. They started the cat 3/4 women 15 seconds behind the Pro 1/2 women and within 2 laps we caught them. I went out hard from the start, knowing that I could ride with the pro women and hoping to separate my group right away, crits make me nervous and I still don’t really feel comfortable sitting back in a big pack. The first 5 laps were full of lots of yelling, 3 crashes and then they neutralized us and separated the groups again as we were not allowed to ride together. I pretty much rode the next 40 laps in front, just focused on staying safe and avoiding any crashes. Needless to say I need to work on my crit tactics but my technique works for staying safe. I got passed in the final sprint and ended up 4th, but still over a minute ahead in GC which was my focus.

The road race at Bennington was a really challenging course, definitely harder then Battenkill in my opinion. I was looking forward to the race as we were starting with the Pro 1/2 women and we were allowed to ride together. About 11 miles into the course we hit the first big climb, it’s about 4 miles long, dirt and really steep at places, especially near the top. I went out hard pretty much from the bottom, once again looking to separate the field. About 7 of us crested the top of the climb together and 5 of them were Pro 1/2 so I took the first QOM points. There was a steep fast descent, a sharp left turn and then the climbing started again. This one was shorter but the final section was very similar to App Gap as in very steep.

At this point it was just myself and 5 of the Pro 1/2 women, the other Cat 3 had dropped back at the beginning of the climb. Near the top they started to pull away and I made my big mistake of the day, I let them go. In my mind I was thinking I didn’t want to blow up, we were only 20 miles into the race… and I thought I could catch them on the downhill.

When I came over the top I was probably 20 seconds down and by the bottom of the descent I was about a minute back. The pace car told me that the next group was 2 minutes behind me so I was all alone. I tried to gain on them for the next few miles but I couldn’t do it. I could see that they had a nice organized pace line going so I gave up and settled into my own comfortable TT pace. I rode alone for the next 25 miles, head down trying not to think about how much easier it would be if I was in a group and thinking how lucky it is that I’m a triathlete and I’m used to riding this way.

With about 15 miles to go a small group caught me, I must admit I was happy to have company. I still felt strong and as soon as they caught me they really slowed the pace. I settled in and rode the final miles into Manchester telling myself over and over to “be smart”, I knew I was the strongest rider in the group but I also knew from experience that it’s easy to loose a race when someone sling shots around you at the last minute. As we took the final turn into Manchester I was right where I needed to be, right behind the girl who was in the lead. I sprinted around her just in time and won by a full bike length. What a day and what a weekend! My first yellow jersey, first QOM, two wins and all in my home town. I’m seriously considering retiring while I’m ahead but of course I can’t do that because bike racing is too much fun.

I asked Jessie if she had a podium photo with two handsome Italian dudes kissing her on the cheek. Haven’t heard back on that one!


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