I wrote a blog post for Nationals, but it was uninspired and boring. Instead, I want to take the time to highlight the last 3 races I have done (US Nationals, World Cup Fiuggi Regiune Lazio (Italy), and World Cup Hoogerheide (Netherlands)). They were 3 completely different courses that required totally different skill sets, yet my 3 weakest points determined my placement in all of them. Seeings how there is only one race left for me this season, the World Championships, this is a perfect time to reflect on things I have learned.
Before I start, I need to say THANK YOU EVERYONE who has followed along this season, cheered, donated to the Amy D Foundation, bought raffle tickets (still on sale till Jan 29th), sent words of support, and done whatever else you all have done to make me feel successful no matter what, made it easy to be positive and happy, and kept me looking forward to each and every race! I am always amazed at the village of people that are willing to help not just myself, but any other rider in need.
The course was deep with snow, some of which had melted and refroze between pre-ride and race time. The preride on Saturday made me nervous about some of the gnarly high-up off-camber sections but very confident on the icy ruts on the lower part of the course. Sunday revealed that the dangerous part of the course was removed due to ice and the potential for broken hips and bikes and riders separated by nearly a hundred meters of steep ice, and also that I was still able to ride smoothly, confidently, and swiftly. The course had only one main line that was raceable due to the snow, and only a few sections where passes could be made without too much risk. The start would be everything.
I actually had a good start going into the first big obstacle, the levee. But, upon entering the woods where the traction was tricky and the lines were nonexistent, I let myself get nervous and pushed around by other riders. I was taken aback by how aggressive they were being on the ice and I lost a few positions. And then, I was taken down by another rider.
This alone should not have decided my race, but for me, it did. After getting pushed off the course and yelled at, I was frantic and angry and couldn’t control myself on the ice. I was pedaling hard where I shouldn’t have (on ice) and too hard other places (through deep snow so I all I could do was get beside before I got pinched out at a turn or taken down by a hidden rut). I was impatient and after a lap trying to pass, I settled down and just rode my bike, defending where I was, 8th place.
Despite a good, aggressive start, I let my guard down and was not mentally prepared for the other riders. I spent so much time worrying about the course and riding fast, I forgot about racing. But, I had a few impressive saves and feel happy about how I rode my bike, even if I didn’t race it well. Note to self: when at a race, remember to race. Other people included.
Italy World Cup
The course was over half man-made surfaces such as pavement, cobbles, paver stones and gravel. The other parts were wet, steep clay, and a small bit of grass near the barriers. The turns were icy and the course was often too narrow (should be at least 3 meters wide); many claimed it unfit to be a world cup (this was its first year). The preride on Saturday was treacherous! The easiest turns were laden with ice that made many fall victim, yours truly included. On Saturday, the woods sections were a solace; a place of safety. I got very anxious about racing on the surface, knowing I cannot judge my race speed adequately to safely navigate icy turns. And then, in the narrow woods, passing would be hard. The start would be everything. (Foreshadow, much?)
Sunday proved a little less icy on the flats, but more slick in the woods. The clay was frozen deep down but left a slick layer on top. Damn silica sheets, uniform layers of molecules waiting to take us all down! They took the scary wet cobbled turn out of the start section by moving some fencing, the day was looking up! Though, obligatory mention, there was only one set of bathrooms, and they were very hard to get to and I hear you should not leave you bike unattended at these events, so for my pre-race pee I had to squat behind our tent, making a blockade with a bike bag and my jacket. I locked eyes with a Telenet-Fidea mechanic, daring him to look away. He did not. It made pulling up the skinsuit from a squatting position VERY difficult.
In true Becca fashion, I had a not stellar start. From the 3rd row, a whole lot could not be expected, but I missed clipping into my pedal and was a little timid going into the first few turns. Entering the woods was worse than I could have imagined: people were falling and sliding. I was not physically going backwards, but I was not going forward fast. On the downhills more people were crashing and I had to dismount 3 times or more in the lap just to avoid physically running over bodies and bikes (I am too dang kind). When we came to the end of the lap, I found myself at the back of the large chase scrum group.
It was difficult to pass anywhere on the course, I was nervous on the slick surfaces, and to top it all off, for every inch I gained with power I lost two inches by not being able to navigate on foot as well as some others. The straight up runs I could do, but once it was off-camber and twitch-backs, I seemed to lose ground to the others.
Knowing I was only fighting for top 20 it was easy to focus more on safety and staying upright than leaving it all out there. Physically it was hard to find the time or place to leave it out there anyways.
I was more worried about leaving my pride out there as I slid straight down the hill, underneath the netting, curious if we followed the rules of downhill mountain biking where if you cut the course you have to reenter where you exited… I wasn’t confident. I didn’t fight. But, I did feel okay with how I navigated the course, and honestly, how slippery that whole place was, I am not even upset about my result, and I feel TOTALLY unashamed with saying “That was bullshit and my enthusiasm reflected that”. You gotta admit it if you saw it. It was bullshit. If you didn’t see it, here is a short “crash reel” for the women and men:
There was a lot of carnage in todays race! #fiuggi #cyclocross #carnage #crach A video posted by Official Cycling/Cyclocross (@cycloing) on
Hoogerheide World Cup
A course normally heavy with mud, or slick with snow, this year, was a road race. No defining technical features, a few long drags, a few very fast turns. A course built for me upon first inspection, but come race time I learned yet again that I have not seen it all, and I have a long way to come before I can find the highest and most consistent success in this sport.
The start was a long uphill on pavement, I knew it was made for me. The course was wide and had a lot of opportunities to pass. The corners were slick, some with ice and some with thawed-out muddy ground, but I knew I could handle them. I figured this would be a course where even those with a bad start could motor through to the front. This was the course I have had the most confidence on in a long time. Healthy, fully of new skills and confidence, and a course made for me. I was expecting to go top 15, hell, I knew I could pull off a top 10 if I did it right! Because, Vegas. Remember Vegas? Let’s all remember Vegas, where I was 6th in a world cup. (Note, more famous foreshadowing. I would be a great novelist.)
Despite being ranked 27th in the world, I was called up 3rd row. Everyone was here. You would think there was free food. There is no free food. I took a spot on the outside, by the fencing, behind Caroline Mani and Ellen Noble, two known great rocketship starters. Somehow, I managed to get shuffled to row 3.5. My shoulders were even with those of a 4th row callup. Not sure how that happened, but the grids in Europe are pure mayhem. Oh well, it is a Becca start! I could win from the back row! The light changes. I get my pedal but I immediately already have a blockade, I am not sure who it was. I slowly get going, when I get shoved into the barrier. Luckily it is covered with a board and I don’t go down physically, but mentally I take a step back. HOW IS THIS HAPPENING ALREADY? I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE AT THE FRONT HERE, NOT FALLING BEHIND. Okay, how did I fuck this one up? It’s okay, I tell myself, I can chase. (Now is where you all get really sad because you see the theme of my foreshadowing, emphasis on the shadow, indicating sadness.)
Lap 1 was tight-super close the whole time. There was a lot of yelling. I pass in the long drags when I can, but often, it is so tightly crammed that I have to be patient and wait. Coming through the finish pavement we are still in a large group. I pass when I can and make up spots, but I am never solo. Going back in to lap 2, hell, all of the laps, I am still in a group. Often I try to pass the group in a straight but they are all riding so tight I can’t get back into the line and get pushed or pinched out in the turns, shuffled back to the back again. Yet when I am towards the front they manage to yell until I just let them in. Some of the sections where I wanted to pass, we were already going too fast and I would not be able to pass and then get my speed where I needed it to be in order to take the turn.
And so, for the race I thought I would do best at, I had my worst result all season. 24th. 24th, but only 1:50 back from Vos, the winner. A lot of people faded throughout the race, and I know if I had a good start I would not have faded. If I had a better start, I would have been able to pedal when I wanted to pedal and not had to have waited my turn. I would not have wasted so much energy fighting for my positions in the bigger groups. Okay, I say these things, but we all know we will never know the outcome of this “what-if” scenario. Right now I am sure I have the fitness to do it and have the skills to have handled this course at the higher speeds. This last Sunday, what I was lacking, was a good start, and the confidence to not get pushed around. The confidence to know I belong. The confidence to push myself into tight spaces, the aggression to block those trying to push into my space.
Physically I had more on that course, mentally I got what I deserved. If I wanted the placings I could get by sheer physical force I would race time trials. Hell, I really wouldn’t mind Individual Time Trialing, but I love cross because every race, right when I think I have seen it all, I get something new. Ice, slick clay, or races so packed with people I can’t even pass.
I want to be like Vos, Compton, Nash, Cant. I want to be the rider who no matter the track, no matter who shows up, I can dominate. If I want to continue to work on being that rider, I need to work on being that person. They never have excuses, and the few “bad races” that may happen are apologetically just, races. Vos has clawed her way from the back to the front even this season; a start position is not an excuse for these women. They are fit. They are skilled. They are smart. They are strong, in every aspect. Am I disappointed with my on-paper results these past 3 races? Yes. Do I know I can do better? Yes. Do I think I deserved better? No. From the inside I can see the progress I have made, and I am here at the top of the sport, racing the best in the world, using them as guinea pigs. Using these best races in the world as case studies. I am learning.
This blog post may not be a race report, and it may not be funny enough to bother reading, but writing it has been the catharsis I have needed: an outlet to admit that even when I cross the line many places behind the leader, even when it is hard for those far away to see me race and know the struggle, I have raced my best and I have everything to be proud of. For every fall, every lost place, every bad start and failed pass I gain a little knowledge and fuel for next year’s fire. This season I have had no excuses. As I consistently put myself against the best in the world, I have the support through the Amy D Foundation and the assistance of Stan’s No Tubes cross team or Gregg Germer here at the Chainstay. I have all of the support: emotional, financial, mechanical, equipment etc. And through this support, I am learning and able to make the mistakes to grow. And hell, even with those mistakes I have had a stellar season!
I just had 3 similar results in a row on completely different courses, and the main hinderances to further success are:
1 – Lack of confidence; being too timid; lack of aggression
2 – Poor starts. Just an excuse, or a legitimate problem?
3 – Technical skills; smoothness; passing with finesse
Can I fix these things in the less than 1 week between now and Worlds? I have one last chance to leave it all out there. The most I can do is put myself in a mental space to be strong and confident. Unfortunately, I have to ride with more aggression and less compassion. (Unfortunately because I love racing while laughing and cheering for those around me). Being where I am in the pack, surrounded by people just as capable but more aggressive, it isn’t my wit that will get me to the front; it will be strength, determination, and grit. It may be yelling. It will not make me friends. But I am not here to make friends, I am here to make watts and try to become the best that I can. For any fellow racers reading this, maybe you have yelled at me before. Be ready for me to yell back.