And just. Like. That. The season is over, and not a moment too soon. I am exhausted. There is still cyclocross racing happening in Belgium after Worlds, but I am not ready for that. Not mentally, not physically, not feasibly. The past 4 weeks of racing have been some of the most mentally and physically taxing I have ever experienced. In the past 4 weeks I raced in 4 countries over 2 continents. I have never raced past nationals, and in the 3 races I just completed (2 world cups and the world championships) I never cracked 20th place. From the outside, the second half of my season was not successful. And to look back, yea, my stoked level never really peaked during the second half of the season, despite meeting 2 major goals (win a race and qualify for worlds). It would be easy to be “disappointed”, but, in the post that follows, I will detail for you, my reader, why I AM THE MOST STOKED PERSON TO HAVE EVER PEDALED ON TWO WHEELS (except for Anthony Clark who I once saw almost explode with happiness over a simple deli sandwich).
After Hoogerheide I was feeling strong and looking for a great result at Worlds. Confidence. I had it. I was ready to bare my teeth and show the world what I was made of! Then, on Wednesday’s pre-race intervals, I felt it. What I was full of, was germs. My arms were too tired. Thursday, my throat was too dry. I caught a ride from my favorite cohort of Australians from the Chainstay to Luxembourg, sitting in the back seat to rest over the 3 hour drive and convince myself that I was not sick, I was stressed and anxious. And neurotic. I am usually very neurotic.
At the venue and get dropped off at the USA Cycling camp. I was officially under the care of USA Cycling, and the mechanics get my bikes ready for a preride and I head out. It was cold, there was snow on the ground and a lot of ice. Feeling excited and anxious, I hop on the course at the closest spot: a run-up (okay for many it was a ride) which led right to the big offcamber. “The Camber”.
After watching many try and fail at riding the very first thing I saw, I just walked it. I think I embarrassed Stephen Hyde. But, I didn’t fall, he did. The thing was a sheet of ice, but I didn’t fret, because I knew from Nationals and maybe every other race ever that fretting over the conditions that make something unrideable still 3 days before the race is a waste of energy. I move on. [Note: they did change the route on the camber by dropping the left-hand barrier all the way down to the flat.]
After The Camber is a flat section that leads to an off-camber climb that was hard to clear in the icy conditions (especially with car-legs). After another quick punch was the finish straight. Ahhhhh pavement, how nice. Wait, after 2 minutes on the course I already need reprieve!? Most elements that come early in the lap are docile: a steep punchy uphill here and there, flyover, icy turns. Whoooooops a little drop. It’s okay, I cleaned it. Man, that was a little scary! LOLOLOLOL YOU’RE SO CUTE LITTLE GIRL THAT WASN’T A DROP IT WAS A DOWNHILL. THERE IS A DIFFERENCE. YOU WILL SEE. Ooohhh flyover number 3 or so. Barriers. Oh shit, another drop. With snow on it. And a hard turn at the bottom. But I made it! Without hesitation! YOU THINK SNOW IS SCARY WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW IS THAT SNOW SLOWS YOU DOWN AND MAKES A CUSHY PLACE FOR YOU TO FALL YOU ARE SO DUMB FOR THINKING THIS SNOWY HILL IS SCARY I WILL MAKE SURE YOU PAY FOR BEING SO NAÏVE. Steep Climb with an icy turn at the bottom; momentum was elusive yet your greatest friend.
Oooohhh flyover number 4! Ohhh fun, downhill chicanes: “The Snowy Off-Camber”. This is the one place I stopped on that first lap. I made the drop around the first right hand turn in the chicane, then the following left, but was too low to take a good line on the second right so I had to walk back up. Braking wheels had pushed the snow from the grass beneath, resulting in icy patches through the turns. I had to find the lines to turn in the snow and grass and cut across the ice with NO BRAKES. I rode that chicane every single time after that. Maybe not fast, but I rode it cleanly.
A video posted by Mark Legg (@kiwivelo) on
Honestly I can’t really remember the order of the course after this. There is another flyover I am sure. And then OH HOLY GOD IT’S ALREADY HAPPENING I CAN’T STOP BETTER NOT TRY TO STOP SHITSHITSHITSHIT….. Another drop. I had been warned by the powers that be that I had been way too cool about everything else. This drop was so steep and long… you couldn’t see the bottom until you committed to going in at the top. Somehow they aligned the turn so it was easier to collide with the inside of the right-hand turn at the bottom than the apex of the turn. Holt shit. I made it! Act. Cool. The hardest part about the drop, actually, was considering your speed at the top and middle so you didn’t have too much at the bottom, which was an icy turn. I wanted to avoid brakes in the turn, and then carry enough momentum for the run up. Some logs and mulch to run up, then heck if there wasn’t a drop right after! This one seemed less steep, but a bit icier.
Loop around on… a road? Gravel? Mud? Ice? Not sure what the surface was, but there were icy tractor tire bump knobs and weird icy transition spots. Then a nice off-camber U-turn. Steep climb up, fun drop down to the mysterious road surface again and then up another climb.
I would like to note: Remember that first drop? Er, the first real one, with the snow? The snow was mysteriously gone from all areas but the flats after that and the “Snowy Off-Camber”. I am not sure if they removed the snow, or put dirt on top. Or of Bieles has the strangest weather patterns all time. Also cool, the top of the venue was grassy, but then we dropped into a weird pit of shale and gravel. They put clay on some of the hillsides and drops and footpaths for the pedestrians. I am not sure if this was conscious for course erosion or if they had it there regardless.
With the lack of snow in mind, we come to the “Muddy Off-Camber”. Again, where did the snow go? This camber was steeper, so the addition of snow and ice would have made it quite tricky. I rode it, though slowly. Then we go down and hit the pavement and go to the run-up that leads to The Camber.
And that’s your lap!
I just did the one because it was all my van legs could take. Okay, the course was not physically taxing, I just knew there was no point on doing more as it was guaranteed to change so much. I did some more time on the trainer back at the hotel.
The USA Cycling team was splitting a hotel with the Dutch National Team, which means, you guessed it, Lars Van der Haar and I were pretty much roommates. I was literal roomies with Courtenay McFadden, but Lars and I made eye contact at least once. So, total besties. The hotel had a restaurant in the lobby so our meals were buffet-style, consisting of boiled meats and veggies and grains. Like, it was all boiled. Except the bread, that was baked. If it were boiled that mean bagels, but I haven’t had a bagel in weeks, sadly (just kidding I had a Lox bagel the day I got home).
Friday I convinced myself I was healthy but I was avoiding touching anything I didn’t have to; I wasn’t shaking hands, and limited contact for fear of germs going either way. I didn’t mention potential illness, though every time I used stairs, I knew in my heart. Literally, my heart burned and pumped like I was doing a sprint interval.
We have breakfast and an immediate lunch, which I put into a Tupperware and carry with me to the venue for a post-ride meal. Friday morning Nick landed in Brussels so I was anxious as he made his way to the venue. I didn’t get to see him until we were both out on course. It sucked, after 2 weeks apart I meet him at the top of The Camber, we share a kiss and I ride away. There wasn’t even a sunset.
On Friday the course was lined with spectators, more than we see on race day in the US. There were groups of kids with specially made t-shirts for the occasion- it was too cute. They wanted high-fives and autographs and just to cheer. Real Fans of Sports Athletes! WHO KNEW!?
Another few laps and I felt confident with the course. Not sure there were too many places to pedal hard, but I was riding the techy bits smoothly and I hadn’t crashed yet. Even if I weren’t the fastest, I would be smooth, which we all know is half of the battle. And honestly the scary things weren’t totally scary, but, I did the thing I do and I imagined the toll of crashing on them. Two things I have learned this season: speed makes everything smoother and easier, and don’t consider the consequences of this fact. It is a hard thing to overcome for those of us with a brain in our heads.
Friday night I tried to not freak out as I hit my last night of sleep before the World Championships. I didn’t really sleep. Neither did Courtenay. I was pretty anxious.
Nick showed up to the hotel that morning to sit with me while I had breakfast, and we reconvened at the venue. The preride showed it was thawing a little, there was mud on the bikes, but there was still some ice out there. I felt confident in my abilities, but still nervous about the course. In the Junior men’s race that morning there was freezing rain that led to a lot of crashes. Sometimes no news is good news in that case.
Rolling to the start it was just like any other race. I was the 19th call-up, third row. I was not nervous enough. I was wearing leg warmers and as soon as I was in the grid I wish I hadn’t been. In the words of Caroline Mani that made me a “tourist” on the day. Most of the riders had bare legs. The sun was warm but the wind was ice! And I was a tourist. I was already upset, and again, not nervous enough.
When the light turned, I didn’t lose spots. But I didn’t gain any, either. After the first turn I saw daylight and a place to charge. I tried, but my legs just didn’t have it. Shit. A pile-up on the first upward punch after the finish straight. Someone goes over their bars, I ride around clear. More daylight but I can’t fight to go into it! I had a few aggressive passes and didn’t get pushed around, but I couldn’t push my body how I wanted to. I made it all the way here, and this is all I have?
It may have been for the best, I get around the course with no incidents. I end up riding a lot of the race solo, chasing, but clean.
I would not have been able to ride my bike on this course last year, and this year, I am riding it cleanly. And though I am not racing it, I still manage to finish 21st – a respectable result for a first world champs. I am a little disappointed I fell ill for the big race, but looking back I knew that in the moment I gave all I had. I was mentally and physically flat, had no push, no passion. I had exhaustion. This year I didn’t have the mental strength to overcome the fatigue of a long season, the long travel, the stress of the biggest race, the fear of an ever-changing gnarly course, all while being a little under the weather.
Do I have regrets about the race? No. I knew I did all I could. I mean, I totally expected to win, OBVIOUSLY, but that will have to wait, because, BEST NEWS! They didn’t cancel cyclocross next year! (yet….) Which means I get to take all of this new skill and knowledge and GO GIVE IT MY ALL AGAIN! Next year I am going to focus more on nutrition and mental strength, as well as a smart structuring of my season, timing peaks, and planning for the longevity of the season. There will be a lot of choices, and when I make them I will keep in mind the most important thing I learned all year: making a choice and giving that decision your all is the only way to advance. If it is the wrong choice, you correct it next lap, next race, next block, or next season. You do not regret it, you learn from it. But next season, it is 100%. Though development is never over, being tentative in the name of development is. Let’s do this, bitches. (next season when I complain about being scared or nervous or unsure, please redirect me here. Thanks).
For a closer look at Bieles 2017, check out this photoset by Nick Czerula: https://spark.adobe.com/page/bmfngbtjivX7u/
A few stats about my season:
- Despite the Scott Addict being the lightest bike I have ever ridden and me being a rough rider and terrible bike packer, not a single broken frame! (I have never broken a frame before, but, hey, notes).
- I never flatted, burped, sliced or otherwise deflated my tubeless IRC tires on my Stan’s NoTubes carbon Valors (nor any other tire on those rims). Nor did I break a rim or spoke.
- I ran 19-26 PSI throughout the season.
- No mechanicals except for a bent rotor in a pre-ride, and a few twisted seat tubes after crashes.
- I ran two choices of chainrings: Wickwerks 34-44 and 34-42. (11-27 rear cassette)
- I learned how to change my own brake pads!
- I raced in only 8 states but 5 countries.
- I have officially race 84 cyclocross races, and average 24 in a full season.
Thanks for following along, you’ll be glad you did so you can say “I knew her when…”