Last season I came out of the gate swinging: winning and making podiums and being overall damn impressive. I expected this season to be about the same, or better if nothing else.
The season started, and it wasn’t better. Or about the same. In fact, it was going quite worse if you just look at results 1:1. This is, of course, due to many factors, some known some unknown. Luckily, though my season did not start out better than last, it may end better. Last year I peaked in the first half of the season, be that because of fitness, illness, or fatigue, I may never know, and this year I could still fall victim to fatigue or illness, but I am already putting down better results.
After a lack-luster day at Devou Park in Cinci, I performed much better on Day 2 at the new park and then in Louisville, despite one mishap and getting caught in some traffic. From there, I rode onto the podium both days at the UCI weekend in Northampton, MA. I carried some confidence into my 1st European trip of the season to do two World Cups: Bogense and Zeven. Last year I wanted to do Zeven but could not quite get the logistics to work out in time, but I am glad I made the trip this year. It is a little weird to travel so far for only 2 races, and it basically feels like I am buying UCI points. But really, the experience racing in European World Cups in unparalleled. The courses are usually gnarly, and the competition is always fierce. In addition, they get great coverage which is good for sponsors, and the more I practice the travel and the stressful experiences, the more prepared I am for the next trip.
When I decided to do the WC in Bogense, Denmark, I contacted the only Danish person I knew: Joachim Parbo. I sort of enjoy being a social butterfly of the cyclocross world, as it allows me to always be experiencing something new, and also, to usually have the best of friends in the right places.
Parbo said he would hook me up, and I was a bit skeptical (if you know Parbo you may know why. If you ARE Parbo, ummm… it’s nothing. We love you.) but he was right-on.
To make the rental car process a little cheaper, I flew in to Hamburg, rented a van, and drove it north to Aarhus, Denmark, home of Joachim Parbo, and temporary placement of Canadian and semi Bostonite Julie Van der Hoop. Julie was kind enough to host me until I moved into the housing promised by Parbo, the Aarhus Cyklebane. On my arrival (Thursday) I slept alright, and got a nice bike tour of the area from Julie and Parbo (Friday). Saturday I took a very round-about journey by van and ferry to pick Drew (Stan’s NoTubes mechanic) up from the Copenhagen airport, and then continue southwards to the Bogense venue. I woke up 1.5 hours away from the venue, yet it took 5 hours to get there. We love Drew.
Lucky for me, and for Drew, Cannondale mechanic Gary Wolff offered his assistance while we were there, and it made everything a lot easier. In the past there were only a few races where I had to use only what I could carry on to a plane, and those other times I was helped out by Gregg Germer (The ChainStay). We were glad to have shelter provided by Gary’s tents, because Bogense was cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass money. No, really, we were in a boat yard and I saw some balls fall off of a brass monkey. The air temp wasn’t bad but the icy wintery wind coming off of the ocean was hell frozen over.
Oh yea, and the course was no picnic either. It had rained a lot the week before, and though that did not create the kind of mud that required bike changes, it did render the only “feature” of the course unrideable. This feature was just a very steep embankment. The mud made it not only too slick and heavy to ride up, but the downhills ended up being runs as well. On preride I could manage riding down half of them, but the mud at the bottom was too unpredictable and heavy to ride through (I think Eva Lechner made this mistake of riding down in the race and lost a lot of time to someone who ran it). One of the downhill off-cambers was so steep and had a rut so deep I was actually hitting my rear derailleur (the mechanism, not just the pullies). Other than the hill the course was slick (meaning slidey, not cool); flat turns and a pavement start/finish straight that had a 20+ mph headwind.
Sometimes on race day I am less concerned about my habits, rituals, patterns, what have you and more concerned about just keeping calm. I felt calm, but a little unsure as to how the race would play out. I am still not sure how to get into a World Cup mindset, maybe calm was good for last year, but it sucks when fighting for a top position.
Gridding up 3rd row I had an okay start through the first two turns. We hit a mud bog at the entrance of Pit 1 and my line gets pushed into the pit. I take a bike and come out the other side maybe in the top 20-30 or even further back. I checked the replay, it was that bad. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN!? Was it just while I was in the pits, or was it leading up to that? I was not aggressive enough. I didn’t attack enough. I just wasn’t enough. Too calm, too lazy, too slow. UGH. Going up the first run up I literally coasted in and walked up. Standing at times. It was like a cat 4 men’s race at the first bottleneck due to traffic. Actually, most of the first lap was spent walking. I made the feed because I didn’t want to walk down one of the hills so I rolled, but upon dismount of my bike I slid. But then there was a huge pile up behind me of people who couldn’t even stay on their feet, so that made me look pretty much like a badass.
I came through the line the first time deep into the top 30 and groups were already forming on the polarizing course. I drilled into the headwinds and straights to catch groups or try to pass through them. Often, once I caught a group I was so drained I could barely keep up while clambering up the hillsides; but chasing is something very familiar to me, so I keep my nose to my stem and kept drilling. Seriously, I had to keep my head down because the sun was so low that I was getting blinded in half of the turns.
By the last lap, I had finally made it into the group where if I beat just one person I was in the top 20, and I managed to do something rare, which was not fall off the back of the group, and even beat a few people in a sprint finish. Finished in the money, and with enough points to make the trip not a waste!
From Bogense I took away a few things: 1) I am much more brave and capable than last year. I was able to smoothly and consistently ride down hills that many were queuing up at the top of to investigate. I did not need the skill in the race, but I am glad that I rode them during pre-ride to keep skill-building.
2) Don’t try to be calm at the start. That was first-year world cup shit. I’m in get your freaking head in the game shit now. I don’t know where I want my mind to be yet, but I know it is one of aggression over calm. Fight over flight.
3) I don’t like getting off of a plane and racing world cups. It isn’t the travel or the jet lag, but instead the race itself. Similar to mindset, I need to get in the zone of elbows out, and that is a bad switch to have off until the regret sets in after the finish line. I’ll need to find a way to do a race or some aggressive drills before the next ones. Or maybe start playing some really aggressive video games.
After Bogense, Drew and I headed back to Aarhus to spend some time exploring. Drew is quite a foodie and wanted a cool experience, so he and I, Julie and Joachim went to a Michelin Star Restaurant, Restaurant Domestic. It was super cool. Not only was the food delicious, but the overall experience was unparalleled to anything I have had before.
On Wednesdays the Cyklebane hosts a weekly cyclocross practice, and I was excited to take part. I not only took part, but Parbo had me lead a little clinic beforehand as well! It was a little bit weird leading a clinic in a place I didn’t know to people whose language I didn’t speak. Though cyclocross is a fairly universal language, I didn’t know their skill levels or what a normal Wednesday was like. It ended up being about 20 participants and myself.
The real fun came after that hour, where the real practice started. It was chaos: 60 people milling around on a coned off course. But, like a flock of birds, they all sort of flowed and worked together very well. It was very neat to see that many people gather for a weekly practice. I sure as hell wish I had that near me in Concord. Nothing like getting your ass kicked in start drills by small children.
Time to head south to Germany! I found an air bnb in Harsefeld, about 30 minutes from the venue in Zeven. Hella nice, cheap, and close, but was for sure not a Hampton Inn a 5 minute car trip away. America has spoiled us as racers.
Zeven started out as a swimming pool and as the racers hit the course for preride it became a swamp. Going 3mph at full threshold or VO2 is one way to warm up, though. The course was heavy with only one small ridge and one hill. I could ride everything except for the run-ups in preride, even if it wasn’t smooth or pretty, or fast. As in Bogense, we all sort of chatted and were predicting it would be faster to run down a couple of the steep hills, but in preride I was riding them only to ensure I was never intimidated by their steep, choppy nature.
I was freaking ready. I had no mindset about my fellow racers but I was ready to thrash on that course.
And thrash I did.
The start was on pavement and led to a sweeping right hand turn with a non-insignificant mud bog in the middle. I planned to grid up on the left to be in a good spot to may avoid a pile-up. Somehow, I ended up on the right. I was made nervous by the fencing and knowing I had to make a tight turn around the fence, but once the light turned green I navigated the first few bike lengths gingerly, then lifted my head and said “all or nothing”. Then, my fears were realized, but strange chance had spared me: a crash in the mud bog, on the left. Where I had planned to be. I feel like half of the field was taken out, even more was slowed down. I made the following left and literally thought “OMG IM DOING IT! IT’S HAPPENING! I’M NOT SUCKING!”
Watch the feed, and when you see us popping up onto that ledge the first time, the entire time we are traversing it I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Into the next mud section, no shoes dropping. Off and running, holy shit, my shoes are still on. My chain is on. I am in the freaking bike race.
I wish I had my heart rate data, but my strap fell off pretty soon into the race. If the data were there it would show that first lap was pinned, then patient in the turns. I was smooth and coasting a lot. I came by the pits and I heard Drew’s voice. He was happy. He didn’t have to use his pity “just keep racing” tone, he got to use “OMG, KEEP DOING THIS”, tone.
Shit, are we running because the is lap 1, or because we are running? We were running because we were running. The course got thicker with the other races. What used to be soupy-sloppy enough to pedal through had become too-thick to ride (with speed) in many places. That’s okay, just do what everyone else is doing. You can do it, Becca. I was riding with Sophie De Boer and Nikki Brammier and Eva Lechner. I was near Katarina Nash (as she passed me). I was freaking THERE! The second or third time I came under the finish line, I looked up and thought “omg, If that said 3rd, then she is 4th, she is 5th, and shit. IM SIXTH!” But, I was so busy looking at that and being concerned with my own awesomeness I never looked at the lap counter. Not once. I was running blind.
I was being consistent, yet trying different lines. Until that last lap. I don’t know what happened. My quad cramped, my mind slowed down. Right when everyone else was ready to charge I was falling apart. I have NEVER lost so many spots in the last lap. I would argue I rarely lose spots in the last lap. And I lost like, 6 of them. I had such a great race and so easily I lost my top 10, and my worlds qualification. Did I finally ride so hard I exploded? I thought it would feel… different. Like a bonk in a road ride. Or did I give up mentally? I was sloppy, and I think it was mostly my imposture syndrome telling me “yea, I feel you pushing me, I know I don’t belong here, go ahead and F*ing take it”. 12th is still good but not when you were in the fight for 5th.
I am now sitting here, thinking about redemption against myself. Can it happen here on home soil? Is it the same to fight for an elite win as it is to fight for a world cup top 10? It doesn’t feel the same. I will be back, and maybe sooner than I originally thought.
To round out my trip, I managed to get a flat in the rental car, drive 1.5 hrs to a closed Christmas market, and forget to get all of the cute little things I was thinking of brining home. But don’t worry! Drew and I managed to have a good time in Hamburg before we left.
Now a quick turn-around to have a local race here at NBX in Rhode Island, then down in North Carolina, and then… you’ll just have to tune in to see what happens next.