Kerstperiode.

After a great ride at Nationals, I was ready to take Europe by storm! But it seems that Europe, or at least Belgium, had a bit of a different idea about my arrival. I had quite high hopes for the world cup in Namur. I didn’t have a result in mind, but a top 30 was expected. A top 20 maybe even not a surprise. Yes, it is maybe the toughest course on the circuit both physically and technically, but I was feeling smooth and confident. The preride the day before went much smoother than last year – I didn’t crash and was able to ride everything, but still ended the day with some butterflies in my stomach about the day ahead. Not about the race, but about the ride. The course is tough.

(December 23) The rain came down and didn’t stop, even for the races. The course was wet and muddy. The word “epic” was dropped a few times.

The mountain bike-esque start climb once again got the best of me, despite being mentally and physically ready. I held my own a bit better on the climb up, but I was timid on the downhill into the first bottleneck. And “holding my own” wasn’t exactly a commanding move from the 4th row (already putting me behind 24 other riders, so realistically I was well behind 30th just in the climb). Coming through the finish after a half a lap, I see I am into the 40s. That’s okay, I think, I can climb up. Others will fade. I GOT THIS! I was riding really well; I took risks, pushed the pace, and didn’t relent. I was passing even when it made me uncomfortable to do so, both physically and technically. It was not without mistake, sometimes it was pass 2, crash and get passed by 5. But then, I made some good passes on the iconic off-camber section. This filled me with some confidence and I went into a rocky straight a bit faster than I had been. This was slightly downhill and at a slight camber. I dragged my brakes to try to make the corner and I lost my wheels. I am sure you have seen the clip of it already.

I ripped my skinsuit, bloodied my body, busted a boa, and shattered my shifters. Adrenaline pumping, I didn’t miss a beat getting up and moving again, taking a slight inventory as I ran up the following incline. The pit was fairly close and I had enough gearing to pedal my way there. With a functioning bike I start a new lap. I am not fighting anymore. I checked out, mentally. I gave up. In the trickier sections all I can think about is crashing so that is what I do. I come into the pit again and look around, and just decide to cut my losses.

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Some days you shred the gnar. Some days the gnar shreds you. Namur did not go as I had envisioned. Once again, the start and aggressive riders got the best of me, and as I pushed the limits trying to fight back into a good position I pushed a little too far. After a few crashes and broken parts, I eventually DNF’d. Looking back I regret not finishing but this course requires 100% control and concentration and those were shaken out of me. For the laps I rode I am am happy with the risks I took. Trusting the #process. Minus the quitting (I prefer to call it respectful withdrawal) I think I am finally embracing the @konabikes way!! #senditsunday Thanks for the video @geoffmart65 !! . . . #konamaxxisshimanocx #uciworldcup #telenetucicxwc #namur #namurwc #konasuperjake #shimanodi2 #rideshimano #ridelikeamyd #cyclocross #cycling #crash

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I had justified my quitting by saying I was too shaken to keep going – and on that course not being on top of your game can be quite dangerous, and my pride was too great to run anything that was potentially threatening. Did I make the right decision? I will have to say I did to keep me from crushing from the inside out, but I regret it. If I had been in the position I wanted to be in I likely would have kept racing. But I wasn’t willing to risk my safety (and equipment) for a “crappy” place. Or that is how it looks to me now? – honestly in the thick of competition your mind changes a little, and it is hard to replicate the thought processes when you are bit more “sober”.

Disappointed with the world cup in Namur, I had redemption only 3 days away at the world cup in Zolder (December 26). Welcome to Kerstperiode – the “Christmas” block of racing in Belgium. The racing is fast and thick.
Last year, without expectations, I did okay holding my own at the race. This year, again, I hoped to exceed those expectations. The night before the race I was full of confidence, but when I hit the course for a preview some of the fears of Namur came flooding back. I wasn’t sure what to expect and despite riding well, I was nervous. I took my spot in the grid, deep in the 4th row again. This was the largest field of women ever – 87 women took the start (where the men get 3 races on the day, for juniors, under-23, and elite, the women are all treated as one). On this course there are so many turns right at the beginning that is hard to know if you should take the left or the right side. I took closer to the right, but somewhat central.

Was my start good, bad, or just okay? I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. It wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t lucky enough. I was caught behind a crash on the start, at the first turn. I saw the pile up happening in front of me so I took the path of seeming less resistance and slowed in to the netting of the fence. People piled into me, including Jolanda Neff who started further back in the grid than I did. Those of us in the back of the crash had to wait for everyone else to move before we could. That put us nearly last. On the fast course that Zolder was this year, it made for hard work to pass, and near impossible to close gaps to those ahead. Jolanda only made it up to barely past 30th place. I crossed the line in 51st after a near perfect race. I had one bobble, and the only other problems I had were likely related to not staying 100% on-pace, which is a huge mental ask when you aren’t actively racing anyone and in a rather poor position. I could not have done what Neff did, and the best I am sure I could have managed was in the mid 40’s, as I was battling with Helen Wyman in the middle of the race and that is where she ended up.

Azencross – Loenhout December 28

After 2 disappointing World Cups, hemorrhaging UCI points, I have no idea what to expect from Azencross. I loved the race last year – with a totally rocking atmosphere, and even a marriage proposal, I had managed a top 20 on the muddy course. This year, the course was dry with only 1 mud puddle, so the only running was the hops over the huge ditches, up one steep pitch, and over the planks. I was behind Katie Compton who missed her pedal at the start. I was distracted. I surge forward when she does and I remember to keep pedaling. And shifting. Total bonus. I was aggressive until the turn, then I start to wimp out and people were coming around me. The first few bottlenecks were slow and tight.

Thanks for the photo, Kerry!

The race settles a little and I battle with a group – I make the pass but lose the ground I have gained when I lose my front wheel in a slick turn. I am in the back of the group again. Later in the course, deep in some turns, I am coasting in for a right-hand turn. The rider in front of me is braking and I coast to their outside. She starts to come over and push me towards the fence – I tap her hip with my hand and say something to let her know I am there. Usually this is enough to get someone to stop moving over or at least gives you time to start to extract yourself. But, nope. She swerves and hip-checks me, throwing me into the fence, nearly sending me over the bars and out of the course if I hadn’t braked harder and reacted correctly. It was a malicious move on her part in a dangerous area. I get off my bike and run to the corner. She wanted to occupy the same space as me so I gave her another chance, but this time I was firmly on my feet and she was precariously perched on two wheels. I take the inside line that she was on. She was forced off her bike, and from there I am not sure what happened but the crowds were roaring over the drama and I ran for my life. I saw a literal fistfight about to break out. Sunny Gilbert saw the whole thing and was titillated by it. In all of the hubbub, it seems my rear Di2 derailleur wire had been severed – not unplugged, but ripped. Not even at a junction. I have no idea what kind of force could have made this happen, but I was stuck in the top end of my cassette and forced to pedal my heart out until the pits. Maybe it was actually a regular cadence, but, to me it was a hummingbird on the pedals. I take a new bike and am back on the group without losing any ground. I chase through on the next straight section and luckily come out ahead, in 15th place in a C1 meaning I got to walk away from the day with a C1 point to show for my efforts.

Another shot from Kerry!

The stressful news was knowing I didn’t bring spare wires because, WHAT ARE THE ODDS, and I had a race the next day!! Luckily, Cyclocross Custom came through with the 30 Euro cost wire hook-up and last-minute fix so I could start with two functioning bikes the next day! Yay!!

Bredene December 29

Sunday was a new-to-me course, a C2 in Bredene, Belgium. I went to the course early for two pre-ride windows so I could get a good recon session and then a faster lap. And man am I glad I did! The first lap was intimidating! Nothing was physically hard, or even very technical, but, it was tricky. The course was over a series of very steep knolls to ride up, down, across and around. The transitions were tricky, there were some slick off-cambers, and a sand pit that included a turn. The start straight was short and went immediately into an off-camber climb, turn, and downhill. Those elements aren’t a problem until the first lap when everyone wants to get there first, but then get immediately taken aback with their entry speed then grab a bunch a brake. So, despite my front row position and not terrible immediate start, I shuffle myself to the back per my usual.  I am not proud.

I chase through. In the second lap I encounter Katie Compton, who isn’t having a great day. I take my time to pass her. At some point, we are encountering a straight that leads into a left-hand turn and into a climb. We aren’t going very fast. Katie, we need more speed if we are gonna make it! WE AREN’T GONNA MAKE IT!! But, she makes it. With no speed, she uses momentum and finesse to get up the pitch. I look like a cat climbing a slide. I awkwardly waddle up. How. Did. She. Do. That.

I inch passed her later in the lap. At Bredene, I used the right amount of patience and aggression in the race to make passes smartly. I made some mistakes, yes, but I was able to power my way to an 8th place finish despite my poor start. Finally, I am starting to get my shit together.

Diegem is a night race on Sunday. It is super popular, but, I was denied start money so I took that as an excuse to not race it. I did not need 3 days of racing in a row, after two world cups, before another mid week race and double weekend. It was just. Too. Much.

Petange – Luxembourg- New Year’s Day.

Most people race in Baal, Belgium on New Years Day. But, once again, we did not get start money there, so we drove to Luxembourg where they did offer us start money. I was warned that this course was HARD in every way possible. And I agree, it was largely a short track mountain bike course. There was climbing, and there was descending. Not the usual twisty grassy track that cyclocross tends to be. It was a lot of double and single track through the woods. I was looking at the start line and I knew I could podium the race. I have the fitness for the climbs and I figured I could hang on for dear life on the downhills.

Oh – did I mention I only got one pre-ride lap in? I headed out for my lap, so I had to climb up the road we were parked on, do the initial pavement start climb, through a short bit of woods, then more pavement, then by the pits. I stop in the pits because my rear tire is a little low and I borrow a pump. I continue on. Then, my rear tire is VERY low. Shit. Seriously? I flatted. SHIT SHIT SHIT. Knowing our resources are limited here in Europe and that Kerry has to use these wheels, also, I walk my bike. All. The. Way. Down. I didn’t want to ride the tire and risk destroying the wheel or the tire in the event the tire is salvageable.

By the time I get the wheel swapped, I have time for one freaking lap. (BTW the tire was fine, the valve was loose or something stupid like that. I think Kerry sabotaged me). This lap I was still getting the layout of the course, and I didn’t have time to figure out gearing for the climbs or speed limits for the downhills.

But stupid me, I let myself listen to advice. The advice was that people explode on this course. That the people who lead early will fade.

These were lies.

My initial problem, was, omg, can we get a DRUM ROLL PLEASE!?!?!?~!? Yea. The start. See, it wasn’t the pedaling. It wasn’t even me. It was everyone else. In the US, we go straight off the line. Ready. Set. Pedal. Go straight. Set up for first turn. Here? Ready. Set. Pedal. Cut off someone next to you, swerve some more, another wheel chop for good measure, and keep pedaling. Honestly, people, straight is also a great option. But I guess when you know it is ME who is pedaling next to you, you really go for the defensive line-chop. So, there I was, already pushed to the back. That’s fine, I said. They will come back to me, they said.

It was hard to pass because though the tape was wide it really was single or double track so you had to really pick your lines well. I finally make it passed the VERY SLOW people who managed to be in front of me initially, and I see the group ahead. The lead group. I am confident that they will come back. I am trying to keep my heart rate in control. Don’t explode. We are done climbing and I lose sight of them because they fly down the hill that I still wasn’t sure how fast to take. A typical CX downhill is short and steep, or at least wide and grassy. This was a long section of single-track with roots, trees, and sweeping turns. If I had been with the group I likely would have been gapped, but not obliterated. But, I was alone. I had no speedometer. I went slow. I know that first lap was slow because I was getting faster and faster with each lap – until the lap when I had a few whoopsie moments and dialed it in a little a lap later.

So there it is – how the race was lost. I had more oomph for the climbs than I put in on the course, but there was no use killing myself on the ups if I couldn’t survive the downs. I was yo-yoing off the front of the chase group as it was, climbing away from them only to be caught after the downhills. I ended up 5th.

So, here we are, 5 races deep in 9 days. We finally get 3 days off – in a row – before a weekend of racing Saturday and Sunday. Then, we fly to Spain for training in the sunshine.

Gullegem and Brussels University – January 5 & 6

The weekend races were two C2’s; one in Gullegem, and one in Brussels. Gullegem never had a huge turn-out in years past, and the Brussels race was a new race, but was a part of the DVV series (an ongoing series in Belgium that many riders are contending in for overall finishes.)

The Gullegem course was fun, but after getting a bar hooked at the start (where the other rider went down, not me, muahahahahaha), I lost some steam on the first lap and again found myself dangling off of the big front group. There weren’t many power sections on the course, as it was a lot of turns and hills. I rode smoothly and was gaining time on the group ahead. I finished a lackluster 11th place. That night, I had a scratchy throat and aching body. The big bad 4-letter word was looming over me and I didn’t sleep leading into the next day.

Preride at DVV Brussels University showed that they designed quite the gnarly course on the University grounds, using every bit of hill for climbs, drops, and cambers. They even had a grassy amphitheater type setting where they made use of uphill and downhill grassy “woops”, like in Loenhout. I actually had a good start to the race, but my legs just weren’t there and it was all I could do to stay within the top 20 with a 17th place, well off the pace for the day.

Needless to say, I think I found my physical limit, and the rest and recharge of Spain is 100% required. Next up is the World Cup in Pontchateau, France, then Zonnebeke, WC Hoogerheide, and then, if all goes as planned, WORLDS! Then I keep racing here until the 19th of February when I fly home.

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