When I left you last, I was headed for Spain with Kerry and Emily to seek out sunshine while the Euros had their Nationals. At this time, I did not know if I was on the worlds team or not.
Spain was great; there was sun and some longer hours on the bike. Not really “training” because after the long Christmas period it was really pushing it to even ride easy, but I could not pass up the copious sunshine on my bare skin. And as soon as I was ready to maybe do some proper riding it was time to start gearing up for racing again! From Malaga I flew to Nantes, France to do Pont Chateau world cup.
This race was a bit of a logistical nightmare and hence why Kerry sat it out. Myself, Corey and Tyler chipped in to help the mechanics get out there and have a place to stay, and I had to juggle my equipment between 3 countries and many different people handing it off to make it safely, and it all did.
The Pont Chateau course was ripping fast and either uphill or downhill- it was really quite incredible. Though I felt a little more fit after Spain, I think it is fair to say I was flat, especially compared to the Europeans who were one week off of their Nationals fitness. Despite a bad start (Jesus I am a broken record. At this point I can just say “despite starting the race…”) I made hella passes in the first lap and was super aggressive. When I found my group, the battle for a top 20 spot, I was able to battle only for a few laps before they took the wind out of my sails and I rolled in behind them, in 26th.
With that out of they way, it was just Zonnebeke, Hoogerheide and then Worlds. I found out while in Spain that I qualified for a fully non funded spot to Worlds (aka I pay $1600 to represent team USA while they cover accommodation and housing and food and race mechanics).
In the week between the final world cup rounds I met up with Australian national team coach in Oudenaarde for a little coaching session. He coached me through turning on the same tiny circle for over an hour and a half. This was the session I have always needed that no one ever let me have. Even after this long I could not rip the turns like Kerry, but, I was able to get down the mantra to take into any turn to get myself through it smoothly. Mark and I also had a chat where I didn’t admit anything new, and he maybe didn’t say anything I had already heard, but, I think I finally “flipped the switch” and instead of just expecting things to start to happen, I made a change to make them happen.
So here I am, heading into the week before Worlds with a new mindset and some new turning skills. I was SET.
Zonnebeke is one of two C2 races the day before Hoogerheide that we used for start money and an opener. I got a front row start, and…. Who went to the record store??? —- I HAD A GOOD START!!!!!! I was 3rd wheel going into the first turn. I don’t even do that in US C2s!!! And was a good thing I was towards the front, because where our preride was icy and just a little slick, the ground had thawed and racers had churned it up and it was downright MUDDY! There was carnage on the first lap. I made a few mistakes, along with everyone else, but I was separated from the lead group. I was focusing 100% on my race and the task at hand, and not worried about where I was overall. I dealt with racers immediately around me and tried be patient, smart, and fierce. This paid off because I ended up 6th and beating a few riders I don’t always come out ahead of.
I hoped the heavy, muddy race on Saturday didn’t hurt my legs for World Cup Hoogerheide the next day, but I told myself that the good mental vibes would offset any bad legs. And sure as shit if my legs didn’t feel like hell on my preride the next day. I was not sure how it was going to go. The course I had only ever seen as a fast and dry race turned out to be muddy, rutted, slick, and even heavy. This pleased me.
The Hoogerheide start has always baffled me. I should be good at it, because it is long and uphill, so even someone like me who may be slow off the line has the time to get on the pedals and use power to crank to the front. But maybe it isn’t the start at Hoogerheide that baffles me, but the world cup field and environment; an unrelenting surge of the strongest riders. And I mean the strongest, because usually everyone who races worlds comes to Hoogerheide, plus the nations are able to bring nearly twice as many riders to a world cup as worlds, and then in addition at world cups ALL WOMEN race together, elite, u23 and junior, whereas at worlds the elite get their own race. It was the 2nd or 3rd largest field of the year (Zolder’s 84 is still the largest I think).
The start wasn’t great, but, it didn’t suck. The immediate start was not good, as Sophie DeBoer and I hooked arms and were leaning against each other, and I was in front of her so for us to get away in the field I had to pedal away but I froze. She was yelling at me, and I froze. I slowly edged forward for her to boogie on by. I followed. Sure, I wasn’t leading the bike race or anything, but I came by the pits getting cheers of fierceness, not the pity coax for more effort. There were many crashes in the first few turns and I had to navigate bodies and bikes and ruts and decide to run or ride. I kept moving up steadily.
In lap 3 I was in a good place near Eva Lechner. Then, I came to the turn that in preride on Friday I did about 20 times, no joke. Everyone was taking the inside line and running but I liked riding the outside line and riding out. But, that lap, I was distracted. I looked at Eva, then I looked at the rut. That I was in. And that was it. I high sided the rut, and came off the bike and nearly into the camera man, who captured apparently the only crash of the whole race. I made the crash cam. YASSSS.
The crash (that was more of a graceful topple-over) was no big deal, I got up and kept going quite easily. My bike was fine, my body was fine. Except for the mud clod that was thrown up under my glasses by my front wheel. I had mud IN my left eye, so badly that if I closed my right eye I could not see anything. I had to take a moment to wipe my eye and compose myself. Then I had to take my time because I was essentially blind. My glasses were coated, my eye was blinded, my other eye was watering. It was not pretty. So, I lost the wheels I was chasing and I was so distracted and blind that I was getting passed. I was worried about where to throw my glasses because I only have one pair left this trip. I wanted to stop in the pits to have them pour water in my eye. I was worried I was actually going to go blind!!!
I kept charging forward and even after that I was able to pass even Jolanda Neff. I was trying to be patient and even follow her lines, until I realized she was going way too slow even for me. Granted, this was on a pedally and runny section, but, I leave the statement stand just so I feel like a mega baller.
I was able to finish up 18th, my 4th best European world cup ever.
As worlds were in Bogense, Denmark, USAC drove from Sittard, Netherlands. Kerry and I are in Oudenaarde, Belgium. We flew to Copenhagen. He got a car and drove with Emily and Kerm to his air bnb and I took a train from Copenhagen to Odense to meet up with USAC. The morning I woke up to fly… I felt it. I felt something off in my head. It was the start of an illness.
I had been worried about my eye after the race. Kerry said I was going to get eye E-Coli and they were going to have to take my eye out with a spoon. I had got some eye wash to clean the eye out and it was feeling fine minus the little morning crusty. It turns out, my eye may have been the gateway for a virus. They eye that had not been red for two days after the injury was turning pink. The eyelids were inflamed. My glands were swollen, nose was stuffy and head was fuzzy – I was sick.
To make matters worse, I was going to a hotel full of athletes for the world championships. Luckily no one there could get sick in time for it to affect their races, but, it is still not worth the possibility and I was placed in my own room and treated like a pariah. The stress of the illness before my own race combined with the utter loneliness of being an outcast on top of the homesickness (remember folks, I have no seen home for 56 days at this point, and still had over 20 to go in the trip) was all too much to bear. I was cracking. I had to leave dinner one night to go cry in my room.
Since Hoogerheide I was only doing easy spins inside. I did a short preride on Friday on the frozen course which was similar to the world cup version except faster and the addition of flyovers for pedestrian crossings. The downhills were rideable but the transitions were so hard and abrupt people were flatting just on frozen lumps. I was not excited for the race ahead. The course was bad for me and with my illness I didn’t expect much. This may have been my saving grace.
In a turn of events that can only be due to racked up karma, I woke up the morning of the race able to breathe out of my nose for the first time in days. I had been up most of the night coughing but my eye wasn’t crusty!!!!! I was in good spirits at breakfast – better than I had been all week.
As the elite women were warming up, it started happening. Well, two things happened. My heart rate proved responsive to my efforts, and, it was raining. THANK YOU GODS OF CYCLOCROSS!!! More karmatic goodness.
I was grid up in row 4/5, so, let’s just say that at one point after the start I looked over my shoulder to see if I was in dead last. Not dead last. I did some passing. I actually think I started well then lost places in some turns. I came through the first lap in 24th I am a little surprised! I mean, there were only 40 starters, but I didn’t think I had passed that many already. I keep trucking and I find myself in 18th coming in for the next lap. Then 17th the lap after that. I am picking off riders and riding smooth, I have got this!! At this point I am trading places with Loes Sels and Helen Wyman. I come through in 15th, then, I come through in 14th and I have a good gap on the two behind me and I am closing in on 13th. I am going to get it. I CAN DO IT!!! Holy crap! Then, they holy crap got the best of me and I dumped it. I had gone down after I pitted for a clean bike, and I am 99% sure that the USAC mechanics did not set my tire pressure and my tires were too hard. I took a bike at the start and there was no air in the tires, and then as soon as I pitted I could not turn due to my lack of grip. But, I didn’t get the chance to have the pressure checked when I finished so I will never know. I went down once in the whole race, and in that moment I was caught and passed and the switch inside of my went from YOU CAN DO IT and you ARE doing it, to, man, you proved you can do it now you should just be safe.
Gotta admit, I am a little disappointed in myself for that. I finished 16th and I was in the hunt for 13th. It hurts the more I think about it, but, I have to flip the race around and remind myself I came in with no expectations and a bit under the weather. I could tell my head was fuzzing when I was digging deep and that is no good way to ride a slippery course.
I am proud of my result, but I want you all to know that this is not a great result for me, this is the place I belong. I have ridden this way before, I just have never been able to maintain it. But, now, just in time for the season to end, I am getting a grip on it. A few more races left, and hopefully I can keep it all together and keep getting some results and then build on this for next year. Next year, I am hunting for that top 10 at worlds, not just a top 20 or even top 15. I also know that next year I will have my own mechanic at worlds, watching out for me and my equipment. I don’t want to sit around for weeks after the event thinking about my tire pressure and why I didn’t get to cool down and what if….?? It is time to take a more proactive role in my career – make the skills happen. Demand more of myself. Be uncomfortable. Take it to the next level!!!!!!!!