Worlds. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, it is always a strange event. Nationals is weird because it is a one day race that we pour a ton of time and resources in to, but it is our own familiar resources. Worlds? It’s a mix of our stuff with national team stuff. It’s a hotel with weird people and strange food and a timeline dictated by other people. Even the field is strange, because for the world championships U23 women, and this year for the first time ever Jr Women, have their own field, so there were only 35 women in the race.
I think of all of the World’s experiences, this year’s was the best so far. Because of the USAC MudFund, U23 and Junior athletes had a lot of support which freed up another USAC funding pot so that for the first time ever, elite riders were able to attend Worlds without a team fee regardless of qualification level. This was a $1000 savings for me! And because the hotels in Dubendorf, Switzerland are not exactly 100 room Marriots, the Elites were separate from the U23s and Jr’s. Though it was a bummer to miss out on seeing them navigate the experience and get to talk to them about the course and their races and general excitements, it was a hell of a lot quieter at meal time. Think of a high school cafeteria but everyone wearing sweat suits. And 3/6 athletes there were Kona athletes (me, Kerry, and Clara) Yea. So, not only was it a free, quiet hotel with my own room, but, my parents and Barry Wicks and many other USA friends and fans came to Switzerland to watch the race!!! Amazing, but also a little stressful. Because if people make an investment like that, you expect to give something in return. Hell, I feel that way even if someone sets an alarm to wake up in time to find a feed to watch the race. And this course didn’t have enough features to promise making the crash-cam, so yea, I wanted to have a great result.
After a strong first block of racing over here I had pretty high expectations coming in to this last block of the season (second to last because I’d argue post-worlds races are a block their own). I knew I could get a top 5 at Nommay. Was aiming for top 10 at Hoogerheide and worlds. But, it seems that I am not the type to have a breakthrough and stay on top, but instead the type to ride the waves of success, taking the crests with the falls. (Apparently the constant crest-riders go to see Belgian pharmacists, so if that is what it takes, I will accept the natural ebbs and flows.) At the World Cup in Nommay, France, not only did we not get the typical slog-fest that I was hoping for, but I experienced a broken shoe followed by poor judgement keeping me just out of the top 10. At Hoogerheide I fell ill the night before (I woke up at midnight with a scratchy throat and laid in bed crying realizing I was getting a cold)- my dead legs and soggy mind could only carry me to 30th on the fast course (but still only less than 2 minutes down, which is showing of the speed on the day). This left worlds to be my redeeming experience, but, alas, the illness kept me off of the bike Monday, doing an hour easy spin Tuesday, off the bike Wednesday (travel day), easy spin on the course on Thursday, and an inspection on Friday. Not exactly priming the pumps if you know what I mean.
The forecast for the week had hinted at rain. Actually, I read it as if it promised rain each and every day, hopefully turning that flat field of a course into a muddy mess that would see us running and slipping and sliding: the epic slow motion muddy battles that the media and public crave for cyclocross. Instead, we saw sunny skies and temperatures that had the Canadians in shorts and short sleeves. 60 and sunny at worlds? Come the heck on. The ground was virgin and the thick, heavy grass kept the clay-rich soil heavy and slick at the same time. The steep embankments we had to traverse were on the brink of rideable only for the strongest and smoothest of riders. The course wasn’t hard from features but it would be physical from the ground up. A race of fruition and smoothness for sure.
On pre-ride Pete Webber took a few laps with me and helped me smooth out some of my lines and dismounts. I was most worried about the transitions from the steep flyovers to the ground, largely when we were existing on to muddy pavement. I hate the hard transitions with low tire pressure as it makes the front wheel a bit squirrely. I chose my recovery spots to be on top of the flyovers down, until I ran out of momentum. Beyond that the entire course was pedaling.
Start of the race
I was a second row call-up. I chose to grid up towards the left because that is where the front row filled in first, and they must know what’s up, right? The sun and wind had dried up the course a lot from our pre-ride, making it heavy but less squishy. Barely any mud was coming up onto the bikes. But, the forecast showed a chance for rain right at our start and the skies were being coy, showing grey but not yet opening up. I chose tires, toe spikes and clothing based on the chance of rain. Because when in doubt, plan for the shittier even. Better to be a bit overdressed and aggressively treaded and not need it than the other way around.
The light changed and we went. I got my pedal and started hard, as everyone else did. I am sure I lost a little ground but then there were brakes and tires and someone coming in to me – I wasn’t sure what was happening so I sit up and lean in to what was coming over to me. Nearly stopped now. Does she crash? Something happens. But I put it behind me. Shit, HUGE gap to the front of the race and we aren’t even off the pavement. Wow. This is not ideal. Compton comes from behind me, and Clara is ahead of me. Everything about this is weird. We are off the pavement and these ladies are going coocoo, swerving EVERYWHERE. I should have dug a little harder here, but there was a crash to my right, I look over because I’m a rubbernecker if nothing else. I see Clara and Caroline Mani in the bottom of a bike pile. People are swerving in front of me to get out of that. Do I come off the bike? Put a foot down? I don’t know it’s all a blur, but at the first little bump feature I look up onto the first flyover and see the gap from me to the front. But I also see Sanne Cant and Compton with me so I know there is still a chance. I stick to Compton’s wheel but she is letting a gap open up. I burn a match trying to pass only to be blocked by her setting up for a turn. Then, the gap closes because she is a magician. She starts passing and I try but for some reason I just can’t. I was told to not bury myself in the first lap which was bad advice because I have never in my life blown up and gone backwards but that advice just tells me to sit the frick up while everyone else is charging hard ahead of me. And my body is like “whoa what are you doing? We were just on the couch for a week now we are for some reason running for our life? No fire. Let’s slow down”. So, here I was back in the deep teens, aiming for a top 10 and Compton, with the grace of a spawning salmon, has ridden upstream into the fight for top 5.
Shit. I hate writing these blogs because it just feeds into my deep seeded regrets.
Was it mental or physical? Where was my fight? People were there for me and honestly, I felt I let them down. Hoogerheide’s result was physical. I had nothing in the tank. But, for worlds? Come on. I was healthy, I had slept. And the last two laps I really feel I came around, mentally and physically. But what about the first two laps? It wasn’t until I was in a back and forth battle with Christine Marjerus (Luxembourg National champ) that I started to feel like I was racing. I was happy to go back and forth, because it meant I was not giving up. I was able to pedal passed her on the flats, but she flew passed me up the flyovers and run-ups. Eventually I put her behind me and had Sanne Cant in my sights. I wasn’t making errors and I buried my head when I could and eventually caught her and a French girl and was able to pass them both. It was the last lap, and after realiziung I had settled and become complacent, I reminded myself to charge hard. I sprinted out of the turns, and charged up the stairs. Whoops. Charged too hard. I caught a toe spike on the edge of a stair and tripped, falling to my knees on the metal stairs which despite the thin layer of carpeting were still like cheese graters due to their cleating. In an attempt to catch myself, I snagged my front brake-line which pulled out the di2 cable for my battery. My knees were bloody, my front brakeline was rubbing along my tire, and my bike was deemed a single-speed. I was in my 44/15 or so. Luckily everything functioned, but I lost time making sure it did. I also lost time trying to plug that di2 cable back in. And sadly, the trip happened immediately after Pit 1, and Pit 2 was just before the finish. I almost gave up. But, I thought to myself, I have mashed before I can mash now. I can still move forward so I should charge on! And I did. With a group of four or more riders coming up fast behind me, I put my head down. The only person to pass me was Sanne Cant. Could I have passed her back with a bike exchange 400 meters from the finish? I don’t know. But maybe then at least I could have gotten up the flyover! I barely crested the top. And then I rolled in for 13th place, spinning on the pavement hoping the closing group behind me didn’t nip me at the line.
Yea, 13 is my best world’s performance yet; however, I was hoping for more and could have done it. On the day I think I had a top 10 in me if I had known how to better open up despite my illness – this is my first true cold in over 3 years (last year’s pink eye never went into my legs, just a stuffy head) so I have never had to learn in what ways I can push my body through. If I hadn’t had the cold I am more than sure I could have cracked the top 5 in those conditions. I’m sure if anyone in the top 5 read this they would say “no way she would beat me”, but I have to keep feeling these things within myself if I am ever going to see them realized.
I have a few sand-skills to work on if I stand a chance at next year’s worlds; worlds 2022 in the US is a new goal for me, so I have another season to work through some structural kinks. Next season’s schedule and focus is still TBD.
Until then, I have 4 more races here (not racing the Wednesday after worlds in Maldegem due to my bruised and battered knees and lack of a start contract). I am going to aim to stay focused through these races and try to improve upon my results from last year- not that a few of them could get much worse. Am I ready to go home? Only because I have a flight booked and am starting to get a bit burnt out. But I still don’t hate Belgium like so many tend to, and I don’t feel defeated like I have tended to by now. I see the sources of all of the cracks I am starting to see and feel, and feel invigorated to work with my coach (Chris McGovern) and my friends and figure this stuff out. Seems like 40-something is still a good age to push the limits, so why tap out now?
P.S. Is it Worlds or World’s? Should it be capitalized?