Let me start off by saying, “phew, that’s just what I needed”. I’m talking about my result at the Hoogerheide World Cup yesterday, of course. After the disastrous European trip over Christmas, I needed to come back and redeem myself. I’d say 12th place isn’t so shabby. Actually, it ties for the best result I’ve ever had in Europe – I’ve now had 3 of them. 12th places, that is. The next step is to take it 2 places higher to a top 10. I wonder if I can do that before this ’10/’11 season is over? The only place to find out is at Worlds next weekend in St Wendel, Germany.
Last season I came to Europe to race the Roubaix and Hoogerheide World Cups as a prep for Worlds. Roubaix was the first WC I had ever done, my first CX race in Europe. I finished 12th. Going into Hoogerheide the next weekend I was hoping for a top 10 but I ended up 20th. That was hard to swallow. Not exactly what I wanted going into Worlds in Tabor the next weekend, but I went to Worlds and walked away with a 12th place, which I was definitely happy about.
This year I came to Europe for the Kalmthout and Zolder Worlds Cups with rather high expectations. I ended up sucking, bad. Epic fail. My result at Kalmthout was pathetic. I DNF’d at Zolder, something I had never done in a CX race before. I had a meltdown, went home to recover and in a couple of days found my mojo again. I knew that I wanted to go back to Europe for redemption and to be part of Team USA in St Wendel. But my spot on the team was not for certain and I had to wait until Jan 7 to hear the official announcement. It was music to my ears when I finally heard that I had been chosen for the team.
While waiting for the selection to be made, I couldn’t sit around twiddling my thumbs so I headed to CA to do some cx, mtb and road training around Watsonville/Santa Cruz. It was possible to ride on the road in CO but it was impossible to do any sort of off road training with all the snow that we had gotten. My biggest limitation in CX is my lack of skills so being able to get out on the trails was important to my pre-World Cup/Worlds prep. My favorite ride in CA was a mtb ride in Wilder State Park with a crew of 8 guys and me. Specialized hooked me up with a sweet Epic Evo for the day so that I could rip around with the boys without getting too destroyed. The guys were fast and skilled but it was the perfect mix of people – no one tried to be the super star although easily any one of those guys could have taken it up about 10 notches. I held my own for most of the ride but when it came to railing the fast, technical descents I was happy to bring up the rear. There’s nothing I hate more than holding someone else up when I know they want to hit the throttle hard. I did yard sale spectacularly once and that’s when I knew I had to take it down a couple notches so that I didn’t take myself out with a stupid injury. Almost 5 hours later we rolled back into town purely satisfied with smiles on our faces and growling stomachs. It’s those kind of rides, through the Redwoods under a canopy of trees, over roots and leaves, popping in and out to see the ocean, that I miss in CO. Of course I love the riding in CO, too, but it’s so different in CA. A very contrasting scenery but a similar feeling of bliss.
To wrap things up in CA I raced the Surf City CX race in Santa Cruz to practice skills while going full out. Skills practice just isn’t the same when you aren’t gasping for breath and wondering why your legs hurt so much. It was a fun little course, zipping through the trees, over barriers, and up stairs, that was perfect for brushing up on skills. Just as fun though was heckling Eric and Ben Bostrom, Jordi and AJM during their race. In turn I was heckled just as much although Eric and Ben have a little learning to do in that department. I’m pretty sure on the track they aren’t used to such shenanigans and tom foolery.
Back in the Fort I did my final tune-up rides in some ferocious wind. No joke, I had to walk my bike across a bridge because I was afraid I’d get blown off onto the highway below. But, a HTFU ride like that was good for the body and mind.
Finally it was time to ship off to Europe. My traveling partners, Kid Kaiser and Danny Summerhill, and I met up in Denver for the trek over. After a loooooong day on the plane and then in the car we ended up at our apartment for the week in Brecht. After a few jet lagged sleeps it was race day already.
Back to Hoogerheide. Last year I struggled with the course because, although Roubaix was a really tough course, Hoogerheide was technically like no other course I’d ever raced on and I floundered. So this year I was unsure about how I would do but I was determined to make the most of whatever it threw at me. During the pre-ride on Saturday, there were a few deep, muddy sections and some fast, hard packed sandy sections. Question was, as it always is in Holland/Belgium, would it rain and how would that change the course? Sure enough, we woke up to darkness and rain on race day. The course had become even more challenging because the muddy sections had become peanut butter-like, thick and crunchy, and the fast sections had become slick. It was going to be a low tire pressure day to maintain as much traction as possible.
Because of my dismal performance last time, I lost several UCI places and was now third row in the starting grid. Ugh. I’d been practicing my starts, though, so I was feeling somewhat more confident about getting off the line faster. Unfortunately, it’s the other people lined up in front of you who dictate how fast you can make your way through the chaos. Sure enough, someone almost put Sue (who I was behind) into the barriers and I had no choice but to pull some brake. As usual the first section off the pavement was where shit would hit the fan because there was a muddy bog that would slow everyone down creating a domino effect for everyone behind. The speed slows down so much that there’s no way to power through a section like that so it means dismounting to run through it. Fortunately, I made it through still pedaling so now it was game on to try to catch the front group.
Lap after lap I was catching and passing riders, particularly when they pitted and I didn’t. I was smoother than I ever have been through the ruts (I still have a lot of work to do, don’t get me wrong) and I was feeling strong in the grueling power sections. Running through the mud and up the run-up hurt, a lot.
I remember at one point someone yelled out to me I was in 19th, right around where I finished last year. Determined to improve my result, I kept digging deep and stayed focused. Although I should have done bike changes I never did because I was afraid to lose any places I had gained. Probably not the best decision – just one more thing I have to become comfortable with – but it seemed to work for me. I raced a flawless race, meaning I had no crashes or mishaps, and gave it everything I had.
So was I happy with 12th? Yes, very happy to have bounced back after the last trip to redeem myself, but of course there’s that part of me that wishes I’d had just a little more gas and deftness for a top 10. Flawless maybe but faster is what I need. Speed, luck, confidence, focus, determination, and a lot of true grit will hopefully get me there one day. Sooner than later would be nice.