I woke up the morning of Worlds feeling like I do on any other race day, a little nervous but excited. Ok, maybe a little more nervous than usual – it IS the World Championships. The big day had finally arrived and I was ready for it.
We got out to the course around 8:45am to start warming up…it was COLD (probably 25 degrees) so we literally needed to warm up. Benno and Alessio were already at the Specialized tent waiting for me with my bikes ready to go.
Around 9 I hopped on the rollers to get my legs moving before heading out to the course for a preride. And I had my usual trance music playing in my ears to get the rhythm flowing.
While I was warming up in the big “S” tent, Dave Towle (race announcer extraordinaire) and Iri Greco (BrakeThrough Media/Panforte) came around to ask Katie and I a few questions about our SRAM and Zipp equipment. I’m not sure how Katie responded but I’m sure our answers were similar – SRAM and Zipp have provided us with the best equipment available. When it comes to equipment, I never have any doubt that it will perform to perfection, rain or shine.
Finally it was time to roll out on the course. When riding the day before around noon, the course had started to soften up a bit, but I knew that at 9 o’clock in the morning with the temperatures still dipping below 0 Celsius the course would anything but soft. The tricky off camber section was rock solid and ridable. The descents were straight forward and the frozen ruts that hadn’t been shaved down weren’t that hard to navigate. In my mind there were only a couple sections that could cause any grief. I rode one lap, felt good about it, and finished my warm up back in the tent.
The mood all around was enthusiastic – Katie, Sue, Amy, Kaitie and I were feeling good and super charged to go. Katie was going for the rainbow stripes and Amy, Sue and I were hoping for a top 10, which was all within our reach. Kaitie was starting her 2nd CX race in Europe and her first ever World Championships so she was there to take it all in, learn a few things and enjoy the experience.
The minutes seemed to be counting down faster and faster, and finally it was time to make my way to the starting area. Unlike every other CX race I’ve done, we didn’t start/finish on pavement but on a running track. When we arrived it was still coated with a light layer of frost, causing a tinge of concern, but the sponginess of the track kept it safe and tacky.
In the starting area photographers armed with cameras the size of small animals draped from the neck and shoulders were milling around to capture the nervous energy and excitement as the riders rolled back and forth to stay warm, practiced a few last minute starts and chatted with media and spectators. Managers stood on call to give last words of encouragement. Anthony was there to keep my nerves in-check, reminding me that it was just another bike race.
The ubiquitous voice of Richard Fries, who for the 2nd year was announcing all the races, began calling “elite women to staging”. We were corralled into the staging area and one by one each rider was called onto the starting grid. Katie was called up numero uno since she was number one in the world. Lined up in the 2nd row were Sue and I, Amy was 3rd row and Kaitie was 5th row. I was the last person to be called to the 2nd row so I didn’t have a choice of where to line up. I was hoping for middle to outside but the decision had been made for me – far inside of the track behind Helen Wyman of Great Britain. We were packed like sardines in the grid, but it was important to somehow keep the blood flowing to avoid freezing so I hopped from one foot to the other, shook out the legs, (carefully) swung the arms around.
At the 2 minute mark we shed our extra layers, which with the temperatures hovering around 27-28 degrees not a lot came off. At the 1 minute mark everyone was clipped in, elbows out, wheels overlapping, chomping at the bit. At 30 seconds all eyes were on the stop light – it can change from red to green at any time. Bam, we got the green and it was go time.
I hadn’t wanted to line up on the inside of the track because I knew that everyone would automatically drift inside as we rounded the first turn. Sure enough, I was boxed in on the inside and had to fight tooth and nail not to roll over the rail that lined the inside of the track. As we came out of the first turn some space opened up but it was quickly shut down again as we rounded the last turn onto the first hard packed section of the course. I was no where near the front. I saw a sea of colors filling the course in front of me but I had to stay calm. I’d been there MANY times before so I knew it was too early to panic.
Within 600m from the start we hit the trickiest section of the course – a couple slick turns into barriers into an off camber section into a steep drop in. During my warm up lap I was able to ride the off camber section without problems, but I knew that on the first lap this section would cause chaos so I was fully prepared to start running. Sure enough, there were bodies flying everywhere so I dug my toes into the hillside and ran.
I made it through the mess unscathed, got down the steep drop in safely (this particular section had become so rutted and frozen that it had to be shaved down smooth for safety) and hit the arduous, leg burning climb. I made up a little ground here before we hit the next drop in, cautiously turned right at the bottom, hit the next drop in, turned left at the bottom and started going up again past the first pit and into the stairs (of which there were 20).
Over the top we dropped down again and went flying into a steep uphill. Here’s where chaos ensued again…with enough speed it was easy to get over the top of the hill without too much trouble but even at high speed the last couple pedal strokes over the top were a bit of a grind. I imagine that as people slowed down over the top it caused a domino effect which forced people behind to slow down even more thereby making it difficult to ride over the top cleanly. As I came in hot I noticed riders in front of me on the ground. I tried to thread my way through a hole but just as I was making my way through a rider picked up her bike and clipped me. I went down. No big problem though. Recovering quickly I began grinding my way up the last difficult climb on the course. Again, another section where I was able to make up spots. Then we hit another quick hill that popped us into a fast serpentine, rutted section. This particular section was still so hard packed that riding through it was amazingly easier than it had been during my preride the day before when the sun had started to warm things up. If you hit the ruts at an angle you could ride right over the top of the ruts without getting tossed around in them. Another little drop in and then we were speeding past the 2nd pits and back onto the track.
On lap 2 I came into the off camber section with more space around me so I decided to try to ride it. Didn’t work. I hit the ground pretty hard but was able to bounce back up to start pedaling again.
I’m not really sure where I was in the order of things at this point but I do know that every time I hit the climbs I was able to pass groups of riders. The first time I recall hearing someone yell to me my position was somewhere in the 20’s. Maybe after lap 2 I came through the finish and saw that I was 19th. Top 20 was not good enough. I kept big pressure on the pedals on the climbs to continually pass riders, eventually moving into 11th place.
Then disaster struck. Just as I was passing the 2nd pit my rear tire went flat. Poof. It wasn’t a slow leak, it was completely empty. Just my luck. I was as far away from getting a bike change as possible. The same shitty luck plagued Danny Summerhill the day before in the same spot. He fought his way back to 13th. Unfortunately for me when I hit the track with my flat I only had 2 laps to go. I had to ride more than half a lap with a completely flat tire, not such an easy task. All the riders I had previously passed were now passing me back. Finally I got to the first pit for a bike change and was able to ride the last lap and a half at full gas again.
But I had lost so much ground I couldn’t even see riders in front of me to chase down. Amy D. rode up to me (she’d also suffered from bad luck) and we rode to the finish together.
During that last lap I tuned my ears into what was unfolding in front of me – since my race was essentially all but over, I wanted to hear if Katie Compton was going to be the next World Champion. I was listening to Richard give a blow-by-blow account of Katie, Marianne and Katerina battling each other for the coveted rainbow stripes. From what I could tell it was a fierce battle, but I was sincerely disappointed that it wasn’t Katie who would don the rainbow jersey on the podium. She’s a class act, a leader in the sport and in my mind a World Champion. That aside, I can’t say that Marianne Vos didn’t deserve her 3rd rainbow jersey. She, too, is a classy woman, a deserved champion. And, wow, so stoked for Katerina to round out the podium. It says something about the competition in the US to see 2 woman who race in the US to step onto the podium at the biggest event of the season.
I didn’t get the result I wanted, but I’m confident that had I not flatted I would have ridden myself into the top 10. At least that is something to give me some piece of mind when thinking back to what coulda, shoulda, woulda been. Not one to be dragged down, I’m already thinking forward, planning next season, counting down the months until ‘cross season rolls around again.