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February 2nd, 2011
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.
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.
January 29th, 2011
It’s been a good week since Hoogerheide. The week flew by, which is weird because time usually stands still in Europe when most of our time between races is spent doing the same thing day after day after day. The daily routine goes something like this…
-sleep in (with jet lag still lingering sometimes ‘sleeping in’ gets a little ridiculous ie, 11:30)
-eat breakfast/lunch while catching up on emails, twitter, facebook and news
-ride, which in Belgium usually means riding the rollers because it’s too crappy to ride outside, especially on a recovery day
-eat again because what else is there to do
-post on twitter that it’s raining outside – again
-get a massage and body work with Paul Van Loon (my savior over here)
-drive to Delhaize, the local grocery store, to pick up items for that night’s dinner
-cook dinner for the ‘kids’, then watch them clean up (that’s the benefit of being the cook)
-reply to all the tweets and facebook posts from earlier, chat on skype since everyone back in the US is now awake
-watch a movie from Danny’s collection (do NOT watch ‘The Freebie’)
-finally go to bed around midnight
So, you get the gist. I wish I could say that when I’m in Europe I get the opportunity to do something a little more entertaining than sit around on the computer all day trying not to eat everything because I’m bored, but that’s the reality of it all. Actually, let me rephrase that…I DO have the opportunity BUT cyclists tend to be a lazy breed because we don’t dare stand on our legs when we don’t have to. I heard there was a group of Americans who visited the Westvletern Brewery (the same one I visited last year with this said group of Americans) but I was cordially NOT invited this year. So, I stuck to the game plan above instead.
We did veer from the norm on Wednesday when we drove to Kalmthout to do a woods ride with Paul VL, Katie, Mark and company. For this particular ride, Paul had designed a little mini Worlds course with steep ups and downs and even a stair section. We zipped around doing efforts on different sections of the course, which is just the kind of training that I wish I could do more often. Doing efforts on the road doesn’t compare to going full bore on technical sections when you’re gasping for breath while having to maneuver your bike over and around branches, mud, etc. Plus, there were some rutted sections that Danny and Cody were helping me with since ruts are one of my biggest weaknesses. I have to admit that one thing I really do enjoy in Belgium, at least in the Kalmthout area, is riding in the woods because it makes me feel like I’m doing something that will help me improve my skills the most. With the right group of people, it’s like doing a ‘cross race in your backyard.
From Kalmthout we drove on to Izegem to the U23 house to stay for the night. The next morning our alarms buzzed at us bright and early and the US team piled into the vans for the drive to Sankt, Wendel, Germany. Finally. The event we’ve all been waiting for – the World Championships.
After checking in to our hotel we had just enough time to get to the course for our first preride on the Worlds course. Dang, what a mess! Slick and muddy. Globs of mud got flung up both nostrils. I was blowing mud boogers the rest of the day.
But overnight the temperatures plummeted and the course went from being a mud pit to being a frozen, rutted ice skating rink. From one day to the next the course had changed like night and day. That’s the thing about ‘cross racing, you never know what you’re gonna get. Conditions can change in an instant. When we were preriding today, the course was changing from lap to lap. One lap the line on the right side of a descent was the best. The next lap the one right down the middle was the hot line. You always have to be on guard for whatever lies around the next corner.
People keep asking me what my goal is for tomorrow. Last year, in my first ever Cyclocorss World Championship, I was 12th. Now, one year later, with more experience and knowledge and skill, I want more.
January 24th, 2011
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.
January 7th, 2011
Almost 2 weeks have passed since the World Cup in Zolder and I’m still trying to wrap my head around what happened there. Demoralizing and disappointing are understatements. I’d had a great week of training with Katie and Mark and more massage/body work with Paul. Ben had been there for a couple days – he had flown over so we could be together for Christmas and my birthday. Troy Laffey was also there to make sure everything was dialed mechanically and it was. My body was feeling good and I wanted so badly to have a good race in Zolder…but things don’t always go according to plan.
During the pre-ride on Christmas day, it was painfully obvious that being successful on this course would require a lot of nerve and grit because it was thick with snow and ice. Being loose and relaxed on the bike was going to be key. But….there were 2 sketchy downhills that I didn’t feel comfortable riding so right off the bat I had lost some confidence. There were also a couple steep run-ups that were so steep it would have been easier to chuck the bike to the top and then claw my way up the “wall”. No joke. Those weren’t a concern but more like “really?”. There was another tough section that included a tight and icy 180 degree turn that was no doubt easier to run. I definitely felt anxious, nervous and way out of my element. After a few laps around the course, working on the more difficult sections, my anxiety dropped a notch or two but I wasn’t exactly full of confidence.
The next day, my birthday, I woke up feeling a little less nervous. I kept telling myself everyone was in the same boat. No one would have an easy day out there. For some it would be easier than for others, but nothing was a gimme (unless you’re Katie Compton). The Juniors and U23’s also raced that day so by the time I got out for a few warm-up laps the course had changed a lot. There were a few more lines here and there but it also had become more slick in places from the snow being tamped down. But, after watching others struggle with the course just as much as I did, I decided that it was ok to run the sections I was uncomfortable with – when in doubt, run it out. Ride, run, just get the job done. I finished my warm up on the rollers, had my shoes set up with some serious toe spikes to help me on the run-ups and icy sections and rolled to the start feeling more at ease about the course then I did the day before. I also noticed that Hanka was a DNS so at least I had the nerve to start.
I was called up number 14 again so another 2nd row start. The light turned green and the race was on. We all knew that once we hit the snow all hell would break loose. Sure enough, chaos. Bikes and people flying everywhere. I was taken down but grabbed my bike quickly and started running along with everyone else. Without the ability to find a line to ride in and still packed in like sardines, it meant that we had to run for what seemed like an eternity. Luckily I had good running legs that day and was able to pass a handful of people. Once space started to open up I jumped back on my bike but struggled getting clipped in – just like everyone else – and started to lose some of the spots that I had made up because it’s hard enough to pedal through snow with 2 legs, much less one. For most of the lap I was unable to ever get both feet clipped in, therefore making it extremely difficult to made any headway through the snow and all the little ups and downs. I was frustrated. And then, after coming off the ramp onto the pavement, I stood up to pick up speed and both feet came off the pedals. I landed on the top tube with both feel skidding along the pavement like the Flintstones but completely out of control. I thought I was either going to hit the pavement, hard, or run smack into the metal fencing lining the pavement. About 200m later I came to a halt after I had skimmed the fence with my knee. Little damage was done but that freakish episode scared the shit out of me. Ryan Trebon saw the whole thing and was impressed I held it up. Shaken up and pissed off I made my way to the pit, got a bike change and tried to keep going. A minute later I pulled myself off the course. I was DFL and had lost all my focus. There was no way to ride that course without total focus and determination. For the first time this year, after all the mishaps that I’ve had and kept going, this one got to me. I was done. No mas. My result from the previous weekend was disappointing. This performance was exasperating, demoralizing, disappointing, crushing. I went to the RV and had a total meltdown. Yup, I can admit that. Twenty minutes later, after letting all my frustrations out from the entire season, I felt better. Better is relative here, but better nonetheless. To make it even better, though, was watching Katie completely own that race. She killed it once again. And Sue and Mo both had top 20 finishes so it was a good day for the American women.
There was still some birthday celebrating to do so Ben and I went out for a nice dinner and drinks in Hasselt that night. It was quiet, peaceful and just what I needed.
Besides the fact that I didn’t get the results I wanted from the races, the trip was worth it. It’s not easy going to Europe and being comfortable in such a different environment, especially during the holidays, but being surrounded by good company made the day to day life easier. It was fortunate that Ben was able to be there with me and that we had such a large American contingent to keep the spirits high.
And a huge thanks again to Anthony, Cal Giant, Specialized for making the trip happen and to Ben for always being there along the way.
Now, I’m twiddling my thumbs, drumming my fingers and hitting USA Cycling’s refresh button every 5 minutes waiting for the World’s selection announcement to come out…..