In late March I found out I was selected to represent the USA at the Pan-American Continental championships….in Tucuman, Argentina on April, 7th. I was super excited-both for the opportunity to race for team USA, but also for the chance to visit Argentina. I had never been to South America and Argentina had always been on the top of my list.
Before I knew it, I was standing outside in the snow waiting for the bus to take me to the airport for my trip down south. After a pretty epic travel day consisting of 3 flights, several shuttles to and from various airports, and lots of waiting in lines, I arrived with the rest of the 9 members of Team USA in Tafi Del Valle, about an hour outside of Tucuman. We spent the early evening building bikes ravenously waiting for dinner. Marc, the team manager, warned us that his meal the previous night left a little to be desired, but he had asked the hotel manager if they could try and “cook a little better” for us. Well, not sure if it was better or not, but we ended up getting some sort of mystery meat and a very salty salad. We were all too tired and hungry to care as we quickly ate, said our good nights, and all headed to bed.
The next morning, the sun was shining, birds were singing, and all seemed right with the world. Amazing what a solid night’s sleep will do for your outlook! After a quick breakfast, we all kitted up and headed out to explore the course. I was sort of surprised at the terrain…it was very similar to the familiar environment of Fruita, Colorado. Very arid, high desert-like, with loose sandy climbs and descents. I thought this was a course I could do well on. Not to mention we were at a pretty high elevation of about 6200ft…another factor that usually benefits me. The course was pretty tricky-the climbs were very steep and loose and each time I rode them, they seemed to get more difficult. I was struggling a bit to manuever my new Trek Superfly 100 SL…this being really the first time I’d had a chance to ride it. The day after that first ride, I made a few fit adjustments which helped.
That night, while team USA decided to try our luck eating out at a restaurant, the rest of the teams staying at the hotel were treated to roast chicken and rice, which by all accounts was pretty delicious. Marc asked if we could repeat this same meal the next night…arroz y pollo por favor. The next day was some more pre-riding and a little bit of sight-seeing, touristy stuff. I loved the small town with great little shops…lots of wool ponchos, queso (a speciality of Tafi de Valle), and of course wine. That night we had arroz y pollo and it was delicious. Then it was off to bed in preperation for the races the next day. My roomate, Kate, was racing the Junior race which was scheduled to start at 8am…meaning an alarm set for 4:30am. Bless her heart, she was up, ate, and heading out the door before I even woke up. I was able to get up and out on the course to watch her seemingly effortlessly take the win for her group. Pretty impressive. I’m excited to see her continue to grow as an athlete.
Anyway, after a solid warm up where I was continuously awestruck by the beauty of this area, I was back at the USA tent getting ready for the call-ups. I got a second row call-up and strategically positioned myself to the outside, ready for the first turn. I don’t know if I didn’t have enough coffee that morning, or if I was still in observational tourist mode, but my start was sort of suckey. I was probably in 20th going into the single-track, which was unfortunate because there weren’t many passing opportunities. I got my head into the game a bit for the first technical section and anticipated a pile-up. I was able to dismount and run past several stumbling racers, and then fortunately was able to ride the next technical section where there was another pile-up behind me. After that, I was pretty much on my own as things spread out considerably. I was extremely disappointed in my ability to clear the steep, uphill sections. Typically, this is something I would consider to be a strength of mine, but not this race. I tried to stay positive and focused on those sections that I was riding well managing to pick off a few racers each lap. By the time I was going through for my last lap I was in 7th, with 6th place within about a minute. Try as I might, I just couldn’t reel her in and crossed the line in 7th. All in all, it was a solid race. I was pretty much pinned the whole time and felt like I put in an honest effort.
The whole experience was just amazing. The other members of Team USA are awesome individuals and it was great getting to hang out with all of them. The USA Cycling staff of Marc, Bernard, and Tom were amazing and took such good care of us-I felt really spoiled. I loved the parts of Argentina I did get to see and hope I have another opportunity to explore more. And yes, the night after the race we had yet another round of arroz y pollo.