This winter when the UCI World Cup calendar was announced, I was excited to see 2 back-to-back races happening at the end of May. I thought I could concievably get to these races and minimize the hit to my Vacation balance because the last one was Memorial Day weekend. When I tentatively asked Ari if he would be interested in coming and he enthusiastically said yes, I immediately locked it into the calendar. Several weeks and hours of training later, I was boarding a plane for my first European World Cup race in Albstadt, Germany to be followed by my second Euro World Cup race in Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech.
Albstadt was a quaint little town and I had found a sweet apartment to rent that was super close to the venue and very nice. I arrived on Wednesday before the race and somehow managed to rent a car (a manual which I haven’t driven in years!), exit the airport, and drive without incident to my rental. In hindsight, neither Ari or I are quite sure how I did this as my sense of direction is pretty aweful in urban settings. Anyway, I put my bike together and decided to go a for a post-travel spin…and I ended up at the race venue. I figured, what the heck might as well do a lap? So I did…at 9pm at night. I skipped the more technical descents, but in general thought the course was all right. The next day I woke up to rain, but the training plan said intervals on course so that’s why I did. Fortunately, it stopped raining and while it was cold it wasn’t too wet. This time the course definitely seemed more difficult. The first downhill section scared me and I just couldn’t bring myself to commit to it. So, I focused on the parts of the course that I could ride and I rode them over, and over, and over. The next day I woke up sore…like almost crossfit sore. I didn’t know what was going on. Emily Batty laughed when I told her and said “Yeah, the course is steep. Really steep. Your muscles aren’t used to that kind of steep”. Hmmm. The next day, Friday, I was determined to ride the downhill section I couldn’t commit to the day before. Happy to say that I rode it. Slowly, and not that smoothly, but I rode it. Of course I had to do it a few more times just to prove to myself that I could ride it…and of course you couldn’t get to that downhill section without climbing up to it. Eh, what the heck-my legs were already sore…surely they were used to climbing by now? Saturday was more laps on course…really got to get those technical sections down, right? And, Ari arrived!! Yay! So, remember my somewhat unimpressive sense of direction? Well, Friday I wanted to find this natural grocery store some of the athletes had been talking about (needed to get my beet juice!). So I followed the route they had described…or I thought I followed the route they described and while I didn’t find the grocery store I did find the train station! So, at least on Saturday I knew where to pick Ari up from. Saturday was the nicest day we saw while in Europe. The sun was out for most of the day and I think temperatures approached the mid-60s. For the rest of the trip, it rained at least once a day and would maybe tickle 60 degrees, but was closer to 50 for the most part. Anyway, I digress. Sunday morning
g comes and I go through my typical pre-race prep routine…albeit with slightly more nerves. Yeah, I was nervous. I tried to talk myself into the “I’m excited to race. I love this course, lots of climbing, I’m good at climbing! I have nothing to lose” mindset, but honestly it wasn’t really working. I was just nervous. In hindsight, I did most things right. Pre-race prep was good, my start was relatively good, I was aggressive and felt like I was moving past people…until we got to the dreaded descent that I had practiced the other day. With all the people and traffic, I sort of fell apart and had to run the first section. I hopped back on the bike, determined to make up lost spots. I was frantic. I passed several women on the climb and started the steep, slippery descent back down. And then I ate it. Like, pretty hard. And not on anything overly technical either. And all those women I passed on the climb went by me, plus a few more. I picked myself up and brushed myself off and went thru to finish lap one. I was pretty rattled. My confidence and trust in my bike was shot and I just kept crashing. Not bad, I wasn’t getting hurt, but I was just getting more and more frustrated. I also wasn’t feeling very strong on the climbs, my legs and core felt tired. I hate to admit it, but I was relieved to get pulled. I just wanted the whole thing to end. I wasn’t riding well and I wasn’t having fun. When Ari found me after the race, I let out a sob of disappointment. I was so disappointed in myself for falling apart and riding scared. He more or less told me to get it together and move on…only in a nice and supportive way. So, I gave myself the day to feel sorry for myself and then I did my best to let it go. It helped that the next day we were being tourists in the beautiful city of Prague. After two days in Praha, we hit the road for the 2nd World Cup in Nove Mesto na Morave, about 2 hrs south-east of Prague.
A few of the lessons I learned from this race were: 1.) Don’t pre-ride the stupid course a million times. This just wore me out and I don’t think I benefited from “dialing in lines” because all the lines changed during the race 2.) Chillax. Ari and a few others commented on how tense I looked out on the course. Being tense made me expend extra energy, kept me on edge and un-balanced, and made me very brake trigger happy which is what made me crash all the damn time. 3.) Focus on MY race. Not my place, not other people, not what other people might think about my race; just the race I was having one moment at a time. 4.) Don’t blow off hydration and nutrition. This is a re-occurring lesson. I’ll think I have my nutrition dialed and then I either blow it off, try something new, or just plain forget. 5.) Go with your gut. When deciding which tires to run, equipment set-up, starting line-up position, technical line choice, etc. I should’ve gone with my gut when I instead followed others or blew off details as being inconsequential.
I think that’s it as far as lessons learned from Euro World Cup #1. Now onto Euro World Cup #2.
Well, I didn’t ride the course a billion times. I focused on those sections I knew I could ride with a little practice and got those relatively dialed. Dusty, Georgia Gould’s husband, mechanic to the Luna Chix team, and a friend, gave me the great advice that you always look further ahead than you think you should. You have to force yourself to look way beyond your front wheel and look beyond the drop, beyond the switchback, beyond the rocks. Look where you want to go. With this advice and with the help of Ari, who spotted me in a few technical sections I was afraid to commit to, I rode everything I wanted to ride. Which was great. With that confidence I was able to get closer to the “I am excited to race, this is fun” mindset. Truly, I WAS excited to race. I loved the rooty, technical climbs of the Nove Mesto course, there was plenty of passing opportunities, and this race would be my last bike ride of the Euro World Cup adventure that I had spent months thinking about, saving for, and training my ass off for. So, race day came and I was in a much better place than I had been just a week before. I had an ok start, not that great. Fortunately, the start lap was pretty open for a little while before it funneled into the single-track. With the climbing start, I was able to move up to what I thought was about 30th place. Then we descended a small section before turning left and hitting a rooty, steep climb. I knew I could ride this climb. So, while other people dismounted and started running, I tried to ride through. And, I got stopped so I ran a little bit and tried to ride again. And the same thing happened. And it happened again. Dammit. Those who were smarter than me and had anticipated this logjam of people had effortlessly worked through the group of women struggling up the climb and were already on their bikes descending the other side. Oh well. I’ll catch them later (I didn’t, but that’s what I told myself). I was determined not to get flustered and just ride my bike- Which is what I did. I’m not saying it was a perfect race, far from it, but it was a big improvement from the previous week. I still crashed, hard. But only once and I didn’t care. Coming through after lap one I was probably in 50th place, but every lap I picked off 2-3 people. Some of them caught me back on the descents but it only fueled me to pass them more convincingly on the next climb. I crossed the line in 44th. Not an awesome result-definitely not something I’d brag about. But, I didn’t really care. I didn’t get pulled. I didn’t lose my focus. I wasn’t racing scared (ok, a little scared, but not as bad as Albstadt). The biggest lessons I learned from this race: 1.) when you have problems staying in your pedals because your cleats are years old, change your damn cleats. I came out of my pedals at least once a lap causing me to dab, run, or crash when I would’ve been fine if I had just stayed connected to my bike. I knew my cleats were an issue in Albstadt, I had new cleats with me, I just didn’t change them because I thought it was an inconsequential detail. Turns out that would have made a big difference 2.) Be aggressive…or maybe assertive is a better word. When you pass someone, make it convincing even if it hurts. When you’re going for a line, put your elbows out and prepare to fight for that line. 3.) Dig deep and when it hurts dig a little deeper. At World Cups everyone is fit, everyone knows how to suffer, it’s like a game of chicken to see whoever can tolerate the most pain gets the select line in the singletrack 4.) Look ahead, look up, don’t focus on the technical details in front of your front wheel. I still need a lot of work on this one….
Anyway, after the race Ari and I packed up and headed back to Prague to fly home the next morning. And the next day we were back at work, trying to slide into the daily routine we left behind just days ago. Now, almost a month later, I’m still not sure what impression I have of the experience. Granted, it was a great experience. I just expected some sort of enlightenment after it all. Like; yes, this is what I am supposed to do-race my bike around the world gaining experience and success quickly. Or, heck no, I’ll stay home and race my bike on familiar terrain against familiar, and friendly competitors. But, I don’t feel strongly either way. I can say that I feel like I’m a stronger person and a better bike racer because of the experience, and that makes it worth it. Not to mention getting to spend 10 days in Europe with my husband, which was pretty fun. So, for now I’m taking it one day at a time; one race at a time. I still love my bike and I’m pretty content to just ride and follow my gut.