Ah … the day after the World Championships. The day for relaxing, bag packing, reminiscing and the shouldas, the couldas and the wouldas.
This was my second World Championships and there’s something to be said about just having the experience. Mark Twain has my favorite quote on the subject. “If you hold a cat by the tail, you learn things you cannot learn any other way.” That definitely was the sentiment for my first world champs in Canberra, Australia in 2009. I don’t think I came into this event as wide-eyed as the first, but again I still learned a lot.
IN THE DIRT
The course demanded both fitness and technical skills and dished out penalties like a ruler-wielding nun at Catholic school. Adam Craig summed it up well at breakfast the other day. “You can’t take a drug to be able to ride that shit,” referring to the XC course that sent several riders to hospital even before the race started.
The were roots were out in force and waiting to take your bike out from under you like a magician pulling the cloth from under a table setting. I definitely was rethinking my choice of bringing my Felt hardtail SixSeries over my Edict. If not just for the extra comfort and control, maybe just for some juju knowing that Thomas Listcher won the U23 men’s race on one. The roots in concert with a couple steep descents and the much talked about A-line put a bit of fear in the air.
I arrived in Champery on Monday to prepare for Saturday’s race. For my first few days, there was a lot of conversation about the steep three-foot drop that was the A-line option; the gains as well as the consequences.
A few gals were set on riding it, others decided well ahead they weren’t going to chance it. It wasn’t as much the landing as it was the entry around a tree that made it tricky to set up correctly. My first looks at the line all witnessed riders being taken off course on stretchers. That did little to build confidence, but knowing the A-line time benefits, the desire to ride it didn’t go away. I had also spent time at Boulder’s new Valmont Bike Park riding similar height drops to prepare for Champery.
I finally got the nerve to ride it Friday when Heather Irmiger took me out to follow her line on it. We climbed the short but steep hill to the drop. Heather went off the drop clean as usual. Me…not so much. I went off crooked, landed the same and hit planet Earth like I was digging for its core. Being the day before the event, I got my answer as to whether or not to race the A-line…in addition to a few more dirt tattoos.
By race day, I was ready to ride and almost chomping at the bit to do so. After a week of my own crashes and hearing reports of other riders getting injured like Norway’s Lene Byberg who consequently did not start the race, my anxiety about the course had built to the point of boredom. It was as if I had forgotten that I could ride this course at all. And in the process had also forgotten where I was. The freaking World Championships.
Aside from the fact that I was getting to race with the best in the world, for me, there is nothing like racing for your flag. This is mostly because so many friends, family and sponsors have helped made this opportunity possible, that every star and stripe on the kit is them riding along with me. And then fact that the team uniform is like a Captain America outfit, well that’s just added awesomeness.
ON THE DAY
Saturday brought sunny skies for the women’s race. (The men’s event later in the day wasn’t so lucky.) The race started with the freeforall I’ve come to expect starting in the back of UCI point-based races. It’s a balance of going as hard as you can, finding a line to advance and being ready to swerve to avoid a crash…which happened just minutes off the start and took down a few stars and stripes ahead of me.
The climbs were lined with spectators….some with bull horns, some with sirens and some with cigarettes that you inhaled along with them. Seriously, who smokes outside in the warm summer at a race with riders gasping for air like puffer fish? Thinking about it, it could have been the same dude running around in tiny pants and a women’s bra, but hard saying for sure. Either way, there were people with all accents chanting U.S.A on the lugs up the climbs negating any Joe Camel distractions.
On different points all around the course were also some familiar faces. Some US U23 and junior riders came out to cheer along with a contingent of superfans from the states. My boyfriend and some friends from Pearl Izumi, Felt and Crankbrothers were also lining the course, donning American flags and going hoarse with the masses.
I got pulled with one lap to go and about 20 other gals by the time Canada’s Catherine Pendral got done with the six laps of the course. 42nd in the end. After all the preparation, it wasn’t my technical riding, but that I just didn’t have the legs I normally do. I thought I packed my race gams for the trip, but maybe they got caught up in customs.
SHAKE IT OFF SUNDAY
Sunday we went out to watch the downhill race. The rain picked right back where it left off Saturday. The hospital helicopter that made daily trips from the mountain was having difficulty operating with the thick clouds. Though somewhat subdued, the crowd still braved the rain to watch on the muddy hills or from the jumbotron near the finish. Though our boy, and world cup series winner, Arron Gwin got caught up in some course netting which took him from a podium finish, he still came across the line to rowdy cheers.
But that’s racing. You can go from winning the world cup title to finishing 12th. Just like you can have a strong season and then fall short of your expectations at the biggest race of the year. At the end of the day, you live, you learn and then start scheming for next year.