The days leading up to the Cyclocross World Championships in Bieles, Luxembourg, were filled with constant adjustments and readjustments to the plan. With a hotel full of USAC riders and staff, including our own Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com riders and staff, there was buzz all the time. “When do we go to the course?” “What is the course like?” “What tires and what gearing?” “What’s the temperature outside and what’s it gonna be in two hours?” WHO KNOWS!
Every race throughout the weekend was in different conditions. When we pre-rode mid-week, there was tons of snow and ice. When I got on the course on Friday, there was still ice but less snow. While we watched the U23 Women’s race on TV before riding to the venue, there was still some snow and hardly any good ruts. It looked like… err… fun? This time of year, the races are so unpredictable, it’s best to just roll with it and see what happens.
All of the elite men from USAC decided to ride over to the course from the hotel for the Saturday pre-ride after the U23 Women’s race was over. That meant we had to watch the start on TV and ride over during the race. It also meant constant Twitter updates while riding along some pretty icy roads! It was interesting, to say the least!
About half way to the course, we started seeing tweets about Ellen Noble having a “World Champ” ride, and we lost it. Half of our group was comprised of riders from Wester Mass. and all of the group know her well. We were high-fiving, hooting our way down the road. But the race wasn’t over, and we spoke too soon. We got to the course just in time to see the eventual winner, Ann Marie Worst, roll across the line with Ellen just behind. Ellen had the biggest smile on her face, and for good reason! She might not have gotten the win she wanted, but she got the podium she deserved and fought tooth and nail to get it. Hats off to her!
The truth is, I felt the same amount of emotion for both her “nearly win” and her eventual very real podium. I’m so proud of that kid!
The course was pretty smooth, still with lots of ice and snow, but good enough to do some hot laps. When we were done, we packed it in and headed home by bike. Now it was time to relax, eat and have some time to think about what to do the next day.
It’s always a challenge to prepare yourself, physically, for an event like this. The season is long and there are many factors that come into play: overall fitness, travel, fatigue, illness… All of these things hit you the hardest when it’s go time, in different combinations for different people. I think the one thing that we all have in common, however, is the mental pressure. No matter if it’s your first time or your last time racing at the World Championships, you’re still there to race and do well. That fact is never lost on you. The teams and crew are all busting their butts to make everything perfect. The travel is done and the prep is all wrapped up. All that’s left to do is race. Sure, easy enough.
Some people don’t sleep the night before big events, some people disappear into their rooms for the 24 hours leading up to it. Some are nervous and don’t want to be left to their own devices. Everyone has their own way to deal with the pressure. The reality is: it’s just another race. You have done the routine a hundred times this year; you know what to do. It’s time do switch on auto pilot and let it all unfold.
For me, I had some extra pressure this year. Some have asked me if I was just there to roll around, seeing as I have accomplished so much this year already? No, that’s not me. I was there to race and get a good result. It’s my job and my M.O. I am motivated and I am driven to reach a new level. I can’t take a break yet.
Race day rolled around like it always does.
Wake up and eat breakfast. Pack lunch and drink coffee. Chat with the crew and racers before everyone departs with the respective To-Do lists. Some are nervous, high strung and tired looking from not sleeping well (or just not sleeping). For me, calm. I know what to do and I know why I’m there. To make the best of the day. While we packed, Kerry, Tobin, Jack and I all watched the start of the U23 men’s race. Whats a scorcher! Those kids are killed it. We all get more excited to race.
We piled out of the vans on arrival, already kitted up and ready to pedal. I warmed up on the trainer before pre-riding and thought about my next few hours. On the course we noticed a huge difference in conditions. It was soggy and muddy, with loose rocks covered by brown, murky puddles formed by melting snow. There’s No grass left for traction but for a few lines being broken into the frost for ruts, which didn’t really help much.
By race time it was even worse. Two laps in, we realized the dangers. Riders are starting to blow tires left and right. Imagine a squadron of fighter planes flying into battle while, one by one, they drop out of the sky. Rider after rider popped out of the group, only to make it to the pit and chase back on if they can; constantly yo-yoing in and out of contention. You could see the heart break on everyone’s face. I suffered just the same. It didn’t seem like any lines were better than others for keeping air in tires. One after another they went. You’d get one good lap done and boom! Now you’re in for half a lap at threshold, dropping positions in the turns, no matter how hard you push.
It was four flats for me. Others weren’t so lucky. Some had 7 or more. Some had to abandon the race altogether. I kept fighting, and made my peace with the day. For some time I was in the top fifteen. I was riding the course well – only one fall at the end, that’s all. For me, that’s great!
You can’t get caught up in the what could have beens and the what ifs of racing. That’s a road you do not want to live on. I won’t regret; I will choose to learn instead. I’ll improve and teach what I can to those who have the same woes. I ended my day in eighteenth position, just getting out sprinted by Michel Vantournout at the line. On a flat.
All in all, I’m happy with my ride. You can’t beat drama like that in a race and you certainly can’t fake it out there. So, no faking, that’s how it goes.
Last year was the first year that I stayed after worlds in order to race. As it turns out, there is still a lot to be raced after the eventual wind down of the U.S. cross season. While everyone else in the U.S. packs it in for vacation and road season, there are still a few left to pickup the slack.
First stop, Parkcross Maldegem.
Maldegem is a small village in Flanders. The race is a huge deal there. It’s always packed with local crowds, there to see the newly crowned World Champ. The course is small and dives through a park in the middle of the town. Hence the name “Parkcross”.
By now, my points are back up and they have me starting on the front row. This year, I wanted to make a good go of it and try to be present in the race. Last year I had some problems with the sand pits. This year, with the exception of the first one in traffic, I made it through all of them cleanly. In fact, I was rolling in the top ten for the first two laps. I eventually took my self out of the group by using a little too much brakes through the turns. That’s my fault; live and learn. I had a clean race and ended up 17th. Again, just inside the top 20. I’ll take it.
Now onto Krawtencross Lille (part of the DVV Verzekeringen Trofee series) on Saturday and Superprestige Hoogstraten in Belgium on Sunday for the season enders! Well, the end of my season anyways!
And now, for a Quick PSA
Those of you who know Balint Hamvas and his photo book cyclephotos.co.uk know that he is a seriously hard working and talented photographer. He goes above and beyond to create the book that he is so passionate about. I am lucky enough to have a multi page spread in this year’s edition – Something I will certainly cherish for my life. There is also a huge portion of the book dedicated to the legend that is Sven Nys in his last year of racing.
This year instead of doing a huge order and hoping they all sell, he set up a Kickstarter campaign in order to pre-sell the volumes. If you like his work or are a fan of cyclocross then I would suggest clicking through the link and getting your order in!