Photo by Garrett Lau
In her words:
I’ve been in Limoux, France for over a month, and I still am SO stoked to be here and have a hard time believing I’m actually racing my bike in Europe. I got the chance to come here through a USA Cycling Women’s development program. It is a program set up to give women who show potential, and are relatively new to racing, a taste of racing in Europe. NCNCA was able to help me with some of the costs of the trip. I really appreciate those of you who support the development side of cycling, athletes who show potential. Six women from the US were sent here, and not so surprisingly, three of us are from NorCal.
We’re based in Limoux, France. It’s a small town in Southern France, whose population consists of mostly old people and cyclists. The latter of the two groups being fairly small, leaving most of those in Limoux with white hair. There’s not much going on here, but the riding is phenomenal. We’ve been doing everything from local races, French Cup races, and UCI races. Most of what I’ve been learning here, I don’t think I could have learned in the US…or it would have taken much more racing and experience. The race I learned the most from was Ronde Van Gelderland, a UCI race in Holland that I got time cut out of within an hour and a half of racing. There were over 200 starters and some of the roads we were to be racing on would be considered bike paths in the US. No matter how good or bad a race goes, you cannot leave the race without learning from it. I had a 16 hour drive to think about the race in Holland. I think part of being a good bike racer is learning from the race, but knowing how to leave it in the past, look forward to the next weekend.
Going into the race, I knew on a basic level what I needed to do. Stay close to the front during the neutral to avoid crashes and the cluster of the big field. The roads were narrow; be up front. The road becomes one lane, even more narrow, crosswinds. If you're not in the front thirty, you're probably going to get gapped and be in a chase group. I knew where I needed to be. But "knowing" doesn't get you very far.
I was really nervous going into the race. Maybe because of the field size, some of the best teams in the world were there, the course, the speed...
Here is a mindset that is not recommended: My last couple races in US and racing in Europe, I've been going into races doubting my ability to finish or do well. In some ways, I guess it provides an incentive to prove myself wrong.
I was talking with the director of the national team before the race. He said this is the deep end of the pool; this is the deepest field you'll be in. I lined up on the front line.
My legs felt fine, my head was out of the game. After we were through town and into the narrow roads, there was a bad crash in front of me. It was a Cervelo girl who we had talked to a dinner the night before. When I went by, I really looked at her, crumpled underneath a couple bikes. And I could hear her moaning. That's the scary sh#t that you don't think about. It happens, it's bike racing...but I kept the picture of her on the ground in my mind. I wasn't mentally in the game in the first place, but was really out of it after that.
I don't mean any of that as an excuse for not finishing a race or not doing well. It's not. I might not have the finished the race had everything been going right for me. But sometimes, no matter how good your legs are, how much you've trained, prepared, if your head isn't in the right place, you're out.
After the race, I didn't know what to think. I needed to take something from it, but I didn't know what. Still don't have a really good idea. I kind of excused myself from the race, thinking that it was OK, because some of the best riders in the world were there. Because the course didn't really suit me. Because I should be satisfied with just being there.
None of those are valid reasons to excuse myself from a race and I have yet to come up with one.
Bad days on the bike happen, bad races happen, or maybe a bad season. But if you take something out of it, learn something, it was worth it.