Ciao dearest family, friends, sponsors, and supporters!
After being back home for a full week now, I finally feel composed enough to sit down and write a recap of the experiences I had while racing in Europe. It was a three week adventure, full of learning, suffering, friendships, bliss, self-doubt, and confidence.
I left Colorado on Tuesday, March 13th, arriving in Pisa, Italy the next day at noon. The international flight was the first big hurdle, as those who know me well can appreciate my apprehension for flying across large expanses of water in big metal tubes with engines! USA Cycling director Jackson Stewart was there to pick me up and take me to the USA Cycling house in Lucca, Italy.
Here I had the most lavish of accomodations, having a private loft/studio all to myself, complete with full bathroom and kitchenette! We were treated to lovely weather while I was there, being able to ride to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa and relax with cappucino’s in the afternoon. Our days in Italy were filled with riding in the morning, lounging/resting in the afternoon, and then either cooking and eating together or going out for Italian pizza in the evenings. I was able to get to know my fellow USA teammates during this time, and truly valued all the knowledge and cycling wisdom they shared with me.
Our first race was that Saturday, March 17th. It was the Citta Padova Classic, and it was a 2 and 1/2 hour flat, technical race. It reminded me very much of a criterium back in the states. Only this time there were 180 women on the start line, the roads were half as big, and there was ‘road furniture’ (medians, roundabouts, signposts, etc) in the way! It was a hectic, adrenaline rush from the neutral start! I was able to hang in there for 6 of the 9 laps, getting pulled at the start of my 7th lap. USA team member Carmen Small won the race, which was a huge success and accomplishment for us!
Then it was back to Lucca, to prepare for the next week’s World Cup. I unfortunately spent this week nursing a cold, and wasn’t able to enjoy as much riding. By the race I was feeling almost 100%. We traveled to Cittiglio, Italy on Friday, March 23rd, settled into our hotel, and rode Sunday’s race course. We lined up for the Binda World Cup in mostly-sunny skies, which I was grateful for, as last year it was raining at this race. This race should have been better for me, because the roads were wider (by European standards) and there were hills. However, I was still gun-shy about being surrounded by that many women going that fast on bikes that I was toward the back again, getting dropped mid-way through the race. I was able to race a bit farther with 10 more women who were dropped, until they finally pulled us. Team USA placed in the top 25 that day, so another good showing for us.
We flew to Belgium the next day, goodbye Italy! We were picked up and driven to Izegem and the lovely Park Hotel, which was to be my home for the duration of the trip. Here I was treated to an entirely new culture shock of small, twisting farm roads, clean brick homes, and church bells that pealed out music every hour. New country, same routine though, as we settled into our pattern of morning rides and afternoon rest. We were able to have massages in the afternoons, which felt lovely and helped my aching legs. We reconned the Tour of Flanders course twice, getting to experience the cobbles first-hand before the race. And boy are those cobbles something else! It feels like they suck the speed from your wheels and knock your teeth out when you ride over them! Fortunately after riding the cobbles, the actual road seems too smooth to be true!
The Women’s Tour of Flanders was another World Cup and a very important race for us. We had a solid game plan, which was executed perfectly by all members of the team. Kristin Armstrong was 2nd, a huge accomplishment! I was able to get to the front of the pack at this race and feel the sheer power of leading 180 women, even if it was short-lived!
After the race we were ushered back to the hotel to rest up for Monday’s race. The GP de Dottignies was my last race with the girls, as they headed onto the Netherlands for a grueling stage race. This race was, according to my teammates, the “scariest/sketchiest race they’d ever done in Europe”! How wonderful to be cruising down narrow goat paths with 180 other women, dodging cars and concrete barriers! To my surprise, this was the race where I lasted the longest-100km out of 130km. I got dropped and caught back on 3 separate times, using other riders and the caravan cars, earning me the ‘fighter of the day’ award! By the 4th time though my legs were shot. Then something strange happened…A Belgian police motorcycle came up next to me and motioned for me to put my hand on his arm. He then accelerated much too quickly and took me with him, pulling me along. We ended up on a strange highway, at which point I told him to stop and that I had to get back to the finish line. He turned around, pasted my hand to his shoulder, and took off again, effectively motor pacing/pulling me back to the finish. I pulled out once I crossed the line, my moto-driver smiled, and I waited to watch us get a top 10 finish. It was quite the exciting race!
Afterward I told the girls and Jackson what happened and they said that the moto was probably trying to bring me back to the race, to continue racing-well, this is quite obviously cheating and so I’m very glad I let go at the line and pulled myself out! Very sneaky way to operate, if you ask me, because you assume that if the police moto is doing it, it should be legal, but such is not the case!
My gradual progress each race gave me hope that though European racing is immensely difficult, it can be achievable with the right amount of training and racing experience. Seeing my USA teammates excel, and knowing where they started from, also gives me confidence that I can only continue to improve. And now I have this knowledge that I can apply to racing back in the states!
After four insanely hard races and a 22 hour travel/flight home, you can see why it took a week for me to recover! I had an amazing trip, wouldn’t have traded it for anything. But it always feels good to be home…
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the support of all my truly amazing sponsors, who believed enough in me to help me with this journey. And to everyone else who encouraged me every step of the way, thank you. Though this was a trip for one-person, it was really about everyone else making it possible and being able to share in my experiences.