The Dream: that’s what I’ve been living for the past 3 or 4 weeks. Driving home from yet another great weekend of racing at the Missoula Pro XCT I was contented with a 4th in the XC and in short track and was pleased with how the season had shaped up. As I scrolled through my email for the millionth time on the 7 hour car ride home I stopped short as I saw a new one at the top….Would you be interested in joining the USA National Team for the upcoming World Cups? YES! Yes, didn’t even begin to describe the excitement that was coursing through my body.
The next few weeks were a whirlwind of travel and racing and learning. I boarded a plane to Barcelona on June 28th and met with the national team on the 29th at the airport. We drove from Spain to Andorra where we would compete that weekend. The course in Andorra was either straight up or straight down. It was a high altitude venue at the top of a ski area that featured oxygen depriving climbs and eye widening descents. By the time I left the venue on Saturday I felt like I had my lines dialed ad I was ready for my first premiere on the World Stage.
7:30 am: The sleepy venue came to life as the sun crested over the mountain and filled the area with warmth after a night of rain. I was sitting on a trainer in the Orbea booth focusing on my warm up.
8:15 am: Girls from all over the world representing different pro teams and national colors corralled into the start grid. Our bikes were checked for illegal motors and we shuffled to find our number in the different boxes. I mounted the rollers for a final spin in the box. My arms were shaking. It was evident that these truly were the best cyclists in the world. Various languages flooded my ears. The huge electronic clock above head counted up toward the race. 1 minute until call ups. All of the girls got off the rollers as if in unison.
8:25 am: Releasing us one by one to roll up to the line we were introduced. Our names rolled across a screen. There I was “Hannah Finchamp” and a little American Flag icon sat next to my name. I took off my Clif Pro Team jacket and exposed the USA jersey that I was wearing. 1 minute til start.
8:29 am: All the girls pushed forward on the line eliminating the tidy rows we were in before. I wasn’t quite prepared for that; I was a 4th row call up after all. “The race will start within the next 15 seconds.” They played the heartbeat. My arms were shaking, my heart was racing, and I wanted to soak up every single moment.
8:30am: We were off!!
We sprinted off the line fighting for every single inch. I thought that the wider track at the beginning of the race would allow me to make some passes before entering the wooded area but we all spread out, filling every inch that the course tape would allow. We moved as a mass. Entering the woods, the wet trails greeted us. The top riders were able to get through, but those of us with lower call up positions were victims to the mistakes of others and ourselves. Dismounting our bikes we were running through the woods, looking for an opportunity to remount. I flailed through the descent, unsure of how the wet rocks would feel on my tires and not wanting to know how they would feel on my face. Finally, we hit an uphill I surged ahead executing passes and feeling strong. This would outline my race: a feeling of invincibility pushing myself to the limit up the climbs and feeling like I could pass anyone I wanted but finding myself being reeled in on the descent either due to speed or crashes. Mistake after mistake, I climbed the main hill on the third lap and I took a deep breath, my mind came back to my body. I told myself to relax. With a deep breath I was able to calm down and begin to ride smoothly. I made some passes and finally rode the descents smoothly. I crossed the finish line in 26th, right in the middle of the group. I am so pleased with my first experience in a world cup. I was a deer in the headlights, blown away by the stimulation and the spectacle of the event. I am so glad. I have been competing in sports for as long as I can remember, but as I first time racer on the World Cup MTB circuit I was enthralled, mesmerized, and in every true sense of the word, amazed.
The next few days involved training, hanging out with the USA National Team, and driving across Europe to our next stop Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
The course there was incredible, not only was the backdrop one of the most beautiful in the WORLD, but the multi-line, feature infested course was sure to keep both the riders and the spectators at the edge of their seats.
The morning prep was very similar to that of the Andorra World Cup (with the addition of dancing in the hotel hallway at 5:30 am in order to release some unneeded extra nerves). Once again on the line was the best in the world, I was much more calm. The pouring rain the night before gave us all a little surprise to be discovered in the woods, a gift from the clouds.
Battling through the first lap, making mistakes and recovering just like everyone else, I crossed the line in 25th on the first lap. I rode up the next climb and was told that there was a group of 7 just in front of me. That group would break the top 20. I surged ahead, overcoming them by the top of the nearly 3 minute climb. I descended the next descent like my place depended on it. I was still in my top 20 position. I came up on the first drop of the course and sent it smoothly to the landing. With such smooth execution, it only seemed right to keep my momentum through the next turn. As I sailed into the corner, the wet mud gave out beneath my wheel and I flew over the bars like a Superman that cannot fly. I landed on my chest getting the wind knocked out of me and getting some solid whiplash. I stood up quickly, realizing shortly after that I still couldn’t breathe. Gasping for air, I looked around for my bike and found it slightly off of the course. I dragged it back on and remounted. I felt dizzy and foggy as I made my way through the rest of the lap. I was still in a daze when I crossed the line and saw a 35 flash up on the screen. I had a choice to make: either admit that the crash had been too hard and pull off, or forget it even happened and forge forward with everything I had. The former wasn’t even really an option and I simply looked at the next girl ahead of me. I picked them off one at a time maneuvering my way through the course. I am proud of my comeback, it took a lot of guts and a lot of determination. I finished 27th, once again in the middle of the group.
I gained a lot of experience in these two races in Europe. I know what the best of the best looks like and I learned what it takes to compete there. I have returned back to the USA with more confidence as I now know my strengths and my weaknesses. My fitness is strong, but my skills need further development and I am confident that I can become technically better. Finally, I am motivated. What an incredible opportunity to race in the red, white, and blue and learn and grow. These are the races I yearn to do. My career is just starting. It was a once in a life time type of opportunity that I hope will happen many many times.
Thank you to everyone for their support as I made this huge step: The Clif Pro Team, USA Cycling, and my coach Chris Mileski, in particular. Without them, none of this would be possible.