“Yo puedo, yo puedo, yo puedo.” That’s all I could hear in my mind today as I pushed myself to the limit during my first race of the season.
I have a very limited Spanish vocabulary, but it’s funny how 2 weeks in Spain has made all of my Spanish education come rushing back into my brain. Today, I felt like in my exhausted and depleted state I could only speak to myself in broken sentences of motivational Spanish phrases. I guess that’s what happens when you are thrown head first into a new culture…
Today at 8:40 in the morning I was called into the starting grid with 40 other women all clawing for Olympic qualifying UCI points. I looked around and took a deep breath. These were women from all over the World. These were not women just from Spain. They were women who had sought out this race and got their team and their mechanics and travelled to compete here. They warmed up on their rollers as their mechanics checked over their extra set of wheels. I stood there and smiled. I stood there knowing that no matter what I looked like on the outside, I belonged.
As I stood on the start line one other American, who I had travelled with, and I were the only two racers sporting a Camelbak and we chatted as the announcer boomed over us in a language we couldn’t understand anyways. I looked ahead of me at the rows and rows of Elite men and I looked back at a never-ending line of racers.
Dos minutos. Un minuto. Quince segundos. Then a universal sign: The whistle. We were off.
800 racers started all at once! Think about it: 800 people all starting the race at once. I was immediately swarmed as I considered just how hard to push at the beginning of a three hour day. The entire group was going all out because as I would soon realize, the real race was to hit the trail first.
At the top of the first climb I hit a line of people waiting to ride the descent. There were so many people out on course that I was waiting in a line of men who were slowly attempting to walk down the technical descent that I had ridden just a few days before. I tried to push through while yelling, “Passo!” but it was apparent that I would be waiting my turn.
After seeing how the race had so quickly changed from just a game of power to also a game of position, my tune changed as I sharpened my elbows and pushed my way up through the men and catching woman after woman as the hours rolled by. I watched myself move up the entire race, which gave me confidence in my long off-season of base training.
With so many people out on course at the same time, I never knew what place I was in which just meant my race was always up to whomever was right in front of me: be it male or female. I was yelling in English, Spanish, and whatever other noises I could muster from a heart rate of over 180 as I pushed through on the fireroads, pavement, and crazy river bed areas.
We road through tunnels that left me laying on my top tube so I didn’t hit my head. (How did people over 5’5” make it?) We rode through riverbeds, up pavement mountain passes, through sand, single track, orchards, passed forgotten historical buildings and countless other things that I’m sure I missed as I poured sweat, tried not to drool, and keep myself from going cross eyed with the effort.
All in all, I finished 10th on the day. A result I am very proud of at this point in the season especially with an incredible amount of speed out on the course today. The participants consisted primarily of World Cup racers and even Olympians. I’m so excited to not only see what the next three days of racing have in store, but also the entire season.
As for now, what’s my plan for tomorrow? I think the mantra for tomorrow is: “Take Changes.” Now is the time to roll the dice and take some risky moves. It’s the first race of the season and I have nothing to lose and only experience to gain.
Hopefully as the week progresses there will be more photos to supply. There are many photographers out on course!