I’ve been thinking about this particular trip to Europe and these particular races for a very long time. I’ve thought about them every single day. They have been a big driving force for me. They have fueled many workouts. They have influenced many decisions. They have been a huge conversation in my household for months and months on end. So, to be here feels completely surreal. In many ways the hardest work is done, and in some ways everything I’ve been working toward is right at my finger tips.
With these races being such high priority and high stakes, I decided to come to Europe one week early to race in a Swiss Cup the week before. The race would serve as an acclimator to the European level of racing and hopefully provide a bit of a confidence boost.
I’ve been so hyper-focused on the races that I hadn’t really even considered what the actual locations I would be going to might look like. As we rolled up to Leukerbad, Switzerland I had to pause and say a prayer of gratitude. I don’t think I’ve ever seen mountains so majestic. I’m so thankful to be here and to have these opportunities and to see this beautiful world that we live in.
From our arrival day to race day, it rained almost every single day. Then on race day, it didn’t rain…it snowed instead! On race day I showed up to the venue with a bag packed to the brim with clothing choices, yet somehow I knew that overcoming the snow would likely be the easiest thing to overcome on the day.
I sat in awe in the start corral as I listened to the announcer call up our numbers to the start line. It appeared that he looked at the country each racer was from and then would call their number based on the language we would each understand. There were a few times that the numbers would seem so foreign I would just be on the edge on my seat, wondering if I missed my call up, but then sure enough…37!
I was called up to the line and took my position on the 6th row. I know that I’ll be fighting from the back in these next few races, but it’s a good thing I love the battle. When the race started, I was pinched out on the first corner and not able to squeeze my way through the first corner the way I had hoped. I went a little further back. Then I found my groove and felt calm and confident as we started our way up the first climb. I was looking for every hole I could find and passing everywhere I could and I felt like I had the legs to do it so I was excited! Then, on the fire road uphill, one of the girls crashed right in front of me! I had to put a foot down, back up to make space, and then ride around. In that moment, it felt like I was in last. It was frustrating. Instead of letting it get to me though, I immediately fought back, charging up the hill with even greater ferocity than before!
I came around the 1st lap in 26th place. As the laps went on, I continued to find my groove. This racing is so tight there is really no room for error and I don’t think I ever had a completely clear shot at the course. While trying to navigate huge rocks, ruts, and fast descents, we were also slipping and sliding on a very muddy and wet course. The weather had caused so much turmoil in fact, that they had altered a few parts of the course just before our race and we saw them for the first time while racing. So much of this racing is about adaptation. While we are trying to adapt to the course, we are also adapting to the other riders around us, avoid crashing, trying to make passes and sprinting to avoid being passed. It’s a very high stimulus environment.
In the penultimate lap, I had worked my way up to 14th and I was feeling strong. As I descended one of the more technical parts of the course, I caught myself thinking, “This looks sketchier than last lap.” I unclipped my foot and went to tap the ground, but the hill was too steep and my foot went cascading forward. I flipped over the bars. Disoriented I hurried to grab my bike and push it out of my mind. My wrist throbbed a little bit, but I only had one lap to go.
It was a battle all the way down to the line, fighting for every last position. I finished in 18th out of a group of nearly 70 professional women. I feel like I accomplished exactly what I came here to do on that first race and I’m more ready and excited than ever to tackle the up and coming World Cups!