World Championship. It’s a race that trumps all other races. It’s a pretty spectacular experience. It’s a race where everyone desperately attempts to bring their best, no matter what that looks like.
As you watch athletes pre-ride the course, you can feel the extra intensity that the World Championship brings. No one wants a rock or root or line choice to be the difference between one place or another. No one wants a PSI to be the difference between achieving their goal or falling short. Everyone seems to be chasing some version of perfection. That includes trying to be perfectly imperfect in order to ensure that the ‘perfect’ balance is met by being extremely dialed while also having fun.
It’s pretty amazing to pause in acknowledgement during one of these course inspection pre- rides to really think about what is going on. All of the athletes parade around in their National Federation uniforms. These are the best athletes that that country has to represent them at that event. As a big group of us descended onto one of the rock gardens and erupt into mayhem pointing out lines and debating which approach may or may not be a second faster, we are some of the best mountain bikers in the sport having these conversations. There are very few athletes who could do it better than those on course on that day. It’s the best of the best.
Which also means that as we sit and whisper about nerves or debate if certain jump is possible, almost anyone approaching those lines would experience those same nerves or sensations.
It’s those similar experiences that actually makes me feel like the World Championship is the most uniting event of the season. While we all wear a different flag on our back, I see a sea of athletes who share a tremendous amount of similarities.
Mountain biking can be a difficult sport to understand. Day to day life can seem abnormal and goals and undeterred belief in one’s own ability can be confusing. It can seems like a dream come true, but it can also come with a tremendous amount of sacrifice. At the World Championship, no one understands that better than the woman standing right next to you. No matter what you have experienced or are experiencing there is a strong chance that someone on that start line can relate to you. It’s for that reason that I feel a tremendous sense of camaraderie as I pre-ride that course and look into the eyes of the women I will race against. Many of us may not speak the same language, but we share more experiences in common than most.
World Championship Short Track:
For me, it’s a continued saga of my injured shoulder. You see, my separated shoulder won’t heal if it’s continually be strained and tested, but it’s the World Championship so you don’t want anything to hold you back. In fact, that’s been an on-going theme with many healthcare professionals in the last few weeks. We would do xy and z under normal circumstances, but in order to prep for Worlds, we have to just play damage control. I was a little surprised actually at how much my shoulder did hurt the first day on course. There were a lot of drops and rock gardens that caused significant stress through the arms. I acknowledged it and then went with the “It’s the World Championship” mindset and did my best to ignore the pain to best prepare for the race.
The Short Track race was extremely hectic. The 2 minute lap featured 3 drops, a jump, and 3 rock gardens. That’s a lot to smash into such a short time frame. If you asked any of us to complete a perfect lap, we could all do it, but when you have the whole field of women fighting for the most important race of the season, for one line over a jump, things can get a little wild.
The chaos made for a hard start from the 3rd row as I got boxed out of the first few features. I started to make my way through the field and found myself in a position I was happy to be fighting for, when the rain started to pour down. As I dropped down one of the jumps, I saw thewoman in front of me crash in the rock garden. Just as I thought, “oh it must be slippery.”
I was on the ground, smashing my injured shoulder again. I quickly got back up, fought hard to make up positions, and eventually claimed 28th place. It wasn’t the place I was quite hoping for in that event, and I was frustrated to have hurt my shoulder again, but I knew I gave it the best I had so I had to look ahead to Sunday.
World Championship Cross Country:
As I stood in the boxes at the start of the World Championship, I took a moment to look around. I looked at the nervous faces of the women who put their heart and soul in this competition. I looked at the spectators anxiously awaiting the best show of the season and then I looked inside myself.
I had done everything I could to prepare. After the crash in Friday’s short track, my shoulder hurt a lot of Saturday and so I opted to save everything I had for Sunday’s race. Now it was time to give it exactly that; everything I have.
I lined up for the race in 44th position and as the race began, I was shocked to feel that the pace wasn’t that high. My legs felt ready. Even though the pace was mellow, there was no where to go. The riders were packed on the course from tape to tape without an inch to spare or push through. I looked for every hole available, and none came, so I had to focus on reserving energy.
As the race progressed I found that I had the legs to climb, but nerves and apprehension on the descent due to my injury. Instead of getting frustrated I discovered what my strength was on the day and used it to my full advantage. I passed someone on every climb and just tried to hold my own on the descents. I felt strong and like I was racing the clock. I knew I would keep pacing people all the way until the race was over so I was just begging for more time. With a group of three just a couple seconds again, I ran out of space and claimed 36th place.
I felt strong, I rode my best, and I’m happy with the result. I’m always searching for more and I will continue to move forward. I think it’s important to stay grounded and recognize that we are racing the best in the World, so on any given day it will always be a close race with different results. After the race, I found some special moments hugging my friends and competitors who had had some of the best days of their career, and also others who cried due to the disappointment. As I rode back to the Team USA pit I had strangers, fans, and kids run up to me asking for photos. To them my exact placement isn’t what excites them, it’s the fight of anyone in such a prestigious event. I’m proud to represent my country and USA Cycling.