The margin for error in world cup racing is zero. That’s why tensions are so high in the days leading up to the event. When one small mistake can be the difference between having the race of your life and falling short on your goals, every detail matters. Riders agonize over equipment, line choice down to the inch, food, sleep, and every possible outcome. Don’t forget that you can’t afford to stress so many riders out there are stressing that they are stressed because they know it isn’t helping their chances. It’s a fine line we all balance on and those of us who make it to the start line healthy and with a positive attitude have already won the first battle (in my own humble opinion).
When you glance around the rider box you see athletes from all over the World. We speak different languages, but we all have one thing in common; our life revolves around bikes. As I look at each rider in the box, I don’t just glance at their kit and equipment; I look into their eyes. I see the people, not just the athletes. We are all overcoming something, we are all chasing something and in some of the riders you can almost see the weight of the World (or at least their country) on their shoulders. We are riding bicycles in circles, but in the moments leading up to the race it feels like it’s the most important thing going on in the World.
One hundred of the World’s best mountain bikers all pack into the start grid. When the tape is removed, we all inch forward, as if that final inch will give us the edge over our competition. Each rider is protecting their space, not wanting any last-minute issues to impede their chances. Wheels are overlapped and handlebars pressed into each other’s sides. Athletes empty water bottles so they carry as little weight as possible up the first start climb. I look down one final time to make sure my pedals are positioned properly and my gear choice is prepared for the start. Now we wait.
Red. Red. Red. Green! I clip into my pedal and push forward, but the woman in front of me misses her pedal. I’m at her mercy as the other’s rush around. Stay calm. We get moving and sprint toward the first corner. The woman next to me slides out and I swerve to avoid the crash. Stay calm. I’m chasing hard and every woman on the line knows that these first 5 minutes are critical. I avoid several crashes, but not without time lost to those ahead who will never even know that someone went down.
Due to all of the chaos you often don’t even know what place you’re in until you go through the start/finish line and watch your name populate on the screen. “Just one at a time,” I reassure myself, after seeing a less than desirable placement move across the board.
For the next several laps I fought with everything I had. I battled for each and every position. At some point you had to completely forget what place you’re in and just battle for one position at a time. When I crossed the finish line, I knew I had given it everything I had. I would also be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in the placement. I think almost all of the women out there believe that they had what it takes to finish in the top 20, myself included. I think we all do have it what it takes, but there are a lot of factors that go into the final outcome and there are only so many who get to claim those positions on the day. Because of that, when you walk around the venue after a World Cup, I think most riders are expressing disappointment than excitement. More riders fly home wishing for more than satisfied with their result. It’s a harsh truth, but it’s the pursuit that makes many of us keep coming back.
I am the eternal optimist. I may not be happy with my position, but I am happy with myself. I approached this World Cup the best I have yet. I pre-rode well, I prepared excellent. I rode hard in the race and I fought until the end. These are the things you can control and I know if I keep doing these things that the results will follow. Maybe in just a few weeks when I line up again for round 2 of the World Series in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.