Despite flying back home across the atlantic with a left thumb that’s presumably fractured with a UCL ligament tear, I can’t believe my good luck today. First, I got both of my Pivots and my Osprey roller bag on my British Airways flight without any excess baggage charges. Second, I found out that American canceled my connecting flight from London Heathrow to Charlotte. I thought I’d be spending the night in London (actually not a horrible turn of events), but instead, I was rebooked on a direct flight home to Phoenix and will arrive home two and a half hours ahead of schedule. Silver linings!
So I’m going to do my best to cover the ups and downs from the past couple of weeks in Europe: a bit about the races, the places, and a few bits about my current mental and physical fitness right now.
Nove Mesto World Cup #1
If you haven’t looked at Eastern Europe recently on Google Maps, you may have missed that the Czech Republic is now Czechia. That was a bit of a surprise after pulling up Google Maps after landing in Prague to check the drive time to Nove Mesto na Morave. While I’m not new to this race (this was my fourth year racing here), I’m usually so jet-lagged on arrival I don’t know where I’m going and have no concept of time. But don’t worry, I wasn’t driving. USAC mechanic, Julien Petit, picked up our small contingent arriving that Tuesday.
The race in Nove Mesto is a favorite on the World Cup circuit. The course is a blast to ride, the Czech fans are some of the best on the circuit, and the forested and cultivated hills in the area are places out of story books. The mustard-seed fields are always in bloom in late-May and they are a brilliant yellow. And I’m pretty sure someone could create a project photographing Czech-farmhouse architecture—which combines whimsical, old, kitsch, and modern elements all wrapped up into a single ‘cute’ house and garden. Nove Mesto is simply my favorite World Cup year after year.
Given the rocky start to my season, I didn’t have much in the way of expectations for my results as I simply didn’t have enough racing in my legs to know how I’d respond to the intensity. But I always expect to execute a race to the best of my ability, especially a World Cup.
My call-up number was 33rd which didn’t worry me for the start. The beginning climb in Nove Mesto is wide open, long, and provides plenty of opportunities to move up. But when the gun went off, I couldn't move up. I just pedaled up the climb somewhere in the mid-30’s and had to quickly remind myself, “this is okay, make the best of what you’ve got.” I held my position for a couple laps, then started to pick off a few racers on the steepest climbs. That felt good until I simply couldn’t put in those efforts on the steeps anymore, and I lost those spots one by one on the last lap. I think I finished 33rd.
Since we raced on Saturday for a change, that left Sunday wide open for riding. Training the day after a World Cup my seem a little crazy but (if done right) it can be an effective way to create a training block when racing back-to-back weekends. Plus, I love the opportunity to map out a route using Strava Route Builder and go explore. For this particular ride, I picked up Erin along the way and enjoyed her good company.
Albsadt World Cup #2
For the past four years I’ve stayed at Elke’s Haus with team USAC, a bed-n-breakfast style accommodation just a few minutes away from the World Cup venue. This year I rented my own apartment about 10km from the venue. Space was going to be tight at Elke’s and I had a difficult time sleeping there in 2016 (which had nothing to do with Elke’s—honestly I missed her place), and I wanted a kitchen this year so I could do some of my own cooking.
Dinner by Chloe
Start with rice, make a tasty dressing, throw in some greens, some nuts and/or seeds, a cheese, and finish with some eggs on top. And then add some wine.
The cooking (so not gourmet but my own), the sunny weather, and checking in daily with the USAC crew at Elke’s were a few of the things that made the week in Albsdat a really good one. In five years, I’d never seen so much sunshine in Germany and I can’t believe the difference it made. In all honestly, I wasn’t that confident on the bike that week but I did my workouts, prioritized my recovery, and knew that the race efforts the weekend before could make all the difference. I wasn’t un-fit at all, but the high intensity efforts were so unfamiliar in Czech.
Plus my sleep quality was consistently adequate. It could have been better but in the past it’s been so. much. worse. So I choose not to make a big deal of it. In Germany, I was slowing making my way through Tommy Caldwell’s autobiography, The Push, which is a fantastic book (or audio book in my case). Listening to audio books in the evening helps me wind down and sometimes puts me to sleep (which not a reflection on the book).
There was nothing remarkable about race morning, or in the hour or two before the gun went off. I mixed up my race bottles with Clif Hydration Mix (Cran-Razz is my favorite) about an hour before the start. Jason and Jen made sure that I had cold water and an ice-cold cooler for my bottles—the day was going to be a scorcher. While Julien had race-prepped my Pivot Les 27.5, I usually like to set and check my own tire pressure before each race (or training day for that matter). 17 psi front. 18 psi rear. Then I saddled up for a short 20 minute warm-up and made my way to the start boxes. Unlike the Nove Mesto start lap, the start in Albstadt is narrow and not quite long enough.
The race I can easily split into two parts: before I crashed and after I crashed. So before-the-crash I steadily moved my way up after a congested start. While I felt pretty good off the line, my mid-30’s call-up meant I had to be patient. At one point I had to dismount on a steep pitch. But I was feeling good and by the top of the climb on the second lap, I rode onto Kathrin Stirnemann’s wheel which I figured was a good place to be if I wanted to rip the descent.
The final descent on the Albstadt course is fun, but pretty short. There’re a few switch-back like corners, and then a chicane into a rock feature that seems pretty straight-forward. There are three rocky rollers, which you can kind of pump through. On Kathrin’s wheel, I simply came into that section faster than I’d ridden it in training, and lost control on the second roller. I crashed hard on my right side and somehow injured my left thumb by not letting go of my handlebar soon enough. I immediately knew I either tore or ruptured the UCL ligament in my left thumb (an injury commonly called “Skier’s Thumb”). How did I know that? Well in 2011 I had done the same thing to that thumb and in 2014 I had done the same thing to my right thumb.
In the moments after the crash, I realized that my thumb didn’t feel attached to my hand. But I straightened my handlebars, waited for a bunch of riders to pass, and then hopped on my bike to see what I could even do (or at least to get off the hill). While I couldn’t operate my iRD or dropper post (which are mounted on the left), I could still brake. My glove kind of worked as a brace and after a brief stop in the tech zone where I took off my glove to make sure it wasn't actually dislocated, I decided to keep on racing. I rationalized my decision by 1) my thumb couldn’t get much worse if I didn’t crash again and 2) I felt confident enough to know that I wouldn’t crash if I were cautious.
From then on, I’d pass about four riders on each climb (there are two main climbs per lap) and then two of those riders would catch me on the next descent and I’d politely let them on by. And that’s how the race went. I continued to ride the “A” lines, even without using my dropper-post. My thumb hurt quite a bit (it was just kind of jiggling in place) but it definitely proved that my riding style and form has come a long ways—light with your hands!
My new goal after the crash was to move up into the top-50. And I finished in 49th.
Finishing felt good. It seemed like an immediate antidote for the disappointment I felt. But I kept myself together afterwards and so far on this trip home; which hasn't even been that hard. In bike racing, you just never know how an experience will end, however much you try to anticipate the challenges and control the variables. Or maybe I’d simply been torn apart enough this spring with my setbacks so all I felt was ambivalence by that point. Either way, I was able to enjoy a really fun post-race pizza dinner with Elke and the whole USAC-crew.
Thanks for checking in!