This turned out to be a long post as I haven't written in awhile. I've split it into sections to make skipping some bits easier. Hopefully there's something worth reading in here. If not, the process of writing it was good for me so at least it served some purpose. Enjoy!
Part I: Stressed out but doing the work
I’ve decided to start writing a blog post to combat some late afternoon jet lag fatigue. TJ is currently napping which I simply cannot do if I hope to get on any sort of schedule. Our Trans-Atlantic travel fatigue was also compounded by today’s tough training ride, which came right on the heels of a French Cup race yesterday and a short road trip from Montgenèvre, France to Finale Ligure, Italy. So if this post ever gets published, it’s undergone some editing and probably won’t actually be on the day I started writing. Luckily, tomorrow is a rest day for me so I may actually have a blog post published early in the week. And I’m writing this down to hold myself accountable.
Most of you know about some of the challenges I’ve faced this season. If not, you could play a bit of catch up with some of my earlier posts ("On Setbacks" "Hand Surgery"). Or just take my word for it that things have been tough. The extra time away from racing hasn’t exactly been easy; I didn’t realize how much it’d simply feel like I’m unable to do my job. Then I noticed my hair was falling out a few weeks after surgery and just days later my Facebook profile got hacked and somebody took possession of my Facebook page. So at least the future challenge of marketing myself as a bald female athlete was solved by losing my Facebook page (maybe a little premature but my mind usually goes straight to the worse-case-scenario). Eventually my hair returned to its normal shedding rate and I re-gained control of my FB account after submitting a few dozen support requests to Facebook.
I got hacked.
My page turned into the "Comedy ZONE" and I didn't think it was funny.
Even though my thumb was out of commission since the Albstadt World Cup, I was still training on the road. Shimano hydraulic disc brakes (on my ‘road’ bike) made riding with one braking hand doable, although it's definitely not advisable. I avoided riding through town and really began to appreciate some of our lonelier roads around Prescott. June and July are brutally hot months in Prescott, but I grew accustomed to training in the midday temperatures of well over 95 degrees. Training is so much about accepting and acclimating to a certain degree of discomfort; so if I'm physiologically able to handle the heat, than why not just accept it?
In addition to the solid aerobic work on the road, I spent three or four nights a week either at our local YMCA or training one-on-one with Meghan Rohde. Most of the work I was doing in the gym was mobility training and core, although Meghan introduced me to some high intensity circuit training. On top of that, I had three to five sessions per day of working on my thumb range of motion. It was the first time all year that I felt like I could do my training homework.
Part II: “What are you training for?”
A little over a month ago, one of my good friends left me a Strava comment, “what are you training for?” It made me laugh because, at that time, it was a very good question as I’d been waffling a bit on what specific race would be my first post-surgery. It also helped me start planning for my comeback. So instead of hoping and waiting for a green light to compete, I approached both my occupational therapist, Dr. Thies, and my surgeon, Dr. Kobayashi, with a race schedule and some confidence.
“I can do this. What do you think?”
Dr. Thies actually made the trip to Colorado for my six-week post-op appointment with Dr. Kobayashi. It was a really neat experience to have them both in the same room asking each other questions, reviewing my charts, and evaluating my thumb. The consensus was that the work Dr. Kobayashi did was healed, I just had to continue working to improve my strength and range-of-motion (i.e. break down more scar tissue). They both agreed that my schedule was reasonable and I could begin mountain biking when I returned home. When we discussed a customized thumb brace for mountain biking, Dr. Kobayashi pretty much said, “Be confident. I’d like you to ride without one.” "But if you want one, here's how you do it."
With that I started training on my mountain bike. My hand and grip would fatigue almost immediately and I felt clumsy. But it felt good to be back on the trails and TJ and I got to work in putting together travel plans for the last bit of racing. We planned a three week racing block together that included the Windham Pro XCT (New York), a French Cup in Montgenevre (France), and the last World Cup in Val di Sole (Italy). I’d return home for just a few days before leaving for the World Championshps in Cairns (Australia). The travel itinerary was a bit ambitious but if I was going to be ready for the World Championships, I needed to get some racing in my legs, recover some lost UCI points, and be fully confident in my bike handling.
Part III: Windham Pro XCT
There were two things that happened in the week prior to the Windham Pro XCT that, in retrospect, were pivotal in putting together a good race there. Firstly, I suffered through one of the most challenging workouts I can remember doing in quite some time. Secondly, Rose went and had an incredible ride at the Mt Sainte Anne World Cup. I’ll explain.
The workout was the Wednesday before the Windham Pro XCT. I knew it was going to be tough for me on that day so I invited myself to ride with TJ and Brian Matter (sorry guys!). Usually I do my intervals solo but training partners help me stay accountable. Brian was also getting ready for a trip to Michigan for Ore to Shore so some mid-week efforts (although that makes it sounds easy!) worked out for him too. I was tired. I hadn’t been sleeping well and I was stressed out about quite a few things. The workout was a 2.5 hour ride with 3x10 min Sub LT with a 30 second acceleration every 2 minutes. On paper it wasn’t that hard, but it was new to me, and it almost broke me. Brian suffered too and I think we both took some comfort in co-miserating (yep, made that one up!). My power numbers were nothing to write home about but I did the work I needed, and no more. We are now taught that getting through the hard days builds grit. So at least I was headed to the East Coast with a few extra grittiness points. And Brian went on to win Ore to Shore, so it worked for him too!
Then there's Rose. She inspired me in a big way with her ride at Mt Sainte Anne (Check-out this interview I did with her right before Windham for a little more insight.) But in her words, “All I can say is to stay on the path and faithful to the process, whatever that looks like as individuals. I have learned how to be gentle to myself, forgiving of myself, but mostly that I am deserving and worth every tear I have cried and every accomplishment I have celebrated. I have learned to cherish the moments because it’s about the journey and not the end result. I have learned to surrender and that my best is good enough.” Thank you Rose.
Now onto the racing bit. Windham, NY has hosted a World Cup as recently as 2015. It’s up in the Catskill Mountains above the Hudson River Valley. TJ and I arrived super early the Friday morning before a Saturday race, like 2:00am early. Stan’s NoTubes had a house near the venue and Drew Escherick was there along with Matt and Jim from FOX, and Alexis and Vicky from the Stan’s-Kenda Team. And of course, our teammate Rose Grant! We were comfortable, well fed (thanks Drew!), and I made it through the pre-ride without even thinking about my thumb.
The course in Windham wasn't that far out of my comfort zone in that it is technically simple. The course has one long climb, and one long descent. While there’s a rock garden, it isn’t that tough. I actually think the course is a lot of fun to ride, just interesting enough without any scary-bits. We raced four laps on the course with a small start loop. The race was going to be on the shorter side given our pre-ride times.
My start was a little off. While I was right in the mix off the line, I lost a few positions and floundered in a short 20 ft section of mud (the only wet section on course!). Catharine Pendrel and Lea Davison, now Clif teammates, were already off the front together and my game plan was to be there with them. And I wasn’t. But once I made contact with a small group ahead of me I just kept going and started to pull away. By the second lap, I had bridged up to Lea and made the pass. Catharine was out-of-sight but I was a little surprised by how well I was climbing and just kept going. The gap to Catharine was an agonizingly close 10-15 seconds for much of the race. I was more in shock that I was even hanging on pace up the long climb. I rode the descent safely, but not quite like I’m capable of on-board my Pivot Mach 4. At the finish, TJ called me out, “10-15 seconds the whole race!? Were you even racing or just settling?” We both knew I had a great ride that day but he had a point.
Part IV: Le Coupe de France, Montgenevre
We flew to Europe on the Tuesday after Windham. This was going to be my first East Coast to Europe trip and I was excited to have a few days head-start on adjusting to the time change and a slightly shorter travel day. TJ pointed out the absurdity of our itinerary: Albany to Washington to New York to Milan. So we hop-scotched our way across the East Coast before crossing the Atlantic. In Milan, we collected all of our bags and bikes and then went to pick-up our car. We booked with Hertz and despite a reservation, we ended up waiting close to two hours before we actually drove out of the airport. The line was long, the service was slow, and the car still wasn’t ready. That’s just how things work sometimes.
Montgenevre is right on the Italian border high up in the Alps. It’s an older ski village and is situated at 6,000ft in elevation. We had a clear view of the climb on the course from our apartment. It switch-backed up the mountain and we could tell it was steep. The race was Saturday so we had to squeeze in a bit of training and a pre-ride before race day. We opted to pedal the Colle du Sistriere just over the border in Italy on Thursday. At the top there was a finish set-up for a Grand Fondo of some sort--on a Thursday! As I was doing some intervals, I passed quite a few old guys on road bikes near the summit and they had each cheered me on, “Brava! Brava!” On top, we sat around and ate our Clif snacks among a bunch of folks who had tackled the climb. Old. Young. Mountain bikes. Old bikes. We just sat around happy to have climbed up a mountain that day. And then we had to climb up another to get back into France.
The race started at 10:00am after we spent the morning cleaning up our apartment and packing for an afternoon departure. There were quite a few spectators and I was surprised by the good field size. The Elite and U23’s had the same start while the U19 juniors started just after us and raced one less lap. I didn’t know any of the women but introduced myself to a couple and said hello to whoever made eye-contact. My sense was that everyone was pretty serious…
The start went straight up the mountain. I had done the climb in about 7.5 minutes during my pre-ride and knew it would be brutally hard on the first lap. Due to my UCI rank, I had a first row start and was quick enough off the line to settle into second place as we headed straight into the climb. Pauline Ferrand-Prevot was clearly back on form after her 2nd place finish in Mont Sainte Anne, so I knew she would be setting the pace. We formed a gap almost immediately and I let Pauline do the pace-setting. When I was still with Pauline about half-way up, I passed her on an inside line while she swung a little wide. It was a little silly but I really wanted to pass Pauline and I was feeling good. It was just a little confidence-boosting maneuver I did for myself. Pauline passed me right back but she didn’t drop me on that first climb.
She just dropped me about five seconds into the descent.
The course was quite chewed up from some early morning races, and I struggled a bit with the terrain. The ruts were deeper and there were more loose rocks tossed onto the track. About mid-way down I took a wide line into a chute that dropped into a switch-back. I tackled the tricky part and then biffed it as I was coming out of the corner, on the flat, by hitting a fist sized rock on some loose dirt. I crashed and knocked my seat sideways. I was just fine, but I couldn’t get my seat to budge and I just figured the best option would be to get to the tech zone and have TJ take care of it. So I did my best to ride down the mountain but I was slow and sloppy. By the time I got to the bottom and into the tech zone, I was in 14th place or something. TJ hit my saddle once and it was straight (no tool needed!).
I chased hard up the climb once again but completely lost my nerve on the next descent. I even dismounted and stumbled through one technical section I had dialed in during my pre-ride. So while I had caught about ½ dozen women on the climb, I was passed maybe four times on the descent. As I headed out for my third lap, I gave myself a little pep-talk and some options. I was either going to get my shit together and just ride. Or I was going to call it a day and not keep going. I could very well hurt myself if I didn’t pull it together.
So I pulled it together and did the best I could from there on out. I moved up to 6th place after the third lap and while I wasn’t riding the descent well, I was now holding my own and navigating the tricky sections at least somewhat proficiently. TJ was letting me know that despite being so far back, I was gaining time on the 2nd place racer. After four laps, I rolled across the line for 5th place.
The course put me squarely outside my comfort zone and it almost got the best of me. While I’m disappointed I wasn’t in a place to ride with Pauline on the descent, and that I fell apart so completely early in the race, I’m proud that I pulled it together for two laps. It’s a good thing I raced and finished because I’ll be in a much better spot for the World Cup this next weekend in Val di Sole.
While I always appreciate any kind of support, the most impactful things you can do are support my sponsors, engage with my content on social media, and of course, sign up for our team newsletter⬇️.
Thank you and ride on,