It’s been roughly three years since I’ve raced a world cup, my last being in Cantimpalos, Spain in late July 2014. So, when I was selected to go to Maniago (Italy) and Oostende (Belgium), I was excited to get back into things and more chances to perform.
The trip overall went smoothly and we made it to our hotel in Spilimbergo with time to build bikes and get a ride in (I chose to stay back at the hotel and spin for half an hour on the rollers). Our rides for the next two days were spent going out and getting familiar with the time trial course. When we were off the bikes, time was spent walking back and forth to the cafe (down the street) where lunch and dinner were served, avoiding the gelato (after the first night) along the way, checking out the little shops along the cobbled streets, looking for mosaics, enjoying Italian cappuccinos, perusing the grocery store and just hanging out at the hotel between team meetings.
Thursday came up quickly. And despite the hiccup that left me having to use team wheels instead of my own for the TT and road race, I was ready to see where I was in my fitness and among my competition. The day wasn’t as cold as the forecast claimed it would be, and the damp roads were working their way dry.
Calm and focused, I approached the time trial aggressively, knowing this could be a great chance for me to claim that top step on the podium. Turns out I was too aggressive – along with unfamiliar wheels, incorrect brake pads, a still-damp road and an off-camber roundabout – I came unstuck. I rebounded quickly after registering I had hit the ground, and climbed back on my bike to a dropped chain that took over 20 seconds to get back on my bike. Trying not to panic, I focused on what I could control and quickly got back into the grove of the time trial. In the end, I was bruised, raspberry’d and two-tenths of a second off the podium.
I used the next day, riding with a handful of the team up to Tramonti di Sotto and taking in the beautifully calming scenery, to recharge from the time trial and get ready for the road race.
The road race consisted of 10 laps of a 7km course, with a cobblestone section, downhill to a 90-degree right turn and two roundabouts being the most technical parts of the loop. There were a few attempted attacks, with nothing sticking, so I spent majority of the race at the back of the group just biding my time. On the last lap, I knew where I wanted to attack/take my flyer and so I wanted like a caged tiger. With just over a kilometer to go, and a little earlier than I initially wanted to, I took off before the chaos of the leadup to the sprint. I got an okay gap and kept at it through the roundabout, slight uphill, and final right-hand turn onto the cobbles leading up to the finish. About 250 meters before the line, I was passed by Mariela from Argentina and finished the day in second place. After having gone down just a couple days prior, and after hearing all the war stories from the last time the team raced in Maniago, I was stoked to be in second and upright. And the trip wasn’t over; I knew I would have more chances in just four days’ time.
The first thing I did when we made it to Brussels (we flew from Venice the Monday following the road race) was have a Belgium waffle, happy dancing the entire time. They were everything I had hoped they would be.
I think I was looking forward to this half of the trip most because the team was staying at the hotel right on the time trial course with all the other teams. When we made the one-and-a-half-hour drive to the hotel we had downtime (our bikes and luggage were being driven from Maniago to Oostende and we wouldn’t get them until early the next morning), which mostly consisted of dinner and then hanging out in the lounge of the hotel overlooking the Northern Sea. We got lucky on this trip and it hardly rained, and on this first night there you could see a good distance across the water. There’s something calming about waves crashing along the shore, as if with every wave the muscles in your body are rocked back and forth into relaxation.
We had two days to get ourselves familiar with the time trial and road race course, good food to keep us adequately fueled and downtime to do what we needed to do to race well, and I took advantage. So, when Thursday morning rolled around (and I didn’t have to set an alarm!), I had breakfast and used the closed time trial course to both get a 30-minute spin in and ride the course in the clockwise direction is was going to be in. I was ready, and had hours to go before I was even scheduled to get to the team pits. I used the time to relax, reading a book to keep my mind of the races, before heading out to the pits and beginning my warmup.
And just like that it was time to race. The weather went from sunny and on the warmer side to cloudy, cold and on the verge of raining. The storm was coming in, which was quickly forgotten three minutes into the race with my legs turning over the hardest gear I could find in the tailwind and my heart rate steadily climbing. I knew, when I looked down at my Garmin and saw 32, 33 miles an hour that the headwind leading back into the finish was going to be brutal. It did not disappoint. I kept my heart rate high, knowing I could do another lap and convinced myself the tailwind would allow me to catch my breath. After flubbing the turnaround (braked too late), I made my way toward the finish line for my second and final lap. Just in time for a pedestrian to walk out into the crosswalk in front of me. Thankfully my friend and teammate Joe stopped him in time for me not to have to pull a Sagan, and I was on my way to the last turnaround.
I flubbed that one too, before hitting the headwind section again. I knew the last bit was going to hurt and that I just had to keep the gears turning faster than I had done it in the previous lap. Let me tell you something, though, a straight line to the finish for over two miles in a headwind isn’t so fun. You wonder how the finish line keeps getting further away. By the end, I was so spent I basically stopped pedaling a pedal stroke before the line and attempted a bike throw that mostly felt like I was making the bed so I could climb in and go to sleep. The best thing was hearing “new best time” and my name in the same sentence as I handed my bike to Joe so I could sit on one of the windowsills and catch my breath.
I had won my first world cup time trial. My first UCI para time trial for that matter!
That night was filled with a celebrating before heading off to go to sleep for real this time.
I woke up to rainy weather the day after, so those of us who weren’t racing decided to forgo any site-seeing rides and instead rode on the rollers before watching our teammates who were racing. A trip to Brugg would have to wait until the next day. And boy was it amazing! (and the Belgium waffles we had while it rained we equally so.)
Sunday marked the last race of the trip, the road race. I didn’t feel too great after breakfast and my legs felt somewhat flat during warm up, so I knew the race was going to be hard for me and I would have to use my head more than my legs. About three laps into the seven-lap race, there was a break of four of us, all C5s. With two to go, we dwindled to three. And when it came time to sprint, the second I stood my left leg cramped all the way down to my calf. But I was able to hold on for another second place. To my surprise – and another first – it was also enough to take over the world cup leader’s jersey!