There’s something electric about being at a World Cup. The emotion in the air is palpable. Even in the days leading up to the race, if you pause and exit the walls and boundaries of your own little World to look into the eyes of those around you pre-riding, spectating, and coaching you’ll see people in a new way. There are times out on the course in the days leading up to the race, where people are wearing their feelings on their sleeve and you can sense their hopes, dreams, and fears.
It’s interesting to really think about the lives of each athlete taking to the start line at these events. These athletes are the best mountain bikers in the world. We’ve all dedicated a tremendous amount to this sport. We have so much in common, yet from different countries all over the world, at face value we seem fairly different.
At the World Cups, we all must be in our respective “start boxes” 15 minutes before the actual race start. We all file into our little boxes and continue to spin on rollers while we wait to be called to the line. We are all nervous. We all have expectations on the day. We are all focused in. We all keep our eyes straight forward, even though we are packed in, just inches apart.
Photo Credit: Marcelo Rypl
Finally, when we are all called to the line, we pack into the start grid. We inch forward, then inch forward again, then everyone shuffles around a little more trying to gain every position before the race even begins. You have to be 100% focused in before you even get off the line.
When the light turns green there is no gradual build up, and no holds barred. We all explode off of the line and if an inch opens you better fill it, or someone else will. I had a decent start off of the line, no errors and holding my position well, then in the first corner the girl in front of me grabbed a fistful of back brake and skidded her bike sideways. In order to avoid a pile up, I had to grab my brakes as well and it felt like the rest of the field immediately engulfed me. I immediately lost many positions. I didn’t panic though, I’ve been there before and I know what I have to do.
It’s a steady game of taking advantage of every moment and constantly moving forward. The start lap consisted a lot of having wide elbows and holding my ground and not burning matches when we were all clogged up waiting in line. When you start further back in the grid, the first lap is always a traffic jam in the singletrack, just like a whole bunch of cars trying to merge into one lane on the freeway.
Photo Credit: Marcelo Rypl
I went through the start loop in 56th with eyes forward to move up and that’s exactly what I did. Each climb I looked up to the next group ahead of me and plotted to catch them by the top of the climb. I picked off group by group and all day long I saw my position improving up on the scoreboard. I felt strong and locked in and knew that the limiting factor would just be the time I had to make up the positions moving up in the race.
As we came to the final feedzone I was in 39th position with one more woman in reach about 10-15 seconds ahead. That seemed like a big ask for the final climb in the race when we are all fighting tooth and nail for every position. I took a deep breath and attacked the climb, watching the gap between me and the girl in front of me diminish almost immediately. When I caught her wheel, I took a deep breath and then exploded around her and never looked back until the final straight. I crossed the line in 38th.
I'm proud of that race. I put together a good race, I showed fitness, tenacity, and smarts to move forward all day long. I gained confidence from that race and I know that with a higher call up, there will be even more opportunity, but getting to that higher call up is a process and I’m chipping away at it. I feel excited about the future!
I think there is a trend right now to always show some disappointment in any result that isn’t 1st. As a competitor, I want to be clear that until you are on the top of the podium, you should never be satisfied. There should always be a fire within you to improve, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be happy and celebrate successes along the way. In order to win in this sport, everything has to align and if the only time you feel joy is when you win then you will spend a lot of time discontented. If only the top 20 athletes showed up to the race, then the start line would look pretty measly.
The reason that we race is because on any given day someone different will raise to the top. You must celebrate each step in the process to get there, while simultaneously striving for more.