20 April 2012  |  Race Reports

Moving in the Right Direction: World Cup #2 Race Report

My race at the first World Cup in South Africa was pretty disappointing, and I headed into the second round determined to turn things around.

We flew into Brussels on the Thursday before the race and headed from the airport straight to the course. The weather was damp and chilly, and I was glad that I packed warm clothes and gloves in my bag. This year, the Houffalize course was completely redesigned, and I was a bit unprepared to be immediately riding in my granny gear (so much for a gradual warm-up!) at the start of the loop. That steep climb was followed by a steep downhill, another short climb, another steep downhill (don’t worry, the trees at the bottom had matresses strapped to them in case…) and so on. It was hard to settle into any kind of rhythm as the terrain was constantly changing and there was always something to keep you on your toes. The course was very compact: it constantly snaked back on itself, making it difficult to remember where you were- it seemed more like a ‘cross race. It was demanding both physically and technically, and I knew it was going to be a tough race no matter how good I felt.

Staying hydrated AND maintaining the "race face."

I won’t lie, after an overnight trans-Atlantic flight and no sleep I was not feeling particularly sharp or confident out there. (Waldek’s take on the new course: “It’s like short-guy syndrome: no-one thinks there are any hills in Belgium, so they design the steepest course with the most climbing.” Pretty much.) Add to this the fact that the skies opened up and dumped a bunch of hail on us. The hail quickly melted and transformed the course into a series of hike-a-bikes and muddy downhill chutes. “Well,” I thought, “at least I know what it’s going to be like if it rains on race day…” Luckily, the soil in Houffalize dries pretty quickly, and after a couple days of MOSTLY sun (it does, after all, rain at least once a day in Belgium, I think) the course was completely dry.

The start loop wasn’t ideal for those of us starting in the back of the pack- after a few hundred meters of pavement, the course turned and went up a steep, granny-gear dirt climb. The climb was challenging when I was fresh, and I knew that with 100 women hauling-ass into it in their big rings, someone would miss-shift and eventually we would all be running.

Sure enough, as soon as I hit the dirt I nearly crashed into a wall of women who had come to nearly a complete stand-still in front of me. I am a pretty good runner, but it was tough to maneuver though the sea of bikes and bodies so I moved up slowly. I looked further up the hill and saw a handful of women ride away over the top. On that first lap, there were a few more climbs and downhills that I had to run (coming into one tricky downhill I saw 2 women off their bikes, so I dismounted before the corner instead of plowing into them. The woman behind me clearly favored the “run-into-anyone-in-your-way strategy,” she knew my name (I’m famous, after all) and proceeded to cuss me out during the whole process. By the end of the first lap, I had cracked the top-20.

Things had spread out a lot, but I was able to pick off a few more women during the next lap, bringing me up to 11th. On the third lap, Gunn-Rita came by me after flatting. I was able to ride with her for another lap and a half before she dropped me, and then I rode by myself for the last lap to finish 12th.

Smiling? Really? Well, it WAS nice to feel good for once!

Obviously, I wish that I had been on the podium, but my legs felt good which was a great feeling and a huge relief. It was the first race where I actually felt GOOD since the Olympic Test Event in London last July. A step in the right direction.

After the race, we packed and drove to London to take advantage of 2 open training days on the Olympic course. Most of the course is the same as last year, but they have made some good improvements including widening some switchbacks, making a new start-climb that won’t bottle-neck and adding a few technical sections. It’s a beautiful venue and the course is going to be very spectator-friendly and exciting.

Now I am back in the USA, preparing to race the Sea Otter short track later today (yes, jet lag has me finishing up this blog at 6am) and the XC and CX on Saturday. It’s been a whirlwind trip, but hopefully more good things to come!



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