After spending a little time back at home to explore my favorite local trails and relax, I was sooo ready to head to West Virginia! And wow! It's weird to think that it 's that time of year already….. National championships.
I look back now at the winter when I sat down to plan out my season. Thinking about what races I wanted to do, where I would go, and trying to figure out how to fit it all into place with my travel, training, and goals. I had no idea how my season would turn out or if what I put down on paper would become reality. National Championships was just a race in the distance, marked on the calendar for the week of July 17th, but still months away.
Now, here it is. It's time to find out who the best riders in the nation are.
This event has excitement, nerves, and glory all piled into one. It’s hard putting in the work all year to achieve the fitness you hope for at this single event and it’s even harder to have all your cards play properly. Everything mentally and physically has to be at its best and on top of that you need a little extra luck. We all want the jersey, the stars and stripes to wear for the rest of the season and into the next, and every single athlete is prepared to give their absolute best. Sometimes it all starts to get in your head, the strong desire to preform and to prove yourself, but in the end I have to constantly remind myself that it is just another race. Riding bikes... I can do that ;)
Snowshoe, West Virginia. This mountain resort is out there in the middle of well... nowhere, with the grocery store about 1hr away. The forest is dense and feels almost untouched and the views were gorgeous. All of the athletes are staying at the resort (there is really no other option haha!) making it feel even more that you are part of something. Events are going on all day long everyday throughout the week, every category and every discipline. It’s exciting, thrilling, and such an inspiring community to be part of.
We arrived Wednesday night, Lea, Hannah, and I, with the perfect amount of time to pre-ride the courses and prepare for our short track and cross country races on Friday and Sunday.
Thursday we got on track. FINALLY! I feel like I've been waiting for this all week. I usually get very very excited when I pre-ride race courses. It’s like all the energy is just bubbling up inside me and I sing one section of whatever song is stuck in my head over and over and over throughout lap one. Not sure why…. hopefully I don’t annoy my teammates too much while their showing me the lines ;). This week the song of the week was swish swish haha! Could’t tell you the reasoning behind that either… maybe because we listened to it a few too many times on the long drive from the airport. Good team bonding moments!
Anyways. The course was SICK. Seriously. The single track trails were absolutely covered with technical roots and rocks and these sections were separated by long steady fire-road climbs and two man made rock sections.
As the the days went by clouds covered the sky with rain and thundershowers that continued on and off throughout the rest of the week. This made the roots and rocks even more slick and challenging. Awesome. These are the type of conditions I love. The thrill that you feel while riding as it absolutely pours and the unknown of what the course will be like…. scary? unrideable? really hard? epic? It makes me feel bad ass (although in the spectrum of things I’m not doing anything as crazy or epic as many adventurers out there, but still....) I like that feeling of testing my limits physically and mentally in mtb racing and then throw in another curve ball like weather and suddenly realizing how much more you and your body is capable of. So bring on the pouring rain and mud covered trails! This is what we train for, now lets see what we can do out there.
Friday: Pro Women Short Track
Short track. Very similar, yet very very different from cross country. It’s a different skill in a way, more tactical, shorter, faster, and absolutely brutal. It’s easy to push yourself to the limits and beyond in what sounds at first like a short amount of time: 20min + 3 laps, but half why you quickly realize it feels much much longer.
On the line I am called up fifth to stand beside the elite women, the fastest in our nation…. and world, that in itself is an honor. Plus, I’ve got two teammates in this race, so stoke level is high!
BAM! When the gun fires it’s full gas off the line. I am in just the right gear, in just the right place, and I clip in at just the right time, so suddenly I find myself leading the field around the first corner. “Okay whoa! What’s happening!? Is this going to be a good thing or a bad thing?” Kate slips in front of me before the single track and I follow her throughout the first lap. As we enter into the second my legs are starting to feel the hard effort and I begin to slow, three other riders slip past me and I’m in fifth place. “Oh no... Hang on Haley! Keep it going.”
There I am stuck in the middle. I see the group battling in front of me and a couple riders battling behind me, but I’m not getting caught and I’m not catching up. Then suddenly the legs get going again and I’m able to pick up my pace just a little. Every lap I see myself getting closer and closer to the riders in front of me. “Keep pushing keep pushing.” Suddenly Rose Grant is right in reach and in the final lap it starts to get exciting. I can hear my friends and family cheering wildly on the sides of the course. The support is unreal and I am fired up!! (And at the same time my legs hurt realllyyyyy really bad, but I’m just so close to the finish!) I get on her wheel and am able to pass her in the rock garden when I ride the left route and she runs the right. "This is my shot! Fourth place! Okay go go go!” This is when the nerves and excitement start to rush through me, since I know she is literally right behind me. Then I see Kate climbing the hill in front of me. "How can this be happening!?" I climb as fast as I can, but struggle to keep my momentum on the next flat section, I can hear Rose RIGHT on my wheel. Someone shouts “Kate has a flat!” First I think shoot…. that seriously sucks, but then I move my focus back on the battle I am in. Back in the moment. I descend with fatigue and begin to go over the flyover... I'm so so close to the finish now. "Crash!" Someone yells from the sidelines. As I crest the top I see Kate picking up her bike as Rose and I speed past her. This is now a battle for the podium. Third place is in grasp!
This is it. Two tight corners and the finishing stretch. Let's go!!
We round the corners and as the dirt turns to pavement Rose comes around on my left side. I pedal and pedal and pedal as fast as a possibly can, but not an ounce of energy is left in my body to sprint across the line. She simply had more in the tank to grab a medal, but boy was that an exciting race! I couldn't be happier with my fourth place finish in a battle with such strong women. It's also awesome to see Lea finish the day with silver and Hannah with eighth! A great day for the team!
Sunday: U23 Women Cross Country
As Sunday comes upon us this is the day we've all been waiting for. With thunder and lightning putting us to sleep the night before as the rain came pouring down. This was going to be a good battle.
9am I am standing beside a strong field of U23 women on the line. All of us focused and ready to fight for the jersey. Off the start I fell back, but was able to move around the field on the first corner and slip into second as we entered the first section of single track. When we reached the first climb I lifted the pace, found my own rhythm, and moved into first. The next section of single track was absolutely covered in slick roots and tight turns. I was able to find a route through the crisscrossing roots and stay smooth and on the next climb I looked back to see that a gap had formed between me and next riders. I turned forward and moved my focus on what was ahead.
For me, this race was about staying calm and relaxed, before and during the race. I didn't want too much of the nerves and excitement to get to my head. I had to stay in my zone and just focus on the task at hand. Since there were so many technically demanding sections on this course, from slick roots and rocks to the rock garden, I found that it was easier than I expected to keep my concentration on just one moment at a time.
I reminded myself that anything can happen in a mountain bike race. Flats, crashes, simply running out of energy, or suddenly a rider behind you has a really fast lap. I kept imagining the ladies chasing after me and used this to help push me forward. Plus the insane amount of energy coming from my friends and family on the sides of the course was fuel for the fire!
Each climb I tested my limits and each descent I went as fast and stayed as smooth as I could. I loved the course and was enjoying the terrain and the challenges of every climb. It wasn't until the final corners before the finishing straight that I actually realized I was about to win this race.
There are few worlds to express this moment. It seems unreal to become the U23 National Champion. I am so lucky to be part of this community and to have so much support. What a feeling.
I am surrounded by amazing people doing amazing things and it's truly inspiring.
There are no other ladies I would rather share the podium with. My teammate Hannah Finnchamp in second and Kelsey Urban in third. Both incredible strong, passionate, and hard working. I love having the opportunity to share this journey with them and so many other incredible athletes.
It was another exciting day at National Championships across the world for the team. Lea and Catharine brought home silver after exciting races with the elite women in the US and Canada, Katerina took the national title in Czech, Maghalie and Eva took fourth in Canada and Italy, and Andrea placed 7th in Switzerland. Rad!
I am one lucky gal to have so many amazing people and support surrounding me. I am part of one seriously incredible team and have the best support every step of the way. Thank you all for making this Nationals the greatest!
Next up is World Cup #5: Mont Saint Anne!
Before heading straight to Lenzerheide for round four of the world cup, we made a small detour to explore the lovely home town of my teammate Andrea Waldis. The Swiss mountains are absolutely unreal and the views are like no other. All of us when driving: “WOW” and when looking out the window: “WOW” and when riding our bikes: “WOW. We just couldn't believe the beauty! Not only that, but the food and riding is incredible too! I was the happiest girl alive to be able to spend some time here, however short. The hospitality of the wonderful Waldis family made our time here that much more enjoyable. I never wanted to leave! Andrea is one lucky gal!! I have the best teammates and friends to enjoy these adventures and places with. I am one lucky gal!!
Although our stint there was much too short, arriving in Lenzerheide, Switzerland did not disappoint. The scenery once again was gorgeous and I was in awe as we drove into town. I could hardly wait to get on my bike and wander through this new landscape.
I just couldn't stop smiling! There were mountains to climb, roads with endless views and corners to turn, a lake to swim in, goats to pet, and lots of delicious fresh Italian food to eat (thanks to our teammate Eva!).
My teammates helped me dial the course and find my lines. There were millions of choices throughout the roots made it hard to decide which line would be the fastest when taking into account bumps, speed, effort, fatigue, and trail condition. The course was an absolute blast with technical roots and rocks everywhere, along with drops, swooping turns, and challenging climbs. It would be non-stop action out there and I chose to race the Orbea Oiz, knowing that the full suspension would be the fastest and smoothest on the constant rough terrain.
The week quickly slipped away day by day and soon Saturday turned to night and clouds filled the sky. Thunder shook the air and lightning flashed above the mountains, while rain poured down. All my teammates and I could do was smile, laugh, and blast: “Thunder, feel the thunder lightning then thunder thunder…"
I was stoked and curious to see what epic conditions the course would hold in the morning.
Woke up to the fresh swiss morning air. The misty atmosphere and damp grass were proof that the trails would definitely be slick. During the race we would all have to make new line choices in the moment and just hope that we had made the right call. First: eat, prep, warm-up, and get on the start line. The trail conditions would have to wait until I could see them with my own eyes.
Focused. But still can't hold back a smile when I'm doing what I love ;)
At 8:30am the best U23 women in the world were ready to race. The training had been done and now it was time to show what we could do. Who is the world's fastest today? The heart-beat played, the gun fired, and we launched into the race #fullgas, in 1.5hr we would all know the answer.
I didn't quite have the start I was hoping for and as the road narrowed I was stuck behind a large group of riders. As I reached the top of the climb I could no longer see the leaders, but when we entered the first technical descent, I took a fast line straight through the roots and as I entered the next climb I was suddenly sitting in fifth place. "Woah! How did this happen?? Well... I better just go with it."
Throughout the first lap, I chased this group of three, battling myself and the trail to keep up. I felt good and knew that today I could put in a race I am proud of.
These ladies are the best in the world. They are world class athletes, strong and fast. I stayed with them for as long as I could, but as we began the long climb during the second lap, their pace was unsustainable for me. It was time for me to settle into my own rhythm and my own race. The battle for fourth position began.
Fifth place was right behind me and took the pass as we entered into the second section of the course. I stayed right on her wheel, but as we entered into the third lap I took the lead on the climb. Here I was able to build a small gap, but on the technical and slippery sections I made a few mistakes, allowing her to decrease the time between us. Once again she passed me as we entered the pits and then I followed her into the fourth lap. As we reached the climb, I pushed just a little bit harder, allowing me to settle back into fourth place. This time I didn't want to mess up on the technical trail sections after the climb and focused on choosing the right lines.
The course was wet and slick. Every rock and root demanded my attention. "I wonder if this is slippery.. Oops yep! That was close. Okay now find your balance again." I was fully engaged throughout the entire race, my mind had not a second to wander, the trail needed me. You never knew when a root would slide your bike out from under you or a muddy corner would pull you to the ground. Staying upright was mandatory in such a tight race, but risk still has to be taken. "Haley you will make mistakes, that is unavoidable, don't let them phase you. Push on." This lap I was able to sustain the gap that I had created and going into the fifth and final lap I was still in fourth position. The want to stay there pushed me up the climb for the final time.
You never know what will happen. Every last second I pushed myself and gave my all to every pedal stroke, knowing that anything could be happening in front of me. I turned onto the last section of trail and suddenly joy began to rush through me. "I'm going to be in fourth place!" But I had to remind myself to stay in the moment, to continue to race hard and stay smooth so that my result could become reality. "No Haley... focus on the trail, you're not across the finish line yet. Deep breath. Okay keep going, almost there. GO GO GO!"
And then as I rode onto the pavement I could no longer hold back my smile. The hard work, sacrifice, and the support of others was visibly paying off. The feeling when you cross the finish line after leaving everything out on course. The pride, happiness, and not being able to believe what just happened, that's why we race. This is what I love. Thank you to everyone that has supported and helped me along the way, without you it wouldn't be possible.
A muddy tired mess, but so so happy.
World Cup #3: Vallnord, Andorra
After a few great weeks at home to enojoy my local trails, train, and relax, round two of the World Cups was finally here!
All of the hard work and preparation would once again be put to the test. Racing bikes is challenging, but I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to travel the world with great people to race my bike. I love this challenge and continuously want to test my limits. After the first two world cups, I was excited to see what my body was capable of after a new confidence was built within me.
Andorra welcomed us once again with its stunning beauty. I continue to be in awe of this country's steep mountains and the many trails and roads to explore. Being able to travel to and enjoy so many places because of my two wheeled machine continuously reminds me to be grateful for these adventures and the people I get to adventure with.
The rain and clouds were followed by sunshine and rainbows, making the scenery that more epic. After tackling the steep climbs and techy decents that built the course of World Cup #3 with my teammates, we were all ready to test our limits at altitude. The sky let loose the night before race day, adding a new element to the technicality of the terrain for the U23 women's Sunday morning race start. I was ready to give it my all.
That morning I woke early to begin my race preparations. Outside was still dark, but as I packed my bag it began to slowly fade into lighter blues. The air was crisp and was even cooler on top of the mountain where the venue stood. I layered up and grabbed my bike. Finally it hit me, it's race day.
Step by step I prepared for my 8:30am start and suddenly my name was called to the start line. People line the course and the intensity begins to build. 15seconds. BAM! We are off.
The groups surged past the pavement and into the first steep climb. Immediately we are put to the test. I worked my way up into the first group, somewhere in the top ten. When we reached the next climb (which is STEEEEEEP) I picked up the pace and moved my way into fifth position.
Soon after I entered into the second lap, I moved my way into fourth place and began the first descent. The trail was slick and covered with rocks and roots. Focus. Suddenly I could hear my front tire leaking air. Shoot. Then my back tire went flat. Shoot! The first thing that rushed into my head was that I would most likely have to run basically 5/6 of the course before I would make it to the pit zone. "Bummer... that's a lot of running." First, I tried to ride with my flat tire to see what I could do, luckily my front tire was holding some air. I realized I could ride every section, although not at top speed, and even had more grip on all of the slippery sections of the trail. The climbs were a little harder than the downhills because it felt like energy was being sucked from every pedal stroke. I kept reminding myself to stay calm and relaxed, getting too stressed wouldn't help me. When I made it to the pits my team made an incredible speedy change of both wheels and in seconds I was ready to go again. "Stay calm, you have time to work your way up." I entered the third lap in 16th place. Three laps to go.
The race was on. In such a world class field the gaps between riders are small and I could see many riders right in front of me. One by one I worked to catch them and pass them. After the third lap I looked up and saw my name pop up on the monitor in 9th place. "That's it." There were so many important aspects of this race: the altitude, the technical features, the slippery conditions, and the steep climbs. I focused on giving my all on every climb and then taking a deep breath before downhills, in order to be able to stay relaxed and be able to choose the right lines. By the next lap I was in 7th place and could still see riders up ahead. I put my head down and rode right into the pain cave, knowing that anything can happen on the last lap. Although I didn't catch other riders in that lap, I am happy with my race.
It feels great to be back in Europe racing the World Cups and to even feel some improvement since the first round in Albstadt and Nove Mesto. It's hard not to wonder what would have happened if I didn't flat.... Luckily I have another shot next weekend and I'm excited to see how the race will play out ;)
Can't wait to explore Switzerland with my teammates! Lenzerheide here we come!