Once again it was time to travel on and we were all ready to experience a different culture, different food, different surroundings, and different terrain. After a long day in the car, we arrived at our next destination: the traditional german town of Albstadt, Germany, filled with bakeries, cafes, apothekes, and ice cream shops. This year we were surprised with sunny and warm weather, making it hard not to break into a huge smile while exploring by foot or by my favorite two wheel machine. Surrounding the buildings and cobble stone streets are rolling hills covered in glowing green trees and wandering dirt roads and trails, providing us with the most gorgeous landscape to train.
It was time for World Cup round two and, even with an entire week to settle in, with so much going on around us time absolutely flies. How couldn't every day be great when there are castles to explore, endless trails, shining sun, crepes, pretzels, amazing people surrounding me, oh and Elke (the owner of the bed and breakfast we are staying at) bakes delicious bread!?!
After really putting my body to the test at Nové Mesto, I was prepared to give my absolute best once again. This time my bike held number 8 on its handle bars, placing me on the front row for the start, much much better than before and I hoped to use this to my advantage. I felt calm once again. No pressure, but my sights were set a little higher.
Albstadt is an absolutely brutal course. Steep climbs.... very very steep climbs, short fast descents, and little rest during the lap. This year, the course had a couple new sections different from last year adding to the excitement of pre-riding the course. The trail was dusty and loose, making the goal to stay smooth a little bit harder to achieve. Each day we get closer and closer to race day and I am slipping into race mode. I am ready to roll.
Sunday morning wakes Kelsey and I at 6am… breakfast…. kit on…. ride to venue…. timing chip…. final bike preparations…. and I begin my warm-up. The day is already warming quickly and time is slipping by extremely fast, but the sun is shining and it’s another perfect day for a bike race.
Start box. Rollers. It’s hot. Julien holds an umbrella for me and Waldek hands me ice and water. That helps. A wonderful German friend wishes me good luck and I can't hold back a smile. I am continuously amazed by the support that I receive every step of the way.
I am ready. I see the fast riders in the start box with me, but for some reason I am not intimidated and I won’t let myself be. I have nothing to lose. I focus on my legs and what they need right now to be ready to burst off the line. I focus on my mind. They begin to call riders to the line. I am number eight. Front row. Far left. Deep breath. Names of riders from all over the world continue to be called to the line. 1 minute. Garmin beeps. Silence. Cheers begin to fill the air. 15 seconds. BAM! We are off.
I have a pretty good start and I am able to settle into the top ten. Off to a good start. Better than last time. The leaders are pushing the pace and riding fast throughout the start loop. On the final climb I am riding behind Malene, deja vu, together we push the pedals just a little bit harder and are able to pass a few riders before the descent.
The climbs are steep and the sun is out…. five laps to go.
I am with a group of about three other riders. We are constantly passing each-other and going back and forth throughout the next few laps. There are seconds between us. No slowing down. Every second counts and hydration and fueling can't be overlooked now, especially with such steep climbs and pounding heat.
I'm in sixth place and holding my position. The downhills are loose and rough, I have to focus on staying as smooth as possible in order to stay on my bike. It's not worth crashing, but also important to stay fast in order to keep up with the world class athletes right in front of me. Every lap I continue to focus on pacing myself the best I possibly can. The athletes around me have set their rhythms and I must react to their attacks, while also settling into my own rhythm so that I am able to finish strong.
I think my tire is leaking during the fourth lap and make a quick stop in the pits. The loose trail and sharp rocks can sneak up on you at any moment, making it that much more important to ride smoothly and with all of your focus on the trail. I just lost a little air and am good to keep going. Phew! I ride out of there as quick as I can and into the final climb.
I make the tight corner onto the straight with one lap to go. I see the rider in fifth place has a rear flat and is slowly riding across the pavement. I put my head down and pick up speed.... Could this be my moment for a top five finish!?! I have been giving my all the entire race, digging deep both mentally and physically, but now it is time to dig a little bit more. This is the last lap and it is time to leave every last bit of energy that my body has out on course.
I am in fifth place on the first climb, but my result is far from being set in stone. Anything can happen in a single lap and I am ready for anything. Going around the switchbacks I can see the trail I have just ridden and now know I am not alone. Although I have tried to build a gap, two riders are right behind me and chasing me down. I turn my eyes back to the climb in front of me and turn the pedals a little bit faster. I hear the shouts and cheers of my teammates and friends, motivating my to continue to push forward and give my absolute all.
As I head into the final descent and then the feed zone, I take a deep breath. The riders are right behind me and getting closer, but right ahead of me is the final climb, my last chance to solidify my position. I focus now on what is in front of me, put my head down and give everything my body can give. In a blur a rider passes me, but I won't give up now. I hear the cheering along the sides of the trail and push forward pedal by pedal. I get on her wheel and chase her to the top of the climb. She has gained a little distance from me at the bottom of the final descent, but not much. We are getting close to the finish and make the tight turns in the grass as fast as we possibly can. She is right there, so close. We both stand and sprint across the line, finishing just four seconds apart.
I am all smiles after the race. It was a hard fought battle for sixth place and with a strong field from start to finish. These World Cups are seriously non-stop action and truly the most exciting racing that I have ever experienced. Being able to travel to new places, put my body to the test in a sport I love, and meet incredible people throughout the way, makes every step of this journey worth it. I feel so honored to have absolutely unreal support from the community surrounding me. It takes so much to make every race possible, so thank you THANK YOU to everyone that has supported and helped me as I chase my dreams!
It's hard to say goodbye to Europe and all of the great memories! I so appreciate that support of USAcycling and this phenomenal group of people for making the past three weeks possible and truly one of a kind.
Now enjoying some home time and training time... I've got some work to do ;) and I can't wait to explore my local mountains as the snow is finally melting away to reveal my favorite trails. See you out there!!