Overall, Europe was absolutely INCREDIBLE: The people, the towns, the biking, the racing, the weather; it all made for a truly unforgettable time.
This project consisted of 4 Junior National Team Athletes (Erica Leonard, Quinton Disera, Laurie Arsenault, and myself) and The Junior National Team Developmental Coach, Ian Hughes. Our adventures begin in Stuggart, Germany where we departed the planes and stayed one night before driving to Oetz, Austria.
My breath was taken away by beautiful Austria from start to finish. We were constantly surrounded by green hills and fields with blossoming flowers while snow peaked mountains towered over. The race course was very difficult physically and technically with steep climbs and many elements. Leading up to race day, we spent our time previewing the course, ice bathing in the river, exploring town, and much more to avoid our school work.
Come race time, it was hot and dusty, especially at my 2:00pm start. It was very cool to be wearing the Canadian Champion jersey on the start line, surrounded by girls from all around the World. With a lack of UCI points, us Canadian girls had awful start positions in the mass start.
The race begun and I found myself mid-pack, elbow to elbow, trying to channel my inner aggressive tiger. I rode well for the first lap and a half, not totally enthralled with my position but also not totally upset about it. Then the combination of the energy-sucking heat, my jet lag, and early-season legs created a wall, and I hit the wall like never before. It took every last ounce of my energy to actually make it up the climbs, and it felt as though someone had put a 50lbs weight in my back. Heading into the fourth and final lap, it was a shameful relief when I got pulled by the 80% rule. I was very disappointed, since I've never even come close to being pulled before, but I seriously don't know if I could have physically finished another lap of that course!
After that race, Erica's positivity kept me smiling while I tried to turn my feelings of failure into motivation to take my game to the next level. One of my favourite quotes, from my ski coach, Ron Howden, helped me a lot after this race. It goes something like this:
Without failure, you can never be a success. Failure is NOT an indication that you are less of an athlete. Failure should never be a stick that you beat yourself up with. Instead, failure is simply feedback, and FEEDBACK IS THE BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS. Remember, if you're afraid to fail, then you won't take risks. Failure should always make you CURIOUS, rather than FURIOUS.
With that, I was mentally set to go risk it all again the next week in the Germany race!
The next day was probably my favourite day of the trip. It begun with a 3 hour adventure ride through Austrian towns and hiking trails with waterfalls. Next, we drove up as high as we could on the mountains to get some killer view points and to pass the tree line with snow. Then we went to Innsbruck... I swear I'm going to go back there in my life. It was the most beautiful city I've ever been in and the culture was outstanding. We acted as tourists, ate a great dinner, then happily headed back to Oetz.
Now comes the Germany chapter of this (long, I know) story/ blog post. (& if you've made it this far and are still reading... Keep up the good work!)
Germany didn't have the mountains like Austria but there was still lots of elevation to be made. It was raining pretty much every day, which didn't make it great for off-bike exploration, but it made the rides SUPER MUDDY and that's exactly what I love! The race course was one up hill, and one downhill. That may sound easy, but HA nope. It was about an 18 minute steep, loose, rocky double track climb, then a 3 minute fast, technical decent. For the type of riding that I had been doing early season on the road, this course actually suited me very well.
(Side note: Absalon stayed RIGHT across the hall from us at our hotel! All us Junior Canadian were star struck. )
Race day was the muddiest day yet as racers were coming across the line covered head to toe. Again, with awful start positions and a bottle neck 100m from the start line, I was close to last heading up the climb. However, I felt really good that day and was actually passing lots of girls on the climbs! Once the descent came I was making up even more ground on my competitors as I attacked downhill, feeling confident and smooth in the slippery conditions. On the final lap, I was in the lower twenties heading into the descent, right on the tail of a pack of 3. I quickly caught the pack and knew I had to make a pass soon if I was ever going to get by before the finish 1km away. Ripping around a corner, my tires slipped and I fell, getting even more covered in mud. I quickly got back on my bike, but then quickly fell again because of my slippery hands and caked tires!! After this scene and some struggle to get back on my bike because of the difficult terrain, I had been passed by about 5 girls... I was frustrated, but still laughing because of the craziness of the conditions, and road smoothly to the finish! Overall, I was very proud of my performance at that race, putting aside the unfortunate ending, and it felt great to finish a World-Class race happy for the first time.
Later that day we got to watch the elite men race, and enjoyed some of the more unhealthy European foods we had been eyeing all week.
Our adventure ended the next day as we boarded our flights back home to Canada.
I owe an enormous thank you to Trek Canada, Cycling Canada, Kevin Simms, Ian Hughes, and my parents. I am so grateful for all of the support, in all different forms, I get from these people, that allow for my development on a World-Class level.
I am currently in Tremblant for the first Canada Cup of the year with the Trek Canada team! After the race I will be with Team Ontario at the National Development Center in Bromont for a few days of downhilling and training!