Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Off Season!

 Andorra Mountain Sculptures
 Little Bellas first night ride

Can't get enough of Mediterrean water

The off season is here, and Sabe and I kicked it off in fashion with five days in Andorra and Spain.  Sabe came over to worlds to support me, and we started the 'off' season the day after the World Championships with one of the coolest climbs I've ever done.  Sabe had scoped out a climb that she only made it one third of the way up earlier in the week because it was forty degrees and raining.  One of the coldest days I've been on a bike in a long time.  So, when it was sunny, we climbed and climbed and climbed for about two hours snaking our way up a valley and to one of the most beautiful ski areas I've ever been to.  The Andorra mountains are rugged in their very own way, and they are stunning.  We rounded a switchback, and, around the corner was a massive 'O' metal sculpture framing the landscape.  I've never experienced anything like it.  We were hanging out around that and then, all of a sudden, five guys on three wheelers, what looked to be adult hot wheels came flying around the bend.  They were descending the whole pass.  It was incredibly random.

The next day we headed to a gem of a town on the coast of Spain, Cadaques.  We stopped over in a medieval village on the way called Besalu.  This town still had a castle bridge, gate, and a moat still intact.   And, it even had tiny little streets that were more narrow and cobbled than your average European town.  The whole thing was incredible.  But, Cadaques really stole our hearts.  For a town on the Mediterrean, it's relatively quiet.  It had trails etched into the side of a cliff going to an overlook (which was technical and I rode on my mountain bike and Sabe rode on a road bike).  It had a one lane paved road out to a lighthouse.  Gaudi had a home in Cadaques which inspired quite an amazing art scene there.  We spent hours wandering around the streets.  I also got to experience paella and sangria for the first time, and I was thrilled.  Sabe just kept say, 'you will never have paella like this again.  This is incredible'.  I guess we have to go back to Spain.

On our way out, we spent a day exploring Barcelona by bike.  We were lucky enough to see the Sagrada Familia, and this was the most incredible church I've ever experienced.  Gaudi set out to construct a natural experience, and he really succeeded.  I felt like I was right at home in the woods.  The church pillars branch off at the top to look like tree branches and the top of the church looks like different layers of a tree canopy.  This combined with the colors coming through the many stained glass windows is simple breathtaking.

I have continued the off season momentum at home.  I met one of my best friends at the Tunbridge Worlds Fair this week.  I've also been going on some great mountain bike rides with my sister and my coach and even got to a new Vermont swimming hole.  This was a momentous occasion.   Swimming holes are my favorite past time. Tonight, I joined the Little Bellas older ride group for their first ever night ride.  It was adventurous and a blast.  The quote of the night was, "I really didn't see that coming".  Tonight, failing to see a line or roots and rocks is actually a legitimate excuse.  We talked about our next adventure, and the girls came up with some phenomenal ideas that got me really excited.

The off season continues with a trip to California for a Clif Bar event this Thursday and Saturday in Marin county.  Let the good times roll.


 New Vermont Swimming Hole
 Hanging out with my bestie's kid at the fair was the best

 Cadaques, Catalonia Paddling
 This was one of the coolest and most exposed trails I've ever been on
 Even the door to Sagrada Familia was incredible
 That light is natural in Sagrada Familia
 Gaudi's other creations in Barcelona
 Sagrada Familia looks like a forest
 The best trail in Cadaques

 Sabe owning this trail on her road bike

 We actively had to lay down on the beach and try to rest


When you round a corner and see this!

Monday, September 14, 2015

The World Championships

 Photo: Michal Cervany
 Photo: Michal Cervany

The World Championships.  It's the one race each year where we race the same girls we have been racing all season, but everyone freaks out about it because the World Champion is crowned.  There is something absolutely magical about it.  If one wins the World Championships, the rider gets to wear a white and rainbow jersey for the entire season.  And, each world champion gets to wear the rainbow stripes on their jersey sleeves for the rest of their life.  Beside the Olympics, it's the ultimate goal.  So, it's justified to freak out a bit.  This was a main goal of mine all season, and we (it takes a village…you know who you are, coach, USAC, family) nailed it just right.  I was peaking and, since the race was at altitude, I was acclimated.  I was psyched.

I raced the World Championships relay on wednesday before the race.  This is a race where one elite man, one elite woman, one junior man, and one U-23 man each complete one lap of the course and hand off to the next team member.  It's a crazy and really fun team event especially since mountain biking is so individual all season long.  Last year at World Champs, the USA Cycling relay team barely missed out on a podium with a fourth place so we were all really excited for the relay this year.  We had a solid opening lap, and, unfortunately, our second leg got a flat tire.  This took us out of the medal race, but, luckily, I got tagged around a solid group of elite women that I could test myself against before Saturday.  I had a great lap, and my lap time was fourth fastest out of the elite women and only ten seconds off of the fastest lap time.  Everything was lining up.

The course had been dry all week long, and then, the day before the race, the sky opened up and it poured rain.  My U-23 teammate, Kate Courtney, raced in gnarly, rainy conditions.  It was epic.  I did a lap of the course while it was raining, and it was surprisingly grippy.  On the day of our race, the sun came out and turned the entire course into a jar of peanut butter.  It was so slick out there, so much so that we couldn't ride up the majority of climbs.  We had to get off our bikes and run for the first couple of laps.

The opening five minutes of the race were a dream come true.  I had a solid start, and I moved into the lead on the first climb.  I went for it.  I was dropping the field.  By the time I got to the first descent, I had a ten second lead, and I felt absolutely phenomenal.  I was thinking, 'Oh my God, I feel so good.  I'm going to win the World Championships today'.  And, then the dream turned a bit into a nightmare.  I crashed really hard on the first slippery descent, nailed my knee, and fell down a bank.  By the time fifth place passed by, I was still trying to scramble up the bank.  I finally got back on my bike, and I was still in contention.  But, the crash knocked me out of my rhythm big time, and I came unraveled a bit.  I crashed in the same spot on lap two, and then I proceeded to crash and make more mistakes than I have all season combined.  At one point, I high sided into the crowd and they lifted me and my bike back onto the course (thank you spectators). I finally figured out how to ride that section on lap three thank goodness.  But, I toughed it out for a tenth place finish.  All considered, if that was my worst result all season, it's been a good season.  And thank goodness my sister was there in Andorra to cheer me through the challenging race.  I really needed it.  After a race like that, it was a welcome change to go on a Spain adventure trip with my sister to the coast for a couple of days.  It was so much fun and a great way to decompress.

The Olympic test event in Rio is my only race left for the season, and I have a lot of fall adventures lined up.  Next up, a trip to California for a Clif Bar event, the CykelScramble.  It's going to be a blast.

Thank you so much for you support!


 Photo: Michal Cervany
 The fans in Andorra were awesome.  I signed autographs for two hours after the race
 Photo: Michal Cervany

 Relieved to cross that finish line. Photo: Michal Cervany
 Christoph Sauser, the Specialized performance coach, helps with shoe set up pre race Photo: Michal Cervany
Andorra was a gorgeous place for a bike race photo: Michal Cervany

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Racing with Trials and Tribulations

 Windham World Cup Podium
My mom, by far my loudest supporter.  Thanks Mom!
I have just wrapped up my most successful World Cup season
in my career. I never once placed outside of the top ten, and this consistency
put me in fourth overall coming into World Cup Finals in Val di Sole,
Italy.  There was only a mere twenty four
points separating me and current World Champion, Catharine Pendrel, in third
overall.  The gun went off at Val di
Sole, and I led out a good portion of the start lap.  I was feeling great, and then I had a quick
bobble coming into the first feed zone.
Then, on the first lap, I found myself completely sliding across the
grass on an off camber corner.  With
these two crashes, five girls passed me.
The world cup races are incredibly competitive and close these
days.  I was a little out of my descending
rhythm, and I settled somewhere in between tenth and eight amongst a pack that
was constantly switching places.  Since
Catherine was about a minute up on me battling for third place, I thought
moving ahead in the overall wasn’t a possibility.  But then, something amazing happened in the
last lap, and a group came together from fourth through tenth place.  That group included Catherine and then things
got really interesting.  The hunt for the
overall was on, and l passed her with about half a lap to go.  I knew I had to get at least two places in
between us so I caught Blaza in front of me as well.  Then, it was a battle to the finish line and
I outsprinted Blaza for seventh place.
Lady luck was on my side, and Eva Lechner outsprinted Catharine.  Helen Grobert squeaked in between us as well,
and I captured third place in the world cup overall by as little as four
points.  My Specialized teammates, Howard
Grotts, Jaroslav Kulhavy, and Troy Brosnan, also stepped onto that third step
in the overall in men’s U-23, elite men, and elite downhill respectively.  Fun fact, Troy, Howard, and I also all got
bronze world championships medals last year in Norway.  We are number three!

I didn’t start the season with the world cup overall as my
main goal, but it sure was a fantastic added bonus to the season.  Over the season, each world cup race is
unique and has a story, but three races stick out in my mind in
particular.  I’m still incredibly excited
by my career best second place in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, but I’m also very
proud of my sixth place in Mount Saint Anne, Canada, and my fourth place in
Windham, NY.  Sometimes, life
happens.  Challenges pop up, emotional or
physical, big or small, and can come at any time. Athletes just have to put
their heads down and train or race.  I’ve
faced some significant physical challenges in the form of hip surgeries in the
past, but some pretty big emotional trials came right before Mount Saint Anne
and Windham world cups, my home races.  I
believe emotional events, a relationships break up,
are way more adverse than an injury.
With an my hip injury, I got it diagnosed, I fixed it, I let it heal,
and then I worked as hard as I possibly could during rehab.  With emotional challenges, there’s no step-by-step
process laid out in front of you, and, at this high of a level at the world
cup, a lot of racing is mental.  Believe
me, sadness is slow.  For me, it’s a
proven fact that happiness is fast.  So,
how to race when feeling broken on the inside?  
            The Mount Saint
Anne course is the most technical course on the circuit, and this year was no
exception.  The week before the race, I
was an emotional wreck, and I was in my head a lot.  Read: not grounded.  I knew I absolutely needed to be grounded to
ride this technical course or it was going to be dangerous.  So, luckily, I grounded myself by falling
into my normal pre-race routine, and pre-riding with my teammate Kate.  She had checked out all of the lines before I
arrived, and I just simply followed her wheel.
I was delighted to be able to ride everything smoothly, especially given
the circumstances.  I think another
important step through emotional trauma is to feel emotions.  If I suppress emotions, they just get
increase or rear their ugly head in a worse form.  It’s important to release sadness, cry, and
surround myself with a great support network to help pick up the pieces.  It’s also good to channel that emotional release
through workouts.  Also, I find it’s just
also very grounding to get one my bike and start pedaling.  It’s very familiar. 

Athletes are a paradox within themselves.  We are really in tune with our bodies.   We
know what threshold feels like, and we can detect slight tweaks..  But, we also are really good at the art of
denial.  I can’t even count the number of
times that I’ve heard athletes say, ‘No, I don’t have a cold.  This is just allergies’.  We must be able to deny the screaming legs
and the burning lungs and push through one more lap.  When the time is right, the art of denial can
really come in handy when dealing with emotional loss.  It’s crucial to use the power of denial to
focus on the task at hand, for me, racing Mount Saint Anne, and submerse myself
in racing.  Then, after the race, I could
start to deal with reality.  Everyone is
different, but the important steps for me were:
1) Fall into a familiar routine (if it doesn’t include or
remind you of the challenge at hand)
2) Surround yourself with positivity
3) Focus on the present (and use the perfected art of denial
to your benefit) when it comes to race time
4) When the time is right, feel and start to process.
5) Flexbility.  Go
easy on yourself. 

Maple Creemees and happiness watts are a important part of the healing process. 
This whole process seemed to work for those two North
American world cups.  I scored another
two top ten finishes and maintained my place in the world cup overall
ranking.  For me, overcoming the
circumstances to have two solid races was one of the biggest victories of the
season.  Up next is the World
Championships in Vallnord, Andorra.  I’m
so excited!  Thank you so much for all of
your support!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Growing up Vermont.

 I took the L.L Bean vintage vest to our old adventure spots.  Desso's

Growing up in Vermont means growing up outdoors.  Being lucky enough to have outdoor oriented parents, my youth was filled with adventures outside.  My sister and I spent our summers barefoot running around the dirt road in our neighborhood.  We used to play kick the can or flashlight tag with all the neighborhood kids.  When In the Arena sent all of its athletes a vintage L.L Bean vest last week, it ignited many memories of my young adventures.  There are a couple of spots around our house where the paths were well worn in.  Thus, these particular adventures were burned into my memory.   
Occasionally we got to add some penny candy to that Snapple

My parents would take us on a weekly weekend pilgrimage to Desso's, the local general store.  This was probably a ten mile ride round trip on a dirt road.  Intially, we would huff it over to Desso's on our old school Schwinn ten speed bikes with the dial shifter on the handlebar.  Then, one Christmas, we got matching purple Mongoose Hilltoppers.  These machines still probably weighed just as much as we did, but we did get an upgrade in shifters.  To be honest, I was purely food motivated to haul this thirty pound metal machine up and down those roads.  My parents would buy us a snapple of our choice at the general store.  This was the kindling for my cycling career, and I still ride by Desso's (now Jericho General Store) often on my training rides. 
The snack spot at the Town of Essex pool

In the summer, we lived at the town pool.  The Essex town pool was closed in the morning for swim team practice and swimming lessons, and then it would open to the public at one o'clock.  From this time until dinner, we swam, played Marco Polo, jumped off the diving boards, or sunned on a towel on the hot pavement pool deck to warm up.  Every quarter of an hour on the hour, all the lifeguard whistles would blow for adult swim.  The adults got the pool to themselves for fifteen minutes every hour which Sabe and I would use for snack time.  Food wasn't allowed in the pool so we would go out to a fenced in area adjacent to the pool and eat pretzels and animal crackers.  My mom also put us into swimming lessons and diving lessons in that pool.  We learned how to do a pike dive, front flip, and swan dive even off the high dive board.  She also threw us onto the swim team.  I was a bit too late to the party so I was put into the lane with kids about three years younger than me.  This was the only time in my life that I didn't want to compete.  I was awful, and I would hope with all of my might for a thunderstorm on the days of swim meets.  The only way I could do the butterfly stroke was to jump off of the bottom of the pool.  Yes, I was that bad.  Regardless, I only had to go through early morning practice and cold water with the young kids for one year.  This wasn't enough time to taint all of our good childhood years spent at that pool. 
 The Long Trail trailhead 

One of my most impactful memories was our first backpacking trip on the long trail one summer.  My sister belonged to a hiking club in middle school (how cool is that?) so my parents decided to lead the group on a week long trip one year.  This way, I got to come.  This trip was a natural extension of our yearly family camping trips.  Each summer, my parents would pack up the twelve person tent (I'm not sure why, we only have four people total in our immediate family), the sleeping bags, and the pads and drive to a location to camp for the week.  We went to the Adirondacks where we sat in the car and watched a bear completely ransack the neighboring campsite.  We camped on Prince Edward Island where we ate fish straight from the ocean, and it poured on us for two days straight.  We even took three weeks to drive out west and camp at all of the major national parks.  Alone, this Out West trip has about fifteen blogs worth of memories.  There were two constant themes on all of these camping trips.  My mom used to bring Bisquick.  She would mix it with water to make a paste, form the paste around a stick, and roast it over the fire.  We would cover it with honey and eat it. We called it a doughboy, and it was delicious.  I would also always be so sad to leave our campsite that I would need to say a special goodbye to the place alone before we left.  

Many of these adventures were accomplished with my mom wearing a similar vest to the one I got in the mail.  L.L Bean gives people the tools they need to get out and experience the outdoors.  I bet that red vest sat around many campfires and even hiked the long trail.  Maybe that vest was put around a shivering kids shoulders on a chilly summer Vermont day at the pool.    In the age of computer screens, the outdoors is needed now more than ever especially with kids.  The memories that can be made even within one's backyard can last a lifetime and plant the seeds to a healthy and fulfilled life.  Not to mention, my mom's vest is probably still kicking around, just like the one that showed up in the mail.  And, if it succumbed to the one hundredth adventure or a flaming doughboy, L.L Bean would replace it.   Thanks for L.L Bean for getting us and our Little Bellas outside.  

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The European Mountain Tour

 Jumping for Joy in Switzerland on a training ride
Specialized Women are leading the world cup team overall standings Photo: Michal Cervany

The past two weeks have been phenomenal with ample time spent in some of my favorite places in the world.  The first week, I traveled to Sella Ronda in the Italian Dolomites for the World Marathon Championships.  The World Marathon Championships is a longer race than I usually compete in.  This race was sixty kilometers with twelve thousand feet of climbing.  The cross country world cups are an hour and half of racing compared to this four hour effort.  I had done the amazing Sella Ronda ride with my family about five years ago.  My sister led bike tours for Trek Travel in this region and treated our family to a trip of a lifetime.  The Sella Ronda is a huge rock massif among the jagged Dolomite peaks, and five mountain passes complete the ride around Sella Ronda.  For the Marathon World Champs, instead of climbing many switchbacks up paved roads (read: easier grade climbing), we just climbed straight up dirt roads on our mountain bikes.  It was epic and incredible.  Although I didn't feel great on race day, this race still goes down as one of my favorite experiences on a bike.  I couldn't have picked a better place to have an off day, and I still ended up in ninth place.

And, just when I thought it couldn't get better, the trip skyrocketed.  We drove over through the dolomites and the alps to the World Cup in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.  We were treated to the drive up the iconic Stelvio Pass, a climb which is one of the top on my 'to ride' list.  My sister also has guided many bike trips in this region and I finally got to have a famous sausage sandwich at the top of the climb. Lenzerheide, Switzerland didn't disappoint.  Team Specialized stayed in fantastic lodging in the town nestled by a lake and towering peaks.  The landscape was breathtaking the world cup course was so much fun.  It was unlike any other course I've ridden, packed with technical single track and flow.  In short, it was a blast, and my racing reflected just how much fun I had been having.  Happiness is fast, and I had stocked up on happiness watts for two weeks.  When it came to race time, I was ready to go.

Like the previous world cup, I had a front row start in eighth position.  This is a huge advantage in a mass start race.  Unfortunately, I came out of my pedal about ten pedal strokes in quickly erasing a front row start advantage.  It wasn't ideal but not all was lost.  I got stuck in some traffic that I desperately got around as fast as I could, and I just set out to pass as many people as possible in the opening laps of the race.  Luckily, I felt fantastic and I was able to ride onto podium position in fifth by halfway through the lap.  I was trading leads with world cup points leader, Jolanda Neff, for third position for the majority of the race.  Neff also happens to be Swiss so I felt like I was battling an entire country.  On the last lap, I attacked Jolanda on the opening biggest climb, and she didn't respond.  Then, World Champion, Catharine Pendrel appeared in front of me, and I was closing.  To have my best world cup finish twenty seconds in front of me was extremely motivating.  Halfway through the lap, I caught Catharine and passed her.  She then passed me right back so I stayed on her wheel and tried to recover for a decisive attack.  I sprinted as hard as I could in the final feed zone, and I didn't stop sprinting until I reached the finish line.  With a last lap filled with all of this excitement, I also clocked the fastest lap time of the entire race.  I am just so excited.  Combined with the women's world cup final game and my result, I didn't sleep much that night.  To clock that kind of result on fourth of July weekend, wearing the national champion kit, and to do it on the same day that the U.S women's soccer team won World Champs, it's a weekend that will be remembered.

Thank you to everyone for all of the cheering, comments, and support.  I hear you.  It makes a huge impact.  Thank you!

 Teammate Christoph, Howie, and myself were there for a Specialized store opening in Italy.  Red carpet and all
 Training for the World Marathon Champs

 Top of the final descent at World Marathon Champs
World Marathon Championships Photo: Michal Cervany
 Photo: Michal Cervany
 Photo: Michal Cervany
 Photo: Michal Cervany

 I LOVE mountains…especially these ones

 Team Specialized took a gondola to the top of a peak after the race and played in the snow!
 Passo Stelvio
 Lupines in Lenzerheide
 Photo: Michal Cervany

Photo: Michal Cervany