Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Anatomy of the World Championships 2016



All photography by Michal Cervany
The month before the World Championships was the hardest training block I’ve ever had.  If I wasn’t motorpacing behind Andy on a scooter, I was doing hard intervals on single track on my mountain bike.  It was aggressive, we really pushed my limits, and, most importantly, I was prepared to have potentially my best ride yet at the 2016 World Championships in Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic.  I was feeling ready, and I absolutely love that course.  Andy, my coach, and I discussed two goals for the World Champs.  I had a third row start position, but the Czech start is very fair.  So, he wanted me to move up through the start loop and, if I did anything in the race, it was to be in the top three or four riders going into the first single track.  This would put me in an ideal position to actually win the World Championships. We also discussed attacking the entire race, exactly like the kind of efforts I had been putting forth in training.  Those two things became my priorities and focus.
            I lined up behind Gunn Rita at the start, who I thought was a solid choice to line up behind.  The experienced veteran always gets solid starts, but one never knows in mountain biking.  The gun went off and, about three pedal strokes in, Gunn Rita came out of her pedal.  As a result, I had to brake and try to find a space to get around her.  I eventually did and the right side of the start was opening up and I sprinted up the side like a mad woman.  Out of my periphery, I could see someone swerve and then I heard one of the worst sounds of racing, the scraping of carbon fiber and the crash of bodies on pavement.  All in the instant, I was completely startled.  This was happening just behind my rear wheel, and it immediately brought back memories of this Nove Mesto start in 2012 where I had one of the worst crashes on this same pavement.  I seemed to carry this shock all the way around the start loop, and I entered the first single track in twenty- seventh position.  This was really not part of the plan.  Goal number one: failed.  The course spits riders out of the woods onto the pavement, and there’s a one hundred and eighty degree turn to go out on a new lap.  This one eighty turn gave me a view of the front of the race, and a pack of ten riders that wasn’t that far away.  I was thinking, ‘well, in order to even be near contention for a medal, my first two laps of this race have to be the best laps of my life’.  I usually start a bit slower and finish the fastest so I had to have an upside down race.  It was a great opportunity to attack the entire race and not just the penultimate laps. 
            I just started attacking the course like there weren’t any more laps.  Usually, there are some tactics involved where I don’t want to pull around other riders while they get a draft or I pick a great place to attack.  I didn’t have time for any of that nor did I care about anything other than going as fast as I possibly could.  I was on a mission to pass as many riders as possible.  If I came up on a racer, I would just pass them immediately.  I literally never sat on one wheel to recover that entire race.  I didn’t care.  There was no time.  My crazed passing and approach worked.  About halfway through the race, I was sitting in fourth place twenty to thirty seconds off the duo of Maja and Sabine battling for silver and bronze World Champs medals.  My teammate, Annika Langvad, had a solid lead.  I just started taking caffeine feeds and didn’t stop out of desperation.  Since I put out such a massive effort to get myself in striking distance, my legs started to cramp with two laps to go.  I was trying to do my usual fastest last laps, but my body wasn’t agreeing.  I came around for the last lap and thought, ‘wow, I am really proud of the effort I put forth today, medal or no medal’.  And then, out of nowhere, I turned a corner and Sabine was off of her bike.  First, I thought she was a lapped rider, and then I realized I was in bronze medal position.  I thought she just had a shifting problem and she was right behind me (she really had a flat tire) so I put in one of the biggest attacks I ever have on that climb.  It was probably the deepest I have ever gone.  I rode through the feed zone where my mechanic, Brad, was standing in the middle of course losing his mind.  I wasn’t sure if he was going to move out of my way.  It was awesome.  (this literally gives me goose bumps as I write it). 
            I couldn’t even think about being in bronze medal position.  I was just pushing as hard as I could and trying to ride smooth.  With about four minutes left in the race, I heard the USA Cycling mountain bike director, Marc Gullickson, yell, “Maja is off of her bike”. This didn’t make any sense to me, and, with a last lap mush brain, it translated to ‘Sabine is catching you’.  So I went harder and saw Maja desperately trying to get to the last tech zone with a flat.  I passed Maja and, suddenly, I had a World Championships silver medal.  I was in disbelief and just started absolutely losing my mind as I crested the hill and pedaled towards the finish.  My teammate, Annika, was jumping up and down for me at the finish line to greet me.  It was an amazing moment where we truly were so thrilled for each other.  I couldn’t stop hugging her and everyone else from Team Specialized and support crew.  I was completely happy with fourth place, and I’m still on cloud nine from my luck with a silver medal.  It hasn’t been the smoothest season with four flat tires at the opening world cup and six stitches at world cup number three.  But I would much rather put my time in during those races to have some good luck in the World Championships.  At the World Championships in Czech, I finally had the race that I’ve been working so hard for.  The lesson from this race, never give up.  The race isn’t over until one crosses the finish line. 


I’m now in Vermont prepping from the Olympics in Rio.  I am so excited.



 Annika and I go 1-2!!!
 It's so nice to share the victories with the staff that work tirelessly for these moments
     What a good day for Team Specialized.  It takes a village

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Magic of Mud





On Sunday, the Little Bellas had all the cards stacked against them.  It was forty five degrees and raining.  The trails were wet and littered with very slippery roots.  This is pretty much some of the worst weather to be on a bike and even more challenging to get first time mountain bikers to fall in love with the sport.  Despite the Vermont 'summer' weather, we had to run our first Little Bellas session.  We had cancelled the last two Sundays because of downpours, and we just had to get this Vermont Little Bellas Sunday session rolling.  It was truly a make it work moment.  To put it in perspective, I was wearing a full L.L Bean rain suit with multiple layers underneath.  It was chilly.  Our youngest group of seven year olds showed up in all different kinds of outfits and varying levels of preparedness.  Full disclosure, this is one of my favorite things about the Little Bellas.  It doesn't matter what one wears.  The only thing that matters is that she can throw a leg over the saddle and start stomping on those pedals.  Some girls had two layers of gloves. Other girls had no gloves at all.  Some were wearing skinny jeans or polka dot tights.  Others wore shorts. Girls were anxious to get their first day of Little Bellas started.  Girls were scared to start Little Bellas and approached with tears hiding behind their dad's leg.  There was one sole uniting factor; everyone was cold.

So we started off the session with a crazy run.  We sprinted around haphazardly in all different directions.  That warmed us up a bit.  Then, we tried to swing our hands to bring the heat, but there wasn't much we could do to protect those bare hands from the drizzle.  Then, we rode reluctantly.  Everyone was pretty quiet except for a couple of squeaks about a mud challenge that had been laid down earlier.  'When are we going to find a mud puddle and get muddy?' This was music to my ears.  It was surprisingly hard to find a mud puddle, but, when we did, oh the magic happened.  The before somber group started to come alive as they painted each other's faces.  The volume was turned up and the comfort level started to raise.  Girls painted their entire face with mud and wanted me to fill in the missing parts.  The little ones got so comfortable that one even put a worm on her chin and another girl took that same worm and made a worm mustache.  We were determined to win the mud off, and, if it came to a tie, we would play the worm mustache card.  This was the trump card.

Silence turned into delightful screaming.  Grumbles about cold hands transformed into concern that the mud was falling off.  Mud has the power to take a miserable day and make it fun.  I can confidently say that these girls had fun after riding for two and a half hours in the cold rain.  That's usually more than I can say on a day like that.  Mission accomplished.  These Little Bellas will be returning next Sunday to have fun all over again.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Ouchy

 There were my spirit animals in Germany that I visited every day. 

 The view from the La Bresse course was a pretty one. 
La Bresse World Cup
It was the best of times, and it was the worst of
times.  The third world cup of the season
and the last Olympic qualifying opportunity really was all over the
spectrum.  I was feeling really good and
confident leading up to the race the week before.  Since I already had a world cup effort in my
legs from Albstadt the weekend before, I tend to do better.  I build on effort to effort.  I was sitting in a great position in terms of
Olympic qualification.  To qualify
automatically for Rio, I would either need to win the La Bresse world cup,
place in the top three at the La Bresse world cup, or, at the end of La Bresse
(the first three world cups of the season) be ranked in the top ten of the
world cup overall.  After I really dug
deep in the Albstadt world cup the previous weekend,  I moved up from a very less than ideal start
position and start in twenty-sixth position to eighth place.  This effort improved my world cup standing
incredibly after my trouble with flat tires in the opening round in Australia,
and I was now sitting in eleventh position in the world cup overall.  I was merely six points away from a top ten
ranking, and I really believed I had a great chance of satisfying at least one
of the automatic Olympic qualification requirements. 

The course is La Bresse is naturally technical and
steep.  The French built a world cup
course on the side of a steep hillside and it’s literred with steep rocky
chutes, roots, rock drops, and steep climbs.
This was the site of the last Olympic qualification race in 2012, and it
was shaping up to be an equally epic showdown for the two woman Olympic
team.  I was determined, confident, and
riding some great laps on the course.
Thunderstorms rolled in the night before making the course really
slippery, but I was still confident with my tire choice and bike set up.  I had a phenomenal start.  It’s about a five minute grueling start on
open pavement and then narrowing down into a singletrack climb.  I felt totally in control and was sitting in
the top five when I decided to lead it out and take up the pace a notch.  It was awesome.  I was leading a world cup.  Jolanda Neff, 2015 World Cup winner, snuck in
front of me right before the slick descent and descended like a mad woman to
put in about twenty second lead by the bottom of the course.  I came around with Emily Batty and my good
friend, Katerina Nash, and we started working our way up the second lap
climb.  I got gapped a little bit, and
the next laps, I was slowly floating out of the top five. 

On the lap four climb, the caffeine started to kick in and I
finally started to make up ground on the top five.  It was looking really good.  I attacked and dropped the girls I was
with.  Then, there’s a small descent in
the middle of the climb where one can recover a bit.  There’s a rock face rollover with a tree root
across it.  I must have come to inside
and my front wheel slipped on the root and it took me out faster than I could
even think. My left side and elbow took all the impact and I pile drove into a
rock face on the bottom.  Then,
Alessandra, a Swiss girl that I had just dropped, rode over the blind rock
unable to see that I have crashed.  She rode
right into my bike and crashed on top of me. 
We untangled our bikes, and I looked down to see a very deep gash in my
elbow.  I was in a lot of pain and just
making noises at that point.  I tried to
straighten out my handlebar and I rode one armed up the rest of the climb.  I had one and a half laps to go.  The last thing I wanted to do was navigate
the technical descent two more times with a gushing elbow, bent handlebars, and
a wobbly front wheel.  This was not
ideal.  But I did it because it Olympic
years, you do anything.  And when you
pour your heart and soul into training all year long for a number of race
opportunities that you can count on two hands, you gut it out.  I stopped at the tech zone and got my
handlebars straighten out.  I gingerly rode
another lap taking my shaken self down the b lines and playing it as safe as I
could.  I crashed at the bottom of the
last descent again but it was into soft mud.
It was okay.  I crossed the finish
line in a lot of pain, covered in mud, and bursting with emotion.  It’s scary to see a hole in your arm that
big.  I couldn’t even look at it.  The medics cleaned me up, and I went to the
hospital.  The day ended with six
stitches in my elbow and lots of scrapes and bruises, but luckily everything is
still intact.  I feel very grateful for
that especially when I still have some big races to come.  I was still first American on the day so my
second Olympic berth is looking very, very good but nothing is official
yet.  USA Cycling names the team on June
24th. 

I’m on a flight home focusing on the positives.  These stitches couldn’t have come at a better
time since I already had a little rest period planned.  I’ll convalesce and the focus is on the World
Championships at the beginning of July on one of my favorite courses ever, Nove
Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic.

Sometimes it hurts to literally have skin in the game.  The struggles and the lows make the highs so
much higher.  These races make me
appreciate how smoothly previous seasons have gone.  Time to smooth it out.

Onwards and upwards.




































Lea

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The B Side of a Cyclist

I could so easily tell you about all the best parts of this training block.  The maple creamee send off, the Eastern Grind at Catamount with a victorious spray of champagne, or the fireworks of color powder and confidence I saw at the launch of our newest Little Bellas Marin Chapter.  These are the easy and positive things, and I absolutely love being positive and having fun.  I thought I would write about something a little different.  I want to go a little deeper and fly a little lower on the blog radar than I might normally fly.  I’m going to talk about the pressure and the loneliness of training through a giant block while still loving this sport and what I get to do every day.

Strategy one:  Take lots of showers!  Lots!  You may think that the warm up starts on the bike or in the gym.  You are mistaken.  When I am so incredibly tired and achy from hours of training the previous day or in the morning, I stand under the shower, just stand there.  Breathe in the warmth and sing a little song because it doesn’t get any better than that. 

Strategy two:  Procrastinate a little bit doing other fun things.  I typically like to eat an extra snack or two, lie back down in bed, or dance a little to Beyonce’s newest album.  Believe me doing these things are much more fun than being on time for an imaginary schedule that only you have fabricated in your head and training so intensely you don’t have any time for a quick dance party. 

Strategy three:  Have a ridiculously talented coach who loves to train and laugh with you.  It’s incredibly important that your coach match your personality.  Numbers often drive professional and even amateur cyclists.  Our training, our ride, our goals, our lives can become a mere sequence of watts, heart rate, and cadence undulating with every mile and minute on the road.  My coach and I have a hard time seeing the heart and fun in this approach.   Let me offer you a peek at the alternative!  We trained the last week together, and he would say "now sprint to that mailbox or end of that driveway".  When I questioned how long should this effort be, he responded, “sometimes they are just as long as they need to be.”  There is a method to what may seem like madness to some.  The science is in his head, the heart is in the pain felt in every pedal stroke, and the fun is in the miscalculation of a mailbox sprint that just went a little too long. 

Strategy four:  Have your parents, or anyone for that matter, make you food.  Being an outsider looking into the world of professional sports, people often mistake fatigue for dedication.  I skip the movies and dinners with friends not as a conscious choice; there isn’t another choice.  I literally can’t get out off the couch because I’m tired or I won’t get enough to eat.  By having someone familiar make you food and support you, you will both get enough and ward off loneliness of being too tired to socialize.  It works!  Talk to your people and fuel up at the same time. 

Strategy five:  Invite a little chaos into your life (but choose wisely).  I really focus on training to perfection, lazer focus.  I do everything I’m supposed to do and try as hard as I can during that time because that is the best I can do.  It would be absolutely exhausting to apply that type of scrutiny to every facet of my life.  So, I let some things go.  My room for example does not have to be a room of perfection.  There are boxes of unwrapped bike clothes (yes, I do appreciate and feel grateful for new chamois), but they don’t always need to find a drawer or a home right away.  I will do that later because I’ve got more important things to do now.  Big, exciting things!



In all seriousness, I truly feel like the life I lead is a luxury.  I have the ability to train on the schedule I want, I have a coach and family who care and support me in my goals, I have a team that sends me boxes of sweet new kits, a mechanic that will text me at 11pm about tire choices, and a lovely Vermont playground to train in.  I am grateful and try my best to embrace the hard parts of this world and life.  Ultimately, if I can’t find a way to keep it fun and fast then I’m not living my life as a professional cyclist to the fullest.  

Saturday, May 7, 2016

An Ode to Our Mom



Our mom was not our biggest cheerleader.  Though, in volume alone, she is always the loudest one on the course.  Our mom was our biggest supporter and there is a difference.
 
She set the bar and defined dedication by example.  She, by all means, was dedicated to us.  She believed that having kids was her most important job in life, and she stayed true to that belief.  We felt supported in our dreams and passions.  When we had a 3 hour training ride and it was 40 degrees and raining or we were questioning an adventure, she was quick to respond "get out there, you wimp" or "why wouldn't you go, this is fun".  It was always for the fun of it!  She encouraged us to get back up when we needed to persevere.  At races, we would simply celebrate the fact that we were sitting in the parking lot.  We had made it the the State Championships!  To my mom, the results didn't matter as long as we tried our best.  Trying our best was not taken lightly, it was a tall, tough order.  And whether we had our best race or a DNF, she was there.

We lived from a series of 9x12s not 2x10 or 1x11.  No we are not talking gearing.  We are talking casserole dishes full of leftovers.  Always prepped on Sundays, in order to ensure nutritious meals together as a family when our weeks became inundated with sport schedules.

She set the bar for us, and we reflect on her ways often as we ourselves now mentor young girls.
She is the original Little Bella mom.  She is our mom.

Happy Mother's Day Mom!

Lea and Sabra Davison



Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Never Give up

 Unfortunately this is how most of my day was at the first world cup in Australia photo: Michal Cervany
Photo: Michal Cervany
Sometimes it takes a little luck to put together a good
race.  Sometimes you have luck and
sometimes you don’t.  The opening World
Cup round in Cairns, Australia fell into the ladder category for me.  The race started out really well.  I was top ten going into the start loop and a
solid top ten within close reach of the leaders around the first lap.  This was absolutely crucial since the course
was comprised of a long single track climb with very few passing opportunities
so riders were pretty much frozen in the position they entered the climb until
the end of the lap. On the first descent, I made it down smoothly and safely
until the last fast part when I noticed I had a front flat.  It’s really sketchy to ride any flat tire
especially a front.  Luckily, the tech
zone was close, and I got a wheel change.
I could see the podium slip away, but remained calm and tried to push as
hard as I could.  One never knows what’s
going to happen in a race.  The race
isn’t over until I cross the finish line. I got back up and going around
twentieth position, but I was close to a big pack of girls and the top ten was
in reach.  The problem was I was stuck on
the climb and I felt like I was limited all day.  I could never really open it up and go as
hard as I can until the fifth lap.  I
finally got around the pack and could cut loose for a lap.  I was in eleventh position and excited.  A top ten would give me a good chance for a
top ten overall world cup ranking after the first three World Cups which is an
automatic Olympic qualifier. 

Then, at the bottom the descent of the fifth lap with one
lap to go, it happened again.  I got a
rear flat.  Brad, the super mechanic that
I was keeping busy all day long, changed it and I was off in fourteenth, which
was not bad considering.  Girls were
pretty much out of reach ahead of me, but I was still pleased to clock a top 15
result because the top 15 get called up in good start positions for the next
world cup.  I took the last descent easy
and smooth on purpose.  And, with about
five minutes remaining in the race, it happened again.  I absolutely couldn’t believe it.  I front flatted again.  It seemed as if I was riding over a knife
garden.   I didn’t know what was going
on.  I rode into the finish with a
completely flat front tire for the last kilometer and lost four positions.  I ended up in 19th which is
actually not bad considering all of the flat tires. 

It’s certainly frustrating, but, looking on the positive
side, my legs feel good and ready to go for a big season.  Bikes are much easier to fix than
bodies.  I much rather have a mechanical
than a biomechanical, and hopefully I got all of my bad luck out of the way for
the entire season.  Honestly, I was
bummed but trying to keep perspective.
Then, my teammate, Kate, and I had a layover for the evening in Sydney
on the way home.  We went to check out
the iconic Sydney Opera House and, while doing so, realized that Vance Joy was
playing there that night.  Our jaws
dropped.  We immediately asked if there
were tickets, but it was completely sold out.
Then, Kate went total millennial on this mission and somehow; found
internet, discovered the Craigslist of Australia (Gumtree), and started
messaging everyone on there about Vance Joy tickets.  One man, also named Brad like our mechanic,
had two tickets that he had promised to some others, but they hadn’t shown
up.  He was meeting them at the Opera
House.  So we ran down to his car and
gave him all of Kate’s Australian cash world cup winnings.  Fifteen minutes after we had found out a
Vance Joy concert was starting in an hour and a half, we had tickets.  It was an amazing waterfall of luck and
circumstance to be able to get those tickets.
I’ve been trying to intersect his tour this year, and to be able to see
him in one of the most iconic venues in the world was simply unbelievable.  And, poof, just like that, all of the flat
tires and bad luck and frustrations were gone.
It was an amazing way to cap off the trip, and now I’m heading back to
Santa Cruz for a week to wrap up my spring training trip and head back to
Vermont.  I’m excited and very motivated
for the next two world cups in Europe at the end of May.

Also…Kate and I were Quizzed on VitalMTB.  Give it a watch!

Onwards and upwards. 



 Cairns had beautiful beaches minutes away
 Photo: Michal Cervany
 There's nothing like a big breakfast the morning after a world cup to bring you around

Very nice place for an easy spin if I do say so myself
 The Vance Joy concert
 Kate and I were quizzed on VitalMTB. Link above
 Sydney Harbor
 Kate said, "I am Vance Joyful right now"



































Lea