Sunday, September 22, 2013

Around the World in Thirty Days

 Norway World Cup Podium, photo: Michal Cervany
Soigneur, Christine, celebrating my fourth place, the result of a lot of hard work from the entire Specialized team, photo: Michal Cervany

I'm just fresh off an amazing month of traveling, and my best world cup result to date.  The trip started in mid August when I traveled to the World Championships in South Africa.  Jojo was born in South Africa and some of her family still lives there.  This makes this is a very special trip, and, just like last year, we had the opportunity again to stay with her cousin in Durban.  We visited with her family, saw some lions, and prepared for the biggest race of the season.  I was feeling physically good going into South Africa.  I had a small hiccup in the beginning of the week when I unclipped at the top of one of the most technical sections of the course and rode it with one footed.  Then, I tanked it into the fencing at the bottom.  Luckily, I only grazed my face on the fencepost and my hip took most of the impact.  This rocked me for a bit mentally, but, by the end of the week with countless hours of visualization (mostly between 4-6 am), I was riding everything cleanly.  Specialized also made a specially painted frame with the american red, white, and blue colors for the race.  What a beautiful bike.  I believe I did the bike and my national colors proud with a solid 9th place at the World Champs.  I got a great start, and I was within the top 10 from the beginning of the race.  Some girls crashed in front of me which caused me to gap off the lead group, and I didn't quite have the zing to close the gaps.  It was an extremely hard and fast race, and, although I'm not wearing the World Champion rainbow stripes, I did my absolute best.  That's literally all I could do on the day so I'm happy.
 Conquering the steps where I crashed earlier in the week, photo: Michal Cervany
 Finishing the World Champs in South Africa, photo: Michal Cervany
 One of the many built rock gardens in South Africa, photo: Michal Cervany
 My beautiful Fate with the Custom USA paint scheme, photo: Michal Cervany
Christine performs acupuncture before the start, photo: Michal Cervany

We had a weekend off in between South Africa and the World Cup finals in Norway so I opted to stay in the same time zone and hang out in Europe for ten days.  I met my parents in Geneva, and we immediately drove two hours to ride the Alp d'Huez.  This is a classic climb that is always featured in the Tour de France, and it's also one that has been on my climb to-do list.  I was so excited we had the opportunity to tick it off.  It's an absolutely gorgeous climb through Tour de France history painted on the road.  The one noticeable thing missing were the names of female riders on the road.  There is no female Tour de France or even any road bike race that comes close to its prestige.  In this day and age, this is completely ridiculous and it nagged at me the entire climb.  Luckily, female cyclists have banded together to push for a women's Tour.  There's almost 100,000 people in support of this movement.  Please help us push for equality in the sport by signing here.  Hopefully, the next time I get the opportunity to climb any french classics, I will see Evelyn Steven's name written all over the road.

From the Alp d' Huez, we headed to the coast of France to swim in the surprisingly blue Mediterranean and ride around the Maritime Alps.  Cliff jumping into the Mediterranean has also been on my wish list for a long time, and it was just as fun as I pictured it.  The road riding around the maritime alps was absolutely amazing and the biggest surprise of the trip.  I knew the French and Swiss Alps were going to be gorgeous, but the Maritime Alps are a vast network of narrow roads etched into mountains and winding through small villages.  One day, I met my parents in the small village of Aiglun to hike down to famous swimming holes I was salivating over on the internet.  After about an hour of trying to find the trail, we found it and it was a death defying hike.  Literally, one slip on this exposed, rocky trail, and it was a long fall.  The swimming holes were incredible, but I'm not sure I would risk it again.  

After a couple days soaking up the sunshine on the coast, we drove north to the Interlaken which is nestled in the Swiss Alps.  This place is magical.  I love mountains and, here, we were constantly treated views of three of the most presitigious peaks in the world, the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau. We stayed in Gimmelwald which is only accessible by tram, hiking, or biking.  Even better, there are countless double track dirt roads where you can ride through these mountains, and they are really well marked.  I rode for four hours here with my jaw dropped the entire time.  It's one of my most favorite rides to date.  I could just stay there and ride forever.  Wow.

I left Switzerland completely rejuvenated, relaxed, and excited to go check out Norway, the land of nordic skiing, for the first time.  The trip with my parents must have done the trick because I have never felt so good in a race.  My legs felt amazing, and it showed.  The gun went off in Norway, and I had the best start I've ever had.  I was second wheel going into the first single track section, and, for one of the first times, I was on the positive end of the split.  Mistakes were happening behind me, and other girls were having to get off and run through sections.  I, however, just rode right through it with current world champion, Julie Bresset, and Eva Lechner.  It was awesome.  Irina Kalentieva, former two time world champion, latched onto our group, and the four of us raced together for three laps.  On the fourth lap, I made a mistake and had to run through the same rocky climb that bottled up the entire women's field at the start, and the lead group got twenty seconds on me.  I was momentarily devastated because my legs felt so good, but then I rallied and kept my head in the game.  I spent the rest of the race about the same distance off the lead group.  With one lap to go, Julie Bresset flatted and I madly sprinted by her in the tech zone trying to secure third place.  She didn't waste much time in that tech zone, and I probably held her at a gap of ten seconds until half way up the climb.  Then, she flew past me.  I held on for a strong fourth place and only fifty seconds off a world cup win.  The most exciting thing is that I was up there and feeling absolutely fantastic.  I finally did what I knew I had in me, and I was in the mix in the world cup.  This is a perfect way to cap off a already great season.  It's so incredibly motivating to know that I can ride with the best.  I'm so excited that I already can't wait to race in 2014.

Luckily, I had a chance to capture this world cup exhiliration by racing my first and only cyclocross race of the season at CrossVegas at Interbike in Las Vegas this past Wednesday.  I notched a second place to the ever strong Katerina Nash.  She was simply just stronger on the day, and it's not that bad getting beat by a world cup winner.  I'm home for a couple of days and I continue to ride the wave of excitement and my peak into the Langkawi Stage Race in Malaysia once again.  I'm looking forward to it!

Thanks for reading and the support through this wild ride!

Lea

 This is where we need to see the names of female cyclists, Alp d'Huez
My mom and I are psyched to be at the Mediterranean

 A Maritime Alps hidden gem
 Riding in the Maritime Alps
 Are these swimming holes worth the risk?  One time, yes. 
 Swiss Beauty
 Trummelbach Falls, twelve waterfalls inside the mountains fed by three glaciers.  One of the most amazing things I've ever witnessed
 Leave me here in the Swiss Alps please
Nations represented in Gimmelwald, Switzerland