Sunday, April 5, 2015

Bienvenido a Colombia!

 Pan American Championships Photo: Shimano
 Colombia is beautiful


Some of the leading ladies for team USA (L to R: Kate Courtney, me, Chloe Woodruff, Erin Huck, Mary McConnellog)

This past weekend, I ventured to South America for the first time.  I traveled to Bogota, Colombia for the Pan American Championships.  The continental championships is a race with some of the biggest UCI points to be earned, and, because the 2016 Olympics are close, points are at a premium.   The top three riders' from each nation UCI ranking (world ranking) are combined to rank the nation.  The top eight countries in this ranking are allowed to send two females to the Olympics.  If a nation is outside of the top eight, they can only send one rider to Rio.  As of recent, U.S.A was ranked ninth so we sent a full squad down to Colombia because it's paramount that we get two spots for the games.  Also, the other Olympic story thread coming into play for Pan-Ams is that whatever central or south american team placed first in this event got a guaranteed spot for the Olympics.  So, this race was the most important race of the season for countries like Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil.  While the americans spent the spring campaign at sea level racing our first big national races, many of these countries were at altitude preparing for this race at eight thousand feet.  To confirm, there is not a lot of air at eight thousand feet especially for a sea level dweller like myself.  But, since the national championships and the world championships will be at altitude, this was a great opportunity to test out how I reacted to the altitude.



To sum it up, It went pretty well.  I would call it two very solid races, and I keep making progress.  The event started with the team relay on Friday.  The team relay is when each country races an elite male (Stephan Ettinger), and elite female (myself), a U-23 male (Keegan Swenson), and a junior male (Chris Blevins).  Each person races one lap of the course and then hands off to the next.  We had a fantastic team, and we were all very pumped up.  This same event happens at the World Champs (last year, we narrowly missed the podium in 4th place in Norway) so we were all psyched to test things out this year in prep for worlds.  We had a great start with Stephan coming through in first with a slight lead, but the Colombians were absolutely on fire racing in their home country.  Chris came through in second with about a minute and a half deficit.  I didn't lose any time on my leg, but it was too much of a margin to close on the last leg.  So, we came in second and got a really shiny medal and a bag of Colombian pastries. Baked goods make the best prizes. These pastries were like frosted pretzels.  Interesting and pretty dry.



It's more rare than one would think that I actually get to experience a place outside of the venue, the hotel, and the ride to the venue.  But, luckily, there were two opportunities to really see Colombia on this trip, and I love taking advantage of these opportunities.  After the relay,  my teammate, Kate, Kate's mom, Maggie, and myself ventured into the city to take a cooking class from Dona Elsa.  The drive into the city was amazing with some of the best street art I have ever seen.  It was really beautiful.  The cooking class took place in Dona's kitchen which was the size of most american's kitchen tables.  It was straight in the middle of her house with her little grandchildren running around, and Dona only spoke spanish.  I can understand spanish, but thank goodness Kate was fresh off of a year of spanish at Stanford.  Between the two of us, we were all set.  I actually had the most fun communicating with Dona's grandson.  We figured out how to replace the batteries in his stuff animal.  The best was, in mid spanish sentence, he stopped and said, "I have a black and white ace" in perfect english.  I can't make this stuff up.  It was random.  This type of english will get this boy far.



Sunday was the keystone event of the weekend, the cross county, and the country came out in throngs to support their country.  There is quite a cycling scene in Colombia.  The race was six laps around a very challenging course.  The first half of the lap was straight up some of the steepest climbs I've ever seen.  The second half of the lap was technical single track that required a lot of handling.  The first two laps, I went out with the lead pack, and I really hit the first half of the lap hard.  I realized, at this altitude, I wasn't recovering enough for later technical part of the lap.  I went into these sections crossed eyed, and I was making mistakes and losing a lot of time.  So, I had to change my approach mid-race.  From that point on, no matter what happened around me, I climbed within myself on the first half of the lap, and then I would be recovered for the technical sections.  This allowed me to save a lot of time, and I would usually catch some of the girls that flew by me.  The entire race, I was battling with a Colombian woman, and thus, the entire country.  The cheers were so loud, and it was awesome.  I ended up squeaking by her on the final climb of the final lap.  I ended up in sixth, and the U.S ladies had a great showing with Erin Huck scoring the silver and Chloe Woodruff nabbing the bronze.  And, the U.S.A moved up to sixth in the Olympic rankings.  It was a solid effort all around indeed.



I'm currently squeezing in some training in Santa Cruz, and the racing starts up again the next two weekends in Bonelli and at the Sea Otter Classic (where one of our most popular and longest running Little Bellas camps takes place!).



Thanks for following!

Lea

 The warm up road in Colombia.  Pack of dogs not pictured. 
 Some of the amazing Bogota street art
 These boots were made for walking...


 Visiting the market with Dona Elsa










 Kate, Dona, and Maggie cooking up a storm Colombian style
 Dona showing Kate how to make a local juice.  Colombia has amazing juice
 Kate and Maggie hanging in Bogota
 This was on the street outside of Dona's house and I'm not sure the story behind it
 Bogota, Colombia
 My absolute favorite piece of street art I've ever seen
 More cycling street art
 Bean trellises right by the course
 Georgia and I had some international ping pong matches with the Brazilians
 Maggie at a local Colombian restaurant and dance hall.  It was awesome. 
Back in Santa Cruz training.  Life is good. 

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