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