First up was Antwerp. I knew going in this one might be the most challenging for me, for multiple reasons. Based on where I was at in my training cycle (what we were able to cram in after the injury!!), the power profile of the course not quite suiting my strengths, and the features of the course (aka SAND SAND SAND) being in short supply in my domestic racing experience. I understood all of these challenges objectively, but still made very ambitious goals for myself for my first World Cup post injury. I prepared in every way I still had the ability to the week leading into the race, nailing my nutrition, recovery, sleep goals and spending 2 days on the course before the big day with my mechanics. The vibes were high, as was the pressure I put on myself to perform, to prove myself, to make my “ComeBack” mark.
From the whistle, my first lap was filled with chaos, bad luck, and panic. 3 crashes including drawn out tangles with other riders left me burning all my matches to chase back into the field from dead last. I was horrified, I doubted myself, I fought on still. I was able to pick a few off, but found the efforts I made to chase back too significant to overcome later on. I was pulled with one lap down, heavy with disappointment, finishing 41st.
In the week that followed, I found a balance between picking apart my mistakes to draw out the valuable insights, and keeping my mental and emotional state focused forward, in gratitude, joy, and potential. As the days ticked towards to Dublin World Cup, the course degraded into a proper mudder, a full on slop-fest. My focus was on a clean and patient first lap, using my efforts wisely, and not getting flustered by incidents. I’m super proud to say I met each of my process goals even amidst many tests (a flat right after pit 2, a dropped chain while deep in battle with an exciting group), and raced to my best ever World Cup Result of 15th place. I attribute my huge turnaround to the tactical adjustments, mindset shift, and the legs starting to find the snap needed for racing at this level.
With a huge boost in my confidence, we landed in Italy and trekked up up up the mountain to Vermiglio where we were greeted with -4 degree temperatures and plenty of snow on the ground. Of the 3 different days I was able to ride the course, I found 3 completely different courses. The course tape was in the exact same place, but the conditions between the tape were NIGHT and DAY every single time. With a huge dump of snow and then increase of temperatures, we went from dry, powdery, great traction snow on Wednesday to thick, heavy, wet, suck you down and spit you out backwards tractor pull snow on Friday. Then, the eve of the race, temps plummeted again and the course turned to a sheet of ice with a dusting of grainy, muddy snow on top. Chaos ensued, which of course meant a calm, sharp, resilient mindset would again be the key to success. I can honestly say I not only found the mindset I needed to put together perhaps my strongest race to date, but I found moments of ecstasy on the course too. The pure bliss of executing skillful, dynamic cyclocross amidst the world’s very best, with snot and drool freezing to the side of my face, my leg warmer ripped open and gaping to the ankle from who knows what, and a sea of italian fans cheering “BRAVA, BRAVA”. Perhaps my favorite moment of the race was a last lap tooth and nail battle with Kata Blanca Vas, passing each other back and forth and finally shoulder to shoulder and elbow to elbow, running to be the first to the off camber bank leading into a treacherous descent. I took that battle and rode to 19th place on the day, shedding a tear of joy across the line with the confirmation that my Dublin ride wasn’t a “fluke”.
To put a cherry on top of my season thus far, I just found out I’ve been moved from the Alternates list to Confirmed for Gavere World Cup!!!!! This will be the last World Cup of my 22-23 Season, so I’m honored and excited to be able to add this to my KerstPeriode Schedule!