Three years ago at the Cyclocross World Championships in Tabor, we learned that Louisville had been awarded the 2013 World Championships. From that moment until today, I have been building towards standing on the start line in Louisville as part of Team USA. This is the fourth time I represented the stars and stripes at a ‘Cross World Championship event (fifth including the Road World Championships in ’09). While every time has been special, I learned today that there’s nothing like a home grown championship race.
With all the hoopla that is part of being a Team USA member on home soil in front of home town fans, I can’t pretend to be anything but disappointed with how my race unfolded yesterday, or rather never had a chance to unfold at all. Ahead of my race, I stood with the other members of Team USA in the start grid and absorbed it all. We made comment after comment about how incredibly special and unbelievably motivating the whole scene felt. We were on the start line, and we were ready to go. I was ready to go. Ready to do you proud.
I knew the race today would be tricky. The conditions would change every lap as the temperature got warmer and the ground got softer. The course was slippery as it had frozen underneath a layer of wet snow and cold termpartures. I needed good legs, of course, but I also needed good luck – and good luck has been in short supply for me this season. In a sport that’s just as much about luck as it is legs, I found myself hoping more than anything that I could finally have a race where things would go my way and where the result was representative of my performance.
We got called up a few minutes before our start time. I had a third row spot that I managed to shove my way into calling a second row start. We got the green light and it was go time.
Although I didn’t have a super fast start, I had started to pick up enough speed to move up on the inside left hand side of the pavement and was already passing riders before we hit the grass. About 100 meters after we hit the grass, there were some frozen ruts. During our pre-ride before the Jr’s race that morning, this section was mostly clear and easily rideable. My guess is that the Jr’s rode in a few ruts as the ground softened up and then during the break between their race and our’s the ruts froze up. As we charged onto the grass in a large, compact mass moving at high speed, someone hit a frozen rut and went down which caused a massive pile up. I saw an opening that I thought I could squeeze through but just as I thought I was in the clear I was knocked to the ground. I went one way, my bike went another. I immediately curled up in a ball in an effort to avoid the riders behind me that were coming directly at me. A few more riders went down as they piled into me. My bike, a few feet away from me, took some hard hits, too.
I picked up my bike after everyone else had ridden off, except for Czech rider Martina Mikulaskova, and quickly realized my bike was unrideable. The right shifter was turned in, my saddle was sideways, my front brakes were rubbing and my rear wheel wouldn’t even turn. I spent what felt like an eternity trying to get my bike in working order myself because I knew if I had to run to the pits just 300m after the start my race was over. With my shifter straightened out and my rear wheel turning (mostly), I hobbled to the pit for a bike change. By the time I got to the pit to exchange bikes, I was dead last and nearly one minute behind the rider ahead of me. Demoralizing is a gross understatement.
I have fought so hard all season. Never before have I had to repeatedly to pick myself up, dust myself off and forge ahead – in both the literal and figurative sense. I finished one lap, and I had no fight in me left. I lost whatever it is that I’ve been able to call upon again and again over the last five months that has allowed me remain optimistic, hopeful and determined in the face of less than desirable circumstances. After a season-long run of bad luck, I was done. Out. I had nothing left to give. Honestly, the embarrassment of riding in last place in front of a home crowd was part of it. I was disappointed in myself and couldn’t come to terms with letting other people – family, friends, sponsors, teammates, fans – down, too.
I didn’t go to Louisville simply to finish this race – the World Championships. I went to Louisville to produce a good result for my country, myself and my fans. Publicly, I stated I was aiming for the top-ten. Privately, I wanted more than that. With one lap done, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. It stings to know that I pulled the plug at Worlds, but had I finished in 20th place, I wouldn’t be feeling any better right now.
I’m having a hard time thinking this is anything more than a fitting end to the season.
While it would be easy to wallow (and trust me, I’ve definitely done a bit of that), I also recognize that despite the sorry end to my unlucky season, I am incredibly lucky. It is because of the unwavering support of so many people that I am grateful to count as family, friends and sponsors that I was able to be in Louisville as a member of Team USA at all. I extend a sincere and massive thank you to everyone who has had a part big or small in supporting me through the most tumultuous season of my career.
Yesterday was an amazing day. The spectators, the conditions, the racing – it was epic. I think Joan Hanscom and USA Cycling pulled off a feat that few thought possible – a successful World Championships in the US. The Europeans were skeptical, if not even hoping for failure. Well, Joan and USAC more than pulled it off – they nailed it! With the exception of a few disgruntled riders, the sentiment I heard over and over again was positively overwhelming. And the throngs of spectators – who showed up despite the schedule change and the brutal weather, the fans who cheered with heart and soul – helped firmly plant the statement that ‘cross in the US is strong and will only get stronger! We will not wait another 60 years before this happens again in the US.
Thank you to everyone who helped make ‘cross history!