Monday, May 30, 2016

From the Mud Filled Trenches of Le Bresse

From z trainings, where I had ALL the fun!

I went to bed Saturday night already completely satisfied with my experience in Europe, the race Sunday would just be the icing on the cake. I learned so much about myself and bike racing over the past two weeks I felt I’d ‘gotten my money’s worth’ from the trip.

But as we lay in bed the heavens opened up and the most magnificent/scary thunder and lightening storm rolled through the valley, complete with a deluge of rain. My biggest fear for the race came true: a wet, slick, muddy course. Conditions I am the least familiar with, and which I didn’t get to practice because from thursday through Saturday the course was drying out and getting better and better.

But as the French say, c’est la vie. I rolled out the door Sunday morning to warm up scared but still feeling good about the trip and the day.

Brendan got this good shot right at the start!
My good result in Albstadt only earned me a call up 7 spots better at Le Bresse, but the race began with a long paved climb that didn’t funnel into singletrack for almost a kilometer, so I wasn’t crazy nervous about it. The first climb was a complete mess though, as soon as we hit the dirt there was pushing and elbowing and I got shoved off the trail into uneven/slick grass multiple times. Then we were all off our bikes running up a particularly wet and rocky steep section. I followed Georgia Gould’s lead and tried to pass on the run by going up the rocky side of the trail, but didn’t make much progress.

Can you see my right foot popping out to dab. Lots of slippery rocks meant lots of spinning rear tires... ugh :)
The first descent was crazy too, having never ridden the rocks and roots in slick conditions I wasn’t sure how it would be, but it turned out the short/steep climbs were trickier than the scary rocky A-lines! I hit every A-line because they were fun, even launching things I rolled in training, but slid out on many of the climbs and did A LOT of running. I also did a fair amount of crashing and getting ‘stuck’  as the race progressed, because the person in front would hold me up enough that my pedal strokes would be off from what I had been doing in training, resulting in striking rocks/getting stuck in rocks/just plain falling over… There was one section near the bottom where I took the A-line option on every lap, but ended up ON MY ASS in the mud sliding down it rather than riding EVERY SINGLE TIME (except lap 5 when I finally had the sense to STOP TRYING TO MAKE IT WORK)! It was just so slick there was NO staying upright, I heard even Yolanda, the race winner and gutsiest of all of us, crashed there.

Some parts were fun wet/tacky... like this slide of a desent. 

So laps 2-5 were a pretty fun loop of suffering like a dog on the climb, trying my hardest to leave nothing on the course in the portion I could control, and fighting to stay upright on the descent. I would pass multiple girls on the climb each time, and then get overtaken by one or two on the descent for various reasons. The highlights of these was getting passed on the descent on a drop by Pauline Ferrand Prevot, who launched herself off a ledge to my right passing me IN THE AIR! It was equally terrifying and incredible. I also spent a few laps with Julie Bresset, a very accomplished French rider who had EVERYONE on the course cheering their brains out for her, so that was pretty cool.

So happy to be in one piece!
But all good things must come to an end, and after about an hour and a half of bathing in mud and suffering on the climb, I crossed the finish line somewhere in the low 40’s (still better than my start position I might add). I can honestly say I had an amazingly good time racing, despite not finishing as well as I wanted, but what can you do when multiple times you find yourself with your pedal stuck in a rock and you CANNOT get it out for the life of you, or your shoe stuck in course tape and wood stakes and you’re off the back of the saddle and the slope in front of you is wicked steep and slick, and your foot is just stuck there… yeah, I wasted a lot of time stuck or crashing… I’m going to work on that :) Evelyn Dong told me once that your first season racing in Europe is a test of whether you are made of the stuff that compels someone to gut themselves to finish 35 instead of 36, and that was very much my experience in Le Bresse. Like I had to pin it to the line because there was a girl on my wheel when we entered the finish area. Don’t worry, I beat her.

And then we washed bikes and rolled up the hill to pack because Colin’s flight was Sunday night. The highlight of Sunday afternoon, besides watching the men’s race with binoculars from our rental house while we packed, was eating an incredible pastry Colin procured for me that I had been eyeing all week but abstaining from eating because ‘race weight’. It wasn’t anything like I thought it would be, but the fluffy, incredible panettone goodness was a pretty fantastic way to end the trip. Oh, and the drive through Munster, France to get back to Stuttgart, Germany was out of control pretty too!
This guy was pretty big, like the size of my head... almost.

So I am still feeling overwhelmed with gratitude for being able to make this trip, and there are so many people I want to thank for making it happen, but it’s hard to incorporate that in a blog post that’s already this long. So for now I’m just going to say that I am so so grateful for Brendan. He took all his vacation time to come to Europe with me, to be the chauffeur, tech zone guy, photographer, and general go to guy to make stuff happen. He rode with me, went to bed early with me, cleaned and wrenched on my bikes and basically spent 2 weeks in Europe not sight seeing but working an unpaid position as my support crew. I am so so lucky to have such a dedicated and selfless husband. I will repay him with waiting to have babies until he is ready ;)

Oh and the pictures suck because I am waiting on a certain someone... ah hem, Colin, to send me his super rad action shots from the race!! Thanks Colin!!!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Le Bresse Course Preview/Pre-ride Thoughts

I'm just going to start this post with the fact that I was crying when I finished my last lap today on my pre-ride. I was so overwhelmed with emotions, with gratitude for the opportunity to be here, with joy because the course is so fun, with accomplishment for overcoming some of my fears and worry about the course, and with excitement about being in France for a bike race. Most of all though I was overcome with the feeling that I have learned SO much since we arrived in Europe last week. Seeing how growth as an athlete was one of my main goals for this trip, I just couldn't help feeling overwhelmed by the actualization of that goal. 
EXCITED!!! Plus there is poor Brendan hiking up the hill in the background :)

Ok, now on to the course preview! Brendan and I went out for an early morning lap today before the course was actually open so he could ride it with me (he doesn't have a number plate so technically isn't allowed to be on the course during official training times). After less than half the climb we arrived at a rocky little steep section. I tried over and over to ride it, but kept having my rear tire spin out and eventually I got so frustrated that we moved on.

The course climbs first on pavement, then trail all the way up the side of the mountain broken once with a tiny fun downhill, and then sends you into one long descent broken up with one tiny little climb. The climb is mostly an acceptable grade, with one soupy mud section and some fun, tight switchbacks. The descent has many personalities, from smooth fun bermed turns, to fun rock obstacles, to big old chain scraping drops, to a soupy awful muddy disaster near the bottom.

There are AMAZING views from the top. I'll be too cross eyed suffering Sunday to appreciate them though. 

On our first lap, when the course started to head downhill, we pretty much immediately encountered another rocky section that after repeated tries we COULD NOT clean. I was getting freaked. I didn't know how on earth I would complete this race with so many sections I couldn't ride, plus one of them was on THE UPHILL! I tried to stay calm, but the whole way down was more of the same, more drops, A-lines and steeps that I couldn't clean without a foot out. At the bottom I was pretty shaken. We took a break and went to reg so I could get my number plate and then Brendan and I split, me to do more laps, Brendan to get the camera to try and capture some more of the action.

I think the nicest thing about having a coach, esp my coach, is that he gives me a specific task and because I know he's smart, I can let go and trust the plan. Last night I desperately wanted to sneak in a lap. I was bothered with anxiety about how technical the course was and wanted as much practice as possible, but I trusted the plan and stayed off my feet. This morning I was stressed by the difficulty of the course and kinda discouraged, but because coach is so smart and because I pretty much turn my mind off and listen to what he tells me to do most the time (not always, sorry Matt for all the times I make your job frusty :) I didn't think twice before heading out for the remainder of my workout/pre-ride.
On the mini climb in the middle of the descent. There are lots of rocks here. It's rad :)
And this is where it gets good. On lap 2 I cleaned that rock problem on the climb, like no problem. I also started to feel more comfortable on the descent. On laps 3 and 4, my 'race pace' laps which hurt like the dickens, I enjoyed myself more and more, to the point I was having a ton of fun! I even threw in a 5th lap  to take some pics and because I loved the descents so so much.

This part is super fun and twisty and rocky. Swoon :)
A series of beautifully banked turns on the descent. This is the fun smooth part. 
And I think that is a huge part of why I was so overwhelmed when I found Brendan at the start/finish area after the ride. I was relieved because I ended up having so much fun. I was proud that I had conquered my fear and I was so so happy to be in France for a bike race.
Now we rest, eat, hydrate and sleep. Tomorrow I will do a few more laps, maybe in the rain if it comes, and then rest hard to be ready for Sunday!! Thanks again to everyone who made this trip possible. Only 2 more days in Europe after today but I am crazy grateful every minute of every day to be here!!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Trainin' on the Road in Euroland...

Is going well. While we have been doing a little sight seeing and driving around Europe, the week has been dictated by training and rest first and fun second priority.

Tuesday I was supposed to go for a 2 hour medium effort ride, so Nicola took me on an awesome half dirt, half pavement ride on the beautiful roads and fun trails near his house! It rained all day Monday where we were staying in Switzerland so the trails were quite wet and the roots quite slippery. I may have crashed pretty good in the beginning of the ride, but did my best to master the roots on the ride.
Nicola says the next step in becoming a successful World Cup racer is being able to ride all types of conditions well, aka slipper roots to scary rocks to dry dusty trails. I'm counting this ride as part of that process. Something I've learned big time on this trip is that racing bikes is still a process. It doesn't all happen over night (at least for me). This is my first trip to Euroland, my first HUGE World Cup races, and my first time racing in such a different time zone. I am soaking it all in big time, but also trusting in the process and progression I know I will see as a result of this trip.

So I learned a ton on the ride, and saw some pretty stellar views as well. 

Wednesday I had to do some intervals on a flat road, so Nicola showed me an amazing lake I could ride around and do intervals in the process. The loop had pretty churches, and an unbelievable view of the Alps!

My legs were still a bit flat from racing on Sunday, but I did my work as best as I could (with no power meter on the road it's a little hard to know if I was going hard enough, but by my HR and breathing, I think it was pretty darn good) and then soaked in the views before rolling back up the hill to Nicolas.

Yeah, this view didn't suck at all!

And in the afternoon, after some yoga in the sun and lots of stretching we hit the 'world's largest' pump track (not sure how true that is, but I'm going with it). It was made of concrete so I was a little scared of loosing all my skin if I crashed, but holy moley was it fun! There were a couple different lines, and of course we felt much more comfortable on the little kids lines than the big jump lines. I did get scolded by some little kids for going the wrong direction on a section of the track. 

I especially loved the wildflowers between the lines. 

AND today, Thursday, I was supposed to do a recovery ride before ramping up to this weekend's race, so Brendan and I rolled around the lake again and soaked in the farms and scenery. It was super warm and brilliantly sunny and felt like the absolute perfect day. 
Shorts and a jersey and a beautiful creek with a pretty bridge!

Mechanic gets to ride bikes too! 
Tomorrow we pre-ride the course in the am, a bunch! Then Saturday a little baby pre-ride and then rest like a crazy person. It's supposed to rain all weekend so staying indoors and off my feet sounds VERY doable :)

And that's what this week of training away from home has looked like. I was pretty wiped out from the race for a few days, but my body and my mind are coming around very well, so I'm stoked for this weekend! Bring it on Le Bresse!!!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Shut Up Switzerland!

This blog is a little behind, so here's a little more travel updated, back to the biking stuff tomorrow!

After the race on Sunday, we drove to Eldibach, Switzerland to stay with Feltie Nicola in heaven. The drive from Albstadt nearly killed me it was so pretty, but I didn't even know Switzerland was going to be EVEN MORE BEAUTIFUL in every way than Germany. Everything is perfect here, the houses are all beautiful, the country side is breath taking, the drivers don't care at all if you're riding and blocking the road, and there are bike commuters everywhere. There are incredible trees and pigs and cows and goats and sheep... everywhere you go you hear the bells on cows necks... it's so good I'm almost disgusted!
On Monday we had a bit of active recovery with a little walking tour of Zurich, which is the most beautiful city ever. Seriously, on a river, with a thousand amazing churches, swans in their lake, and coffee/pastries every 10 feet. What more could you want in a city. Also all the buildings are so so cute and everywhere you turn there are incredibly cute alleys to wander down.

The only problem we found with Zurich (and all of switzerland I guess) was that stuff is VERY expensive here, making us feel very very poor. Kein problem though, we are good at being frugal, and are waiting to buy postcards and other necessities until we get to France where it is supposed to be cheaper! It also rained all day and was 7 degrees celsius, but I wasn't bothered by the poor weather, I kinda like exploring big cities in the rain!

And yesterday after riding bikes we explored Lucerne, another adorable city on a beautiful river with more incredible buildings. We did a lot less walking this time, in fact, we basically parked, walked across an awesome covered bridge and then got coffee and soaked it in for an hour.
I love Euro coffee because the foam is always perfect and they pretty much ALWAYS give you a little cookie on the side :)

Here are more pictures of amazing buildings. I took a million and a half pictures of buildings and alley ways. I realize most these pictures will go unseen by anyone, and unlooked at by me, but when you're in Switzerland you just can't stop being amazed by the beauty!

The river running through Lucerne with cute houses on the other side. 
Amazing fountains and towers and churches everywhere.
A very nice collection of cuckoo clocks in a kitch shop. 
I will post about the trainings tomorrow, but this is what we have been up to lately :)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Some Non Bike Related Euro Stuffs!

So I know that a good little bike racer would train and foam roll and then spend the rest of the day trying to stay off her feet, but you gotta do a TINY bit of adventuring when you're in Germany for the FIRST TIME EVER and there is a cute castle near by! 
We drove past this like 100 times before deciding we HAD to go there!
So on Friday, after I did my course pre-riding we hopped in the car and drove up a crazy big hill to this rad Castle on the top! I've never been to a castle, so it was pretty darn exciting to me, plus this guy was WAY up on a hill so the views of Southern Germany were AMAZING!!!

That is the castle. Our tour guide gave the entire tour in German, so I didn't learn much about it while we were there, except that it's still in the family, and it was rebuilt by some rich dude after it was destroyed in the 10 month siege.

I was mostly impressed with the spiral entrance, way cool pointy things all over, the crazy cute cafe area, and the fact that the dude who designed the castle DIDNT HAVE A COMPUTER!!! Really, how did they do such impressive stuff before CAAD and the internet?!

This is the middle of the castle. There were some cool flower arts. 

Another random castle pic.

And this is my cute mechanic Brendan who has been basically acting as my slave on this trip. I am so so grateful to have such a dedicated hubs who no only took 2 weeks off work to be here, but tirelessly helps make this dream possible by cooking, building and cleaning and wrenching on bikes, driving... all the things that need to be done for me. He is pretty special. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Albstadt World Cup Race Recap

Yesterday was a whirlwind of pain and fun and it kinda flew by, which is good and bad, it was a Tale of Two Cities kinda day! I'm glad the super agonizing part went by fast, but I would have liked the rest of it to have lasted longer!

Random brass band on the most beautiful road. 
The morning started off with a warm up where I ran into a German brass band on a random side road! How great is that?! I also love the warm up coach gives me for each race because it's nice to have a task to focus on instead of nerves.

Then it was all business. I found my start box, the one with riders seated 65-80 (there was one box behind me for 80-95 or something) and thought about pretty much nothing, honestly, my mind was blank. I spent so much time this week stressed about my terrible start position and the likelihood of a crash or bottleneck at the start that I didn't really have any more energy to worry about it by 11am on Sunday.
Not exactly a picture from the start, but this was close to the beginning of the course and race.
The start was almost as bad as I had imagined it would be, I basically went right to the back (you can see in the red footage!) and then everyone was off their bikes running and so was I! Then it was just a scramble to try to pass, but everyone was fresh so they would surge and not let you past and soon we were on lap 2 and my HR was pinned and I thought I was going to die! It seemed impossible to do 4 more laps of all that steep climbing, so I tried to focus on all the breaks in the agony, the descents!

Making chicks chase the Rad's Logo... in Germany, NBD
The track was totally different from when I pre-rode it on Thursday, nice and dry and not even sketchy at all! So I pinned the descents and thought about chasing the Rads. I also thought about Missy Kearley giving me shit for double finger breaking because on the longest, steepest descent I realized I had been single finger breaking the whole time!

A fun, steep little drop-ish section. See that one finger braking Missy?!
Lots of riders to pass! This section was super steep and had two options. 
The laps ticked by, I started passing other riders one by one, I would want to sit on their wheel, but then they would be going too slowly, so I would pass them and keep pushing. Brendan gave me pretty good updates and support from the feed zone, letting me know who was looking pained ahead to motivate me to catch them. On the second climb of each lap, the longer sustained one, I kept reminding myself that it was nothing compared to Trabuco trail and I thought about demolishing Carl in the Santa Anas, hehe :)

Another steep descent, almost vertical but ending with a rad bermed right hand turn that was SO fun!
Then something in me flipped, I guess not instantly, but I started to have fun. I started laughing on the descents, and not really dreading the climbs as much. I started thinking '2 more laps AFTER this, I can do that!' instead of 'HOW am I going to do that?' I noticed that the riders around me had numbers in the 30's (on the number pinned on their backs) and when I passed through the start finish I saw I WAS IN the 30's! It still hurt, and my calves were starting to cramp, but it was exciting to have endured so much agony and to suddenly see a payoff! Plus, the descents were starting to be really really fun. I followed Eva Lechner and watched her lines. I tried braking as little as possible and I soaked in the ridiculousness of the number of spectators. Did I mention there were thousands of people in the woods?

And this is just between the two climbs!
At the start, because of all the congestion, I assumed that I wouldn't make it to the last lap. The leaders got such a huge head start on those of us in the traffic jam that I figured they would come close to lapping me and that I would get pulled before lap 6. I was kinda taking solace in the idea of only having to complete 5 laps in the beginning of the race, but by lap 4 I WANTED to do all the laps. And I got to! I finished lap 6 in 33 place, so so happy to be done, but also so happy to have survived to the end, and to have not given in to the pain that said 'it's ok if those two girls behind you catch you'.

Suffering it out on the last lap. 

 And that was that! My first Euro mountain bike race in the books. Some other quick highlights of the day include: SRAM stepping in and replacing my shift cable 15 minutes before I was supposed to be warming up because Brendan and I could not get the bike shifting well for the life of us, having a desperate need for ice cream after the race because it was almost 90 degrees and my throat hurt but not finding ANYTHING but beer and Wurst everywhere on the course, and looking up during the race to see a sea of faces on the sidelines, that was THE COOLEST (also Colin said it cost 14 Euros to get in to spectate, ALL THOSE PEOPLE PAID 14 Euros?!?!)!

It's still so crazy to me to have this opportunity to race bikes in Europe, I'm so so grateful for everyone's support to get me here! I know I should be happy with my result, but being a professional athlete can mean always being hungry for more, and I am definitely hungry to do better next time. The good news is that next time is one week away. Le Bresse, France, here I come!!!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Albstadt World Cup Course Preview According to Larissa

The course in Albstadt is amazing. It has some wicked steep climbs and equally if not more wicked steep descents. The first day I rode it, on Thursday on a bike that was a size too big with high tire pressure (there were tubes in the tires) I was terrified. It had just rained that morning, there was an insane amount of mud on the track and I basically just slid around on the descents, completely out of control. I was pretty freaked about the race and how I was going to hold it together for 6 + laps. 
This section is the short descent in climb 1. You can tell the course zig zags a lot!
Then the sun came out and each day the track has dried up a bit, making it more and more fun. Don't get me wrong though, it still feels like someone dumped a ton of oil on the descents, making them slippery as heck. Even Brendan mentioned while helping me clean my bike that the mud was greasy.

The mini mid climb descent.
The course consists of two main climbs and two steep descents. The first climb starts off with a manicured, not too terrible grade, followed by some swoopy turns (a mini descent) and then a grunt of an ascent to the top. After that there is a super terrifying left hand turn called Devils corner. It's got all kinds of slick roots in it, it's super steep and completely terrifying. I have yet to clean it! Don't worry though, there is a B-line around it :)
From climb 1, there is a section with two choices, steep or steeper (and a hair shorter)! 
 From Devil's corner the course continues down a crazy steep out of control free fall, through super mucky, wet mud, and then over the Albstadt Drop, a small drop that was WAY scarier when it was wet, but is now fun. Immediately after the drop it's steep and slippery and I can't not laugh like a crazy person every time. It's crazy fun in that, HEY I'm still upright! kinda way.

Albstadt drop, you can see it's small, but you can't see how slippery it is after the drop!
The descent is crazy and fun! I love the out of control, I hope I make it feeling!
 Then the course passes through the feed zone at the bottom before winding back up another manicured climb. The second climb has a few steep as crap switchbacks, but nothing Holy Jim, San Juan Trail and Laguna haven't prepared me for :). And the last descent is steep, slippery and basically all switchbacks with slick rocks in them. After the second descent I'm also always laughing out loud, I just can't help it. It took me about 4 laps to nail the second descent without dabbing (putting a foot down) but I think I have it at this point, just don't touch the rear break and you're fine. One little tap of the rear brake and your rear tire is immediately next to you and you're crashing! No pictures of the second descent because Brendan and Colin didn't know where it was :)

Oh yeah, and after that there is a rad wall ride, well two of them! I've never ridden a wall ride before and I hit it on every lap yesterday and today! It's not THAT big, but pretty exciting for me!

And just picking up my number was pretty freaking exciting for me. I still can't believe I'm racing in Germany tomorrow!! This is seriously such a huge dream come true for me. Being here alone is blowing my mind!!!

You can watch the action at at 11am German time, but let's be realistic, they focus on the leaders and I'm starting pretty far back, so it'll be a miricle if you see me at all! Haha, but it's still exciting, so watch it!