In June, I set off on an adventure with the support of my hometown, created a fundraiser to chase UCI points, and succeeded. With the support of everyone I made it to Europe, and now I’ve made it back to North America. An experience I will never forget. One I don’t regret. And one that has taught me more lessons about myself, my life, cycling, and people. Most importantly, it created confidence, changed my perspective, and opened my eyes to what is being demanded of me.
I want to start off this post about my time in Europe by saying thank you to the countless number of people who came together to make this trip happen. From the promoters of each race, to USAC, to the GB and Australian teams, to my family and friends, to the supports and donors who provided me with the money to even book a plane ticket…the number of people involved in this, I’m not even sure I know them all. As we go along this journey, more information comes out of the woodwork, and more people are brought to my attention who have helped. I thank each and every one of you for what you have done.
I’ve always liked my ability to be honest, regardless of the situation. There are too many people involved with helping me succeed in this sport for me to hide my feelings and experiences. I try to provide details and emotion to everything as you all help me along this journey, so you can experience it too. It would be easy to be an athlete that pretended everything was great 100% of the time, but the truth is it isn’t. It’s full of roller-coasters that are sometimes more down than up, and there is truth to the saying, “It’s lonely at the top”. Not saying I have reached the top, because after you spend two weeks with the world and Olympic champions, you find your place rather quickly. I might not be able to be as honest as I like sometimes, but that is also just part of the game. It’s challenging, it’s emotional, it’s thrilling, it’s exciting, it’s hopeful, it’s discouraging, it’s terrifying, it’s what I devote 100% of my being for…
Arriving to Brussels from Ttown was an adventure in itself. After a cancelled flight, I was pushed a day late and left to fly alone on my first international flight. I look back on it now and am relieved that I was traveling out of the US on this trip, and not in a foreign country alone for the first time. My hours spent driving too and from Minnesota from Durango have paid off, as an 8-9 hour flight seems short in comparison to all the complaining and horror stories I have heard from others. I spent a while in the Brussels airport waiting to get picked up as I had no form of communication to anyone in the outside world.
I spent a day in Sittard, Netherlands at the USAC house before we drove to Cottbus, Germany for our first race : Cottbus Nachte. With a sick kid on board the van, we departed and drove the 7 hours until we arrived in a little woodland hotel. The track was incredible. A 333 concrete, partially covered, little storage and hang out areas for the teams…it was beautiful!
As racing started, we began with our flying 200m time trial. This is where the roller-coaster started going downhill. I personally take every bit of responsibility for royally destroying my chance at hitting the international race time standard, and because of that, I rolled in with an 11.60, instead of the hoped 11.52. It was good enough to qualify me as 12th, and in the sprint rounds. I ended up 12th that night. I didn’t race well, but I guess I raced where I was “seeded” to place. The next day we had the keirin. I love the keirin. I had dealt with my disappointment from the flying 200m, and had placed it aside, ready to take on the new day. But it didn’t go as planned either. I didn’t even place. No points were awarded (except start points), and I was demolished. It was about this time that I started getting a scratchy throat, swollen lymph-nodes, and a cold. No doubt it was from the stress, travel, and roller-coaster of emotions, but it added to my feeling of defeat.
I didn’t expect to come out to Europe and be a shooting star, a hero, or super woman. I expected to come out here and learn, grow, and experience a new part of cycling I had never been part of before. I was not upset because I didn’t win, or I didn’t place well. I was (and in a way still am) upset that I may be the only one to not make the race time standard, who will actually be fully qualified in all events, that won’t be able to travel. The thought of that is crushing. I think about all the hard work people put in to earn the money they donated me to make this dream possible, and I feel like I’ve let them down. I am improving, I am getting faster. There is no doubt to that, but I’m just not fast enough. And I’m not fast enough because of a mistake. A simple dumb mistake. One way I believe that everything happens for a reason. In the other way, I can only blame myself and nobody else. But the show must go one. We pick up, and we continue towards a dream so many aren’t able to pursue. Thanks to a lot of people, I have the ability, and if there’s one thing for sure, I know that mistake won’t happen again.
As Cottbus finished, we loaded up the van and moved back into the USAC house in Sittard. Arriving Monday night, we had a few days to wander around Sittard and enjoy a little bit of the European lifestyle. This was my first trip so everything was new to me. Paying to use a bathroom, using Euros…a lot of it is more Americanized than most people realize. Almost everything is in English, most people speak English, and ALL cars yield to cyclists, no matter what.
We then left Thursday morning for Dudenhofen. A shorter drive, but back to Germany we went. The track reminded me of Alpenrose, and had the attitude of Marymoor. It was the complete opposite from Cottbus. Low key, hidden, minimal stands. But at night, the place lit up. The crowds were 4 people deep, all the way around the track, and they were fantastic. Again, just like Marymoor. I was more comfortable here. I think it helped that it was the second weekend of racing these amazing world and olympic champions, but I think I also found my place. I knew what I was in for, and even though I was still completely ill-prepared, I was better off than I was in Cottbus.
I qualified 9th in the flying 200m, a much better 200 than Cottbus, but at a much slower track, the 11.52 was not going to happen. I sucked it up and went for it. And it paid off. I ended up 10th, after taking 2nd in the 9-11 final. Two crashes happened in my rounds. Unfortunately for both riders, they weren’t able to continue. I can full on say that I was not at fault for either, instead, I held my line, protected myself, and respected my opponents. The keirin was ok. I missed my first european major final by inches, which, as another mistake on my part (laziness and not paying attention), I learned another valuable lesson about doubting my ability. This was the moment I came to the realization that being smart and using my own strengths to the best of my ability, I can and will be competitive in this field. As I get stronger and faster, I will be. I ended up 8th, after taking 2nd in the minor final. I am proud of that ride.
We drove back to Sittard, packed, washed clothes, slept a few hours, and then got up and headed straight to the Brussels airport. We flew into Montreal last night and drove straight to the track, unpacked at the Centre national de cyclisme, and here I sit, the next day, dealing with jet lag and time change much better than anticipated.
I look back on this experience with an open mind. The thing that sticks out the most to me is something Anna Meares asked after the racing had finished in Dudenhofen, “That ride with Miriam Welte…what were you thinking?” I had no idea what she was talking about. Absolutely none. Then she pointed out clear facts about that rider…and I saw it, clear as day. There is so much I need to learn, so much homework, so much studying that needs to take place before I can line up to these women and call myself an equal, a competitor. I wish I had the ability to go back at the time and have someone sit down and explain my mistakes after each ride, so I could learn and correct them for the next, but for now, I have memories. Every single detail of each ride, the smallest move can lead your opponent to victory. It’s a constant learning process.
I’m an forever grateful for this opportunity that was placed before me. My eyes have been opened and changed forever. I have a new appreciation for what I once thought was impossible, which I now see as necessary. When the time comes that I make the flying 200m time stardard, I will know that I can and will qualify for the world cup circuit, and when that time comes, I will be more than ready for that experience. As for now, I have one week left of my five-week racing trip, and then it’s back to my pups and some very much-needed “me” time. The racing here in Bromont starts on Thursday with team sprint, friday are the sprints, and saturday is the keirin. One last race for this time around.
We did it, we made it happen. And I have you to thank for it.