That Magical Place Called London

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This was one of the only sunny days in London when I was there! Final day, saying goodbye to the Olympic Park and the Pringle shaped Velodrome!

London. The host city for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. The land of British Cycling. And the site of my first world cup. For 13 months I worked my ass off to make this happen. Over $20,000.00 later, I’ve gotten to my first world cup. This is not how I wanted to go to my first world cup, hurt, off form, and coming home with far from impressive results, but as the only female who made the qualifications to earn that spot on the team, I deserve it, and as the season goes on, I’m only going to get better and better.

While the rest of the World Cup sprint team was invited to Europe to partake in a pre-world cup training camp, I continued my training in LA. I was surprised to find out they were taken there, but regardless, Travis and the rest of the boys in the training group helped get me as ready as possible. I’d only been in the gym for two weeks, and just getting the feel of things, pushing my back a little at a time, and seeing what I was able to do. We knew my power was down, and so was my strength, but everything else was clicking into place slowly. It’s been a really tough year, but I’m really thankful to have such a supportive group here in LA that keeps me going each day, and understands the patience needed and what I’ve been going through over the past 13 months.

Final training day in LA, with Coach Trav, in my Vie 13 skin suit, and new Pyatt/Broadmark marked helmet!

I was the last US athlete flown into the UK, and I had less than 2.5 days to adapt to the 8 hour time change before I started racing. Before heading out, I was grateful enough to meet up with Sky and Tamara Christopherson, the duo that took so much time out of their lives to help document and support the 2012 US Women’s Team Pursuit silver Olympic medal, which they turned into a movie called Personal Gold. The knowledge these two have is incredible, and I was lucky enough to gain some great information that would help me overcome jet lag, hopefully, a little bit faster. (BTW, that book I’m holding in the photo is probably something every single one of you should read.) I packed up and left Monday evening, and landed in the UK Tuesday afternoon. Unpacked the bikes, visited the track, and then tried to stay up as late as possible.

Sky and Tamara Christopherson. Two amazing Olympic athletes, turned mentors and geniuses.

For a while now, I’ve come to capture these mental snapshots. There’s a certain feeling velodromes have always given me the first time I’ve walked into them. The two most distinct feelings I can remember are walking into the LA velodrome and of course, walking into the Izu Velodrome in Japan, for the first time. I’ve seen photos and heard stories of the Olympic stadium in London, and the track looked incredible. I’d been thinking about what it would be like to walk into that velodrome for weeks. But, I don’t know if it was the jet lag, or perhaps something else…I have to admit I was a little disappointed. When I arrived, the track was blank. Imagine the LA velodrome with those big stickers across the corners, just empty. Everything looked plain and blah, and there wasn’t much energy. But each night like magic, the banners were added, I was able to take the time to explore the top deck, visit the bike shop, cafe, press boxes…and then the crowds. The crowd is what makes that track. Actually, the crowd screaming their lungs out for their National team is what makes that track. It might not have amazed me in its physical appearance, but what amazed me about London was the pride their country has for their track program. And it’s clear to see it starts from the ground up, it starts with British Cycling and their support and marketing of their athletes.

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As we got to the racing, I had a really hard time. There was a sense of urgency for me to have a really great performance at my first world cup, but every morning I woke up, I had a hard time keeping my eyes open and flat out thinking clearly. I did everything I could, between keeping my phone and computer away from me, blocking out the light, wearing ear plugs, taking melatonin, wearing the Re-timer glasses…but it wasn’t until my final day of racing that I actually had a solid night’s rest. And by then it was too late.

My first world cup started with the team sprint. Unlike the US men’s team sprint, who have ridden together at TTown this summer, the US elite nationals, European team sprints after that, the Pan Am Championships, a camp in Colorado Springs, the first World Cup, a training camp in Europe, and now the second world cup….this was our very first ride together. At first, I was asked to start, but being two weeks out of the competition and just finding this out…I hadn’t done a single standing start since my 500m at the Pan Am Championships. The reason behind this was my physical therapy. I had started taking it 100% seriously, focusing on fixing myself, instead of pushing and pushing and making myself worse like I had been. Personally, I felt like I had a great start, right off the line. Timed well, great form, and even while pushing a bigger gear, equalling the stride of rider 1. Then I made one mis-calculation. I eased up a little too much going into corner one, dropped in too late while not putting power into dropping down the bank, and I lost the wheel. Part of being out of the gym and taking so much time off has reduced my ability to hold power, making winding that gear up a challenge, and it showed. Although we didn’t have as big of a gap as the Australian sprint team, we are nowhere near as fast. The first lap was clocked as a 20.1, and the second after that, a 15.5. Far from “good enough”. But like I said, we haven’t had eight chances at this like the men, this was our first. Going into Cali, I’ll be focusing more on the start position, where riding a smaller gear will be beneficial to me, and I’ll be back in the position I like more anyways. Our time was faster than the US time from 2012, when the olympic test event and world cup was held there. But that was another time, another situation, and possibly different conditions. But it does show progress.

Going back to Thursday, the day before team sprint, also my second day. For flying efforts, usually I only need one day. But that was before I knew the Italians would run back to back to back flying pursuit efforts with multiple teams on the track, throughout our entire 1 hour 40 min session. On my first flying effort in training, I bobbed and weaved through two scattered teams on the track, winding around to ride a 7.2 second flying 100. For those who know how fast I should be riding a flying 100….yeah. My second attempt, I wound up and dove into corner one, only to find a Colombian sprint female undecidedly going from the black line to the red line, above the red line, back down to the black line…and I just pulled up as hard as I could in order to avoid her, thus ending my second attempt, and not dying. I immediately got up on the track again, did an entire flying effort, and rode a great 100m time that I was happy with. I didn’t get to use the gears I wanted, or test multiple lines, but that was all I was going to get with the time I had. I guess this is all part of being at my first world cup, where multiple countries share the same training time. Lessons learned.

This brings us to Saturday morning, the flying 200m qualifying, I was so tired. I hadn’t slept. I was lethargic and my legs were unresponsive. I felt the same in the team sprint the day prior, and it wasn’t getting any better. I warmed up, and I got on the track and tried an effort in the gear I had chosen, and immediately knew it wasn’t the right choice. I came back in, and being a huge pain in the mechanic’s ass, had them change out my ring/cog once again, to another more suitable option. But in the end, it really didn’t matter. My flying 200m was terrible. I was nothing close to the time I had done two days prior in training, and I was nowhere near what my training prior to leaving for London was showing. An 11.9? What even is that?! Nowhere near the top 24 qualifiers. I was really disappointed. But based on how I was sleeping, there wasn’t any surprise I was riding like I was. But that doesn’t mean I was ok with any of it. I totally missed the boat, and this wasn’t what I went to London to do. I didn’t qualifying for the tournament, and scored one single Olympic point. I don’t need to hear it from anyone else that it was terrible. I’m my own worst critic. I pay attention to detail more than the normal person, and I know that was not a representation of what I’m capable of.

Photo by Steve Airey
Photo by Steve Airey, Women’s Keirin Round 1.

The morning of the keirin, I woke up amazed. It was the first night I slept a solid 8+ hours. It was the first night I hadn’t woke up starving because it was lunch/dinner in California. And it was the first night that a double dose of maximum strength melatonin wasn’t needed to fall asleep, or back to sleep. I went to the track refreshed, for the first time. I lined up for my first keirin heat with the one and only, Anna Meares. Although I was rested, I wasn’t comfortable. I wasn’t confident in my gear. Usually, I am confident, but here, I felt clueless. My first big world cup keirin. I was really excited. I tried to come around to the front, but I couldn’t. As I rode up the side, the group accelerated, and I got stuck next to Anna, a position no one wants to be in. I hit the power on 100% more times than I wanted too, and soon I found myself all the way in the back. Knowing that I wasn’t going to win the heat to move on, I coasted through, ultimately getting last in my heat, but in a qualifying round…2nd is as good as last. In my rep heat, I took the motor from the gun, and tried my best to hold my position. In the end, we stacked up four high on the home straight, and i didn’t win that heat either, and thus didn’t make it into the second round. It sucks. Of course. My favorite race. But, it’s my first world cup keirin. I wasn’t comfortable, and the best way to get more comfortable is to keep doing it, repeatedly. This isn’t racing in the US, this isn’t racing in ttown, or Russia, or Canada, or Japan, or Germany…this is a World Cup. The only prep to a World Cup is racing a World Cup.

Photo by Steve Airey

Then, the show was over. I started packing my things up, and starting carrying my equipment out of the velodrome. Walking alongside our team therapist, Paige, she said, “did you see who that was?”, and as this man turned a corner I saw the side of his face. OMG, it was SIR CHRIS HOY. I started running ,with Paige in tow. I started going up a staircase, with a backpack, and track bike and wheels flailing about in my hands, until I just couldn’t run up the stairs anymore. So I just yelled out, “Can I talk a picture with you?!”, and he turned around and laughed at me, saying, “Sure!” A perfect example of a humble athlete, whose not only a beast, and a super great guy.

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The night racing finished, I got to unwind with my training partners from LA in London. Everyone had a bit of their own bad luck, but in the end, we’re all human, we’re all athletes, and we’re all fighting for the same dream. I finally got the burger and fries I’d been craving all week, and then it was back to the hotel to pack up and head back home. While driving to the airport the next morning, through the darkness before the sun rose, I saw the London Eye, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Natural History Museum, and other famous London attractions. I didn’t have time to go sight-seeing, but I was grateful to at least take in the architecture and see some sights.

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This magical city of London will forever be in my memories. Walking around the Olympic Village was a dream come true. I got to attend my first world cup, which I’ve deemed as the hashtag #babysfirstworldcup in so many of my posts while being there. I’m looking forward to being back here in LA, getting into training, and really starting to push it. It’s becoming clear that time is in fact one of the things I don’t have in this case, and I’m going to have to push forward 100%, or not at all. My back isn’t 100%, and it is going to hurt like hell. But I know what I’m capable of, and my performance in London was far from it. I’m going to be more prepared for Cali, and a little more expecting. I know this all comes with experience, and the women I’m now racing against are the best of the best.

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Thanks for my amazingly fast gear, put together by Andy Lakatosh, Atomic High Performance, and Travis Smith. Thanks to the mechanics as part of Team USA for their hard work all week, setting me up with the best of the best available to get me going as fast as possible. Thanks to Coaches Andy and Brian for their support and words of advice. Thanks to Paige for staying up late at night, getting my cappuccino, and always checking on me. Thanks to the Canadian and Trinidad crew for always making me smile, always being there if I need them, and making me feel welcome and part of their teams as well.

Now it’s time to get back to training. It was an amazing feeling to be back home and find my new WattBike waiting to make me suffer! There’s going to be many hours spent sweating over this thing in the future, and I can’t wait!

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