The week leading into the world cup, I was on fire! Putting in some huge efforts on the track, with some serious speed, and finally having some weeks of unbroken training, and just making the sessions happen. Andy made a cool video of my last few sessions before leaving for Colombia, where I even rode a 9.8 flying 200m, with a 100m motor drop off. Pretty insane feeling those speeds, but the boys do it all the time on their own now!
A couple of days before leaving for Cali, I caught the bug that’s been floating around. My addiction to Starbucks failed me, as I was doing so well until the Barista in San Pedro came to work looking worse than I’ve felt this entire time. As she coughed into my drink, I kindly took it, but tossed it in the trash on the way out of the door. But I think the damage had already been done. The worst part about flying with a cold is the pressure I get behind my ears. I remember as kid, the first time I flew, I was crying and screaming all the way to Mexico, when I couldn’t pop my ears. My parents would give me gum to try to help, but usually, it didn’t make much of a difference. At least I’ve grown up enough now that I’m not screaming and throwing a tantrum on a plane full of people. 😉
We were pretty fortunate as a team overall, since we were one of the only teams to actually receive all of our bags and bikes on the flight we arrived on. It was a pretty long travel day, but in comparison to the travel to London, I was pretty thankful to have some extra days, and an extremely smaller time zone difference.
Here’s a photo from Beth Newell’s Instagram feed after we all got on the bus, waiting to be taken to the hotel in Colombia. (You can follow her at @_bethbikes)
Once we were settled in Colombia, my #1 objective was to get the head/chest cold under control, and adjust my training plan to help with recovery. The first day we went to the track, I just rode easy for 20 minutes. First impressions of the track : so smooth, tiny boards, tight turns, and fresh air. Sarah Hammer told me this track was incredible, and that wasn’t a lie. The wind was pretty ferocious the first day or so. Some tarps hanging down towards the track smacked into a few riders, and made the most terrifying noise…I think they were there to catch and direct rain leaking from the roof…but I didn’t investigate to find out.
Training rolled along. I wasn’t feeling great leading into the races, but I knew that would come as my body adjusted and relaxed into the week. It was pretty crazy walking around having a lot of media interviewing riders, staff, and taking photos. A lot of attention was drawn towards the blonde and fair-skinned athletes, such as myself, or riders from Ireland and Australia. I remember being asked in one interview if I thought being “pretty” was more important than a result at these events as a female cyclist, and I can definitely tell you they were given a firm “NO” with my response. Between all the posters and signs around the city, and the hype inside the velodrome, you’d think I would have been a little more prepared for the crowd I was going to witness during the days and nights to come. But I was completely wrong. It was packed, loud, and crazy. London was loud, but only for their British riders. Cali was loud, for EVERYONE.
By the time racing began on Friday, I had managed to handle my illness well. I knew the right amount of warm up to get the mucus moving and out before it was race time, and the coughing was suppressed to only in the morning and evening. The nice thing about sprinting is you don’t have to breathe all that much. A few deep breaths, and you’re good to go. I had high hopes for my start during our team sprint. I knew I was capable of setting a new PR and a great time, as I’d been flying in training beforehand. After warm up, my bike was taken to bike check and I walked up to the line. We were the second heat, and as I sat in the chair next to my partner, I was excited! We were up next….Andy Sparks put my bike in the start gate, and that’s when the bubble popped. As I looked down at my bike, all I saw was “Jen Valente” written across my seatpost….”Umm….this isn’t my bike!” I said…. Well, it was my bike, it just wasn’t my saddle or seat topper. All Felt Tk1 owners know the “seat topper” situation on these bikes… the whole setback/height/saddle is one solid piece, which makes it incredibly easy when packing your bike, as you don’t have to worry about any positions changing, you can just pick it straight out of the frame, and drop it back in. But what is really hard to adjust is getting your saddle level. In this case, when the mechanics brought my bike over to bike check, the officials decided my saddle was tipped 1 degree downward beyond the legal limit. Our Team USA mechanics attempted to change the angle but had no success in pleasing the official. In a last-minute decision, they took my seat topper off the bike, and threw Jen Valente’s on…. and with the few seconds they had with us being the second heat of women’s team sprint on the track…that’s all they could do. Although the shock of me staring down at my bike while getting in the gate and seeing someone else’s name on my bike was a bit much, as they explained with me strapping in, I understood, and I knew regardless, I had to give it 100%. I felt really good during our ride. I came out of the gate clean, powered through the tight turn, and when I sat down, the first thing I thought was, “Oh what?!“. Jen and I clearly have a very different riding style, and taste in saddles for that matter. The position was all sorts of wrong. But I just held onto it as long as I could, and pulled up as fast as I could. I crossed the line disappointed, and I was a little angry. I didn’t understand what had happened, but I knew there had to have been some sort of explanation, and there was. The ridiculous part of this was immediately after our ride, our mechanics put my bike back together, 100%, without changing anything, and as they placed it on the jig, the officials said my bike passed….wtf? Vince and Will were flawless the rest of the week, and I’m just happy they are as cool-headed as they are and we were able to find at least something legal for me to sit on.
Saturday was sprint day. Going into this, I knew I had to qualify if I wanted to solidify my own individual spot at the world championships in the individual sprint. But I also knew that I would ride to the best of my ability, and the rest would come as it was. I rode an 11.6, which is a huge improvement from London, as most of the women seemed to pull times comparable (except for the flying Monique Sullivan dropping down a 11.0! Holy smokes! 😉 ). I knocked three tenths off my time from London. It wasn’t super breezy, but there was a bit of wind coming through the track. I’m not satisfied with that time, and I know I have some work to do as I train towards the world championships, but it was good enough to qualify me into the tournament in 24th place. I was a bit relieved, as I’d done what I needed to do, but I also realized the task ahead…racing the 1/16th final against the #1 qualified Dutch rider Elis Ligtlee, who rode a 10.8. Prior to the ride, we threw around a few jokes about the size difference between her and I. Being Dutch, she’s a tall girl. Racing in Ttown this past summer, I followed behind her in a keirin round once, and I literally could have ridden right underneath her straight to the motor if I needed too….I think her saddle would probably be resting at my shoulder if I stood next to her bike! But all jokes aside, this was going to be a tough ride. I went in with a mentality that she isn’t unbeatable, because none of us are. And I came out of it with a much closer ride than anyone expected. Elis didn’t expect me to come down the home straight with the speed that I did, and we crossed the line with just .019 seconds separating us. She won. I was knocked out. But I was clever and I kept pushing and I never gave up. It was my first world cup sprint tournament! Big steps forward, and a qualification for worlds was on the table. After the debacle in the team sprint the day before, I was really pleased to hear that my bike, once again, made it through bike check just fine, and my bum has happy to have my own saddle back!
The final day was the keirin. My favorite event. What happened on this day, was not something far-fetched. It’s something everyone who has been involved in my training since day one knew I was capable of, and it’s something I had been dreaming of accomplishing. I thought I would have taken a few steps before I made it onto the podium at a world cup, but my moment showed up on this day. I didn’t make it through the first round. I think I was 4th in that…it was really strange…when the motor bike pulled off, girls were randomly going in all sorts of directions. When I finished the ride, I had to ask Brian why one of the girls just pulled up track for no reason…and neither of us could come up with any sort of explanation for it…and it also seemed at that point, that someone put the brakes on…regardless. maybe I wasn’t mentally prepared for it, but I didn’t go through and I was in the rep rounds. But I won my rep! What an amazing feeling, to know that I was onto the second round. This was incredibly important, especially since riders from Canada, Colombia, and Cuba (all pan-am countries), were moving through as well. I had an incredible ride in the second round. I followed my gut before I even thought twice about it, and went for it. A longer sprint than normal, but I actually came away to win the second round! And it started to rain during our ride as well. While we were rolling around the bottom of the track during the first few laps, I thought the girl in front of me was sweating and it was blowing on me (gross!), but it was actually rain from outside. Immediately after our ride, the power shut down in the velodrome due to the storm, and racing was delayed. As I came around the track and grabbed Brian’s hand to get off my bike, Viggo walked towards me with open arms and said in the most proud way, “You were incredible!” He gave me a huge hug and we all walked back to the pit together. It was an amazing feeling having such a strong support team there. I couldn’t have been more ecstatic to make it into my first world cup 1-6 final. I was definitely running on a high! Once the lights came back on, the lightning died down, and the rain stopped, the track was dry and we were back to racing.
The final was a bit crazy. There’s a lot of misconceptions about when Guo was relegated. She didn’t actually cause the crash that happened with one lap to go. That was caused by a number of things. During the ride, I saw the three riders coming together, which is why I pulled up and out of the lane, which ended up being a really good decision. I was able to avoid the crash, but in the midst of it, pushing hard to slow down and avoid, then reaccelerate, cost me a bit of time, and all riders were able to pull away, I tried to drill it as hard as I could, and I made up some ground….coming down the home straight, this is where Guo collided and entered the sprint lane on her Chinese teammate, to which she was relegated, and I ended up taking the bronze medal. Despite all the chat about the other girls not being happy on the podium…I can tell you they were just as happy to be up there as I was. We all congratulated each other with smiles and were happy. Just because one photo posted shows them without a smile doesn’t mean they weren’t feeling the same. It’s great being on the podium with familiar faces, and people who are proud to represent their countries.
I felt really good this day. I woke up with a terrible migraine, but as racing went on, I think my adrenaline and endorphins were kicking in and I didn’t think about it twice. I was rushed up on stage by one of the race officials, who came over to say, “Put your trainers on, you’re going on stage, hurry up!”, before I even knew there was a relegation and I was getting a medal. Brian and the other members of team USA who were present could not have been more excited for me, as we had a few smiles, hugs, and laughs, and I was rushed over to the chairs for the podium.
It wasn’t until that evening that it was brought my attention that this was the first female sprint medal in over 6 years. I’ve only started this journey less than three years ago, and I feel incredibly blessed that I got to stand in that position and bring home a medal. It was an incredible feeling watching the USA flag being raised, and I’m proud to be part of a team that brought home three medals.
I’m really glad to have saved all my international data for this day. My dad decided I needed some way of communication since I was going to Colombia, so he purchased me a small amount to add to my plan. The support from home during my keirin was amazing. I got so many messages, they are still coming through now! The live feed made it possible for so many of you to watch me race, and when I got back to the hotel I couldn’t believe all the photos, videos, snapchats, texts, etc etc that came through of all you so excited for me!! It was such a rush!
I was then drug tested, for the second time since the start of the new year. Karissa, our trusted logistics director, got to experience her very first drug test protocol while being my chaperone, and I once again, did a record fast job of getting us in and out ASAP.
From the 7am wake up to the 9:30pm arrival back to the hotel, I still had to eat dinner, and by that time, it was 11pm and they locked us out of the hot tub. We had a 1:30am shuttle pick up to take us to the airport, where the 3 hours of anxiety filled “where is my bike!?” emotions ran through everyone’s veins, until the 6am flight. I pulled through a solid 36 hours of no more than 2 hours of sleep, until I was safely on the ground in LA with all bags and bikes in hand. The flight back home exacerbated my cold 100%, so now it’s back to the drawing board of getting healthy and ready for the world championships in just shy of four weeks!
I am happy to be home, back in non-co-ed bathrooms…I’m not sure I’ll miss the reactions of walking into the one bathroom to see bare ass naked men walking around between showers and toilets, or even the occasional opening of the stall to find two police officers smiling at me, asking to take a photo… Although Cali is going to be a place I’m never going to forget.
Thank you to USA Cycling, Atomic High Performance, Vie13 Kustom Apparel, Coastherapy, ERO, RecoveryPump, Spidertech, Oakley, Osmo Nutrition, GoPro, and the USOC. Thank you to my friends and family, to everyone who has supported me and backed me throughout my injury. It’s been a long year, but the old missy is starting to come back!
Vous voir bientôt, Paris!