In an effort to meet my once per year post as the year 2009 comes to a close, I'll share a brief on one of my many bike racing adventures. A reflection on the continental championships, the PanAms.
As my plane lifts off and I look down on the sprawl of Mexico City, the blue mountain peaks obscured by heavy brown air give way to pure white cotton candy clouds, I am filled with an overwhelming sense of Thanks.
Thanks first for the opportunity to represent Canada at the Panamerican Championships here in Mexico; for the opportunity to have stood amongst a mob of friendly faces, listened to our national anthem and watched our flag during the podium presentation where my team-mate Joelle stood on the top step after a well executed race; for the blissfully positive ride I had put together the day before in the time trial; and for the fact that I am headed home to a place where the air is fresh and the water is clean.
The trip itself was a bit of a whirlwind- lots of travel and a schedule that changed by the moment, waiting in line-up after line-up, building up and repacking our bikes numerous times and lugging everything from place to place in the blistering hot sun. With a little over 100 athletes in total nothing moved very quickly.
Tara Whitten and I raced the TT on the 23rd. The bus that had taken us from the CNAR dormitories in Mexico City the day before delivered us from our resort style hotel in Tlaxcala to the TT site with all of 45 minutes before the first rider was off! I’d come into the race as well prepared as I could for things to be out of the ordinary and with only 45 minutes to warm up and be ready, I didn’t have time to stress.
In the absence of a recon of the whole course, and with attention to a particularly slow start because of the altitude, I was off. I could immediately feel that I had a good ride in me and catching my 1-minute girl (the only US rider there) around the 5 km mark was further confirmation of that. My timing wasn’t great as I overtook her team car on the only technical portion of the course, a tight left, right, right on the descent. Tara had started 2 minutes a head of me and near the turn around I could see that she too was having a good ride and had passed her 1-minute girl. I posted the 3rd fastest time to the turn around but fell to 5th overall on the way home, missing the podium by 27seconds. I was disappointed in the result, but I had a great ride so will take that away as a positive. Tara too had a great ride earning silver behind Giussepina Grassi of Mexico. The bronze medal was won by Valeria Muller of Argentina.
With the TT behind us, we set out a plan for the road race where we stood to bring home a pile of UCI points if everything went as we planned.
We knew only a few of the riders- a couple who race on US or Euro teams, plus the Cuban sprinters. I figured that if it came down to a sprint Cuba was our biggest threat- based on what I’d seen of them at PEI and Montreal they'd pulverize us!
Our plan was for Laura and I to be on the aggressive early on and save Joelle as our sprinter. We established a lead-out order if it were to come down to a sprint, looked at the finish and talked about where we'd like it all to happen. The race start wasn’t very fast; a few attacks went which we covered. I wanted to see one full lap before I went on the aggressive as I didn't want to risk being out there on my own and getting steered off course or something stupid like that! After the first lap we had some quick discussion about taming down our plan a little and just following wheels as all of us were feeling gaspy with the altitude - it weird cuz you can close stuff, you just don't have any top end punch and it takes extra time to come out of the red once you get there. It feels like racing in slow motion.
Up the climb a break of around 8 riders went with Tara in it. As we were cresting the hill I was looking up at it thru the single file chase line when the Columbian rider in front of me let out a gap, not sure if it was intentional to start or not but she must have looked up and seen 3 of her riders up front and she let off the gas. I made the split second decision to do the same as Joelle was only a couple wheels ahead and I didn't see any of the 3 big Cuban sprinters up front. So we watched them ride away and that was that.
Cuba had one girl in the break but clearly she wasn’t who they wanted there for the sprint as they tried to organize a chase with Costa Rica who had somehow missed the break entirely and were 5 in strength. With the gap near 2 minutes the Columbian girl and I quickly realized that the chasers’ organization would dissolve if we set out little attacks on the climb. This thinned out the pack and left us to a scenic ride through Mexico.
Through the town there were hundreds of spectators yelling and chanting “Mexico! Mexico!”. The bricks rumbled beneath our tires and the choking smell of hot greasy food sat heavy in the narrow shop-lined streets. On the backside of the course we were graced with a section of smooth highway, while the traffic was diverted entirely to the opposing side of the road. Busses of people cheered, horns beeped and we even saw several flat bed trucks of machine gun toting, full-masked military.
While we were still out on course the commissaires told us that we had won- we WON! We accomplished what we had come to do- I had goosebumps at the thought of it!
As we crossed the line we were swarmed by friendly congratulating spectators asking for photos with us, and for autographs on everything from scraps of paper to body parts. Despite the language barrier, the welcome and the emotion from the crowd was incredible- the experience is certainly etched in my mind for life.
Highs and lows, it has been a fantastic year.