Racing a World Cup race on US soil is very special to me- especially since there were so many years when there was no World Cup in the US. There’s just something about racing in front of a home-town (or “home-country”) crowd. The course in Windham has a lot of climbing, but it’s fast climbing- not the granny gear climbs so common in World Cups. The downhills are FAST too, and there are plenty of roots and rocks to throw you off if you get out of your line. I’ve won on the course before it became a World Cup, and I knew I was capable of winning the World Cup too- it was just a question of putting everything together on the day.
After my disappointing finish at Mont Ste Anne, I was very motivated to redeem myself at the World Cup in Windham. Some people speculated that I went out too hard in Mont Ste Anne, but I truly believed that my cramping in Mont Ste Anne was a fluke and not a result of trying to hold an unsustainable pace.
I was focused. I was ready. I had a good start and was right on Marie-Helene’s wheel as we headed up the climb on lap 1. We quickly began to open up a gap over the rest of the field. Marie was riding strong, but I wanted to be in front in the singletrack: I was riding well, and the downhill was so screaming fast that I wanted to be able to pick my own lines. About halfway up the climb, I passed Marie and was able to open a little bit of a gap as we neared the top. By the end of lap 1 I had about 15 seconds on Marie and Katerina.
Over the next couple of laps I focused on riding smooth and stretching out the gap, but it seemed like it was holding pretty steady at 30 seconds. Marie had dropped back, and Catharine had caught up to Katerina. My legs felt great, and I was riding fast on the downhills; I really felt like everything was coming together. The laps ticked by SLOWLY- the race just seemed like it was taking FOREVER. The previous weekend I lost the lead in the last half-lap of the race, so I was trying not to get my hopes up too much- I knew that ANYTHING could happen. I just wanted to fast-forward to the end. Finally it was the last lap. I focused on climbing steady and riding smooth.
Only one more time up this climb. Leave it all out there.
By the top of the climb people were telling me I had 50 seconds.
OK. Just have to get through the downhill.
I tried not to take any risks, I tried to keep it reined in, but with about ½ mile to go I hit my rear wheel on a rock and felt it go flat. Again, the sinking feeling.
No. No. No. No. Not now. Not now. Please not now. This can’t be happening.
I thought about the last part of the course- it was fast and was going to be tough on a flat. I knew I had a decent gap, and I thought it might be worth trying to stop quickly and put some air in the tire. I was shaking as I stopped, ripped my gloves off, fumbled with the valve stem and put some CO2 in my tire. It helped a little, but the tire was still really soft.
It might be enough to get me to the finish. I’m so close!
I jumped back on my bike and rode gingerly through the last section of rutted singletrack. As I came out of the woods, my tire went completely flat.
Only a few more turns. Come on. Come on. Come on!
As I rounded the last downhill turn and headed up the last short hill to the finish, I could see Catharine and Katerina coming out of the woods and I knew I wasn’t going to make it. I couldn’t even cry (yes, I had the “I’m crying” face, but I literally couldn’t even cry). I had no traction on the climb so I jumped off and started running. Catharine and Katerina both passed me within sight of the finish line. I couldn’t believe it. I was so close. I was crushed.
I didn’t really know what to do, and I still can’t even describe what was going on in my head. The support of the crowd was amazing. I could see it in their faces- they were feeling it too. I think that’s the only thing that allowed me to keep it together in those first few minutes: just looking around and seeing that same emotion reflected in the faces of my friends, my family, even total strangers. It was surreal.
I don’t hold anything against my teammates. It was a race, and I don’t want to win my first World Cup by having it handed to me. It was an awkward situation no matter which way you cut it, but I would have felt way worse if my teammates sat up and let me win. I’m hoping I can win one of those races soon.
I will earn it, and I will win it straight up.
Updated on April 18, 2013, 7:30pm