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Results are wins, losses, disasters and sometimes easily structured into acronyms –DNS. DNF. DFL. WTF. What you did and did not do in a season is listed clearly in placings and numbers. This is the time of year when the season is broken down into statistics and points. Everyone loves statistics and addition. Ok, maybe not everybody, that’s why we have www.procyclingstats.com. They really are amazing. But in reflecting on the season and looking ahead to the next one, it all comes down to the stats.
Yet, sometimes numbers don’t quite capture the moment. Numbers may show that “almost win” or they may glide over it without even a nod of acknowledgment. But we want to remember and know the things that matter outside the results. The embarrassing moments, the late nights giggling, the painful vulnerability and the jubilance that is only shared with people that truly are a part of you. These are not evident in the numbers, points and results. These are something far deeper, harder to communicate and never forgotten.
What happens between these results? What happens between the start and the finish of the race and all the days in between? Cycling is so much more than a number. That’s why we love it so much. No matter if you read it in a greeting card or heard it from your grade school teacher, what happens between the results is really where the memories thrive.
Thinking about my past year, I can’t even begin to make a list of everything it entailed. From Australia to California to Qatar to Holland and every place in between, each of these places are brimming with memories of pain, laughter, and all that juicy meat (even if you are vegan) of life that you are supposed to savor.
This year was particularly special to me and I tried to absorb as much as possible. Just like you can’t pick your family, you can’t always pick your team. But this year I won the team lottery with Cylance Pro Cycling. I love this team and I love these women. I tried to wrap up eight of my favorite memories of this season that you won’t always see on social media.
“I figure if a girl wants to be a legend, she should just go ahead and be one.” Calamity Jane. I couldn’t imagine a better day to celebrate my birthday weekend and the 100th anniversary of @rondevanvlaanderenofficial! Best day of cycling in the world. Where legends are made, and the rest can become legends if they want to. Why not? My heart is full of gratitude to @cylancecycling @cannondalepro @maviccycling for this opportunity. This is the infamous #paterberg and ? by John Pierce! #belgiumbikeracing #happybirthdaytome #bikeracing #springclassics #ctsathlete #calamityjane #cyclingphotos #cyclinglegends #womenracebikes #womenscycling #womensworldtour #UCIWWT #inspiretoachieve #finishstrong #buildit
1. “Welcome to the Y-ungle”
I had always been told that Flanders was the best race in the world. It isn’t that I didn’t believe those that told me that, I just have a healthy dose of skepticism. You shouldn’t believe everything you hear but there I was, lined up at the best race in the world. My Spanish teammate, Sheyla Gutiérrez, kept telling me not to be nervous, since this was only the best race in the world. I will note that Sheyla has some major cajones when she races, she is second overall in the UCI Women’s World Tour U23 standings and the current Spanish U23 champion in both the time trial and the road race.
“C’mon!” She yelled. “This is Flanders, Princess! The best race in the world!”
Coming from a Spanish girl, I knew she must be serious. Belgium is a long way from the Rioja. Chewing my nails as I do on the start line, I look over at her encouragement. Under long sweeping eyelashes, her eyes seemed to grow larger as if she was using the latest SnapChat filter. She glanced up at me under the feathered lashes with her Cheshire grin, and started singing, “Welcome to the Y-UNGLE!” She meant J-ungle, but in her Spanish accent I can’t even attempt to mimic, Guns and Roses began playing and my heart rate slowed. Yes, we were in the y-ungle and about to compete in the best bike race in the world. Flanders did not disappoint.
2. But first, a selfie
The Tour of Chongming Island was one of my favorite races this year. I can’t really describe why, except that I felt welcome and was able to explore the showcased country at rapid speeds. I was searching for the “good” internet in the hotel and wandered into an office. The employees were taking selfies with me as I was loitering in the background like a creep. I suggested we take a selfie together, and the next thing you know, the line was out the door. It turns out a tall blonde in this area is like spotting Bigfoot or something. I never did find the good internet, but I did love this moment. Good internet can wait, but first, a selfie.
3. Mi Reina
Cylance Pro Cycling’s soigneur this year was a very sweet Columbian man named Juan. When we first brought Juan on board, he didn’t speak any English. I actually don’t know if much has changed, but I adore Juan. I was learning Spanish this year and it was melding with my Italian and French knowledge, and my brain was becoming a simmering pot of language porridge. I spent most of my time on the massage table taking Spanish Duolingo with Juan so he could learn English as I studied Spanish. He called me “mi reina”, which I learned meant “my queen”. If you are only going to understand a couple of words mutually in the beginning of a friendship, it appeared to me we were on the right track. Yo soy su reina.
4. Don’t Freak Out
I had always wanted to go to Australia. There I was, on a new big team, with one of the best American cyclists ever, Shelley Olds. We were roommates in Australia and good friends. I wanted to be the best roommate possible as she was going to be on fire at the Tour Down Under. Goodnight, sleep well…and then I got food poisoning and found myself in the fetal position of the hotel bathroom floor contemplating my will and testament. Shelly stumbles into the bathroom in middle of the night, ear plugs in, unaware I was having projectile issues. As she walked in, raising her eye mask, I said, “Shelley, don’t freak out”.
She freaked out. As she should.
But she did end up second overall at the Tour Down Under. Alongside her successes, I discovered that awkward moment where you look like you have been training hard, but really you just had food poisoning. Don’t freak out. The season is long, but not as long as the hotel hallway when you are carrying a bin of your own vomit.
5. Beware the Vulture
I told you that I almost won a race once, and I believe in the concept of almost winning. What I might not have clarified well was that I had broken 3 ribs earlier in the day of “almost winning”. I hate the gore of cycling. I continued to race the Aviva Tour for the next 4 days with 3 completely broken ribs and all. Every day, my Director Sportif, Manel Lacambra, would tell me I did not have to start. I should take care of myself. Yet, as a typical bull-headed cyclist, I felt compelled to start, and I do hate those DNS or DNF or DFL acronyms. Actually, at this point, DFL would have been OK. Each day I raced through such excruciating pain, I can’t even describe it. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move, yet I clipped in and raced and attacked and finished each stage.
One day I spent a total of 60 straight kilometers in the caravan. With the broken ribs, I couldn’t accelerate my bike but I could hold steady power. Manel never judged and only asked that I make the best decision for me. He explained that he would always know where I was in the race, and not to worry.
There was a vulture following me overhead, sharpening its nails in preparation for my demise. The vulture had to spend much time in the caravan, and eventually escort me to the hospital on the last day as I was blacking out with the pain. The stars were pretty though. Everyone saw the vulture, but I never did. I consider this a victory. I also learned a valuable lesson. Perhaps even though I had almost won, maybe I should have let my body rest and recover like my team was prodding me to so. Silly stubborn bike racers. Beware the vulture, even if you are a tough princess.
6. No Good, Very Bad Day
We were at the Amgen Tour of California in its inaugural year as a UCI Cycling Women’s World Tour Race. We raced on my home roads in my home state! The amount of pride that was bubbling inside of me was incomparable. I was on the front page of the newspaper, and my family, friends, colleagues, and even the group ride were out on course. It was big time, yet my element. We raced a loop of Levi’s Gran Fondo on Stage 3 and it started and finished in Santa Rosa –Sonoma County! Where I live! We were defending the Best Young Rider opportunities for my daring teammate, Rosella.
Rosella Ratto at just 23 years old is already a World Championship medallist and European Champion. Cycling is in her blood and she is one of the most talented riders I have ever witnessed. Then the no good very bad day began. Descending towards Highway 1, Rosella had a very untimely puncture. The barrage impeded her to have a quick wheel change since the group had exploded over Harrison Grade. Most of our team was brought back to try desperately to bring Rosella to the front group. I have never worked so hard in my career as a professional cyclist. At one point after doing a suicide dig at the front and shattering, I clawed back on to the front, did one more pull and uttered probably the most disturbing grunt that Rosella will not soon forget. “Goooo!” I said. But I don’t think she could understand me. She climbed through 80 people up Coleman Valley only to barely miss the select group at the front.
I had the Broom Wagon behind me. I didn’t know if I could finish the race. Manel drove by and told me good job and only my dehydration prevented the tears. It was strange climbing my roads being cheered on by my friends and feeling an overwhelming mixture of sadness yet satisfaction. We had fought and lost a battle that no one had seen. If I had had more energy I could have explained to everyone that if they knew what I knew, they would be proud too. We did our best and I can’t regret that. It was a no good very bad day. No one knew how strong Rosella was that day but her solo win at Winston-Salem Cycling Classic 6 days later proved it. We finished that stage a little sheepish and hurried to Sacramento to recover before the final stage. I was so tired that instead of getting out of the bed in the team’s RV to see where we were on our transfer, I just used my phone to show me on the map. What was a no good very bad day, was still so beautifully raw and poignant. We earned enough strength bars in Santa Rosa to last a lifetime.
7. Day of Death
I was all smiles before Stage 3 of the Tour of Qatar. Jose, my Cylance Pro Cycling mechanic, with several top 10 sprint finishes in La Veulta to his name (this is before helmets, folks!), snapped a quick photo of me at the start. Jose is a kind Spanish man that cares for each of his riders like they were his daughters. He ensures our bikes are safe, and we are taken care of to the best of his ability. After one of the more unlucky and painful days I have had on the bike, he sent the picture to me later that evening. Grinning ear to ear, it is as if I had no idea what suffering, crashes, heat, wind, was in store for me in that sweeping desert. I asked Jose why I looked so happy before such misery. His response, in his Spanish English was, “The photos are forever. The misery death yesterday. Today is today.” You have a point, Jose. Today is today. I have the photo of the smiles forever, and hope to learn and grow from the misery between the start and finish line I endured. Today is truly today, but I am happy I have the photo.
In this moment, a picture really does say a 1000 words. Pain, grit, disappointment, and fire. Maybe an alligator tear or two. So. Close. To. Victory. But just shy of that finish. My wise Italian teammate @rossellaratto said it the best “sometimes you can’t finish your dream and you get awake a few seconds before”. Thanks to @velofocus for capturing the image. Here is to continuing to dream and plenty of more @uci_cycling #UCIWWT races to go! #avivaWT2016 #velo #likeagirl #ridelikeagirl #womenracebikes #procycling #cyclinglife
8. Italians in America
Rosella and Valentina took over America for the 3 weeks they were here for Amgen Tour of California to Winston-Salem and Philadelphia Cycling Classic. From the Golden Gate Bridge to Gettysburg, these ladies know how to do tourism right. They had to do a quick stop over while the Americans of the team raced US Pro Nationals. I wanted to get them outfits to cheer on course, but just seeing them out there made me proud. Taking a bold move 5k to go, to be caught within the final kilometer was almost a gesture of respect to my super fan teammates rather than anything else. These two Italians inspire me each day with their ability to be the utmost professionals while also not taking life too seriously. Vale took a photo of me after nationals, and it is the most popular yet. It really does capture what cycling is all about. Grit. Mystery. Beauty. Vale always preaches that beauty lives within and is not defined externally, and especially not by results. This is very true. The beauty of bike racing lies within us.