Le Coupe du Monde a Montreal

We stayed in the dorms at the Universite du Montreal, where the plastic mattress and pillow...

We stayed in the dorms at the Universite du Montreal, where the plastic mattress and pillow combination "make funny noises when you sit on them," as my teammate Mara observed. Our week long user study also concluded that these furnishings contribute to vicious night sweats and are not conducive to itchy patches of poison oak (I had an enormous patch of poison oak on my face, which, as you can imagine, was as fun as a barrel of monkeys).

We rode the course the day before the World Cup, and testing my legs a bit on the climb, I noted my heart rate would not respond, i.e., my heart rate remained low compared to what it would usually be given my effort. For me, this usually indicates that I'm either very tired, or very sick. A quick process of elimination led me to conclude that I was not as fresh as I'd like to be, so I took care to ride as easy as possible and to be vigilant about recovery. I hoped that taking it easy that day would enable my legs to come around by the next day.

The day of the race, we met to discuss our plan. In discussing the possibility of a breakaway, our DS Karen named several good breakaway partners who would be present. Those of us newbies unfamiliar with the European peloton remained slightly confused.

Rachel simplified for us: "If you're chewing on your handlebars to stay in the break, you're probably with good breakaway partners who will make the break stick."

Helen clarified: "Yes, and if you're able to sing while you climb, then you're riding with a bunch of nuff-nuffs."

Nuff-nuffs! We had another brilliant addition to our international slang vocabulary, to be filed along with other hilarious Aussie terms. We resolved to use the term "nuff-nuff" as often as possible in all team race reports thereafter.

Riding into the crowd and general hullabaloo of the World Cup start/finish area gave me goosebumps of excitement. I felt like a kid in a candy store. All the top teams mingled in a sea of bright color, helmets, radios, cheers, announcements, photographers and languages. The finish banner loomed above in grandiose style: UCI Coupe du Monde. I breathed in deep and soaked it all in, grinning from ear to ear. I couldn't wait to race!

After giving myself two laps to find a good rhythm, it became clear that I still had bad legs. Well, that's that. You've still got to do everything you can with what you've got, bad legs or not. I made my way toward the front of the pack and covered attacks. Unfortunately, nearly every attack I covered happened near the 180-degree turn leading into the climb. Ouch. The bumpy roads, high speed, and technical course made me reluctant to remove either hand from the handlebars, so I didn't eat or drink as much as I should have. I started to cramp on lap 4 (of 11), but manage to ride through it for a while.

I ended up in a little break and led up the climb briefly. A little kid shouted to me from the side of the road: "Vous ete la premiere!" It made me smile to hear the cheering en francais, and I thought with a little chuckle to myself: Yes, but not for long! The cramps set in each climb, and near the base of the 8th lap, I found myself falling off the back of the group. I chased down the descent with the hope of catching on again before the climb, if only to be useful a little longer, but the group was gone. At this point, clawing my way back for a top 50 finish and further compromising my legs for the upcoming Tour of Montreal didn't seem like a very good idea, so I pulled over in the feed zone and opted to ride down to the finish to watch the rest of the race. Lauren Franges (Lipton), Laura Kroepsh (Lipton), Iona Wynter (Colavita) and I all rolled down the course together to watch the finish.

As we rolled toward the base of the climb, the crowd began cheering enthusiastically, until we pulled over and stood among them. They looked very confused, so Laura said, "Yeah, we're just going to jump back in when the group comes back around!" We cracked up, but many onlookers still seemed confused.

Shortly thereafter, Mara bombed down the hill in a break with Fabiana Luperini (Menikini), and I began jumping and cheering wildly. Amazing! Their gap to the field was huge, and I could hardly contain myself. We rolled further down the hill to the start/finish, where we lined up on the curb along the finishing straight. Slowly we accumulated a longer and longer line of DNFs, riders from all different teams who had done their jobs earlier in the race. I got on the radio to offer encouragement to Mara as she rode through this section of the course.

Everyone on the curb offered advice and encouragement, rooting for our young American up the road. In the end, Mara heard practically none of our brilliant advice. Thankfully, she is already a wily racer and did her best to drop Luperini on the climb, but her breakmate (clearly NOT a nuff nuff), stayed strong and managed to nip her at the line. Mara came second in her first-ever World Cup! Holy smokes! After Mara's break had been established, Judith Arndt (T-Mobile) put in a huge attack from the main peloton, gapping the field to finish third and complete the podium of the day.

Christine, Rachel and Katheryn finished strong in a field considerably thinned by attrition. Rounding the last 180-degree turn (only 400 meters before the finish), Katheryn slid out in exactly the same fashion as Judith Arndt had done just previously (Arndt had quickly remounted and managed to stave off the charging field to keep third). Katheryn also got up and back onto the bike, at which time Rachel's group was rounding the turn as well. As her group launched a sprint for 40th place (!), Rachel dropped back to Katheryn, and placing a supportive hand on her shoulder, rode alongside her as the two crossed the finish line together in a touching display of solidarity.

As the media swarmed a glowing Mara, she politely excused herself and slipped behind a tent to jump up and down with pure glee. She confessed to us later that she simply could not contain the jubilant cartwheels and jumps of joy, and indeed, as she smiled on the podium, she looked as though she were about to burst with happiness. We felt the same as we cheered, watching her beam with her armful of flowers. Way to go Mara!

Later as we talked about the cartwheels, I remembered a theory a swim coach shared with me years ago. I had been working diligently on a specific aspect of my stroke, and had finally got it just right. As I described how the stroke had just "clicked" for me, my coach said, "Okay, now - quick! - do a couple of flips and jump around!"

"What?" I asked, not sure I'd understood, "Why?"

"You've got to celebrate!" he said. "Every time you get something right, you've got to celebrate! It teaches your body that what you've just done is a good thing and reinforces what you've just learned." So I jumped around and flipped like a dolphin on Zoloft. From that day forward, my stroke had transformed for the better, infused with elated power that it never had before. Mara highly approved of this concept and later performed several more cartwheels down the hall.

I'd also like to highlight what an impressive race Helen rode. She has been diligently coming back onto form after recovering from a life-threatening blood clot in her leg over the winter. Watching her progress has been a constant source of inspiration this season. There was a time not long ago, when her doctors predicted she'd never race at this level again. Well, here she is – kicking butt and taking names! She gives everything to every race, no matter what. I aspire to be the kind of teammate she already is. Congratulations on your comeback Helen. I think it's time for some cartwheels in your honor!

Tour of Montreal

I finished Stage 1 of the Tour of Montreal after chewing my handlebars to stay connected to the main field for the whole race. I had nothing. My legs simply would not respond when I pushed; I was absolutely cooked. I had just finished three stage races in a row: Gila, Joe Martin and Tri Peaks, and had clearly not recovered from that block of racing. I had a choice: keep racing and dig an even deeper hole, or drop out immediately to begin a much-needed period of rest.

My teammates and director didn't leave me much of a choice; with their extensive experience, they knew that digging a deeper hole when my legs were already so cooked might compromise my entire season, so they strongly encouraged me to stop. This was tough for me, because while my legs were burned out physically, I felt anything but burned out mentally. I still felt mentally fresh and excited to race and was sorely disappointed not to be able to contribute more to the team effort.

I didn't start Stage 2, but rode in the team car instead, offering encouragement to my teammates via radio and doing my best to liven up the feed zone by leaning out the car and cheering wildly each time we passed. Most probably thought I was crazy (I won't deny it), but I think a few appreciated the enthusiasm and entertainment. After the tour, I flew back home to California to rest up before Nature Valley.

Thanks for reading,

Amber

Go Green Tip #9

Send your old bicycle parts to Resource Revival (http://www.resourcerevival.com/), a company using old bicycle components to make creative and stylish new gifts and home furnishings. If you don't have old parts to send in right away, check out their selection of eclectic, bike-related art and home accessories. Think of them when you're shopping for birthday gifts and support them in reducing waste from bicycle parts. If you work with a big team, consider setting up periodic shipments of old components (http://www.resourcerevival.com/recycle.htm), so you know your waste isn't just headed straight for a land-fill.

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Images by Amber Rais

Images by Mara Abbott

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