Mara Abbott: On eating crow and racing in Europe

American begins her season with Wiggle-Honda

Mara Abbott has returned for another blogging season with Cyclingnews, after a successful 2014. Abbott has been a professional racer since 2007 and is a two-time Giro Rosa and American national road race champion. The 29-year-old moved to Wiggle-Honda this winter, joining the likes of double world champion Giorgia Bronzini on the team’s roster. Follow Abbott’s 2015 exploits here on Cyclingnews.

I remember when my dad taught me the phrase “eating crow”. As a kid, I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever heard - “Even the gizzard???” I would always exclaim, proud of my witty use of avian anatomy. For those who have not heard the phrase, one “eats crow” when forced to admit error in a previously asserted viewpoint. For instance: I have spent the last few years confidently proclaiming that I wanted to ride primarily in the United States - that above all, I would never sign on for a full season in Europe. So you could say that this year, as the only American on the Eurocentric Wiggle Honda team, I am eating crow. Fortunately, it has so far turned out to taste pretty good.

In 2008 and 2009 I was based in Europe. I arrived young, straight out of college - a new prospect in the cycling world. My slate was as clean as my white national champion’s jersey - notwithstanding the unsightly, yet unavoidable, food stains on that jersey’s back pockets. (That year I had to swear off eating any bars involving chocolate. There are indeed some perks to not defending a title).

Europe challenged me. In fact, when I try to look back, I remember terrifyingly few details. I do remember having a serious sit-down with the German team management about my habit of carelessly mixing the grey and the black team socks. I remember an Easter spent riding around taking photos of baby farm animals in Holland while the big kids raced Drenthe - I was along as an alternate. And I certainly remember two consecutive years of having crosswinds blow the tears off my face sideways as I blubbered my way through the Omloop van Borsele - my true sprinting prowess revealed as I shot backwards through the caravan.

At the Wiggle team camp this year I had a terrifying revelation. Despite being a new kid on the roster, the unthinkable had happened: I was actually old. Bike racing babies of the eighties are a shrinking demographic. My penchant for drinking decaf coffee, and going to bed before Spanish dinnertime should have been a hint, but was I really the second oldest on the team? Shock.

Yet it shows; I now wearily know that the thrilling pile of new team kit will never hold a pair of arm warmers that stays up. Each season I swore “no, this year will be perfect!” - but the funny thing about bike racing is that just like normal life, nothing is ever perfect.

However, with age comes wisdom. Over the now ten years of my career I have failed spectacularly and I have crashed… spectacularly. I have cried in crosswinds, in airports, and in stone-built Italian villages frozen in time. Halfway through the 2011 Giro I secretly counted down the days with photographer CJ Farquharson, a small percentage of me genuinely scared I was not going to live to see the end. I did. I have no idea what the ‘Bike Gods’ will throw at me this year, but experience has left me no doubt that I can handle it.

I nostalgically long for the Santa Claus thrill that came of getting the first bike with my name on it or discovering that I would get a free massage at races… yet not getting up seven times during every pre-race dinner to walk the hotel halls with nervous energy has got to serve my recovery in the long run. There was a sit-down talk about that too.

I think we all swear to ourselves that we will never actually age, but maybe turning into a stable old lady won’t taste so terrible after all - I might even try the gizzard.

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