The chase for an Olympic berth is on, well, it's actually complete. This Olympic qualification journey started with the first World Cup in South Africa, then moved to the second World Cup in Belgium, and then back over to Europe for the last two World Cup qualification opportunities in Czech Republic and France.
It's been a very exciting spring racing campaign. I've ridden with monkeys in South Africa, eaten Belgium waffles in Houffalize, toured the Czech countryside, and ridden through a hailstorm in France. That's just scratching the surface of the last four World Cups. It's been fun.
Here's a very quick round up of how the racing has turned out. The United States has two spots to fill for the Olympic Games and, as predicted, it's been a close competition for those coveted spots. At the beginning of this year, the US created an Olympic long team of nine women. From those nine, two US women will go to the Games.
In South Africa at the World Cup, I felt amazing and had a great race. I raced myself from the back of the pack (due to a chaotic start) up to 14th place. I was the first American. It was definitely a solid start to the season and I was completely thrilled with the result. It affirmed that I was prepared for the early racing and ready to go. For the second World Cup in Belgium, I was flat. I had a great start, but I just didn't have the extra zip needed to close gaps and move up. Instead, I had a solid race and placed 19th as the second American. This result wasn't what I hoped for, but I was still happy nonetheless. I left Belgium ranked 18th and the first American in the World Cup rankings.
The month of May brought the third World Cup in Nova Mesto Na Morave, Czech Republic. I was so excited for this race and feeling fantastic after a great training block at home. I came into this last trip with great fitness. The Czech Republic course is one of the most fun tracks on the circuit. It winds through the open pine forest, over roots and rocks, and up punchy technical climbs. Last year, this was my break out World Cup where I finished a career best seventh place. I was pumped. But, everything doesn't always go as planned. About one hundred feet into the pavement start, a racer weaved in front of me and I was forced to the left to avoid crashing with her. I was pinched in the tight pack of 70 girls and I locked handlebars with the girl next to me and went down hard on the asphalt. I was on the bottom of the pile. I jumped up and had a lot of road rash on my right side and a charlie horse in my left leg. I stopped in the tech zone to change a rear flat tire and then started my race at the absolute back.
I was so far back that they were letting spectators cross the start loop by the time I got there. I couldn't even see anyone in the race. I forged on and resolved to just do my best under the circumstances and pass as many girls as possible. I clawed my way up to 37th place, which I was really proud of giving that I was still bleeding and dazed. I was the fourth American on the day, and I was still the second ranked American in the standings after that race. I'm definitely bummed about the bit of bad luck, but at least I was still moving and healthy. I only had bruises and a lot of road rash to show for it. I was grateful I could race the following weekend in La Bresse, France. Without the valleys, the peaks wouldn't seem as high.
The La Bresse World Cup was an absolute pressure cooker. I was probably under the most pressure I have been in my entire athletic career. In an ideal world, I would have gotten a great result at the Czech Republic World Cup, and it would have taken the qualifying pressure off of La Bresse. Alas, being taken out at the start was not exactly part of the qualification plan. The goal was to have a smooth, solid race in La Bresse and that was a fairly tall order considering the course. The course had a lot of climbing which suits me, and the descents were steep, slippery and rocky. It was one of the most technical courses to date, and, luckily, the exact conditions I grew up riding in. We climbed up the side of a valley and the descent was a succession of steep chutes and knee-high drops one after another. It was demanding. To put it in perspective, in both races, the race leader crashed on the last lap descent about two kilometers from the finish line. I have never seen the men's leader, Julien Absalon, crash. It was technical.
I had a great start sitting well in the top 15. I was so glad to make it past the pavement and onto the dirt unscathed. I sat in the top 15 for the majority of the race floating back a bit as the laps ticked away. It was a bit conservative but that's exactly what I needed to do. Finish and finish well. I had one crash in which I went headfirst into a crowd of spectators. The French picked up my bike and me from the awkward position and got me going again. I ended up in 16th, and I finished with a relieved smile on my face.
Now, it's a waiting game to find out if I made the Olympic team. They name the team on June 15th. I'm trying not to think about it too much. I did the best I could under the circumstances, and hopefully it will be enough.
As for now, I am absolutely decompressing in Vermont with some time at home. Jojo threw me an amazing surprise birthday party in La Bresse, France, complete with all of my friends on the circuit and a decadent French chocolate birthday cake. It was amazing. Then, I came home and my sister, Sabe, threw me another surprise birthday party with my Vermont friends. There was croquet, a delicious taco dinner, and a homemade German chocolate cake (my favorite...my sister has baking skills). The kickoff to my 29th year has been one of the best yet.
Let the decompression, training, and Vermont adventures continue. Next, it's onto the hometown World Cups (Mount Saint Anne, Quebec and Windham, New York) and then onto US Nationals in Sun Valley, Idaho. It's going to be a great month.