Skip to main content

Mara Abbott: On eating crow and racing in Europe

Image 1 of 5

Mara Abbott leads Dani King

Mara Abbott leads Dani King
(Image credit: Bart Hazen)
Image 2 of 5

Mara Abbott lets her teammates know of dangers ahead

Mara Abbott lets her teammates know of dangers ahead
(Image credit: Bart Hazen)
Image 3 of 5

Mara Abbott (US National Team) sprays the bubbly after retaining her lead in the Giro Rosa

Mara Abbott (US National Team) sprays the bubbly after retaining her lead in the Giro Rosa
(Image credit: CJ Farquharson/WomensCycling.net)
Image 4 of 5

Mara Abbott (Exergy) kept her position on the road to keep the leader's jersey.

Mara Abbott (Exergy) kept her position on the road to keep the leader's jersey.
(Image credit: Jonathan Devich)
Image 5 of 5

Mara Abbott (USA) in action at the elite women's road race world championship in Florence, Italy

Mara Abbott (USA) in action at the elite women's road race world championship in Florence, Italy
(Image credit: Sirotti)

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.