In like a lion, out like a lamb

The final stage of the North Star Grand Prix – the Stillwater Criterium with its famous 18% grade up Chilkoot Hill – wrapped up just a few hours ago, although my day ended even a little before that. After a rocky start to the stage, I did what I could to help the team and was then pulled unceremoniously by the officials. It didn’t really matter; we’d accomplished what we set out to do in keeping Sophie Mackay in the Sprinter’s Jersey. But it’s still never easy to accept personal defeat.

I had high hopes going into this race last Wednesday. My form has been good, it was my final event before a much needed mid-season break, and I was ready to step up and earn some results. There was a frightening episode with my heart right before the time trial start, but I raced anyway and was thrilled to earn a 5th place result. I’ve never done that well in a national-level time trial and it was exciting to actually be in contention to fight for the yellow jersey.

That night’s criterium started off normally. I was wary of the course – the design seemed unsafe in places, the pavement quality was terrible, and the barriers were the kind with raised legs versus the much safer ones typically used in races – but rode steady and did my best to surf wheels and conserve. Then something happened, what I’m still not entirely sure, but I think I hit a hole in the road. Lost control of the bike, swerved, clipped the extended foot of a barrier, and flipped. Landed hard on my head, back, and shoulder with a leg wedged between the tops of two barriers so tightly that another rider had to move a barrier to free me. The medics came and I was taken to the ER, my race surely over.

Then the x-rays came back clear and I heard the stage had been nullified entirely due to another serious crash. It seemed ridiculous to even consider racing – my back, shoulder, and leg hurt so badly I was nearly immobile – but I couldn’t put the idea out of mind. Being allowed to start the next stage was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Probably should have, frankly, but I’m too stubborn and couldn’t back down.

So I did the road race and then the next crit and then the following road race. Each day was harder than the one before. What had felt like great form coming into the race seemed to have evaporated the moment I hit the asphalt. I wanted to go hard and feel better with each new start but that did not happen. I held onto 5th place in GC until I was bumped down to 6th after Friday’s crit. In my head, I was still determined to keep fighting and hopeful that Saturday’s road race would bring fresh possibilities.

It didn’t. I lost a minute on the final lap of the finishing circuit and with it my GC contention. It was stupid to even rue the lost opportunity; I was lucky to be mostly unscathed after a brutal crash and it was a miracle I was even still in the race. But find me a professional athlete that isn’t hard on themselves and I’ll trade you a unicorn. Of course I was disappointed. I spent the long drive back to the house wondering if, in those last moments of the race, I could have pushed just a little harder to stay with the front group. I don’t think so – my body had cashed out entirely – but hindsight obscures pain and clouds judgment.

Frankly, it wouldn’t have mattered. When the race started today, I went up the hill pretty well the first time and then basically died. Pedaling resulted in nothing more than a mild acceleration, laughable at best and certainly not enough to contest the stage. The field rode away. I wanted to quit but there was one job left to be done. Sophie still had the Sprinter’s Jersey and it was crucial that she complete the race. So we worked together, cranking out trips up the hill until we could officially be done.

It was enough to secure the overall jersey, which as both a teammate and team owner feels like a massive victory. We came here to race and left with success. I couldn’t be more proud of what we did this week together – we only had a small squad to begin with and lost Jessi to a terrible crash – but we still rallied and rode outside of ourselves to make something happen.

But personally, I’m still struggling. Is there room for that? Can you be thrilled for your team and teammate and still be disappointed in yourself? Clearly the answer is yes since I am doing it now. It’s stupid because who slams their body at full speed into pavement and then expects to be able to do everything physical just as well as before? If it were anybody else asking me, I’d tell them to be kind to their body, take time to recover, and don’t think anything of the lost opportunities. But it’s not so easy to tell myself that. I wanted more from this race. I wanted that shot at being a GC rider and fighting hard through the stages. I didn’t want to spend the entire race fighting myself instead.

But okay. That is how it went. It happened and it’s done now and I’m glad I was able to keep going at all. Working for the Sprinter’s Jersey was something I could do with what I had left to give and frankly gave me the motivation needed to even kit up each day.

At the beginning of today’s stage, Lauren Hall of Team Tibco was given the Carla Swart Sportsmanship Jersey based on votes from the whole peloton on the rider that sacrifices the most for her team. I couldn’t think of a more deserving rider, because Lauren is constantly working for her team, giving up her own results and doing work to help other riders succeed. There is so much honor in that style of riding and if I could choose anybody from this peloton as a role model, I would choose Lauren.

With that in mind, it’s easier to put aside my own personal disappointment and feel proud of what the team was able to accomplish together. If it weren’t for my team, I don’t know that I would have kept going at all. The least I could do was keep pedaling to thank them for supporting and encouraging me. Helping them bring home a jersey was a good way to burn my last few matches and a place to put my focus when my own plans had to be tabled.

But tabled, not abandoned. I need some time off to recover and heal, but then there are more races and more big dreams to chase. If I can be 5th once, it can be done again.

This chick is a legend.