Here it was, a trip I'd been hoping and praying for since the planning and excitement of the 2015 season. Excited to accept, I was granted the opportunity to join 5 other juniors (Kelsey Urban, Haley Batten, Ksenia Lepikhina, Cassie Ross, and Christopher Blevins―aka. the fastest group of youngins in the U.S.) on a 2 week adventure in Austria and Germany. Yes, I was beyond stoked to hop on a plane and head across the big pond for some rough racing, cultural food, and beautiful views.
Upon arriving, it finally hit me I was plunged into my excursion as I heard nothing but German being spoke around me. I quickly found a currency exchange, grabbed a chai latte, and met my American friends and we were on our way. As we drove deeper and deeper into Austria, it came to me that "oh, we are literally in the alps". Sure enough, we popped out in-between a range of snow crested alps; we then grabbed the keys to our "hobbit-like" cabins.
The scene that we had been blessed with was surreal and I couldn't believe that the Lord, USA Cycling, and my bike had brought me there. Not only did we get to ride in the alps, but we also got to tackle our daily income of homework in the alps. Taking a deep breath every now and then and looking up, it came to me that keeping dedicated on the homework all us kiddos had was worth it for views like this. We were about 5km from the course, so we spent a few days riding it and getting tuned to battle it out in our first European race of the year! Combined with both anxiousness and excitement, I felt ready to go on the punchy, technical, Austrian course with over a hundred others.
"Beyond excited to race in Europe, I woke up race morning with a better attitude approaching the race than any race this year. But, at the same time, how can you not be when you look around and all you see are the snow-crested tops of alps? There is a little pressure when you realize the jersey you are wearing, but there's also a little less pressure because of the competition you know will be present. Chris and I got dressed after breakfast and rolled down to the course to make some final preparation
After warm up, we got organized into our call-up boxes. Although, after a couple of delays, we were told their were a couple of cars blocking the bridge we were supposed to go under and the delay ended up being over an hour. Everyone rolled around while the nerves got a chance to drop and as the sun warmed things up a bit. Finally we were ready to roll, Chris a first call up and I a third.
The start was long but we eventually made it to the woods. Other than the first chaotic downhill that was filled with flying bikes, people yelling, and kids running who were made to ride, the race somewhat settled in a bit. I slowly found a place I could hold and the gaps began to find their way into the field. I focused on racing the pace I needed and without settling too much. I was riding super smooth, felt comfortable on the technical course, and was happy with how my legs felt. The crazy punchy and physically demanding course didn't allow much rest, but I took what I could. I battled with an Italian kid (who I believe was named Antonio) and eventually passed him on the final shear climb to the descent/finish to secure 25th.
I'm more than satisfied with this result because I played a smart race and battled the best I could. Everything felt fluid and the race went gracefully smooth, even while suffering. My first euro race back here in Austria served as a great tool for races to come! I'm excited for a week of riding and exploring and for next weekend's race in Heubach, Germany."
After a killer race and stay in Oetz, Austria, we spent a last rainy day riding and taking in the sights before wandering up to Heubach, Germany for a week there. Surrounded by farmland and windmills, our gloomy-weathered stay in Germany didn't quite compare to that of Austria, but it was of no disappointment.
At our new housing, we stayed with the cheery team of Great Britain and enjoyed the foreign company. We found ourselves, again, squeezing in homework time here and there after our rides and before dinner. The course was about 6km away and we were able to enjoy a small bike path with some dirt roads on the way. It was a simple course, up for about 12 minutes and down for a few; repeat. Although, the three days of rain we received made it a bit tricky...
"After moving out of the Alps, we headed North to Germany for a Junior World Series race in Heubach. As we made final preparations for the race a few days beforehand, we expected a wet race…but, it actually started raining Friday and didn't stop until Monday morning when we left for our flight back to the states. So, yes, a wet race was imminent. I wasn't really concerned about this though, I was actually excited to get to apply some skills in the mud. Again, another precious week flew by and I was waking up to a sharp alarm at 6:50.
Chris and I made our way into our multiple layers and began our departure for the course a nice 5 or 6km away. As an ominous sky and rain haunted our warm up, it was go time again. Chris with a second call up and I somewhere around 7th, we made it to the front of a pack of 160 racers―the largest race I've ever entered. The call up was graceful, but the start was not. An expected full-on sprint leapt away at the gun and we began our start loop up to the top of the mountain. I got my first taste of a couple of riders using my hip as a handle to get around me. I slowly dropped back into a settlement as riders passed me up the 9 or so minute road climb, but I knew this would be the case and I still relied on the pacing I knew I needed at this moment. We bottlenecked as we started the descent and so we jogged/slid down the majority of it. The mud could blanket you during the race, so it was give the rider a gap or pass them asap.
We climbed back up the doubletrack trail; this 10 or so minute climb back up was where the race was made every lap. If you hammered it, you might blow up on the top portion, but if you paced too much you might get lost in traffic on the descent. So I picked people off here and there every lap and mustered a sustained push to the singletrack descent on the last lap to gain an open trail. The open descent was relieving as I gained on other racers and secured my position to the finish.
The race went overall very, very smooth with no physical, mechanical, or mental problems. The body felt responsive and the bike (S-Works Epic) flawless amidst the chaos. This was definitely a race I'm grateful for because of the experience I gained. Also, both this race and the one in Haiming served as very useful learning tools. I know that I wasn't the fiercest competitor on the starting sprint or sustained power sections, but to be where I am in competition in right now excites me for the progress I can make! The USA Squad came to compete, and that we did. So thankful for the support we received and the experience we gained."
This trip will forever reside in my heart in the front of the line of adventures to remember. Everyone bonded well, ate big, laughed hard, and gave the euros a run for their money. The experience wouldn't have been made nor the opportunity had without Marc Gullicson and Jason Jablonksi of USAC and our French-Canadian mechanic Julien Petit. After the travel and fun, it has been good to get back and relax in my small-town community before racing commences again in late June. Just another experience I've been blessed to have while riding those two wheels.