So, after sending out my last round of 400 race reports (maybe an exaggeration) I’ve decided to enter the narcissistic world of blogging. Hopefully my mom isn’t the only person who finds this useful, though that might very well be how things turn out. (love you, mom)
I just got back from a three week break-from-reality based in Kirchzarten, Germany, where USA cycling held three camps this summer aimed at giving u23 riders some “international experience” or, as I like to call it, “Euro-spanking”. The idea being that if we know early on what to expect from the freakishly fast europeans, we’ll know how to tailor our training and racing so that someday we’ll be the spankers, rather than the spankees. I was actually surprised to be invited, partly because I don’t think my results have been all that impressive, and partly because my application included a long ranting letter about the exclusion of girls from the camp announcement, which makes it sound like the only way you can qualify is if you’ve won or placed at a mens race. Yet despite results, the misleading announcement and my consequent rant, I was lucky enough to find myself in Germany on June 17th, pedalling my bike through the misty black forest.
The following three weeks of racing and training were some of the most intense I’ve ever experienced. The races were short, gnarly and fast, and the girls were gnarlier, faster, AND they had better clothes. As expected, I did get fairly spanked the first race, placing 29th in a field of 44, 13th in the U23s, and fifteen minutes behind the leader. What i didn’t expect was that in the next two races, the time gap between me and the leaders started to get smaller. Maybe it was the fitness I was gaining, or the experience, or a combination of the two, but by the end of the camp I had halved the gap. It was cool to see such quick progress, especially in a context that had been so intimidating for me.
Dull timing and rankings aside, I’ve never been so challenged by such a variety of conditions in a race setting. Having raced mostly in Colorado and the Rockies all my life, I’ve come to expect the ski hill format- lots of up followed by lots of down. What technical riding I’ve done usually consists of rocks or sand, and I’ve developed a liking for flowy, rolling trails. (who hasn’t?) What I encountered in Europe was a whole different species of racecourse; the name of the game over there is short, steep, and slick. For example in Winterthur the major climb was on an 18% paved road through a nieghborhood, and the singletrack twisted through the muddy woods of a city park. Engelberg featured a descent down an comically steep grassy hill, and one particular root section in the woods that crashed me five laps out of eight. The final race in Frieburg included a section of the famous Rosskopf downhill- which we climbed up. Everything was off-camber, shock-busting, tire burping, seat-of-your-chamoise-fun, but if your legs weren’t feeling good there was no where to hide. None of the laps were more than 5k long, which meant we did lots of them, really fast. Plus there were tons of spectators lining the whole course, which meant that any time you crashed, the odds of having a little German child point and laugh at you were pretty good. The majority of the people were super positive though, and hearing them cheering in a variety of languages was awesome (why does “allez” sound so much cooler than “go”?) I’m not sure whether the short courses draw spectators because it’s easier to watch (kind of like a ‘cross race) or if Europeans are just way more fanatic about cycling, but it was nice to see such an outpouring of enthusiasm. Their energy gave me energy.
In between the flurry of race days, life was almost oppressively simple. I was perpetually either recovering from a ride or preparing for the next one, and my entire day became centered around fueling, rehydrating, and resting. The time on my bike started to seem like the only time I could really relax, and it got extremely difficult not to overtrain. Eventually it was the off days that proved to be the biggest challenge- with no riding to break up the hours I was faced with a huge expanse of time and nothing to fill it except weird German television, a bookstore of German books, and a town full of Germans who just looked at me with pity whenever I sheepishly asked “sprechen sie english?”. I never realized how isolating it would be to have so few people around me speak my language. While we did do our share of sightseeing- to Frieburg, the French town of Colmar, and to the Van Goh Exhibit in Basel- at the back of my mind there was always the creeping guilt that I was toasting my legs for my next ride.
To add to the challenge, the riding around Kirchzarten was incredibly good. Linked by an extensive system of trails, bike paths, and fire road, Kirchzarten and the surrounding area provide an endless maze of glorious mountain bike fodder. It seemed like there was a perfect trail for any kind of ride or interval I needed, and enough scenery and disneyland architecture to keep the pain at the back of my mind. The forests alone were full of interesting things; on a given ride in the middle of nowhere you might see a wind turbine, a zipline, a wooden elephant, or a herd of goats. On one ride up the Feldburg we saw what looked like the entire French Army, out marching around with their machine guns. Some smiled and said “bonjour!” as we rode by. The signs all seemed cheerfully obscure, and no matter how lost I thought I’d gotten myself, I always seemed to pop out in some picturesque little town. By the second week I’d already gone over my planned ride-time by about seven hours, so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just the sightseeing that had my legs feeling noodley by the end of the trip.
The ride home went smoothly, despite a moment when woke up in the van to Jimmy driving like a maniac through the rainstorm of the century. I was trying to figure out how to cleverly frame a comment about hydroplaning, but dozed off again instead. Chicago lost my bag as usual, so I couldn’t give anyone their cool chocolate goodies till today.
Now I’m dealing with my jetlag, my fun new letter from peak property management, and a list of emails to write. I think I’ll go enjoy another bowl of peanut butter Puffins… THE BEST CEREAL EVER!