TOUR OF THE PYRENEES
My first road racing block in Europe started off with a bang. A few days after arriving to the USA Cycling team house in Sittard, the Netherlands (our home base for the trip), we headed out for our first race of the block: the inaugural Tour of the Pyrenees in southern France. The race featured a team time trial and road race on day 1, and a road race on day two and day three. The TTT course consisted of a flat section in the beginning followed by more twisty and technical sections into the finish. We ended up having to ride our road bikes since we didn’t have time trial bikes which ended up working out okay due to the technical sections near the end of the course. We managed to have a smooth race and finish 11th on the stage. Later in the day, I managed to finish in the 6th in the bunch sprint (top 10 overall) in stage 2 which featured lots of smaller, punchy climbs and a small breakaway that stayed away until the end. Stage 3 was a day for the climbers with nearly 8,000 ft of climbing, and I was just happy to hold on for as long as I could to finish in the top 25. The final stage suited me much better with the punchier terrain and I was happy to finish in the top 15. To top everything off, we finished 6th in the team GC! Overall I was so glad with how our team rode and worked together. Also, special shoutout to my teammate Erica Clevenger for getting in strong breakaways throughout the race!
LA PICTO CHARENTAISE ROAD RACE
This race went quite well overall for Team USA and consisted of a 77 mile point-to-point course with a circuit at the end. The race started out a bit chaotic with over 130 starters and narrow roads in the town of Poitiers–a small town in the central France region. There were a couple crashes including a very large once that one of my teammates got caught up in (who was fortunately okay). That crash was big enough to where the race was stopped and we had to wait behind the neutral car for a good 10-15 minutes. Once things were cleared up from the crash, we were allowed to continue racing. My teammate Heidi and I spent a good amount of time in a breakaway in the second half of the race after getting away with several others on a small climb. The break lasted for a little while but sadly we were caught as we neared the final circuits of the race. Once we were caught things settled down except for the climb on each lap of the final circuit. Thankfully I had enough energy left to help position my teammate Skylar at the end and who managed to take 2nd in the final sprint, with myself finishing 7th and Heidi winning the QOM classification! Another highlight was seeing our entire team at the front near the end of the race for a little bit rotating through to keep the pace controlled. Overall it was a great day of racing for the entire team.
WIELERONDE VAN DIRKSLAND CRIT
This was yet another successful weekend of the European racing block. The field was quite small, but the race still went down as the hardest crit I’ve done. The pace started out fast and attacks went quite frequently. I made sure to cover some and found myself in a break with several others when one of the attacks I covered stuck. My teammate Skylar was in the break as well and we worked together with others in the group to make sure we stayed away from the field behind. One of the girls in the break eventually broke away solo and made her way into the lapped field. With the encouragement of Sky, I gave it everything to bridge up to her, hoping that others would come with me, but I ended up bridging solo. Once I made my way to the lapped field, it wasn’t long before the rest of the girls who were in the original break made their way up as well. With several laps to go, the lapped field was pulled and only our breakaway group was left. Near the end of the last lap, a couple Le Col Wahoo girls made their move to get to take the front and I attempted to take the front as well. When I knew I wasn’t going to overtake them before the last corner, I moved out of the way and let Sky hop in behind them. It ended up working out perfectly with Sky using the two Le Col girls as a lead out and edging out one of them for the win, while I managed to hold my pace and edge out the other Le Col rider for third!
The following day we raced the MerXem Classic in Belgium, a kermesse-style race in downtown Merksem that featured many twists, turns and a railroad track crossings. Unfortunately, I had some bad luck getting caught up in an unavoidable crash mid-race. A rider tried moving up on the left side of the field where there simply wasn’t enough space and hit a curb which caused her to crash and take out a few other riders, including myself. Thankfully my injuries were minimal and I was able to catch back up to the field (thanks to our director Mike in our team car who skillfully helped me draft back up) and do some work at the front covering moves and controlling the pace. In the end, I helped position Sky for the finish where she ended up 6th and I finished 17th. Even though the race didn’t go perfectly, I’m proud of how our team rode and it was amazing to see 150 women in the race–the largest field I’ve ever competed in! This race was an absolute blast but I also have to admit that this was probably the sketchiest race I’ve ever done due to the amount of crashes and near-crashes.
KREIZ BREIZH ELITES
A few days later we were back in France for our final one-day race of the block. Sadly, the day after MerXem, I found out that my frame had cracked from the crash, but thankfully one of our mechanics had a friend nearby who specialized in carbon repair and was able to get it fixed for me in less than a day! Needless to say I was quite relieved to still have a bike to ride for Kreiz Breizh. The 88 miles of this race were quite fast and I found it particularly challenging to maintain positioning in the nearly 140-rider field during this race due to the constant undulating terrain and narrow roads. The suffering was real especially near the end of the race on the final circuits when the entire field exploded with attacks going each time up the climb. I managed to hang with the front group until the final climb on the last lap of the circuit and then my legs exploded. After that I just tried to ride as steady as possible and ended up finding myself in a small chase group until the end where we all sprinted. I ended up finishing 4th out of the bunch and 24th overall, 32 seconds down from the winner. Despite the lackluster result, I was proud of how I raced and how the legs responded to the punchiness especially at the end. In the evening after the race we had the opportunity to go see the nearby Mont Saint Michel, a tidal island with a large cathedral at the top. We had a blast working our way through the tiny town and up to the top to see the cathedral, even though we all had very tired legs. It was absolutely beautiful and though we couldn’t go inside the cathedral, we were able to admire the entry and exterior architecture. I’d definitely love to go back at some point to tour the inside of the cathedral and experience the island during the daytime. Plus, I’m sure the views from the top are even more incredible in the daylight.
TOUR DE L’ARDECHE
The final race of the European block was the Tour of Ardeche in southeastern France. The race consisted of seven stages filled with many miles and elevation gain. Stage 1 and 2 had a relatively little amount of climbing compared to most of the other days, and featured flat sprint finishes that I knew would suit me well. However, I knew that in order to be there at the end, it was going to take everything in me to make it over all the climbs. Stage 1 was the hottest day of the week and a bit of a shock to the system with over 4,000 feet of climbing–much more than this flat-lander Florida girl is used to! I somehow managed to be there at the end after supporting our GC riders, covering a few moves and killing myself to make it up and over each longer climb. Our reduced front group started going before we even got to 500 meters to go and I managed to use other team’s lead-out trains to move up. Sadly, I got held up by a couple riders peeling off their trains and lost some momentum going around them, but managed to maintain decent position in the long drag to the finish and cross the line in 6th. Overall it was a good start to the week!
The second stage featured much less climbing (less than 2,000 ft) and much lower temps with some rain. The pace was much more chill than the day before and despite a small break mid-way through the race, everything came down to a field sprint in the end. I had been feeling good all day (much better than the day before), even on the punchy climbs, and knew that if I had good positioning for the finish I’d have a good shot at winning. Unfortunately, I lost momentum in one of the last corners avoiding a near-crash and it was all I could do to hold on for 6th place.
The third stage featured a good amount of climbing and like the previous days, I made sure to do my job in covering moves and supporting our GC riders. Towards the end on the longer climb of the final circuits, I went to cover a move and then my legs just exploded. I subsequently got dropped from the group and then just rode steady, finding myself in a several-rider chase group until the end where I won the bunch sprint for 19th. After finishing I was ecstatic to find out that my teammate Emma finished 3rd!
Stage 4 was a similar distance and elevation gain as the day before, but with longer climbs. I struggled early on to make it over the initial long climbs. There were multiple times where I thought for sure I was going to get dropped from the front group, but I miraculously stayed on. There was a break that went quite early on on a longer climb and there were several more riders (including my teammate Emma) who broke away a little while later on a long descent. I was bummed to have missed that second move since I was a bit too far back to see the move go and respond in time. In the end, after many climbs and technical descents, I was able to win the bunch sprint for 12th out of our reduced chase group with the help of my teammate Heidi who gave a stellar lead-out.
Stage 5 was by far the toughest day yet. Featuring over 7,400 ft of climbing, I knew before we even started that it was going to be an especially challenging day for me. I fell off the front group near the top of the first long climb but surprised myself with how long I was able to hold on before dropping off. After that, I just rode steady in a decent-sized chase group that didn’t want to work to catch back on. Honestly the best part of the day was the many long descents and beautiful views. Once we got near the finish I just continued riding steady and didn’t even go for the sprint–instead deciding to save my legs a bit for the next day.
Stage 6 was less than half the amount of climbing from the day before (thank goodness!). My legs were definitely feeling a bit tired by this point but still had enough punch to cover moves and make it up and over the small punchy climbs. There were plenty of attacks including both non-GC threats and GC contenders but nothing stuck. On the last longer descent, I got caught up in an unavoidable crash when a few girls went down in front of me on a sweeping turn. We were going pretty fast and the crash happened so quickly that I didn’t even have time to fully slam on my breaks or go around them. I ran into the back of one of the girls and fell on my left side, hitting the back of my head in the process. I got up right away and thankfully did have any major injuries from what I could tell. The most noticeable thing was my broken computer adaptor and some whiplash. I felt fine getting back on the bike and riding steady to the finish with a few others, but right after it was recommended by the event doctor that I go to the hospital for further analysis. Both the event doctor and hospital doctor said I seemed fine (despite my cracked helmet) and told me I just needed to take it easy and monitor my symptoms. Later that night, I gradually developed a headache and that’s when I knew I had a mild concussion. At that point we decided it was best that I didn’t start the final stage the next day since I needed to prioritize recovery. I was super bummed to not be able to finish the race especially with only one stage to go, but I knew it was in my best interest to not start. Despite me not finishing, it was such a fun and challenging week of racing. I’m so proud of how our team rode and improved throughout the week, and hats off to Emma for finishing 6th in the GC!
I thoroughly enjoyed my first European road racing experience from start to finish. A day in Paris was also the perfect way to cap off our six week block. I had never been to Paris before so this was a day I had been looking forward to for a while. Scootering around and seeing the city including the Eiffel tower, Arc de Triomphe and the underground catacombs was an absolute blast–I really wish we had more than a day there! I also really enjoyed the group of girls I was with throughout the trip, the amazing staff, and our home base in Sittard. This Europe trip was a long time coming and I’m so thankful to USA Cycling and Cynisca cycling for giving me this opportunity. The racing was the hardest, most dynamic and fun racing I’ve ever done. With that said, I can’t wait to go back and do some more races in Europe next year.