I was not nervous on the morning of August 8. August 8 would be a day for new experiences. I have been racing and riding mountain bikes since 2003. It was never in my sights to race internationally as a newbie. I was simply excited with the new sport I had discovered (and started racing 1 month after learning to ride on trails). It came natural to me, but all I wanted was to be a pro, and after 2 quick years, I was, and after 6 years of racing, here I was in Germany wearing a USA jersey.
The more experienced international pros probably don’t think twice about some of the new things I got to do. One of my friends asked me, “What was it like to put on the USA jersey? I would have been in tears.” I will give you the honest recount. First I looked at the package. I had requested a small because that’s the jersey size I always wear, but I was not familiar with the brand this time. I took it out of the plastic and held it up. I was expecting the background to be blue, but it was white and I felt a rush through my stomach. Butterflies. Schmetterlinges in german. It was about 11 o’clock at night, but I didn’t want to wait till morning. I tore open the package for the shorts like a little kid finding gifts from Santa Clause. The shorts fit perfectly and they were blue. The jersey – full zip. I put it on and started zipping…’oof, a little tight on the chest. Not a bad thing to be a well-endowed girl, but let’s just say I was glad the jersey was made of stretchy materials.’ Then I looked in the mirror and everything stopped. I just looked. Then I smiled. When I posted on twitter/facebook “sometimes you look in the mirror and see something you never would” I meant it. America is a land of “patriots” so I felt very proud and honored to be one of two women to wear a jersey that was so much more than some material from a factory with ink on it. It meant my country put its faith in me to represent them as a mountain biker and I was going to work my hardest to do that.
I woke up at 6 AM and moseyed down to breakfast. 6 AM in Germany is 10 PM the day before at home, so that was interesting. I look half asleep in this photo:
… but ready to go!
I got into my appropriate start box, which we normally don’t have at USA races. You go in a bull pen with other girls with number plates in your range, and they call you up one by one. We get call ups at USA races, but you just stand back from the line in a group. Since the majority of my races are NOT UCI, I barely have any points meaning back row call up.
The German announcer said my name “Zonya Looney, U – S -A (oo, ssss, ahhh)” and I smiled and lined up on the running track. We stood there for about 10 minutes. Smiling spectators lined the track and I looked back at them with the same reflection. A lady said something to me in German which I did not understand. I smiled and knodded at her. I looked around at the women from different parts of the world and thought, “This is what it feels like to line up at a world championship.” Some seemed to be relaxed and others seemed to be very serious and nervous. I felt relaxed, confident (for some reason), and happy. I am usually a pretty good starter and can jump up in a group pretty quickly (thank you Boulder Short Track) so the back row start wasn’t too stressful, especially given that the race was not on singletrack. I was lined up next to a South African girl and we exchanged a few words in English. With 2 minutes to go, everything got very quiet. 10 seconds to go. Those 10 seconds seemed to take forever. The start was not nearly as fast as I thought it would be.
According to a lot of other racers, this year’s course was very different than in previous years in that it was basically a road race on dirt and mowed fields. I was cursing myself for not preparing properly, but I didn’t know I would be racing here until 3 weeks ago. If I could have planned a few months in advance, I would have been doing road group rides and maybe even a road race or two. I do about one group ride per YEAR and haven’t lined up for a road race in probably 3 years. I even have a flat bar on my road bike these days. I also would have done a few more XC races to get my speed up, but I have been preparing for my A races in the US and have delivered at most of them!
I found myself riding in the lead group of about twenty women. It was really sketchy to be screaming down choppy fields and have everyone braking for the corners. There were several near misses for crashes. Some of the racers were erratically shifting around in the pack making things very dangerous. You could hear other racers mumbling things when this would happen. We got to the first aide station pretty quickly which was about 7 miles into the race. Another mile later, I got sick of the sketchy pack riding and it was slower than I wanted to go. Tactically what I did is very stupid and I knew that, but I thought, “well, my chances of winning this thing are so slim. I think I’ll take a chance for experience. I want to ride in front.” So… I worked my way up the side of the pack and plopped myself in front of the group. To my surprise, no one tried to take this spot from me. I knew I was working the hardest being in front and pulling. Then another though crossed my mind, “Maybe I’ll up the pace a little and see what happens.” So I did. I started to push. We rounded a corner and went uphill, so I pushed up the hill. I didn’t look back. We rounded a corner and descended down another field. The lead moto was waiting. When he saw me, he started up the motorcycle. My bike and I screamed down this paved descent. I glanced over my shoulder and I was off the front…not by much – maybe 20 seconds, but for that mile or two I was in the lead. I knew I was being stupid so at the next corner, I backed off and let myself get swallowed back up by the pack. It was a fun experience to ride off the front, even though it was a stupid move and I knew it wouldn’t last. Why not? I was actually surprised no one came after me. They probably thought, “Look at that stupid american girl. What does she think she is doing?!” haha
Our pack had gotten smaller, and I was hanging on at a hard but comfortable effort. The road kicked up and I was on the left side of the pack. A girl in a blue kit capriciously swerved over. Her butt hit my handlebar hard knocking me off the road into the woods. I managed not to crash, but my feet were off the pedals and I was out of control trying to save it. I came to a complete stop before hitting a tree. I was angry and had to run with my bike to get back on the road. By then, the pack had gone. I was dropped. I didn’t give up. I chased and chased in the wind by myself. I thought for sure I would be able to catch back on, but to no avail. I finished the first lap and came through Aide 3. I was told that I was 7 minutes back. I downed my favorite mid race drink – Starbucks Doubleshot hoping to get some more gas and continue the fight. Then the trouble began. My stomach. Oh my angry stomach. I felt pain. It was churning from my stomach to my guts. My legs gave up on me at that time as well. A train of 6 girls blew by me (my teammate, Krista Park was in that train and encouraged me to jump on) but I couldn’t. My legs turned to lead. I tried to drink a lot of water to wash away the trouble. It was difficult to eat because anything I put in my stomach would make it feel worse. I knew I was losing more and more time. I was thankful that for about 5-10 miles, I got to ride with a girl from Croatia. She spoke english, so we rode together and chatted.
Then, some excitement happened to get my mind off trying not to shit my pants and my powerless legs. (For real… I was worried that I WAS going to have a little accident in my chamois, GROSS) The men’s race came zooming by. They started 45 minutes behind us and I kept listening for their lead moto and finally I heard it. I was excited to see their race and just hoped I wasn’t on one of the rare sections of singletrack when the leaders came by. I looked over my shoulder and saw a group of about 7 guys. Thomas Dietsch was leading the charge and I noticed that one of my new friends, Karl Platt was in that group. I yelled for him. About 1-2 minutes passed and I kept looking for group 2. My teammate, Alban Lakata was in that group wearing the Austria jersey. I yelled loudly after him. GO ALBAN GO! All the men were very polite. After that, I lost my Croatian friend and was alone again for the remainder for the race. I was very disappointed that I had bad luck with my stomach. Despite it hurting more, I kept drinking from my bottles. The last thing I wanted was cramping, dehydration, and a rotten gut. I came into Aide 4. I was embarrassed at how far back I had fallen. I was now about 30-40 minutes back from the leaders. Horrible feeling to go from 7 minutes back to 30+ minutes back in about 20 miles.
I noticed with about 20 kM to go, my legs started to feel light again and my stomach had temporarily let up. “I can pedal!” And that I did. I pushed as hard as I could the last 12 miles to make up whatever time I could salvage. I made up a couple of spots and was gaining. I knew where I was on the course and I knew it was almost over.
I crossed the line in 30th place in 5 hours and 10 minutes (for 68 miles). I finished wishing there was more track so I could catch more people! As I was finished, they were doing the podiums. That is the wonderful thing about European racing is that the podiums seem to be very fast after the finish whereas in USA, it can takes HOURS! The thing that took the cake for me was seeing that ALBAN LAKATA WON THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP by 5 seconds! He was very smart and patient, and attacked with 5 kM to go. Simply amazing. Esther Suss won the women’s race.
It’s not every day you can sit next to a World Champion.
My teammate, Sally Bigham took 8th place even with some cramping. Pretty amazing!!! Krista Park finished in 27th. I know she and I are both disappointed with our finishes in this race, but I guess you have to start somewhere!
I saw tons of people taking photos, but haven’t been able to find any for my blog post. Oh well… if I find more, I will post them.
Here is a German TV video that someone sent to me. It’s about Sabine Spitz but I’m in it. haha Minute 2:38.
Cool too because you can see some of the race!
…and much rejoicing at the victory party (after spending ample time in the bathroom after the race with lingering stomach treachery) haha
Next year, the race is in Italy. I hope I am able to get selected again because I think the course will better suit my riding (aka more singletrack and technical riding) I am also rethinking Starbucks Doubleshot in races. It has been so good to me, but this time was a very bad choice. I wonder why this time?
Monday, I went back to Koblenz and have been enjoying some relaxation before going back home tomorrow (Thursday). I have some cool things to share from the last couple of days too!
My next blog post will be on my new site that is still under a bit of construction. You’ll see!