Sunday, August 29, 2010
Report from the Rainbow Jersey
My Race Report
By Meg Fisher
The number of athletes participating in Paracycling is relatively small compared to everyone else involved with USA Cycling and the Union Cycliste Internationale. That said, it is a community of elite, fiercely competitive athletes. This was my first year competing with the United States National Paracycling Team and my first opportunity to make an impression on the road at the World stage. I wanted to ride strong and represent my country (and Missoula) proudly.
After nearly a month away, I am thrilled to return home with two rainbow jerseys from the 2010 UCI Paracycling Road World Championships. This year, the Championships were held in a tiny town called Baie-Comeau on the banks of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The residents of this little French-Canadian town in Quebec came out in force to support over 500 athletes and their staff who travelled from 40 countries. Competition spanned four days; August 19th - 22nd.
Prior to making the journey to Baie-Comeau, the US National Team met in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center for two weeks of prep camp. Days at the Olympic Training Center are not exciting by design. The focus is on training and recovery. If there were a party every night, no one would have the legs to go out and train the next day. Though, the OTC tries to make life mildly entertaining. A great example would be 'Western Night.' Yep, the cafeteria transformed into a saloon and served all things western. We dined on corn bread, mashed potatoes, beans, and apple cobbler - all low calorie, of course! That night there was a game, too. Athletes herded balloons through an obstacle course. Let's just say that athletic specificity does not foster coordination.
The training at prep camp included high intensity with plenty of rest. The goal was to help us explore our limits so we could know how far we could push ourselves on race day. We rode plenty of hills, since the course at Worlds included a long climb at roughly 9%. Colorado Springs has plenty of roads that mimic the race course climb beautifully. We rode every day and did our best to recover each night. We stayed in the dorms designated for teams that are in town for training. We were located on the first floor directly below the junior racquetball team. By the sounds of it, those rowdy kids invented a game involving a racquetballs and jumping from bed to bed. It sounded like a mosh pit minus the loud music. Regardless, it was impossible to sleep below them. More than once, we had to go upstairs and remind the rascals about quite hours.
On August 13th, the team set sail for Baie-Comeau. We travelled with 17 athletes and 9 staff members. The logistics of getting 26 people and all the gear out to remote Baie-Comeau were mind boggling. Baie-Comeau is not an easy place to get to. Missoula's Airport may as well be O'Hare International Airport compared to what we found in Baie-Comeau.
Once in Baie-Comeau, we did our best to relax, get comfortable with the course, and fine tune our bikes for race day. The anxiety amongst the athletes was high. Even at camp we were stressed. The World had high expectations for the American team. Coupled with our own expectations, we were all on edge.
I won't try to explain the disability classification system in this post. It's a confusing mess of abbreviations and functional testing. Functionally, all you need to know is that there are 5 classes or groupings of disability for individuals who ride standard upright bicycles. They are listed C5, C4, C3, C2, and C1. C5 individuals are the 'least disabled' and the C1's are the 'most disabled.' I am a C4. Are you confused yet? If you are, please feel free to ask me, but for now, I'll move on.
The first day of competition included the women's time trial. The C5 women were the first to roll out on the course. Team USA has three C5 women; two of which were competing in the time trial. My classification, C4, followed the C5's after a three minute gap. I was the first C4 athlete to roll out on to the course. Somehow, I missed my start. I was waiting in the starting area, primed and ready to go, yet no one told me to go to the start house! Anyways, I rolled out for my two laps of a 11.4km course like it was a normal TT. I quickly tried to settle in and find an aero position. On the challenging sections of the course, I turned myself inside out. There's the saying that the secret to winning is a simple combination of riding a harder gear than you want, pedalling when you think other people won't, not braking when others might, and enduring more pain than your competition can handle. That sounds easy enough. I did my best to put that formula to use. Though, when coaches shouted out time checks, I was always down on my competition. I couldn't figure out the math in my head, so I just resolved to endure more pain. On the second and final lap of the course, I buried myself in the pain cave. When the coach shouted in the final stretch to sprint, I found another gear and went for it. Like with any time trial, you never know how you placed until everyone finishes the course. Thankfully, I didn't have to wait long. I secured the top podium by a five second margin. Five seconds allowed me the privilege to stand on the top podium and receive a World Champion's rainbow striped jersey, a gold medal, and hear our National Anthem. It was an incredible moment and one I will cherish for years to come.
Not until after the race, when I was thanking the officials, did I discover that I missed my start by 35 seconds!! What! So in effect, I would have beaten my competition by 40 seconds!!! After finding out that bit of news, my confidence was at an all time high.
The women had a rest day between the time trail and the road race. On my day off, I took a short spin around Baie-Comeau to keep my legs moving. Besides that, I laid in bed reading Julia Child's memoir. I daydreamed about butter. When I thought about the road race ahead, I would immediately start sweating. Even though I had a strong TT finish, I was anxious about the road race. The road race would be a unique challenge due to the fact that the C5 and C4 women would be starting together. That also meant that I would have three American teammates in the race to work with. Generally, people who are classified C5 have some sort of arm injury or amputation. C5 women tend to be the one's with moderate leg impairments, like a nerve injury or an amputation. My goal was to stick with the C5 ladies as long as possible, work with my teammates, and cross the line ahead of my C4 competition.
On race day, the plan sort of worked. I stayed with some C5 women, but they were the slow C5's. I had no trouble staying with them and neither did my competition. So for most of the 5 lap race, I had the C4 women marking me. I launched some small attacks on the hills and other challenging sections to see how they would respond, as well as to wear them down. I figured that they would work hard to stay with me and the finish would be determined by a sprint. I felt confident in my fitness, but not confident enough to ride away from the group on a big attack. On the second to last lap of the course, at the start of the long climb, about 7k from the finish, I rode with a group of 5 women. Two C5's and three C4's. I attacked on the climb and shelled three of the girls. At the top of the hill, I was alone with the Canadian. She recognized the need to get space between us the other girls, so we worked together for awhile. But once we heard the bell for the last lap, it was all out war. I tried to employ some sports psychology. I let her begin to think that I had worn myself out on the previous efforts and attacks. I took short pulls and told her that I was feeling tired. On the last climb I let her take the lead up the hill. I huffed and puffed so she could hear me and allowed myself to drop off her wheel. Then, quickly, I grabbed a few gears, got out of the saddle and sprinted by her. It was awesome to see the gap grow. Still, I wasn't confident enough to just ride away. On the other side of the hill, the wind of the St. Lawrence was gusty and I wanted to use her to block the wind. I felt satisfied that if it came to it, I could out sprint her at the line. Quickly, we closed in on the finish line. She was trying to make me do most of the work. I didn't want to empty my legs so I went at a pace I could sustain. Remarkably, the slower C5's caught up to us about 2k from the line. I was happy to see them, because I thought I might be able to use them to lead me out to the finish line. My plan worked perfectly. About 800m from the line the C5's took off. I jumped on one girl's wheel and let her tow me in. As her legs gave out, I flew by her and crossed the line as the first C4 woman. It was a rewarding win. My tactical road racing experience is still developing. It felt amazing to have raced smart and won!
For the second time, I got the privilege to stand on the top step, receive a rainbow jersey, a gold medal, and hear my country's song. It was an incredible experience and well worth all the time in the saddle.
I'm relieved and happy to be home. Twenty-three days is a long time to be away from home. Now, I have the opportunity to thank everyone who helped me get this far. While, I may have been the one crossing the finish line, I would not have gotten there on my own. My employers, coworkers, coaches, teammates, prosthetists, roommates, dogs, and supporting companies have allowed me to live out my dreams. Thank you to all of you.