It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. The third world cup of the season and the last Olympic qualifying opportunity really was all over the spectrum. I was feeling really good and confident leading up to the race the week before. Since I already had a world cup effort in my legs from Albstadt the weekend before, I tend to do better. I build on effort to effort. I was sitting in a great position in terms of Olympic qualification. To qualify automatically for Rio, I would either need to win the La Bresse world cup, place in the top three at the La Bresse world cup, or, at the end of La Bresse (the first three world cups of the season) be ranked in the top ten of the world cup overall. After I really dug deep in the Albstadt world cup the previous weekend, I moved up from a very less than ideal start position in twenty-sixth position to eighth place. This effort improved my world cup standing incredibly after my trouble with flat tires in the opening round in Australia, and I was now sitting in eleventh position in the world cup overall. I was merely six points away from a top ten ranking, and I really believed I had a great chance of satisfying at least one of the automatic Olympic qualification requirements.
The course is La Bresse is naturally technical and steep. The French built a world cup course on the side of a steep hillside and it’s littered with steep rocky chutes, roots, rock drops, and steep climbs. This was the site of the last Olympic qualification race in 2012, and it was shaping up to be an equally epic showdown for the two woman Olympic team. I was determined, confident, and riding some great laps on the course. Thunderstorms rolled in the night before making the course really slippery, but I was still confident with my tire choice and bike set up. I had a phenomenal start. It’s about a five minute grueling start on open pavement and then narrowing down into a single track climb. I felt totally in control and was sitting in the top five when I decided to lead it out and take the pace up a notch. It was awesome. I was leading a world cup. Jolanda Neff, 2015 World Cup winner, snuck in front of me right before the slick descent and descended like a mad woman to put in about twenty second lead by the bottom of the course. I came around with Emily Batty and my good friend, Katerina Nash, and we started working our way up the second lap climb. I got gapped a little bit, and the next laps, I was slowly floating out of the top five.
On the lap four climb, the caffeine started to kick in, and I finally started to make up ground on the top five. It was looking really good. I attacked and dropped the girls I was with. Then, there’s a small descent in the middle of the climb where one can recover a bit. There’s a rock face rollover with a tree root across it. I must have come too inside and my front wheel slipped on the root, and it took me out faster than I could even think. My left side and elbow took all the impact, and I pile drove into a rock face on the bottom. Then, Alessandra, a Swiss girl that I had just dropped, rode over the blind rock unable to see that I had crashed. She rode right into my bike and crashed on top of me. We untangled our bikes, and I looked down to see a very deep gash in my elbow. I was in a lot of pain and just making noises at that point. I tried to straighten out my handlebar and I rode one armed up the rest of the climb. I had one and a half laps to go. The last thing I wanted to do was navigate the technical descent two more times with a gushing elbow, bent handlebars, and a wobbly front wheel. This was not ideal. But I did it because when it's an Olympic year, you do anything. And when you pour your heart and soul into training all year long for a number of race opportunities that you can count on two hands, you gut it out. I stopped at the tech zone and got my handlebars straighten out. I gingerly rode another lap taking my shaken self down the b lines and playing it as safe as I could. I crashed at the bottom of the last descent again but it was into soft mud. It was okay. I crossed the finish line in a lot of pain, covered in mud, and bursting with emotion. It’s scary to see a hole in your arm that big. I couldn’t even look at it. The medics cleaned me up, and I went to the hospital. The day ended with six stitches in my elbow and lots of scrapes and bruises, but luckily everything is still intact. I feel very grateful for that especially when I still have some big races to come. I was still first American on the day so my second Olympic berth is looking very, very good but nothing is official yet. USA Cycling names the team on June 24th.
I’m on a flight home focusing on the positives. These stitches couldn’t have come at a better time since I already had a little rest period planned. I’ll convalesce and the focus is on the World Championships at the beginning of July on one of my favorite courses ever, Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic.
Sometimes it hurts to literally have skin in the game. The struggles and the lows make the highs so much higher. These races make me appreciate how smoothly previous seasons have gone. Time to smooth it out.