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US Women's Cycling Development Program diary
The US Women's Cycling Development program was founded by former pro rider, Michael Engleman, as a way to help promising young women cyclists reach their full potential as athletes. The USWCDP networks current and former women pro riders with up and coming athletes through mentoring and coaching.
With experienced mentors like Olympians Dede Barry and Mari Holden, along with current pros Amber Neben, Tina Pic, Kim Anderson and others, the USWCDP helps young riders like Mara Abbott, Katharine Carroll and many more to race better, find teams and become professional bike racers. The dedicated and well spoken women of this program provide thoughtful, compelling and sometimes hilarious anecdotes of their experiences in this diary.
For further reading about the program, visit the USWCDP website
June 5, 2007
Dreamy daze after stellar World Cup debut
By Mara Abbott
I sit here to write a reflection of my first women's World Cup race, and in the moment, I am having a hard time conceptualizing an appropriate description of the last 24 hours. Us swimmers have a saying - 'first time, best time' - meaning the first time you race a new event, you automatically garner a new personal record…and that, additionally, you should not worry too much about the result of a first time race. I saw the Montreal World Cup as a 'first time, best time' opportunity.
It was my first international event. My first really big race. I had raced against enough of the major players, at least from this side of the pond, to know that I could probably hang with the main pack, but I had never even dreamed of my result at this race. It wasn't even one of those silly pre-race visualizations of a great outcome. I never imagined that I could have the cycling miles to jump on the winning break, and to finish on the podium. Finish on the podium at a World Cup event…Oh. Holy cow!
But then, you know, I have this theory which I have related in previous journal entries on the USWCDP website. I really like theories and now I have more corroboration for this one, and that excites me, because it is obviously a really good one. These breakthrough races which I have every once in awhile, the ones where you step it up and surprise yourself and other people (although in my case it is often more the former, and less the latter), they arrive in tandem with a great happiness in riding and in my existence. This is the theory: 'That when I find pure joy in what I am doing, amazing things will follow'. And being here, at the World Cup, I should have known that it was coming, because I was so, so happy.
Verging on giddy, I have loved being in Montreal for this race. I love cities. I spent the day before the race hanging out on the little strip of downtown, accessible from the dormitory we are in. I got to go to a fruit and flower stand - my own version of paradise. I sat in a coffee shop and worked on a project for one of my professors, and I went out to dinner with my lovely team - we laughed so hard and enjoyed ourselves so much.
Plus, we are staying in dormitories, which I actually think is super fun. Despite the fact that the mattresses are vinyl and make funny noises when you lay down, we all have our own little spaces. We have even rigged an elaborate systems to keep the doors open so that I can yell across the hall to Helen, and make her guess what kind of fruit I am eating by the sound of the slicing knife (which is completely not stolen from the pizza parlor).
Even the elevators here have character and a mind of their own, as I attempted to disembark with Rachel on the 17th floor, but the doors shut and shipped me, despite my best vocal protests, back to the bottom where I picked up a surprised University of Montreal student, quite clearly perturbed to be sharing close quarters with a scrubby cyclist laughing hysterically alone in an elevator.
Even before the start of the race, before the climb, before the critical attack, I should have known I was ready, forewarned by this preceding wave of happiness.
The morning of the race, we rolled down to the start as a team, and Amber Rais and I turned to each other excitedly and commented on just 'soaking up the scene'. For both of us it was a first World Cup experience. It was mutually agreed that the experience of that, regardless of the results, was rather amazing. And that feeling continued, I just wasn't nervous, I spend more time being nervous before the typical NRC race.
Each time we hit the climb, I motored to the front of the group and patrolled around, often shadowing Amber Neben, keeping an eye peeled for my buddy in green, Christine, and just generally enjoying watching the people around me. It was just fun-little things made me laugh, and I wanted to enjoy the last race of no pressure - as I saw it. If all things went well, this was the last time that I would get to play my rapidly expiring anonymity card.
On lap eight, my teammate Kathryn launched an attack which was countered by a mystery rider who I now know is Fabiana Luperini. I closed the gap, followed, and upon reaching the crest of the climb, we had a group of only three with about a 20 second gap. Let us be clear at this point, that I had no idea of the credentials of my breakaway companions.
After the race, some of the reporters asked if it was a strategy to shadow Luperini, but to me it was clear - she was going off the front of the race, and I felt compelled to close the gap. It was actually irrelevant which jersey she was wearing. I knew that a lot of the people left in the main peloton didn't know who I was and I wanted to use that to my advantage.
I absolutely drilled it the next time up the climb, and the chalkboard moto informed me to my utmost delight that we now had 1.30 minute gap on the field. We started to work together, and the gap stayed. Clearly my breakaway companion, to use the words of my Aussie compatriot Helen, was no nuff-nuff. I tried in vain to escape from her several times on the last lap, but she remained unflappable. Nevertheless, I finished second on my first World Cup race ever. Simply mind blowing.
When I crossed the line, I saw Helen and had to do some excited screaming. I have never reacted to a race finish that way, but this just blew my mind. After the Oak Glen stage of Redlands, my first NRC win, I felt serenely happy, but that was my role, I was supposed to do that, to a certain extent, it felt expected. But this, never had I considered it. It was, and is, beyond comprehension.
I have had people tell me that I can do this or that in cycling, and they help me to wrap my mind around the success that I have begun to have. Before the podium I had to do some jumping in circles, and I finished my celebration with cartwheels back at the dormitory.
But now, now that it is reality, it is just too big to think about. When this reality surfaces in my mind I have to close my eyes and shake my head, and make the thought go away, because I just cannot even conceptualize what has happened. But what a path I am on suddenly and what a key to success I have found. Happiness!
I don't have to store up anger, resentment or have to feel like I have anything to prove. To the contrary, the happier I am, the faster I race.
Well, that sounds hard. I'll get on that one.