Monday, July 30, 2018

2018 MOUNTAIN BIKE MASTERS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP - Vallnord, Andorra



2018 MOUNTAIN BIKE MASTERS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP

 -  Vallnord, Andorra

Bronze, it's a Bronze! :-)




Race start and finish in beautiful Vallnord, Andorra


Jolanda Neff
Nino Schurter

 
Emily Batty

What a race! What an amazing adventure once again!

My whole season revolved around this one race. Long year, long journey, long distance to travel for such a short but such a powerful and meaningful event.

Cross Country mountain bike racing is hard. It always comes down to the smallest details, to the tiniest decisions made in the heat of the moment. Every second, literally every single one counts and you have to be as smart, composed and prepared as it gets.



I had my doubts within no doubts if I should be flying all the way to Europe to give myself one more opportunity to fight for a good finish on this wonderful course. Doubt had a few valid bases. One of them was that our XCC National Championship event was moved from what supposed to be two weeks after Andorra to the same week as Andorra. It was planned out so badly that my race in Europe was taking place on Tuesday of the same week and my USA race on Friday. And considering the crazy time change and packing and repacking the bike and somehow getting there somehow coherent and on time, it all was a big problem. How to even find connections that will bring me there on time without leaving here (Andorra) too early, just in case my race is postponed. Besides that, my finishing time last year was a solid 6th with me and Meaghan battling hard for the top 5 but also a deep understanding that top 4 was so far off our reach that it was not even encouraging in any way. You really have to be crazy or over optimistic to put yourself in the spot thinking you have any shot at the top 3, none the less the win. The no doubt part was simple, I wanted it. Like a little stubborn child, without any other better explanation or logical reason, this is simply what I wanted. Now I just need to figure out how to get it. And if you think you have a year to prepare and you have all what seems like time in a world, you are so wrong. Time flies by so quick, especially if you want to be everywhere and do everything if you want to do all Florida State series than some South Florida series, then endurance series, some local trail building fund events and the list just keeps on going. It simply went by so quick that It felt weird and little terrifying.



I did my calculations, the most generous, optimistic, “I got this” way of thinking way I could learning from my previous race there. I was some 9 minutes back off the winner last time, Lorena Zocca from Italy, some 6 minutes back to all top 4 women. I was 11 minutes back from the former Olympic medalist Marga Fullana who wins this race overall every single year for 8 years in a row now.  So, I thought of every little single section I did last time, I ran it all in my head how much time (seconds, it is all in seconds) I possibly could have improved by. The seconds started to add up. Whichever way I tried and it was not including any flaws or mistakes that in the best-case scenario I have a shot to be possibly 6 minutes faster. That is actually a lot and encouraging but that would still not put me in the medal position.



On top of that list of racers that I was going to go against this year was not something to not look at with a really good perspective. The last year winner and current world champion is coming back, the top 15 Olympian finisher will be in my class and the top 3 finisher from Vale di Sole two years back. There was more of course but those were already crazy strong and undoubtedly capable contenders.



We gave it a go, and arriving in the beautiful Andorra and seeing those mountains once again was just so fantastic. We watched a lot of racing days prior to my race from XCO to Downhill and met lots of top races in the country and had a blast. But it was time to focus on my own race.

My racing machine Zerouno Ambizione Jade was ready to go and set up in the best components that we felt were suitable for this type of terrain and the race. Just two weeks before I swapped my group set to SRAM Eagle XX1, I just put a new Kapic crank from Rotor, brand new Schwalbe tires that just came out. The lightest and most aggressive Selle SMP saddle that I own. Everything was top notch. We even upgraded my fork to a NDTuned custom fork(First in the World) and that’s why I traveled with an extra wheel to fit the boost fork in front. I had plenty amount of time to practice with the new fork and get used to this setup.



I loved riding here. The course was mostly the same as last year but the start and finish area was slightly moved and therefore somewhat modified. I really liked the change, it added a steep long climb right from the gate which was followed by awesome bermy slalom like descent with some small jumps in it. The end included some fast-single track with steep and sketchy climbs. I felt so much more confident here this year than I was last time. I enjoyed it last time but I loved it this time around truly. The course is so tough, so technical, so steep, so breath taking and so wonderful at the same time.

Race Day:

I was ready, I did my little warm up and went to staging. I was called out to the start line.
While I was standing in the first-row, a rider on the left of me looked down on my bar, which had a little scrabble I put on it the night before. She read it, smiled and said “but be smart”. I smiled back and told her that it was more something that simply makes me smile since it’s our internal joke from work that something to be taken literary. My bar said “Go fast and take chances”, I still smile when I think about it…

Right before the start when we are just nearing a minute away there is this amazing and crazy beautiful and emotional, for me at least, music playing, which suddenly stops and it sounds like a heartbeat right before we start. It is funny now but it is so incredible and powerful to simply just stand there and it is the hardest thing to keep your tears in check. The last thing you want to do is weeping on the start line.



Pom, pom, pom, pom, pom and we are off! Straight to the turn and long gravel laden climb. I was in front with some of the fastest ladies out there on our beautiful planet. I was not going to let go off the gas and kept on fighting. I got to the first slalom descent in a decent position. Soon after the trail turned upwards and we were climbing again. This time around things hurt much more and no one is simply jetting away, it’s simply impossible. Climbing here is real and altitude can be felt. Toward the top everyone’s legs start feeling like noodles but you have to keep going to the tiny descent that leads to the next, but very gradual climb, which just keeps getting steeper and steeper and has more funky roots. This is definitely the spot where you want to make sure you have legs to keep turning those Xpedo pedals, skills and stubborn mind to keep on fighting and making sure you don’t make mistake.



Then comes a rock garden. After we clear that it was the only a stretch that seems quite leveled. Here I noticed I was not that far away from Zocca, last year’s World Championship winner from my group. I wondered if I will be able to keep my eyes on her and hopefully stay close on the next, very long and very technical descent called Rampage. To my surprise Lorena was for most of that part the same distance ahead, well until my bike decided to start flipping me over near some infamous bed of roots which were followed by steep small drops. I managed somehow and very quickly to catch myself from completely losing it and recovered really quickly and despite the steepness, just clipped in and kept on going. I did come out of this section only a little below her. With each pedal stroke on the long and quite brutal Red Zone climb I was getting the gap smaller.



Than we went to a fast, grassy, another slalom like descent, feed zone 1 and one steeper climb ending with a big and steep descend to the forest. This section is pretty awesome, at times technical but mostly very fast, with big berms that turn into the technical La Massana climb. Lots of roots resides here, different lines and it does get steep. Not making a mistake here is a key and I actually felt very confident here and didn’t mind choosing the hard lines.


This is where I caught up to Zocca. After that, we had another even steeper and pretty long and narrow descent, which did flow into a really fast and rooty single-track that I adored. I was sitting on her wheel now, thinking when I will be making my pass. We have two really tough upward turns however coming up and I knew those were going to be tricky and everything needs to be as perfect as possible to make them with no mistake. I knew my lines and options well but didn’t expect or even think that the smallest root in this steep 180-degree turn would still be slippery. My back wheel slid off the root turning my bike completely and halting my climb. Putting a foot down here was the factor of losing those valuable seconds that will be so difficult to get back for the remaining of the race. That also opened an opportunity for the rider behind me to make a pass. Simply every little small second would and will count and the weight of any mistake is huge. My pass was not going to happen now and I lost my 3rd position. Soon after we were going through the famous NASA bridge, feed zone once again and to the finish.


We were all very close and I made my attack on the first climb again making a pass back toward the top, I took the harder line on the descent while the girl in 4th took the easier, somehow miraculously she did come out on the bottom of the next climb in front of me. Here we go again, now I know she is very good in descending and will be keeping that in my mind. I attacked the next grassy climb and passed her back. Climbing through the roots to the Cadellas natural rock garden was getting more and more brutal on the following lap. I knew I had to be here mind strong and even stronger on the descents. Red zone climb was getting now to everyone, and looking up you would see only, sweat, glare, and have no pray to see the end of it. It was kind of no point looking up, just put your head down and keep on grinding. Lap by lap went by and pretty much gaps stayed the same way between all of us. But they were so small that once again every single second was going to count and count big. I knew I have to stay really focused and powerful on all the climbs and could not make any mistakes, like completely any on anything. The smallest mishap could cause not getting on the most important podium so far in my life. The pain in my body when I approached the rooty climb for the 4th time was indescribable, I simply looked to the side for a second and thought how amazing it would be to just faint or sit down and not have to keep on climbing. But instead I had to look inside and tell myself, Beata just one more time, and I gave all the energy I had mentally and physically to push through it and stay clear on all those vicious roots.


















 














Going to Rampage was another concern and I was very comfortable with it, but knowing how technical this descent is you just never can count on everything going smooth, but when it does happen of course it is great. I had to have good speed here however since the girl behind was a good descender, coming out of there before her would be the key. I knew I can handle the climb and remainder of the course well. And it did happen, I was in 3rd and Lorena in 2nd was just 20 seconds ahead. My Pax was somewhere toward the top and said “2nd place is just 20 seconds ahead” I knocked my head as I did know and he said “just letting you know”. And I was completely aware of it and really played a little back and forth battle on the red zone climb with myself thinking if I should try to attack harder and risk not riding clean to the rest of the lap and race and possibly sacrificing my position for greediness. Or to listen to my body and ride hard, ride on the edge of my limits but limits and efforts that I know I can handle. It was tough and I had to decide it really quick. I stayed at my pace, went down to the forest, slalom downhill, tough climbs, technical drop and the fast section one more time that ends with those two really tough turns and climbs. This was probably the most important part at this moment and key point of the race. If I pushed just a little harder a few minutes ago I would be very vulnerable of making mistakes here, that would cost me seconds, which could cost me a podium. Because I decided to race within myself and my limits I cleared the first one and soon after the second one flawlessly. Now I just had a grass stretch to NASA bridge for one more time and fast section to the feed zone and finish. I was standing up, pedaling now like there is no tomorrow, I felt like I had wings, I forgot how much pain I was in and had to endure to get to this moment. One more climb to the Finish and the stage. I crossed the finish line only 25 seconds from Lorena Zocca, last year’s World Champion and 3x Italian champion. I won my first medal on the world stage. That was the most amazing feeling. Lorena, a few days later went to and won another Italian National Champion title when I was flying to WV to compete in my XC Nationals. The following week she won the European Title as well.  Kiara Bisaro won the race and the whole event overall, she was so fast that she beat Marga Fullana, bronze Olympic medalist. What a company to race with…

So, it happened, I was not sure if I should be going and racing here but I did and by doing so I allowed myself to be able to stand on a World Championship podium and win my first ever medal.


Having a bronze in such an event against such strong competition and still have such a close race for second place was more than I could dream of. I ended up not improving as I calculated by 6 minutes but by full 9! I was not any longer 10, 11 minutes back from an Olympic medalist but only 2, woman that won this race overall 8 consecutive times. I was and still am proud of myself and how I handled this race. I could not ask for being stronger, composed, focused and determined that I was on that day.

It was truly the most amazing ending to my biggest, most ambitious, buzziest, biggest season ever. What I had planned after that was also going to be very hard but the pressure was thankfully coming down drastically here. I felt complete.


The award ceremony was fantastic. The time I spent with the ladies that I was racing and sharing the podium with was really amazing too. They are both very incredible women, strong, driven, talented but so kind at the same time. We become friends very quickly and I really cannot wait to see them again and race and ride bikes together.



This event not only brings the best talent out there but also the biggest passion and it really showed.
Winning this medal was not only a culmination and reward of all my work that I did put in for so many countless years. But what more important it was a win for everyone around me. For my husband Pax who is there for me supporting and sharing my dreams, to the point that they blend in and become our dreams. So, making it happen for both of us was really amazing and I am happy I could do it with him. It also applies to all my sponsors and supporters throughout the years, some being there for me from the beginning of everything, when I was just starting the race and we would share together all those moments and journey and ever-growing desire to dream big.

I fell in love with the mountains here, rushing rivers, wildflowers, changing weather…

It was really hard to leave Andorra so soon the next early morning after the race.

We had a nice small dinner with a group of friends in a little town tavern on the river’s edge. People do come here with big dreams and tons of hard work put in and it is a chance to really become friends with really great people.

We took a small walk up to the Nature park and the moment I started climbing, I kept telling myself just a little more and little more. I didn’t want to stop, I didn’t want to turn around. There is something so mysterious, rough, beautiful in those mountains.

Andorra will stay in my heart forever.

And we were able to make a little piece of history here…

Thank you goes to:

ZeroUno Bikes, Spaziale Compositi, Riders Only Bikes, Castelli, Magura, Removu, NDTuned, Limar Helmets, Schwalbe, Rotor Bike Components, Squirt Lube, SelleSMP, Trainer Road, ESI Grips, Clif, Xpedo, Garden of Life, Kuat Racks, Oakley, KMC Chains

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