I could call it the need for change but more likely it was the thrill of racing in Europe that drew me back. My usual season of taking the van across the country to pick up as many weekends of racing as I could was further discouraged by the schedule with its ever decreasing lack of cohesiveness for anyone hauling themselves and equipment along the ground.
I completely understand hardships that the race promoters face and all the factors involved when setting up the event dates, but recalling a time when a few hours in the van could get you from one race weekend to the next in a reasonable duration, with some logic to the path that got you closer to each concurrent weekend rather than the opposite direction.
Not only was the racing fun then, but carving a singular track across the expanse of the country was a journey in itself and a highlight of the season. Constant crisscrossing and backtracking of the states to chase down the now mottled line up is less exciting, and also frustrating with its redundancy of behind the wheel time and wasted resources. Couple that with many dates on the calendar going missing for various reasons and planning the domestic season becomes exhausting to even think about.
The thrill for me of the ordeal that is the US racing scene faded and while the hardships of basing my season completely in a foreign country are next level, at least they are interesting to work through and dissect later while require less overall in-season travel.
I cherry picked a few fall US events; home races, away favorites, and a promising new location. I’ve always loved the course at Trek, my hosts even more so and they insisted that I make the trip despite only one opportunity for a UCI start. Fayetteville was a new event, some of my favorite people from Colorado had moved to that area and the hope of a robust course while visiting with close friends was an easy sell. Boulder is basically a home course, I can’t allow myself to miss any UCI starts at elevation since I tend to race better in my own air, and the thrill of having local friends and a familiar track makes that race a given.
I was underwhelmed at the small local races, my fitness wasn’t there, my high end but a dream. The dust was depressing and smallness a shock. The away events weren’t much better, combining my dissatisfaction over my fitness with a thorough reminder that American cross values the non-technical power heavy courses and that I had given way too much credit to a state that never hosted an international cyclocross event before having a concept of what cyclocross actually is.
Still there are positives: I experienced the hype that is the budding Arkansas mountain biking scene, complete with the Waltons “dropping in” to check out cyclocross in their bike rack equipped personal helicopter. I made new friends, visited with old, got to test the 4 low function and ridiculous knobby tires of the FJ cruiser I was borrowing, experienced epic levels of rainfall, might have moved a bunch of course poles around to “help” Arkansas with their track setup, did recovery rides on an e-bike, learned that group rides in the early morning hours before sunrise after a record rainfall might indeed kill you, discovered the mosquito population is not insane every single year in Wisconsin, and that I am still competent at predicting Colorado weather and dirt conditions to a T.
So I packed up and left. The opportunity to have a slot in the first European world cup in Bern Switzerland was enough for me to fly in a few days earlier than planned. I have started to marvel for the last few years over why I bother to own a winter wardrobe when I can only take a few select pieces of clothing with me for the duration of the colder months.
Not really one for sleeping on the airplane, I arrived in Geneva exhausted but thrilled and threw a bike together for a quick exploration of the local area. Mind you I had to repack it after the ride for space in the rental car, but it was worth ever bolt tightened. We stayed in France that first night (think cheaper than Switzerland) before heading a few hours to Berne to check out the course.
Mostly thin grass was definitely going to turn into mud with the addition of rain and a few thousand tire treads and mud up it did. By race time the course had settled into fast sections peppered with deep thick bogs and mandatory running on the majority of the elevation changes. A few interesting urban additions (curbs) broke up the otherwise straightforward course. Still by American standards it was technical, the off-cambers were tricky and the decisions for the fastest line still needed to be made on the fly.
By law Switzerland can’t charge entry into public venues, so shouldering the cost of hosting a World Cup may have been a one-off event. I didn’t race well, there’s always a transition for me to remember the soft hands and averted gaze that is required to ride the different qualities of mud that is found in Europe. I was surrounded by the U23’s and Juniors who are fearless in comparison to my trains of thought. I was making gains on the clean sections only to quiver in fear at the depth and proximity of the lines to the metal fencing in the mud bogs, spending much time allowing the other riders to dictate my speed rather than risk causing them to pile up behind me in the rougher going.
Regardless I’m thrilled for the opportunity to put myself out there, even if I’m the only rider in the field heading to the start line with two bikes, having no clue how my second bike was going to find its way to the pit. The culture of cross is so embedded in the lifestyle here, with the opportunity to help a rider being looked at as a privilege, being that one-off racer with no help has its own perks. I’m memorable, meet people, make friends, score more TV time for bike maintenance than riding, and eventually find a method to the madness.
It’s a transition for sure: not speaking the language, having the conveniences of home tools, familiar and race accommodating vehicles (camper), showing up late to a party that has all the complex ins and out already dialed such as parking, locations for the pit and meetings, bathrooms. Perhaps if I were in contention to beat more than a few unsuspecting junior girls these transitions would pose any number of frustrations, but as is I’m not and it’s not. I love the experience, I love the challenge. I love making new friends and leaving my mark, however insignificant it is in the big picture that is this sport.