The opportunity to travel to Europe with USA Cycling is something I never take for granted. To put on the stars and stripes and race bikes in a foreign country always is and always will be an honor. With this being my second U23 World Cup trip, I truly felt like I have been growing into my shoes recently and was ecstatic to head overseas with the rest of Team USA. This time, however, my trip was going to be an even more exciting experience. Two teammates of mine extended the invitation to head over a week early with them for our own little jog through Europe. With this, we had the opportunity to go over a good eight days early to get acquainted with the lifestyle, dabble in a test race in Austria, and even see a few sights. We shared a rental RV from the Frankfurt area and embarked to Austria for the week.
#RVliving presented some tasks along the way (6-speed trickiness, flat tire, water scavenging) but it was an experience that I wouldn’t have wanted to go any other way. “Camping” was wherever we were able to find a quiet enough dirt/farm road, rides were scouted through Trail Forks, and the road ahead was all of our own choosing. Sharing the drive, the groceries, and the laughs was a stellar start to our trip.
Obertraun Race Report
Heading into Austria as the first spot on our map for the tour was a sweet treat. The area surrounding our race was unreal; beautiful snow-topped mountain peaks, a glacier fed lake, and classic euro infrastructure. Our course was a specifically designed mountain bike race “arena”/course. It had plenty of spectator viewing, raw sections of course, and big man-made features. Being there a few days early gave us ample time to look it over and enjoy the area.
Race day brought back all the feels I hadn’t had since the spring races, but it was a little more relaxed than I expected. Our field of 40ish wasn’t huge, but it was stacked. I aimed to hang in the pack throughout the first bit of the race to get a feel as to where my travel legs might be, so I tried to be a bit conservative early on. This course...with wall-scaling steep climbs, punished as the race progressed but I was sitting in a good spot around 13th. However, a few chain-drops later and I was wasting time and energy. I rolled in 16th but came away satisfied with how the form was coming along.
After meeting the team at the airport and transferring to Albstadt, Germany, things were lining up for the week prior to World Cup round #2.
Albstadt Race Report
Preparation seemed to be a little more key this week as rain showers made conditions dicey coming into the race. Line choices and tire checks were made all week, the venue getting busy, and the nervous stoke building−it was race weekend.
As we headed out the door Saturday afternoon, a light sprinkle turned into a slow rain. This meant that conditions were about to be upgraded to an insanely wild state. Well over a hundred rollers buzzed as we took our start boxes and the pressure was building for my third ever European World Cup.
With the time stacking up on me early and unable to really turn it on, I definitely didn’t end up where I had hoped. Albstadt was certainly a shock to the system and was a pretty chaotic but exciting way to start the USAC WC trip, despite a disappointing position. With a little weight off my shoulders and some lessons learned, I was hungry to gather myself and get ready for a bigger and better chance the following weekend at World Cup round #3: Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic.
NMNM Race Report
Czech Republic−a new spot on the map. I was even more eager coming into the third and final stop of my European tour because I knew this place was quite possibly the most iconic world cup venue of them all. The course was full of loam, southeast style rooty sections, and big rock features. A whole week here went by quick while we eagerly waited to ride the course. As the venue began to swarm and the clock ticked down, race day was live and things were about to get heated.
NMNM featured a much wider start loop and course in general, making traffic a bit less of an issue. The just shy of 150 riders made it through the start straight and first few corners unscathed, which is where I have naturally lost spots just from being too timid. In an effort to avoid losing too much time and consumed by the flow of the pack, I put everything I had into the first three or so laps of the race. Thankfully, my efforts paid off and I moved up quickly and consistently. However, there was a bill to be paid for the effort and I did so in the later laps of the race. Salvaging what matches I had left, I found a strong group and pushed with them towards the finish. Chris Blevins, having a less than ideal race, had slipped back to me and we were on the move together in the final stretch. In a bunch sprint I ended up losing a good four or five spots as the legs began to pull the plug. Despite having an unimpressive result on paper, I’m stoked on the mental aspect of my race more than anything. The overwhelming nature of these races has a tendency to want to shut you down when things get hard. NMNM is one of the tightest running races I’ve been in and every... second... counts. Thirty seconds can literally separate two dozen riders. Staying in the fight was the battle itself.
An adventurous Sunday was filled with a big endurance ride through the countryside and the opportunity to watch live, in person, pro races. A few of us joined the thousands of spectators and took to the forest to cheer on one of the most exciting World Cup races yet. A thunderous crowd lit up the woods and it was one heck of an atmosphere to be a part of.
Ample lessons were learned and plenty of memories made on this year’s spring European tour. Traveling across Europe in an RV and racing the fiercest competition on the planet in gorgeous places has a way of humbling me. It is a great thing I get to do, and keeping that in perspective is what continues to drive me.