European Racing Vacation, stopping to smell the roses.

9 Nov

Team photo in front of Porshe Museum, Stuttgart Germany.

It’s been a while since i’ve crossed the pond, ten years in fact.  Paris was my last stop over there and a bike certainly wasn’t involved.

It all began with the dream and goal of making the Worlds Team for 2012.  One European trip to qualify and make it happen.  Yes my family would suffer a bit but i knew they would understand and one day my kids would realize why i had done it.

The night before leaving for my flight i have to say i was a little conflicted and wondered if i was doing the right thing.  My husband asked me  “are you excited ?” and i replied, “i’m not sure”.  The next morning both my Thule bags packed and a double bike bag stuffed to the gills, weighed in at 47.7 lbs, thank God my bikes are light.  Now, i’m excited.  Two weeks to myself, no one to feed, no extra laundry, no poopie diapers, no hairs to cut, and no one to answer to but myself.

As a side note, i do have to say that racing at this level and traveling every weekend is a hell of a lot harder than i thought it would be with a family.

I flew into Frankfurt to have my summer riding buddy and hottie bike phenom Julie Krasniak, pick me up and drive me to her home in Metz, France.  We would spend only a short time there and would move on to Plzen, Czech for the first World Cup.

Downtown Metz, France

My first and only full day in Metz was dreamy.  I woke to coffee, Nutella and GF bread (Julies’ mom had set me up), we then made our way to downtown Metz, strolled the streets, shopped, ate crepes, toured the cathedral and returned home for a ride with Julies’ Dad.  The ride was beautiful and we meandered through the country side for two and half hours and were entertained by Isbig, Julies’ charasmatic and jovial father. (Julie is now rolling her eyes)  Then home to a French family dinner cooked by Julies Mama.  Ok, this is going to be GREAT!

Julie, oh so French.

Metz Cathedral

WORLD CUP #1 Plzen, Czech

I’ve arrived and found my team, not hard as i see we have the coolest Mercedes rig in the pits.  I walk in to find a door that says riders only, open it to discover towels and other comforts laid out for us, a tv screen playing music videos for us to enjoy in our down time, and heat!  Seriously?  That’s it i’ve hit the big time!  I know, i’m supposed to act cool and pretend that this just the way pros roll but you know what i’m going to get excited, take pictures, and giggle at how fun it all really is.

seriously? videos?

CFR rig

I have to say for my first cyclocross World Cup experience i don’t feel nervous.  There are no expectations over here and the venue has a calmer feel.  The course is great, lots of corners, a decent downhill and no straight away that i can’t handle. I am starting mid pack, something i’m not quite used to this year.  The green light blinks and we’re off.  These girls start hard and strong, all of them.  I fight for decent position and find myself around 20th.  Patience i tell myself and move up “slowly”, i’m now in a pack riding 8th, wow this isn’t so bad.  I make a few rookie mistakes on the course bobble and loose some spots but i am solidly in 11th approaching the last lap.  Last downhill, i take the line i’ve been taking every lap only to find the banner has come loose on the inside of the corner just to clip my handlebar and throw me twirling through the air to the ground.  I scramble to get up and realize my right shoe has come off and the left shoe rachet has released the strap.  Weird!  I put the chain back on and then my shoes, no time to cinch down ratchets.  Two people pass me including Meredith Miller.  I pedal on the bumpy grass all the while reaching down to ratchet shoes with every stroke, impossible.  I see the finish line, with Meredith right in front of me.  The result is 14th, happy and sad all in one exhale over the line.  I have done it, made a qualification for the Worlds Team, my goal, but have lost the race for my best position.  My team is happy, and they make me feel better telling me that this was a great race for my first WC.  I agree, and move on to cheer my teammates.

Plzen skyline

STUTTGART, GERMANY

We move on after the race that evening to the Cannondale Factory Racing headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, Kernan to be exact.  Daniel and Jack, the CFR Mtn Bike World Cup Team manager and mechanic are our hosts.  The small village of Kernan is quaint and has the few things we need for the week, a grocery store, bakery, and vineyards!  Monday the boys take me for a ride that they have scouted the week before.  The village sits in the bottom of a bowl and the sides are planted with vineyards and orchards.  We meander through the small paths built to access the fruit.  The boys say nothing but i am bursting inside with awe and excitement for how amazing the ride is.  I say  ” well i don’t want to freak out or anything but this is INCREDIBLE!”, they recognize this and tell me just last week they couldn’t hide their excitement either and told me it was cool to let loose.  We stop and pick apples, grapes, talk to the locals, feed goats, get lost, take pictures, and appreciate the vistas.  It’s fall, harvest season and the towns people are in the yards pulling grapes, does it get any more romantic than this?  Well, maybe, with my husband.

View from my yard. Vineyard castle on hilltop

Tim always engaging.

The rest of the week is filled with rides, food, laughter ( my teammates are a constant source of entertainment), relaxation.  I haven’t had a week like this in over 10 years, seriously.   Oh, so this is the pro bike racer life without family…i had forgotten and taken it for granted all those years ago as a downhiller.    How lucky am i to do this in two distinctively different phases of my life, talk about perspective.

Hilltop vineyard rest stop.

WORLD CUP #2 TABOR, CZECH

We arrive in Tabor after a long 6+ hr drive from Germany to the most “Roztomily” old town square and hotel.  Roztomily, Czech for “cute”, becomes the word of the weekend as Tim points out that i think everything is “so cute”.  I still can’t say this word without laughing…guess you had to be there.  Anyway, again i am in heaven, the hotel is gorgeous and the food divine.  So much for the hard life of a bike racer, i am thankful.  Oh yeah, i’m here to race my bike, that’s right.

Our Hotel, so Roztomily.

Tabor old town square

The boys continue to make fun of me as i take pictures constantly of the European skyline, something they’ve become used to over the years.

The race, i’m a little nervous, for some reason i don’t feel ready.  Maybe it has something to do with the poundage gained from all the chocolate and relaxation…i had slipped into vacation mode.  Oh yeah and now there’s that expectation thing.

Maybe i ate a little too much of this

The course is good but not to my advantage as there is a lot of climbing, one day i will conquer this climbing deficiency.  Race day and all i can hear are the crowds rolling in, instruments in hand chanting “Steebie Steebie Steebie”, the call of their hero Sybar.  The support, excitement, bleachers, beer drinking, flag waving, oversized tv screens, and crowds are everything i had heard WCups  would be.  To the line, and i would be fourth row.  Green light goes and my start for lack of a better word just, SUCKS.  I am caught in the last third of the group and all i can do is just watch the front of the race distance itself from me second after second.  There is no way to make up for this especially on the hard climb consuming a third of the course.  My legs don’t have it so i settle in to race my own race, mid pack.  For the Americans, it’s pretty exciting as we are all together in one group.  Me, Amy, Mo, and Meredith battling it out together as if we had never left The States.  The climb wore on me lap after lap and i swear i could see stars at the top every time.  Last lap and as expected Amy and Meredith put the move on mid climb.  I couldn’t make the move with them so i resigned to take my place behind them, i had done my best, all i can ask of myself.  I finished across the line in 17th in a lost sprint with Gabby Day, one fast Brit.

The course

It was over, i wasn’t too happy but now the pressure was off and i could relax.  Over the last few days i’d began to physically ache for my children, looking at their picture on my phone literally every 10 minutes.  I was in the home stretch and now wanted no more to do with Europe and everything to do with my family.

The last night, our crew had talked me into going out for dinner in Prague.  I had resigned to take dinner in the airport hotel room and an early night knowing what was to come at home.  We drove the 40 mins to the city and i was immediately thankful, for Prague was the most beautifully majestic city i have ever been.  Camera out, of course and i couldn’t get enough.  If only i could spend one more week here, i thought.  A trip i will reserve for another time.

Prague

Home to my family after a 20 hr travel day,  I am tired and wrecked but it feels so amazing to have my children in my arms the next morning, the happy ending to my trip.

This time in my life is a gift.  These experiences fill me up.  I am thankful, and humbled.  I owe it all to those who believe in me and support me.  I realize that this is a special path that only few get to take, i’m going to stop and smell the roses.

Porshe Museum Stuttgart.

Post race cappuccino.

My shopping buddy and sometimes roommate, Jamey Driscoll, walking the streets of Tabor

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One Response to “European Racing Vacation, stopping to smell the roses.”

  1. Spencer June 23, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    Nicole,
    I enjoyed your stories! You have a great narrative writing style as well. Maybe you should write a book one day.
    Spencer

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