Sunday, 24 August 2014

My first World Cup: Meribel, France

Oh my God, I rode a World Cup.
I can't believe it really happened.

And probably it wasn't that far from not happening after our Saturday's practice lap, when I misjudged the jump and landed head first, making my face the most looked at object of the weekend and badly bruising my ribcage, or cracking it, or whatever, long story short I spent 20 min not able to breathe fully or even get of the ground and eventually dragged myself to the medical tent where I got checked as well as the guys could without much of an equipment. So, 24 hrs before the biggest race of my life, I was not able to move my upper body or even lift a water bottle because it was causing screaming pain in my ribs. Not to mention, to grab the grips of my handlebars. Great. I stuffed myself with painkillers and went out again to finish the prematurely stopped practice lap.

Landing on your face=Halloween costume sorted
On Sunday, the day of the race, nothing much has changed. I had slept like a log, forced in some breakfast and went out to warm up on the nearby climb with Sean. I wasn't stressed or overly excited, which I had expected to be, but I was probably too drugged up to feel anything.

1pm approaching, I lined up with the rest of the elite women, unfortunately in the last row due to my not too high UCI points, and off we go! I started well, staying in the main group, until 15 seconds later a crash in front of me forced me to slow down, I was delighted I didn't get caught in it though. I still managed to stay inside the group but soon realised that it wasn't going to last long. The drugs sedated the pain but they also turned my muscles into jelly, I was dizzy and nauscious so I decided to take it safe on the technical sections and slow on the climbs. And when my chain dropped and got stuck, I knew it wasn't going to get much better. I wasn't disappointed, after all it perfectly fitted in my rotten 2014 season ;) At times I wondered whether to throw up or faint but it was too difficult a decision to make so I just ploughed ahead. And really, the only thing that mattered was that I was riding a world cup (and at that time I wasn't even the last!)

The climbs were tough but the descents were worth the effort. Two drops, one of them quite sketchy, with narrow lines between sharp rocks, and sharp, tight corners still on the nearly vertical part. Then the lovely singletrack along the river, with one tricky feature after another, lines the width of the tyre, sharp rocks, slippery roots, blind corners, I loved it! That was a really beautiful course, technical and demanding but what else would you expect from the world cup? I'm so so happy I got to race it.

Of course, I would have liked to ride it not being numbed by pain killers and limited by the pain the drugs haven't killed. Of course, I would have preferred to suffer from lactic acid in my legs rather than from nauziness. Of course, I would have preferred to do one more lap. But you know what? I really don't care about it all. I got to ride a World Cup, despite all the odds!

I got to experience the unbelievable atmosphere, with astonishing crowds screaming their throats out, shouting more at the last riders than they did at the first ones, with their screams pulling us up the hills. For the whole time, I couldn't stop grinning. Surprisingly enough, this race added to my confidence. When I was caught by the leading riders in the single track, I managed to stay close to them losing hardly any time. One rider entered the single track soon behind me and caught me only at the end of it. I was capable of riding all the technical features, I know I could even do that jump if I wasn't dizzy, I hope to get back to it before we leave Meribel. The only bits I slipped on, required lifting the front wheel which was too painful but otherwise perfectly within my ability. I had been afraid that the technical sections would be too difficult or scary for me but they proved otherwise so I'm over the moon with it. And it proved what I already knew: if you want to race at a world level, forget about racing in the UK, it's a waste of time (well, you can of course do it if it gives you any pleasure but don't have a shade of a hope that it'll add any value to your technical skills, any bike handling skill I ever had, I brought from Ireland).

And it was such a steep learning curve. The speed of the top riders, the technical smoothness, the easiness of their riding - it's something pleasant to watch and worth aspiring to.

The course was class, pure pleasure to ride, a high-level entertainment.

The buzz in the whole town, bikes, crowds, cyclists, spectators, beautifully friendly marshals and officials, people on various bike forums saying "wish I was there" and hey, we are "there", we are a part of that!
Watching downhill highest levels guys live, ripping the hills like if it was a ride in a park. All that buzz!

Really, I rode a World Cup. Whatever happens, nobody will ever take that away from me. The dream come true. The most unlikely, ridiculous dream come true. It's done, my highest goal achieved, it's over. I did a World Cup :)

(And what a better way to celebrate the first wedding anniversary! Thank you, my husband, for being the best crew and fan club ever :D )

The organisers expected 40,000 spectators over the weekend, I didn't count but they certainly sounded like that.

A part of the race village, it was far too big to get captured by a photo camera.
Waiting to be gridded.
Off we go! The tv screen shot courtesy of Anna, thanks :)
It looked harder from above the bars...
Me and my world-cup-number-plated bike after the race, happy happy.
A post-race photo with Maja Wloszczowska, a World Champion, as you do ;)

A view from high above, maybe we should stay over here...