I woke up at 2am in pain. My shoulder was stinging, my ribs were aching and it finally hit me, this was bad. We had been riding the last few kilometers of the new course for Flèche in our pre-race ride and, unexpectedly, a bad line grabbed my wheel and slammed me down on the pavement, HARD! I bounced up right away. “That was stupid,” I said out loud, brushing it off in front of the team like it was nothing. I climbed in the team car, somehow held back my tears, got cleaned up, and that was that.
I had written off all the World Cup races so far with illness, crashes, and mechanicals. Flèche, I told myself very sternly, was going to be different. The day before the race, everything, thankfully, was on track. I had good legs, I was healthy, and, I wasn’t the only one who had razor-sharp focus. The whole team was on a mission to get Bigla on the podium.
But at 2am, things were unraveling again. My head started swirling with a million thoughts that all boiled down to on question: “why me!?”. The pain was overwhelming and so was my frustration at the whole situation but, on the eve of one of my favourite races, I just didn’t want to deal with it. I simply had bigger fish to fry. The crash and the pain was not going to break my focus. I shut my eyes, let all the questions go, and fell asleep.
Bigla arrived with a big plan and at every turn the race was unfolding perfectly. Iris, my saviour for the day, went above and beyond to ensure I was protected and well positioned. Annemiek said Flèche wasn’t a race for her, but she fully committed to her attack at 20km to go, putting Bigla in a favourable position. As the bunch approached the final two climbs, it was my turn to execute the plan. I followed every attack but when Anna Van Der Breggen unexpectedly got a gap, I knew there was no time to hesitate. Megan Guarnier jumped next at the bottom of the Mur and I followed. I hadn’t let any pain from my crash injuries crack my focus until then but, as I went into the red on the steep slopes of the Mur, I felt more than my burning legs. When a team believes in you, however, it’s easier to believe in yourself. I knew the pain in my shoulder was there, but I fought to hold it together and I crossed the line in 4th. It wasn’t the win I had planned, but with Annemeik finishing 2nd, the teamwork had paid off.
When the race was done, my focus was blurred over by tears. My brain finally acknowledged reality and all the emotions and pain I had been keeping down for the last 24 hours ran down my already salty face. Things hadn’t gone to plan (again) but when my brain nagged “why me?” this time, I had an answer: “Because when the day comes, you’ll be ready”.
Things never go perfectly to plan but if you embrace the pain, embrace the challenge and embrace the opportunity to learn, nothing can break you. Stay focused so when the day comes, you’ll be ready.