The start of this handcycle season has been intense. The same day I raced the Boston Marathon (April 17), I rushed to Logan Airport and boarded a flight to Venice, Italy. Ahead was 3 weeks’ worth of UCI Paracycling Road World Cups, and the Paracycling Tour of Flanders, in Italy and Belgium. I worried that an overnight flight after a hard race effort where I got very cold and wet, might push me over the edge into getting sick (at worst) or just not fully recovered and race-ready (at best). Still, I looked forward to racing again, this time on the world stage.
I am currently in Spilimbergo, Italy, having just finished World Cup #1 in Maniago. As usual, included events were, in order, time trial; road race, and handcycle relay. The time trial and road race were both held on the same course, a 13.6 km loop that started and finished on the cobbled main square of Maniago. The first stretch took one through the narrow, twisting streets of the town, then turned right onto a larger road that quickly began to descend – a curving, twisting line alongside a river bed. At the bottom was a hairpin left turn onto a narrow bridge – padding was erected here in case of poorly-chosen lines. Across the bridge, the road began to climb, about 1 km at a 4-6 percent grade. At the top, a long gradual descent ended in a sharp left, which then wound through a roundabout or 2 before taking one onto a long, straight bridge over a dried-up river bed, with plenty of cross-winds. A short, steep rise at the end of this, a few more turns, and then there was another long, gradual descent back into town. One final, short steep climb, and the last of the pavement turned into cobbles. Bone-jarring cobbles that went uphill, back into the main square and the Finish.
Thursday was the Time Trial for handcycles (all categories) and trikes. We did one lap of the course. The weather was cold and rainy. I grew cold waiting for my start and hoped I’d warm up once I started working hard. Faster riders, based on UCI points, start later and my start time had just a few names after it. As soon as I began, my hands froze. I had trouble shifting, and my arms felt slow. Still, I gave it all I had, catching 2 riders who started in front of me, and not getting caught by anyone. I thought I had done well enough to podium, but then learned that I had placed 7th out of a field of 17 starters (a large field for the WH3 category). I was very disappointed – I hadn’t placed that far back in a World Cup event ever, in my 11 years of racing the UCI circuit. Some re-calibration – in expectations, and perhaps in certain aspects of my bike position, were in order.
I felt a bit more energized and rested for Saturday’s road race, which was 3 laps of the course, 40.8 km. Thankfully the sun was shining, the temperature warmer. There is so much to think about before a race, it’s almost like there isn’t time to be nervous. A good warm up, the right fuel and hydration, equipment dialed in, a bathroom trip (accessibility is always unpredictable, whether at home or abroad – this time I found a hair salon that fit my needs ). It isn’t until you’re queued up in the start area, resetting your Garmin, positioning yourself as strategically as possible in the bunch, and eyeing the competition, that you start to get those butterflies. It was an exciting race. About 6 or 7 of us broke away early on, including all the top finishers from the Time Trial. A few times, when the pace slowed, I pushed to the front and went hard, not wanting
the rest of the pack to catch up, and also trying to make the race hard and more exciting. On the third and final lap, the two top finishers from the time trial took off on the climb. I got dropped, but had the 3rd place TT finisher, Francesca from Italy, behind me. We are old rivals, battling it out over the years, and until now, often for the top 2 positions on the podium. Over this period of years, I have liked and admired her, feared her, resented her, almost hated her, respectfully acknowledged her…we have run the gamut of “vibes”, every season. Now, we were neck and neck up the climb. I shifted into my big ring for the descent (game on!) and – promptly dropped my chain. Francesca soon distanced me while I slowed to reposition it. (Damn! I was so close!). Then, in my rearview mirror I saw my teammate, Jenna Rollman, quickly catching me. Perfect – I knew Jenna was a very fast descender, so I had a high-speed train ride back up to Francesca. I swung into Jenna’s draft and the 2 of us caught her. Now it was a game of cat and mouse to the finish. dropped Jenna. A replay of my 2018 World Championships road race was going through my mind – then, the 2 of us had been alone together in first and second place at this very spot, and she beat me in the sprint. I was determined not to let that happen again! I accelerated out of the last turn before the cobbles, then pushed with all I had up the incline, not knowing where she was, for the bouncing around. The Finish line was straight ahead, and I was getting closer – but – in the last couple of meters, Francesca surged past me. This woman is made ! Over the line, she reached out, and I met her for a brief, but meaningful . A feeling of camaraderie, respect, and mutual appreciation passed through us that moment. It was all ok. I thoroughly enjoyed the competition, and I know she did, too.