World Cup weeks are a whirlwind. The race seems such a long way off, and then suddenly you are at the start line with the infamous heartbeats pounding out of the PA and a crowd and a race about to burst into chaos.
Yet despite the whirlwind feeling there is a methodical passing of time. Each day and each team member will of course have variables, but we are all riding the same train with the same stops to the same destination. Training days, rest days, massage, media, mechanics and meals all slot into the week with comforting regularity. Each member of the team has their job, their tick-list, their goal. With a schedule in place we all crack on, achieve what we need to, and arrive at that start line, as a team, ready to race.
The course in Albstadt is one everyone was familiar with, but the weather conditions threw up as many questions as it did mud. Our mechanics, Lee and Mark, were kept especially busy with bike cleaning during the first days, but eventually the skies cleared and the mud dried. The forecast for the weekend was bright!
With all the riders and all the team staff together for the first time, we went out for a lovely dinner on Friday night. We ate a lot of steak, experienced far too much salad dressing, debated the merits and pitfalls of Olympic selection criteria and laughed wholeheartedly at the faintly ridiculous and each other (which are arguably one and the same)! As with everything in life, it is all about balance: chips and salad, focus and fun. It feels like we’ve got the balance pretty well sorted! The weekend had started in a good way.
Saturday is race day for Isla. This was her first World Cup since breaking her back last year in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, and there was a lot riding on the result. For us, as a team, we just hoped that Isla had a positive race which gave her confidence, but Isla was putting a lot more pressure on herself and the outcome of the race was, however hard she tried, going to have a big impact on her mindset.
A calm word of confidence, a fist-bump and then it was time to race. Isla stuck to her race plan and worked her way slowly through the field to finish in a really strong 24th position. It was a huge relief for our young rider, and it was so good to see her smiling at the end of a race.
What was also wonderful to see was that Isla’s smile at the finish line then spread through the entire team. There were hugs and high fives and a genuine sense of happiness for our team mate’s success.
After a delicious salmon supper and a good night’s sleep, Sunday sprung into action. Two races, five riders, and barely a minutes to spare as they arrived, warmed-up, raced and departed.
There was a real buzz in the air in Albstadt; the sun was out and the crowds were pouring in. It was our first World Cup in the UCI Elite Team compound and we were constantly surrounded by curious fans and cameras. It was almost race time for Annie, Mariske and Cherie. Their big smiles were narrowed by focus but the excitement still shone in their eyes. It was the first World Cup of 2016 for all the ladies. The stage was set.
Mariske had a bad start but soon went about picking off the riders ahead of her and, after a tough two years with injuries, she found herself back in top-class company and finished in 44th position. There was a real spring in her step after the race, despite the tired legs! Cherie also had a good race, battling hard but finding her rhythm. With the right balance of aggression and composure she rode to 51st position and rolled across the finish line with a huge smile on her face.
Unfortunately for Annie the illness that she has struggled with since February curtailed her race in Albstadt. Breathing difficulties made it impossible to continue and Annie sought medical attention soon after pulling out of the race. Luckily it was just a consequence of her chest infection coupled with a very high pollen count rather than anything more sinister. It was a disappointment that Annie could not return to World Cup racing with a positive result, but she brushed it off and cracked on with preparations for the following days of training. Annie’s down-to-earth professionalism is a key aspect of her character and of her success. No drama. On to La Bresse.
Things didn’t quite fall into place for the boys; it was just one of those races where it doesn’t go your way. However, Shlomi and Martin fought with everything they had – the strength in their legs may not have been there, but the strength of their character shone through. Shlomi finished 82nd and Martin was 91st.
It was quite strange to see the boys so disappointed by their results; normally they are up-beat and making jokes, but after Albstadt it was clear that they were unhappy. Here too the spirit of the team is clear to see: a gentle hand on the shoulder, a few words of experience or simply a cup of coffee and a smile. The schedule rumbles on but there is always time to step aside and take a moment, and even in the chaos of packing cars and vans in the pouring rain, everyone understands that those moments are needed.
And so, packed to the roof, we travelled from Germany into France (rudely announced by the jolt of several pot holes immediately after the border…).
We unpacked and settled in to a lovely big house in La Bresse. World Cup week began again.
No Questions Tuesday gave the staff a chance to take a quick break from work and go hiking and biking! And then before we knew it, it was back to course practice and the run up to the race was speeding by again.
As in Albstadt, the weather was ever-present in the mind of the riders, and of course our mechanics too. That said, the riders were all loving the course both in the wet and the dry.
With the strong race in Albstadt fresh in her mind, Isla was full of positivity as she took the start line in the town centre of La Bresse. She aimed for a top 20 finish and she totally smashed it with a superb 16th place. This is Isla Short back on track and gunning for more. Watch out!
Isla set the precedent of improving on last week’s positions and the others followed suit.
Annie gave a glimpse of what she is capable of with a 28th position off the back of illness and a lack of racing. There is so much talent there and we can’t wait for Annie to string some really good racing together and prove what she can achieve. Mariske rode to 36th and Cherie to 44th, both moving forward and yet still hungry for more.
Martin improved on his result in Albstadt but was still dissatisfied with his race. After a busy period of travel his form has dropped off and he struggled to sustain his race pace. It’s only natural to experience this in a season and Martin knows how to move forward so the smile was soon back on his face.
For Shlomi the result in La Bresse was secondary to the fact that he finally and officially qualified his spot at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games! It was such a proud moment for Shlomi, for the Israeli Federation and team, and for us a team.
Earlier in the week Annie had requested the introduction of ‘Sausage Sunday’ so after everything was packed away we fired up the BBQ again, got the sausages on and raised a toast to Shlomi, to some fantastic results and to a great trip. Cheers!