No Crying in Bike Racing: A World Championships Rider Diary from Amy Dombroski
Amy Dombroski took 11th in the Elite Women’s Cyclocross World Championships this past weekend, just narrowly missing 10th place due to a calculated risk that didn’t pay off. Here, she talks about the weekend and what it mean to her.
by Amy Dombroski
I have not cried at a race in a long time. When I was ski racing, I cried after ski races often because I thought I was better than I actually was, my expectations were far too high and I took the sport far too seriously. So seriously that it wasn’t until a knee injury took me out for a season that I realized I was actually relieved. From that, I deduced that maybe it was no longer fun. But the tears I fought in Louisville were not tears of failure; indeed, they began before the race had even begun. These were strong emotional roller coaster tears that began forming years ago, tears of achievement and pride, tears from the support surrounding me, tears of hard work and reaching goals, tears festering really deep down.
The lump in my throat began to form Friday morning about 9am when we learned our World Championships would be held a day earlier. It suddenly became a whole lot more real. My heart rate suddenly kicked up and my legs went numb and the butterfly wings in my tum felt like flapping condor wings. I went to the bike room after breakfast and told the mechanics the menagerie of wheels I would want to try on course. And as I walked outside with Matt Roy to pedal to the circuit I remember saying in a shaky voice, “it’s all kicking off now…” and feeling my eyes well up. I may have started hyperventilating were it not for (a) not wanting to make a fool of myself and (b) Matt assuring me that it was still just a bike race. Then he asked to take my photo so in addition to tightening my butt cheeks as I normally do for photos, I had to swallow the shake, dry my crazy eyes and control my quivering lips. I knew I was doomed – my family hadn’t even arrived yet and the race was still 24 hours away.
I hadn’t been on the course since earlier in the week and I didn’t want to overcook it because I now had one less day, so my focus fairly high. But in the sand pit the banners were not strapped down. On one lap the wind blew it and it hooked my bars and I crashed very hard, immediately feeling the bruising coming on. Fortunately no one was nearby because I would have yelled at anyone. Poor Simon, I narrowed in on him and went all Diva, as if it was his fault the entire circuit wasn’t absolutely perfect… Yelling “I’m not happy about this!” and pedaled off with smoke fuming from my devil horns. I was on edge and I think I may owe apologies to some for appearing short in any conversations I had leading into Saturday morning!
Surprisingly I actually had a mediocre sleep Friday night and the early alarm was mildly painful. Then I opened the curtains to a blanket of white snow on the ground and flakes speckled throughout the sky. Neither dread nor excitement surfaced – simply a “huh, another tire decision to make …” Following the snow, then the tornado warnings, then the summer-warmth, then the slashing rain and sharp cold I decided to put any course-condition-hopes and speculations out of mind. Thinking about that would be a waste of energy; after all we didn’t fully know whether we would need snorkels on race day or not. At 8:30, I rode solo to the course and was thankful to have this quiet alone time and fresh snow like a blank canvas to ride in peace before the chaos began. The noise and colors and rush intensified as I entered the team box area and saw herds of photographers and saw the juniors scurrying about, only 1 hour prior to their war. I underestimated the time I would need to get onto the course and suddenly I only had 30 minutes of course inspection time and four different treads and tire pressures to choose from. I kept saying “focus, focus, focus,” then I saw my brother and father on the opposite side of the fence to the team boxes. Both their eyes were lit up with excitement and I melted. I tried to talk with them but my emotions were swelling and any focus was shattering.
I told them I had to get on the course and quickly mounted my bike. But the damage was done, I was feeling dizzy from the noise on the course, the frequency and boom of my name being cheered. Good job I wore glasses in those inspection laps because that emotional roller coaster just kept hanging me upside down. I went to the most private place there was – the Port-o-Potty. Normally people leave things in there, but there I found my tunnel vision. I pinched my nose, took a deep breath and exited with laser devil eyes.
Back to the team box to sort my pre-race routine which really has become innate after 22 races. But today I went about it with more intent and focus – never has applying embro had so much heart devoted to it. I feel there was a piece of my soul unleashed with the click of my helmet buckle. From outside the box I could hear the hoots & hollers of people walking by the USA Team Box. So before I exited to get on the turbo my headphones went on and then my tunnel vision truly became my own world. The volume went to max, I stepped outside and my eyes locked onto the numbers on my SRM box. As the seconds ticked down on my warm-up timer, I took deep breaths and re-built my tunnel vision focus. It now became mantras for a perfect start. Apparently my family were screaming my name as I did a lap of the start/finish, apparently it was quite a cacophonous section on the left side but I heard nothing but, “hey, donut” on my right side. As we lined up I felt remarkably calm and confident; my starts have been quality recently so I just had to replicate that feeling.
To be honest, after that point much of the race is a blur. I remember my brother screaming bloody murder as he ran beside me along the second sweeping corner. I remember getting to the top of the stairs and realizing my ears were actually ringing from the cheering, the screaming. I remember looking ahead, always looking forward and anticipating. I remember shifting at the exact spot every lap. I remember balancing patience with effort. I remember riding a perfect race. Until the final corner. But bike racing (and life) is about taking chances. Sometimes the chances bring success, sometimes they don’t. I was sitting 10th on Kaitie Antonneau’s wheel. We had a gap on Ellen Van Loy who had messed up the prior climb. I took a chance on a different line that may have won me ninth place, but I couldn’t hold the line and crashed. Unfortunately Ellen skirted passed us and Kaitie got going before me. I was gutted as I rolled across the finish line, missing my goal of a top-10 by a matter of seconds from a risky decision. But when I finally let go the focus and heard the roar of the crowd, saw the familiar faces of reporters and photographers who have become friends through the years and saw my ecstatic coach Russ (crowned masters World Champ the day prior) the disappointment dissipated and the emotions returned with a calming relief … I could have a couple/few glasses of wine.
Thank you’s all around. To Simon for your never-ending & selfless support. To Russ for your patient coaching & keeping me confident. To my family for your love. To my friends who have become like family. To Vic for taking me in like a daughter. To Telenet Fidea for the support all season long. And in particular at this race, to Barb for a relaxing place to live leading to Worlds, to Jose and SRAM for completely rebuilding my bikes, to USA Cycling for a good team atmosphere and in particular Matt & Mo, and of course to everyone (and there are a metric sh!t-ton of people) who made Worlds in America a reality.
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