Meredith Miller (California Giant Berry Farms) followed up her 2009 National Road Championship in Bend, Oregon, with a silver medal at Cyclocross Nationals in the same town five months later–in only her second year of cyclocross competition. That result gained her a spot on the US Worlds team, and she now finds herself battling against the very best cyclocrossers on the planet on some of the most revered courses in the sport. She’s getting used to the Euro ‘cross style and fighting for every position, elbows out.
by Meredith Miller
Leading into the ’09/10 cyclocross season, I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to make the Worlds team. But after such a long road season, I had a long way to go before I could think too much about it. Luckily enough, as the season went on, the results kept getting better and the reality of making the Worlds team became a tangible goal. My second place finish at nationals solidified things. Now, here I am sitting in Belgium after the Roubaix and Hoogerheide World Cups while we bide our time preparing for the World Championships in Tabor.
Roubaix was my first ever ‘cross race in Europe, and it was a pretty epic start to my new adventure. The course was wicked hard, as you’ve all probably read in the reports by now. So, rather than rehash what the course conditions were like, I’ll give you a little insight into how my day went.
First, we lined up in the start grid on the Roubaix Velodrome, which was galvanizing in its own right. I was called up fourth row but, somehow in all the mass confusion, ended up on the 2.5th row. That’s just how it is–no politeness, just elbows being thrown in the race to the race. The countdown begins, I’ve got my elbows out, I’m focused on the official-looking guy with the whistle, but instead of a whistle signaling the start of the race, it’s a green light. Somehow I missed the notice explaining the technicalities of how a ‘cross race starts in Europe, so my 2.5th row start might as well have been in the fifth row, because everyone but me rocketed off the start line. Bikes and bodies went low to high across the track, so there was nothing to do but be patient until the course opened up again. Eventually, after throwing a few elbows, hip checking here and there, maybe even swinging my bike into a few people as I ran and ran and ran with it through the peanut-butter-like mud so they wouldn’t take my line, I made my way through a mass of people and finally settled into a good rhythm.
I steadily kept picking riders off one by one–maybe it was the long leg length advantage I had over the shorter women on the knee-height stairs that allowed me to pull away from some. Or maybe it was the fact that I opted to run with my bike down the death defying steep descents and didn’t yard sale that helped me pass one or two more riders. I wasn’t exactly sure where I was in the line of riders strewn along the course, but I was later told I ended up 12th. I was pretty happy with that, all things considered, for my first Euro cyclocross race.
Wanting to capitalize on a good start to my Euro campaign, I was hoping to go at least one better in Hoogerheide. Well, that was just wishful thinking. As I quickly learned, what sets Euro ‘cross racing apart from the US is the extreme course conditions which raise the bar that much higher. On the Euro courses, such as Hoogerheide, a bad choice results in huge consequences. Make a wrong tire selection and you’re in trouble. Make a bad line choice and you’re in even bigger trouble, as in you’re out the back and then chasing hard. I suppose I made the right tire choice (I only own Rhinos, so that was an easy decision), but I certainly didn’t pick the best lines, nail the ruts, power through the mud as I usually can, or even ride “my” race. As hard as I tried, I walked away more frustrated than anything.
I replayed this vicious cycle over and over–the harder I tried, the more mistakes I made, and the farther backwards I went. So, I tried even harder, made more mistakes, and went back even farther. I yo-yoed back and forth with several riders before the rubber band eventually snapped and I was left behind to claw my way back.
Finally, on the last lap when no one was left within sight, I backed off the gas a little bit and probably had my best lap. When I was no longer focused on the rider in front of me or who was around me or who I thought I could beat, I actually rode a solid lap. I ended up 20th on the day–not stellar, but in this game where the learning curve is high, I hope that there’s nowhere I can go but up.
When I take a step back and think about the race objectively, I realize that, while I was letting my frustration get the best of me during the race, I still had the time of my life. It’s cross racing, in Holland. Not much can beat the scene, the excitement, the thrill of racing against the best cyclocross racers in the world on the gnarliest courses in the world. And it’s all about the moment, taking it all in.
Thanks for reading.