This past weekend, Amy Dombroski took home her first second-place title of the season at the Soudal Classic Leuven. Here, she explains how the race went, and how it felt to stand on a Euro podium.
by Amy Dombroski
In 1992, there was a tractor pull competition at my state fair in Vermont. The tractors were pedal-powered John Deere imitation style. Hitched to the tractor was a bucket on the rear where weight was added on. I was five and I pulled the most weight. I won, and my ripe and eager five year old mind has kept that memory crisp and vivid. My brother also entered the 11-year-old division and he received a ribbon. I received a foot-high gold and green trophy with a tractor at the top that, until Sunday, was the biggest trophy I had ever received. To my little mind, it seemed I had won outright – I had finally beat my big brother … and it is still a touchy subject for him.
I imagine my first European podium will remain a vivid memory for a long time as well. I am thankful I had Carina, one of our soigneurs, to basically hold my hand through the process as it was all new and foreign. She led me to the podium tent – something I had only seen on the telly, where the vedettas go to get clean and shiny and beautiful and warm and talk to the camera about their successes. There were three sets of two chairs – I just followed and began to sit down, when Carina grabbed my arm and led me to the other side of the tent. It then became clear there were three sets of chairs for each of the three podium spots – one chair for the rider, one chair for the soigneur. And there I was trying to get all up in Ellen’s grill by sitting beside her.
Then, there was a bucket of water on the floor. To me the sight of water automatically signals “cold”, “danger” and “don’t touch, run away!” But I was smart enough to take the towel hanging on one of the chairs and begin to bend down to wet the towel to wipe my face off. “Nee, nee” said Carina, “Step in it, it’s OK, it is warm,” as if she knew how frightened I was of the water. I stepped in it and to my relief it was perfectly warm, and then I realized that the towel was to wipe my legs clear of the caked-on mud and embrocation. Next, Carina said she would hold the curtain whilst I changed my trousers. To me, I thought this meant to follow her and there would be some magical changing curtain. When she saw me at her side, basically pulling at her jacket like a kid begging for candy, she gave me that same concerned and sympathetic look as if I were a lost, stray and shivering puppy. Again, she had to reassure me that, “It’s OK,” no one will mind if I drop trouser and change. Right. Blushing, I tried to play it off: yea, hah, I’m cool. I hope she didn’t think I was expecting her to change my trousers for me. Next, I put on my podium hat – one I had never put on my little pin head because I hadn’t needed to! I looked at her and that concerned look returned. “Can I wipe the mud from your face?” she asked in a soothing voice. After she had cleaned the snot from my nose, the crusties from my eyes and the slime from my lips, I could still tell from the look in her eye that I looked like a shit-show. So I fixed my hair the best I could and tightened and straightened the hat. Finally, I looked a bit more composed and we began walking toward the podium; here I let Sanne lead the way because she obviously knew what she was doing. Me, on the other hand … I felt like a little unkempt duckling walking for the first time with oversized webbed feet and feathers dropping off here and there.
Fortunately, I had finished second, so was the middle-person called up, otherwise I’m not sure I would have stood on the correct step. I just watched and observed the proper etiquette, trying not to trip on my webbed-feet. So if my head and eyes were darting during the entire podium ceremony, it was simply me trying not to screw up and look like a negative-wit. One aspect I was nervous about was knowing how many kisses to give – I can imagine myself going for three when the kiss-giver is only giving two and planting one smack on the lips. They gave me three. I made it through with my shaky smile and simply, it felt dern good. High up there, above the heads of all the fans, supporters and photographers, holding a beautiful bouquet of flowers and knowing you were one of the best on the day. It felt dern good and it is something I could get used to.
Back to the actual race – because the journey there is the most important part. The challenging part of the course was a near-vertical embankment that we had to descend three times and climb twice per lap. I remembered my very first European race when I came to Hoogerheide World Cup in 2008; that was my first encounter with the term “steep Euro drop.” I remembered my first mountain bike World Cup in Dalby Forest when Simon said, “I think you’ll love this course” and I rode to the first technical feature, swallowed an “uh shit” (or something to that variation). I remembered Zonhoven last year when I was pedaling along all happy-go-lucky and came to a halt at the top of the first dune, unsure how both my bike and me would make it down to the bottom still attached to one another. I’ve killed off a lot of demons in my head with these technical bits and this bank at Leuven is just another to add to my demonic bag of coal. My bike handling has improved over the years, but I think it is more learning the mental side of it. The more I ride into something technical that I may be scared of and stop, the harder it becomes to initially ride the section. I begin attempting to wrap my head around the scary bit and thinking doesn’t come naturally to me … so everything becomes harder. I’m much better with white noise and clouds in my head – that constant and steady humming buzz of “nothing much.”
I approached the top of this bank twice, stopping at the tip of it and peering down with that butterfly feeling in my gut and the humming buzz becoming a chimp screeching. I turned around, I mounted my shuvver, I glanced at my 158 heart rate, I pounded my chest like a gorilla and let out my tribal banshee wail, threw my arse way back and attempted to not touch the front brake. I rode it, no problem, and I let out a little sigh and chuckle at the bottom because it was quite simple. It also became a confidence boost because to be quite honest, my legs felt dull and rubbish, so I knew I could rely on these features as being time bonuses.
I guess from 1992, I should have known pedal-power was something I may be good with. Ahh, well, better late than never.
Thank you to everyone for the encouragement and support and to the Telenet-Fidea helpers and mechanics.