Canadian cyclocrosser Vicki Thomas powers along. © Vicki Thomas

Vicki Thomas powers along. © Vicki Thomas

by Vicki Thomas

There is nothing quite like racing in a national championship. There seems to be more emphasis put on this race and with this comes some extra butterflies and racer stress. Well, this year the Canadian National Cyclocross Championships in Toronto, ON had this and more for me.

As you may know if you follow my blog and website (Ottawa.cx) last year was a tough year for me with trying to race while battling a fierce ulcerative colitis flare that eventually forced me into hospital and ended my season prematurely. One of the many struggles I had last season was with a very disappointing ride at Nationals but one that in hindsight was pretty darn good considering my health.

Well, this year, things have been going better. My form is coming back. My confidence is back. I’ve been getting better with each race and have just come off a couple of decent World Cups in the Czech Republic.

So with this in mind, I had some high expectations for Saturday’s race at Pine Point Park… yes, you can likely guess where this is going. Now, I’m not one to have an inflated ego and believe I’m better than I am – in face the inverse is my reality. But what I do have is a deep simmering desire to be better and to want to be better. I’m fairly realistic about my skill set and capabilities as a rider and this drives me to keep on pushing my limits.

Somehow though after pre-riding a course that really did its best to highlight my deficiencies as a rider, I still believed that I would have the ride I “wanted” on Saturday. On Friday I was pretty dejected and honestly close to tears after a couple of laps. But after a few more hot laps and some time talking with Marc, my confidence was back and I was ready to give the race a “go”.

Funny what a good night of sleep and a couple of excellent pre-ride laps can do… Sure, I still struggled on the two very steep climbs but I felt good out there and believed that I could have the race I wanted. I’ll spare you the nitty-gritty details but suffice it to say, my race started poorly and I simply couldn’t dig myself out of the hole I put myself in.

I really really wanted to quit. I really wanted to stop riding my bike right then and there. I was embarrassed and felt like a fraud out there. There were so many people cheering me on and I felt like I was letting them down. I did a very good job of beating myself up and not keeping the positive thoughts that I’ve had all season.

Yes, there were some very good points from my race. I was cornering well – doing a good job of staying off the front brake, looking ahead, thinking of exits from the multiple corners and twists/turns, I was standing up and sprinting out of corners – but it wasn’t enough.

When I finished the race the first thing I said to Marc was “I quit. I’m done”. Now, I’m pretty sure that Marc was ready for this and he did a good job of talking me off my ledge. It is not that I’m a quitter – rather I want to be better and I just felt like it was a bit hopeless….

But now after many conversations with Marc and others about the race, I’m feeling better. I’m not happy but it is what it is. I was foolish to believe that I could have the ride I wanted on a course that really didn’t suit me – and even crazier to believe that I would find the skills I needed in a clutch situation. I like to think that I’m not the only bike racer or athlete who has experienced this. I suppose the key to this experience is waiting to see what I’ll do next.

Well, I’ve got training sessions arranged for every Wednesday with a couple of experienced cyclocross coaches in Belgium (I fly out on Tuesday). I can’t hide behind my power and expect and assume that it will dig me out of trouble – time to address my technical weaknesses and get them sorted out.

Am I still frustrated? Damn straight. But I’m stoked to be going to Belgium for my fifth season of racing in Belgium. I’m still focused on my season goal and let me tell you, each and every time I pull on my kit and get out for a ride I remember how I felt last year and I’m darn thankful to be able to ride. Perspective is an amazing thing.

(To stay up-to-date with me and my season visit my website and follow me on Twitter @vickitopcrosser.)