Vicki Thomas puts her snow skills to the World Cup test. © Luc Van Der Meiren
Vicki Thomas checks in with another journal entry about chasing her ‘cross dream on the courses of Europe. Check out her November update of her chronicles of Belgium here.
I suppose the simplest way to start this update is to tell you my big news. You may have heard, but in case you haven’t – I have qualified for and been selected to the Canadian National Team racing at the Cyclocross World Championships in Tabor, Czech Republic.
Three years ago, after an inspiring few months of racing cyclocross in Belgium, I caught the bug. I was racing with a Masters license and just finished my season with a 4th place finish at the Masters World Championships in Mol, Belgium. Cool, but not enough. I wanted more. How far could I go? Well, I decided to aim big. After much thinking, discussion with Marc and my coach Steve Weller, I set a new goal for the 2008-2009 season: qualify for the 2009 World Championships in Hoogerheide, Netherlands.
This decision kick-started a really challenging and rewarding process. I trained with more focus and dedication than I ever had. I worked with a sport psychologist. I put together a sponsorship proposal and was fortunate to secure equipment and financial support. I refined my diet and dropped a bunch of weight. Everything became focused around cyclocross.
We spent the early part of the season traveling all over the U.S., racing in the hotly contested domestic racing scene. Then it was back to Belgium for two more months of racing, training and learning. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that last season I didn’t achieve my goal. The season was filled with lots of lessons on and off the bike. I definitely had some low moments, where I let fear and disappointment in myself convince me that I was done. That it was all simply too hard, that I wasn’t having fun anymore. But, luckily for me, Marc and Steve are an amazing support crew and they got me back on the horse.
I reset for the 2009-2010 season with a renewed sense of focus and desire. Everything really became about how I would achieve my goal and race at the World Championships in Tabor, Czech Republic. This meant a lot of changes. I cut back on my road racing season, started riding my ‘cross bike in May, spent a lot of time in the woods and winding my way through flags and mini-’cross courses and hit the weight room. I switched from full-time to part-time work.
Pretty much every decision was based on how it would affect my goal. This meant a lot of sacrifice and change. But good sacrifice and change. I’d have to say the journey has been pretty darned smooth. Sure there have been some bumps in the rode, including my diagnosis of ulcerative colitis in the summer and learning how to live, race and train with this disease. There were days when I wondered if should keep going with my dreams and goals. But the funny thing was (and still is) that no matter how sick I am, I feel best when I’m on m bike. This surely has to be a sign!
Together with Marc and Steve, I put together a plan that allowed me to qualify for the team, get in a lot of racing and training and still have plenty of time for recovery. Everything really came together. I kicked off my season with the early races in Trexlertown, PA and Baltimore, MD, then it was off to Vermont for the Catamount ‘Cross races and then to Treviso, Italy.
Yep, I hopped a plane only three weeks into the ‘cross season and raced the World Cup in Treviso. This was huge. I really think it was a turning point in my season. I traveled to Treviso alone – just me, my bike boxes and a carry-on bag. With many thanks to Christine Vardaros and her husband Jonas, I had a lot of support before, during and after the race. I left Treviso on a massive high and made my way to Edmonton, Alberta for the Canadian National Championships. My goal for this race was a top-five finish, which would guarantee me a spot in the selection pool.
Well, I was running fifth for a while but, in the end, I finished seventh. Tough day. Hard day. I was feeling kind of low afterwards. But once again that amazing support crew kicked in and got me back on track. We traveled to Toronto for the NACT races but this is where my body simply stopped. All the travel, stress, different food, etc. caught up with me and I spent more weeks than I’d like to remember being quite ill. Not good, particularly since I had a flight for Belgium booked for November 3rd. But I got better – either through sheer mental will or luck and by the time I got on the plane, I was feeling like myself again.
And now I’m here in Belgium. I’ve been here since early November, Racing, training, learning, falling and getting back up again. To say this has been an amazing season would be an understatement. I’ve set goals, reached them, set more goals and reached those. I’ve set the bar higher and I’m looking to hit more goals before the season is done. The racing is really hard here, as it should be. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over these last few seasons, it’s that nothing worth having comes easy.
Have I had some tough days here in Belgium? Yes, of course. Have I felt like packing it in? Yup. But I haven’t. I’ve used my tough days on the bike as fuel to keep me pushing on the pedals, to get me out in the woods of Floreal Lichtaart pushing my boundaries. I’m learning to accepting that the front brake isn’t really needed. I’ve been working on relaxing on the bike (easier said than done). I’ve sought out technical training here in Belgium. I’ve fallen and gotten back up. Really, things are happening just as they should be.
Vicki Thomas scampers over the snow in Kalmthout © Luc Van Der Meiren
As for recent racing, I just raced in the Kalmthout World Cup. If you’ve seen the result sheet, you might be surprised to read that I consider this to have been one of my best races this season. The thing about this race is that, even though I was lapped, I pushed myself technically like I never had before. Unfortunately this meant I spent more time on the ground than I should have. This meant I slipped back from the 30s to the 40s.
But you know what? So what! I had a great start. I was riding with racers I’ve never been around before. I crashed hard three times in the first lap. I got up and got back on the bike, put the head down and pedaled. There was no room for negative thoughts or feeling sorry for myself. The race was an opportunity to learn how to ride my bike in the slippery white stuff and, more importantly, to trust myself and my abilities. On my second to last lap, I had a particularly bad crash on the pavement. I hit the corner into the start/finish stretch way too hot. I then had many more bobbles, crashes and a terrible lap before I collected myself.
Believe me, I’ve gone through this race a million times – “if only I hadn’t crashed,” or “if only I’d done this or that.” But there are no do-overs in life. There is only the next race.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for late season and World Championship adventures!