The Valley of the Sun stage race was my first stage race experience. I knew it was important to be a well-rounded rider to place well. I knew it would be difficult because I wasn't confident in my fitness, nor my ability to ride a time trial or a road race.
Time Trial - 3rd
I obsessed over different strategies and techniques to perfect my time trial ability as much as possible. I asked for different pacing ideas from friends and teammates, I thought hard about how to be more aerodynamic on the bike, and I contemplated how I can push myself as hard as possible. Eventually I settled on a simple strategy. Hold my position 100% with my head down as much as possible, I paced myself to perceived exertion which I thought was achievable but maybe harder than I thought, and I fought to push as hard as I could like my life depended on it -- as if I was fighting for my life. Towards the end of the time trial I was fading hard, I stopped gaining on people and my numbers were dropping. I wanted to stop, but I kept having to remind myself that this was important, this was not something I could just decide to stop because it felt bad. This was my first time trial, this was my time to show what I can do with all my strength. So I kept pushing, pushing, pushing through the discomfort, until I felt like I was going to fall over. When I crossed the finish line I was about to fall over! I was happy that I gave it everything I could. I've very rarely done a hard effort and felt like "that was everything I had to give", but this was one time that I did, and was proud of it. I may have been slightly disappointed that it was only enough to give me third place. Imagine pushing yourself beyond your limits only to be told you got third place! Until I put it into perspective that is. I got third place! In my first time trial! I was in a good position to contest for the podium on the GC! I was proud nonetheless.
Road Race - 2nd
I felt slightly less confident in the road race. My teammate had years of experience with this race and when she let me rely on her guidance for the entire race I felt a sense of ease. I felt confident that my teammate could help me through the race and I had a good hunch that she would do it completely selflessly. I was completely right, she saved my race multiple times, kept me calm, and made sure I was prepared for the important points of the race. Her efforts gave me 2nd place in the end. I know she deserved 1st place with what she did for me, but I know we did the best with what we could. The very important thing I learned from this experience is that when I have teammates relying on me, everything I do reflects my willingness to fight for my teammates' sacrifices. I carry a heavier burden moving forward in my training and racing knowing that I am fighting for more than just myself. This lesson swiftly carried on to the final day.
Criterium 1st + GC 1st
The criterium was something I was more confident in. I know how to move on a criterium, I know how the games are played and I knew my chances of winning. My best bet was from a field sprint, and my race director confirmed this suspicion. I was anxious because I had to win 1st place to win the GC, I had never won a field sprint in a criterium, and there were larger teams with dedicated sprinters present. We had a perfect plan going into the race. It's funny how it almost never seems like things go to plan in a criterium. It takes a lot of smarts, aggression, confidence and trust to make a plan work perfectly in a criterium. This time it worked. I gave everything I could to fight for position and execute the plan. I waited for my teammate and trusted that she would come through. She did, and I fought to the end with everything I had, I pushed long and hard like the faith of everybody rested on my shoulders. It wasn't just about me, it was for my teammate and team, and everybody that worked to make our race a success.
My team camp adventure was not at all what I anticipated. It was painful, stressful, emotional, turbulent, and yet it gave me inspiration and hope. A trust in others and an understanding of the weight on my shoulders to satisfy and fight for my teammates and team. I'm leaving this camp and race as a better, more experienced rider, and a more hopeful, dedicated person. "Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud." —THICH NHAT HANH