Postcard from Worlds 2014 in Norway

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The World Championships are always an incredibly special experience. Worlds is different from other races because it only happens once a year, you have to qualify to get there, and you compete for your country rather than your trade team. There are not a lot of cases where we get to wear the maple leaf in competition, besides major Games (i.e. Olympic, Commonwealth, Pan Am), so it’s pretty meaningful. (However, for the record, it is also pretty awesome to be able to represent a company like Liv all season – a company that is all about getting more women on bikes! Woohoo!)

The Lead-Up
My prep for my World Championships race on Saturday was awesome. I had smooth travels to Norway and came “home” to the best roommates ever – Luna teamsters Catharine and Maghalie. The vibe in our condo on the green hillside above Oyer was super positive and relaxed. We shared meals, stories, jokes, line choice opinions, hopes, goals, fears, and basically created an environment of success (as evidenced by the gold medal that Catharine hung from the lampshade over our kitchen table and “Canada” listed at the top of the elite women’s team rankings after our race).

I don’t know how I did it, but I didn’t have jetlag. I got on the local time zone and schedule without any loss of sleep. I spent my first two training days in Norway on the pavement, doing a recovery spin and finding my legs. With all of my supporters, friends, and followers in mind, I took extra care to shoot lots of photos, which wasn’t hard, because the countryside was so beautiful.

I went on an adventure ride one day, climbing 10km to Hafjelltoppen, dodging rollerskiers all the way – what they were doing did not look fun, plus they wouldn’t even get the reward of going downhill, because I don’t think those rollerskis are designed for that…. Nordic skiers are crazy!

After that, I had a bit more time to fill, so I rode up the valley. I was just going to do an out-and-back, but those of you who know me also know how much I dislike “backtracking,” so before I could really think about it, I veered up another steep climb and ended up climbing and climbing. Eventually the road turned to gravel, but instead of turning around and going back the sure way, I kept climbing. I started to get concerned when I was still ascending and I had already reached my goal ride time. I could see the white dot of our condo across the hillside, but it was not getting any bigger. But by this time, turning back would probably take just as long as pushing forward, so push forward I did. Finally, the road tilted downhill and I was able to make up ground quickly, and minutes later, I was safely back at the condo, only 20 minutes over my target time. I’m glad I did that cool loop, because so often when I’m preparing for a race, I don’t get to experience much of the surroundings besides the race course.

Speaking of the race course, when I finally got to ride it, the fun and the gnar factors were high and so was the climbing factor: guaranteed to be painful, but it also would reward those who could embrace it.

Get to the Point – The Race!
Okay, okay, let’s get to the important part (I don’t blame you if you’ve skipped ahead to here)!

Race day was perfect: sunny and around 17 degrees. I didn’t feel too nervous in the morning, just focused and ready. To keep the mood light, I took a nub of gingerroot and drew a “Grr face” on it and dubbed it the “Angry Ginger”, my new personal mascot.

I had a good warm up. I even stopped to snap a photo of a traffic sign I thought was funny. I hesitated to do it, wondering whether it meant I wasn’t being focused or serious enough, but eventually I gave in. Catharine confirmed that it just meant I was relaxed, confident and ready.

Then it was time to head to the start box filled with the buzzing of all of my competitors riding rollers to continue their warm ups. I did not have rollers, so I just stood there among them, holding my bike and smiling, because I thought it was kind of funny. I wasn’t anxious, because I had done the prep I always do and riding rollers in the start box is not part of that. I was good to go.

They called me up to the start line 36th according to my number plate, mid-pack. My goal for the start was to not crash (which happened last year) and not to lose positions – and hopefully gain some. The gun went off and I achieved those goals. The start was so fast up the first climb, I was immediately in the red, but I ignored my brain telling me the pace wasn’t maintainable, because at the start, you just need to go over your limit in order to establish position. My legs were feeling strong and responsive, which was a relief. You never know what your body will serve you on race day!

Once we hit the wooded technical climbs, we were off of our bikes, as expected. I navigated the bottleneck, trying to run with my bike as quickly as possible and pass people in the process. It worked pretty well and I continued to move up through the melee with minimal tangles. My heart rate was so pinned, I wasn’t riding flawlessly, but it was all about going fast and not letting the gap to the leaders go. As I progressed through the field, I began recognizing riders and felt I was beginning to race up where I belonged.

I rode the tricky, slick, and rock-riddled descents confidently and made up some more spots. Crossing the start/finish at the end of the first lap I was 24th and still moving up until… I felt some extra squish coming from the back of my bike. I looked down in dismay to see that my tire was losing air. To top it off, I had just passed the tech zone at the bottom of the first climb and I was not allowed to go back to get assistance. I rode it until I was certain there was too little air to continue and pulled over to shoot my CO2 cartridge into it in hopes of re-inflating it. I thought the tire may have just burped out some air, or maybe if it was a puncture that the Stan’s solution inside would seal it with a bit of extra pressure. Sealant shot out a significant gash in the tread and it would not maintain pressure, although I did manage to get some in. I quickly hopped back on the saddle and rode carefully to the next zone at the top of the hill.

I surprised the Team Canada mechanic when I stopped instead of grabbing a bottle. He was also surprised when the spare wheel he brought over wouldn’t fit in – oops, the rotor was too big, since I run a smaller 140mm rear disc. He scrambled to find the correct wheel and had me going again, although I’d lost precious time. I didn’t let myself get frustrated or discouraged. I also didn’t overextend myself too quickly like I did last year in South Africa – when I panicked, went way too hard and crashed. This time, I gradually ramped up my speed and effort, keeping my head up and focusing on reeling my competitors back in one at a time. When I left that tech zone, I was riding down in the 60s. I had lost a lot of positions. Thankfully I didn’t know where I was. I just knew that no matter what, I was racing to get ahead.

After the second lap, I was already back up in 54th. Then the next time around, 46th, then 37th. My legs felt super strong on the climbs (thank goodness!), so whatever I asked of them, they could do. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard as heck, but they turned over the pedals at a solid cadence, propelled me forward, and didn’t cramp or buckle. I managed to stay upright on the descents, despite a few weird lines and close calls. Most importantly, I was having fun! I had some great battles and won most of them. I was playing the game, staying positive, and riding a race I knew I would be proud of, no matter what the outcome. When I found out I finished 34th, I felt satisfied. At the end of the penultimate lap, I was sure the officials would pull me off the course (which they do to riders who are in danger of being lapped), but they let me through. The fact that I was not pulled, despite my time-consuming flat tire was a great sign. Achieving my best result of the six elite World Championships I’ve competed in — and in less-than-ideal circumstances — was a testament to how strong and ready I was on the day. It’s this feeling and motivation that I will take with me into the off-season and into next season, which I know will be even better than this one.

Probably the best part of the day was hearing “Oh Canada” after crossing the finishing line and the realization that it was playing for Catharine, who had won her second World Championship title. Talk about goosebumps! It was the perfect reason to celebrate and we went out and had a great time that evening with our fellow Team Canada mates and the best mountain bikers in the world.

There are so many people to thank for their help this season. Forgive me if I missed you! Thank you (in no particular order) to Mom, Dad, Ryan, Keith, Jeanine, Paul & Sue, Stevie D. & Marie, Richie, Barry, Nona, Maggie, KK, Campbell (for the fist bump!); Pete Whalen, Brian MacDonald, Ken & Sally, Ruth McLellan, Mary McCallum, Jutta & Keith, Bruno & Stef, Kika, Magh, Heidi Manicke, Sharon Yen, Isabelle Deguise, Darren Haines, Mike Rauch, Barry McKinnon, Simon Blythe, Matt & Christine; Paul, Nica, Lillian, Stella, Chery, Stacey, Sarah, Hugo, James, Sean, Andrew, Colby, Aaron, Yann, Shane, Liv Canada, Giant Canada; Dana Newsome, Rodney & Nina, Helmut & Verena, Melissa, Hector, Sofia, Emilia, Serge & Cindy, Mandy Dreyer, Brett Wakefield, Andrew & Joanne, Lisa & Alistair, Ulrike & Bernd; Jeff, Kim, Lauryn, and Graham Buchan; Dawn & Ron, Sile, Sepp & Sonya, Leah, Matt & Stacey Paterson, Elna & Anton De Klerk, Dwayne Kress, Jean Ann & Mike, Ben Pye, Shimano Canada, Kicking Horse Coffee, Golden Ears Physio, Bill, Megan & Kelsey MacDonald, Teresa Edgar, Ann Yew, Rob Jones, Julie Phoenix, Dan Proulx, Adam Trotter, Scott Kelly, Jeff Hunter, Andy Achuff, Katherine Short, Tara Baker, Jen Mahoney, Justin Morse, Darren Causon, Sam Grover, Eric Goodwin, Jason May, Q Energy Drink, Orange Sport Supply, Cycles Lambert, Anne-Marie, Giant Vancouver, Ollie, Tenn, Giant Montreal, Teal Sport, Tim, Wil, Brenda; Carsten, Eric Barnabe, Benj, Ian Hughes, Alan, Adam, Jackson, Dave Hardie, Elladee, Johanna, Bruce, Catherine, Matt… and anyone who’s ever cheered for me out there!

PS Note that my Make a Champ campaign is still open for 3 more days, so if you’d like to help me reach 100% of my funding goal, please share the link: http://makeachamp.com/sandrawalter

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