Post-Season, Post-Limburg: Clara Reflects
Enjoy Clara's reflections from her incredibly successful debut professional cyclocross season, which culminated in representing the USA and riding to 14th in the U23 Women's World Championships in Limburg, NED.
At the beginning of the season, I remember this emotion I had the first night of Jingle Cross, way back in September. Erik had asked me what my feelings were before the race. I could soundly identify the sensation of excitement and anxiety, the fluttering heartbeats we all feel at the start of the race. There was also something else, something a bit more difficult to grasp, a feeling of calm uncertainty. It was like the anticipation of a tricky landing: I had navigated the take-off and turbulence in preparation of the race. Now all I needed to do was bring it home smoothly through whatever obstacles lay ahead.
Leading up to Worlds in Limburg, I once again had that feeling of uncertainty, of a season full of hard training and solid racing coming to a climatic close. When it came to the race itself, it was simply a matter of holding momentum and moving forward. We all made mistakes and we all had mechanicals on the heavy and laborious course, so the logical comparison of strengths between us riders were undermined. Seconds lost in one fumbled descent were regained on a firmer ground on the ascent. One lap, I would ride a tricky line and pass three riders. On the following lap I would ride the line exactly the same only to be passed by one of those riders. The thrill of the race lay in sliding through deep ruts, in clawing up slippery run-ups, and in the waves of cheers from the immense crowd. When I crossed the finish line exhausted the final time, I looked over my shoulder and saw the pride of a season’s worth of work. As I rolled down the Cauberg still caked with thick mud, I was overcome with gratitude for the support that had carried me from the start line at Jingle Cross through the finishing straight in Valkenburg.
Looking back through that Worlds race, looking back through this season, I think I have found an answer to that emotion of uncertainty. I can best describe it as justification, that the general movement of the Team S&M program this past fall and winter has been with our eyes set on the greater goal and we have met it. I have made big changes in my life in order to commit myself to my first full season of racing. I have diverged from a set path in my education and movement towards a career to call myself an elite bike racer. I know others in my support group have made even greater sacrifices. But what we are doing on Team S&M is working. We have struck a balance in efficiency and grit. We don’t do it the same way, we do the hard way and we do it the right way. While certainty is not within the description of our jobs, I am certain of the joy we all find in bike racing and that we have found a home to do it with the best. I can’t wait to do it again next year.