The nearly two months between Wicklow, Ireland in May and round four of the Enduro World Series in La Thuile, Italy last weekend were spent locked deep in a pattern here in Whistler of riding, working, sleeping, eating, and hanging with my friends. Not bad. I felt like I’d gained enough experience from the first three rounds of the season to know that I couldn’t know what to expect in Italy. Each race is so different from the other and it’s hard to prepare and know exactly what to train for – especially when there is always a key element of difficulty that changes from round to round: Chile’s difficulty was distance, elevation and time on the bike; Argentina was gnarly conditions; Ireland was 7 stages in one, big day. Even riders who raced La Thuile in 2014 couldn’t really predict what this race was truly going to be about and I struggled to get excited when I prepared for this race mentally and physically, despite the assurances I had from folks like Kelli about how suited I would be to the race based on my skillset (ha!).
I let go of any expectations I had of this event and my own performance as I packed and prepped to leave. This was the last stop of the year that had me flying the Juliana | SRAM flag by myself and knowing this helped me ease into the idea of being on my own program in practice. I made sure to connect with riders I knew at the event – luckily Canadians Emily Slaco (who just came off a 4th place finish at the MegaAvalanche the week prior), Andreane Lanthier Nadeau/ALN (her first race back from an injury in Chile) and Miranda Miller (3rd place at the UCI DH in Leogang in June) were on hand as practice buddies. As soon we were together, riding the stages started to feel like a typical day out at home and we laughed our asses off and made light of the stress of the situation at hand.
At first, the riding in La Thuile put me at ease. It all seemed doable and relatively quick to get up to speed for. Chasing ALN around on day one of practice had me feeling the best I have on the bike this season – the flowing singletrack and rolling nature of stages 1 through 3 got me pretty excited to race. It wasn’t until the second day of practice, with the four of us Canadians mobbing down the raw, off camber turns of stage 4, that I realized how difficult this race would be to do well at. I have helmet cam footage of each one of us going down somewhere on our first lap on that stage, and after a couple of particularly bruising offs, Emily and I agreed to back off the pace and get through our final day of practice in one piece. It took us ages to figure out how to ride stages 5 & 6 without crashing (not kidding) and I had real doubts about how I would even finish those stages come race day. We talked a lot about the most basic of bike skills just to make it around the tight, off camber switchbacks that started straight down the steep fall lines of the mountain. It was full on – and our upper bodies were already worked.
I figured I could probably do pretty well on the stages of day one. They definitely suited me more than the steep and tight stages of day two and I tried to relax as the crew from the Juliana/Santa Cruz | SRAM support team got my bike dialled. The 980m climb to stage one was a welcome change from the violent smashing of the trails in practice and I tried to treat the morning like any other day on the bike. When I dropped into stage one and immediately felt tight and slow, I realized that each minute of this race was going to be brutally challenging. I tried to laugh it off with the folks I had who were nearby.
On Saturday night and prior to racing on Sunday morning, I legitimately considered that I might not be able to finish this race. I know a lot of the women in my field felt the same way – the final two stages of the weekend were absolutely gnarly (the steepest I can think of ever riding) and by the time we were actually racing on them, our arms and bodies were smashed. I got through the day by picking off stages one at a time, breathing deep, laughing with my friends and relaxing with our team mechanics and staff at the pits. I didn’t ride well in Italy: I survived. It was frustrating to struggle the way I did on one hand, but I was relieved to have finished and to have escaped the weekend without another injury. I would go back to La Thuile again in a heartbeat: the riding was incredible and the food, people, and scenery was next-level.
When Kelli called me the other day to debrief the weekend, she was quick to remind me that “racing EWSs is so hard” (duh, Kell). Finshing these races isn’t about results, as much as I have trained and worked and am motivated when I do well. It’s hard for anyone competing at this level to focus on the idea of the “long game” – to finish each race unhurt and to learn something valuable so I can move on to the next one. La Thuile didn’t have a loud, resonating message for me, and I think that’s truly the lesson. I finished Round 4 of the Enduro World Series by collaborating with my insanely talented friends and the awesome network of support I have around me and I finished without an injury. I didn’t crush it like ALN or Miller, but I’ll ride next week in Aspen and face whatever the “theme” of difficulty lies there as best as I can. And I’m starting to think that’s the point of these races after all…