I lined up next to my teammate, Samantha Schneider, and showed her my trembling hands. I don’t think this reassured her that our talk about racing with confidence had stayed in my head very long. I looked over and saw my coach, Ron Peterson, and Big Orange buddies Lauren and Greg. They seemed excited and confident that today would be a great race. Whistle, it’s go time. Clip in time, ugh, fail. I’ve been practicing, really, but not with nerves. Straight to the back. I smiled, relaxed, and found my way right back to the front, with confidence. Goal number one, find the front, complete.
Goal number two, stay in the top ten and maybe even be productive up there. Productive as in cover attacks and keep the pace high. Unless Sam was in a break, I didn’t want one to get more than a few seconds on the pack. It is amazing how much more fun a crit/circuit race is when you are expending energy to help a teammate rather than to chase back on after gapping yourself out from the last wheel over and over and over again as you fearfully slow through the corners. Corners are meant to be taken with confidence. As Joy McCulloch told me, “It’s all about becoming one with that machine and trusting yourself!” Every corner that I thought about grabbing my breaks I told myself, trust your bike, trust yourself, and each corner became a little less scary for me and the racer who was on my wheel. Another good friend, Chris Cook, told me “A bike is a lot easier to handle than a horse, bikes do not get skittish, stubborn, spook, get tired etc. You can absolutely be a great bike handler and being confident in that fact is the most important element in accomplishing this feat.” In the last week, I heard that word “confidence” from my teammate, coach, Michael Engleman, Joy, and so many others. And then, I tried it out.
Less than a year ago, Suzanne Sonye watched me race my first Cat 1-3 crit with way too much confidence in my skills that were next to non-existent and my sprint that was really strong only in my mind. Then she got the joy of being gapped out by me at our local practice crit that I started coming to each week to work on my weaknesses. She watched my frustration and she also saw my determination to make it in this sport. This sport that apparently is much more than climbing fast. The last thing she told me after Telo Tuesday was “you’ll get the hang of it.” Today, as she saw me start to do just that, she gave me a gentle pat on the back and some words of encouragement. She saw me riding with confidence and she also saw me working for my teammate and recognizing that this was NOT my race to win. I had learned something and was putting it to good use.
With a few laps to go, I found Sam and said, “talk to me.” She said to keep the pace high, exactly what Dotsie told me to do, and BELIEVED that I could do, on the second to last straightaway. I did that until the pack swarmed me on the final headwind stretch. All I could think was “go, Sam, go!” And wow did she go, 2nd place only to Erica Allar.
As we cooled down, Sam continued to be the best teammate I could imagine. Sprint like the total stud she is, reinforce my confidence, and then help me learn from the race. My Team TIBCO teammates and staff have been nothing but encouraging as I make the jump to NRC/NCC level racing. Today, I begun to race with the confidence that my team and others have shown in me and with the skills that I have been working to improve because this sport is about so much more than fitness.