Biding my time in the Manchester airport with a short WiFi window before flying to Germany, hoping that the freshly spewed ash cloud from Iceland doesn’t blow too heavily south before my flight. Throughout the nonstop headlines on all UK news channels, I've noted that no reporter has attempted to pronounce the actual name of the volcano. I remember last year's volcano was difficult for the English tongue, so perhaps they've decided to write this one off.
I’m feeling positive after the first European test at Dalby Forest. It’s best to look at the beginning of a World Cup campaign like a long-term investment. I’ve built a fair amount of equity in bike racing back in the states, but I’m fresh into the Transatlantic sector. Aside from preparing and racing as well as I possibly can, the biggest thing I'm focusing on is improving my start position. Over time, the more I can peck away at the field and build up points, the more I move up. The closer I am to the front of the field at the start of the race, the better chance I have at a good result. For the moment, starting in the back means I have to accept an otherwise discouraging result on paper, and look for the little victories whilst clawing my way from the back of the pack. At Dalby I made it up to 89th position, so passed around 30 riders. Not as good as the 60th I was shooting for, but next weekend in Germany is another shot.
I was called up even further back in Dalby than I expected - second to last row, so around 120th out of 130 riders. The start loop was a furious, all-out sprint for 60 seconds, and then into the traffic jam as soon as the path narrowed. The talent in the European World Cup field is noticeably deeper compared with the World Cups in North America. Here, EVERYONE is very fast, so it makes passing a bigger challenge than normal. For an example of how rough it is to start in the back, I lost nearly 5 minutes on the first lap (6 laps total) due to traffic jams. Making it through the cattle herd of racers is a mix of brute strength and luck. Either way, it's rough. Once things opened up on the remaining 5 laps, I could see on the time board that I was only losing between 70 and 80 seconds per lap. Assuming I could have started without the jams, I would have theoretically held my ground at a higher position in the field. I made up the most ground on the steep climbs, and kept passing riders all the way to the finish.
89th sounds like a discouraging result compared to my recent performances back home, but considering the speed and size of the Euro scene, my difficult start position, finishing on the leaders lap (i.e. not getting lapped), and the need to look at this as a slow, steady process of earning a better position, it was a good start. I'd give my performance a "B". 60th would have been an "A".
More soon, and pics, too.