By Dede Demet Barry
That’s what I was thinking on the final lap of the world championship road race when it started to rain and riders where falling down all around me. Rain is common in Belgium in October and we had been fortunate our first few days here, as the sun was shining.
I arrived Zolder Thursday morning and rode the course with my American teammates. This is the flattest course I have ever raced on at a world championship and this would make the race wide open, as nearly anyone would have a chance depending on how the tactics would play out and what kind of challenges the weather may present.
The chances of a massive field sprint where quite high, so Petra Rossner was the clear favorite in our minds, but there where many riders we had to keep our eye on. Our plan was to go on the attack in hopes of forcing a breakaway, because when Petra is in the front at the finish, she is unbeatable.
With the course being so flat, we knew it would be difficult for a breakaway to survive, unless it was windy or rainy. Although racing in the rain and wind is not so comfortable, we thought it would be to our benefit, as these types of challenges favor breakaways.
At the start, it was dry, but the peloton was bunched together and very nervous. There were crashes on lap one. Petra hit the pavement hard and her race was over as she sustained a concussion. The bad luck continued for her powerful German team, as Ina Tuetenberg, another super sprinter crashed and was out of contention a couple of laps later.
Our race was aggressive from the start. I had doubts that a breakaway could stay off on this course, as the conditions where dry, cool and calm at the start of our race. It felt easy in the peloton and we were cruising at high speeds. It was difficult for anyone to gain a significant gap when attacking as a result. There were many attacks and each one was brought back quickly. But in the final, the peloton blew to pieces.
The rhythm of the race changed on the final lap when it began to rain. The course was extremely slippery due to the paint stripes and the oil coming up on the road. Wheels were spinning out and riders where slipping through the turns. There were crashes all over the place. It seems that nearly half the peloton went down, including most of my teammates. I somehow averted a fall, but had a couple of close calls. At one point there was a bike flying towards my head, I ducked and accelerated and managed to a miss being slammed. There was a breakaway of four on the final descent coming into the finish and we were chasing from behind, there was a crash in front of me that I could not avoid, I rammed straight into a bike, rode over it and managed to stay upright. I was shaking with fear and sprinted to the finish thanking god that I did not go down.
The peloton had splintered into little groups due to all the crashes. Surprisingly, it was a quartet of climbers who sprinted for the win at the end. Susanne Loungskog won by nearly two bike lengths capping off a super season, during which she had finished second at la Grande Boucle Feminine and won several races. I think everyone was a little surprised by the outcome of the race and in shock over the number of crashes that occurred.
I met up with some of the Germans later in the evening and had much sympathy for Petra who had a black eye and dilated pupils. She was not looking comfortable, but she is tough and was not complaining. My teammate Amber is feeling a little stiff as well, as she nailed her knee on the pavement, but it seems everyone else came out all right.
Despite the rainy weather, we had amazing support from all the fans on the course. It was exciting to have campers full of drunken Europeans singing songs and waving flags for their heroes on the course. These fans have amazing stamina, as they have been filling the discos surrounding our hotel at night and lining the course by day. It seems they never sleep. I felt as if my hotel room was shaking all weekend from the disco music at night and the cheering all day. Fortunately my earplugs drowned out most of the noise and I could sleep soundly most of the night.
I had to depart for the airport before the men’s professional race started this morning. I am hoping they do not have to face in the slippery conditions we had encountered. My season is now over and I am looking forward to some fall hikes when I return to Boulder.