By Dede Demet Barry, T-Mobile professional cycling team
The World Championships is usually my final race of each season, but in Verona last weekend, I pinned my numbers and lined up on the start line for the final race of my career.
To be a part of the World Championships in Verona was very special for me, as the cycling fans in the heart of Europe, and especially in the North of Italy are passionate. The road racecourse, which winded through the streets of the city of Love, was spectacular. It passed through the center of the city, by the arena, close to the house of Juliette, where she was courted by Romeo, and winded up the Torrecelli hill, which was quite selective.
The American team had six riders, Amber Neben, Kristin Armstrong, Kimberly Bruckner, Christine Thorburn, Tina Mayolo and me. We entered the race with hopes of conserving as much energy as possible in the early laps, as the difficulty of the climb would make the race very selective in the final laps. With that in mind, I sat nearly last wheel for the opening laps, avoiding the nervousness in the peloton and taking in the ambiance through the city streets and up the climb.
At the halfway point, it was time to get more serious and keep a close eye on the protagonists and a tighter reign on the race. There were several individuals and small groups riding off the front of the peloton for short periods, but ultimately, all the favorites saved their legs for the final laps, so we did not have to react to much or waste much energy until the final few laps.
With each lap, the pace was increasing up the climbs and we were losing riders off the back. The peloton was thinning. With one lap to go, I found myself in the front bunch of about thirty riders with only one teammate, Christine Thorburn.
The big move came in the final lap at the base of the climb, when Edita Puckenskaite, the Lithuanian who won the World Championships on this course in 1999 made a fierce attack that split the bunch. I tried to follow, but cramped up as I jumped out of the saddle and put the pressure on the pedals. I had to sit and ride tempo behind. Christine passed me and pulled hard up the hill, but at the top, we found ourselves 8-10 seconds behind a group of leaders.
On the descent and all the way to the finish, we chased with a little help from Oenone Wood and Sue Palmer, but we never regained contact and the gap grew a bit.
In the front, Judith Arndt jumped away on the descent and won the rainbow jersey. She is a very deserving champion, as she has consistently been one of the strongest riders in the bunch over the past several years and has won several World Championship medals in the past, but never the jersey.
Judith was found sipping a few beers at the Mezza Bar in Bardolino in her rainbow jersey later that evening with much of the peloton. Everyone was ready for a big celebration after a long season.
After a long night out, I was awakened early Sunday morning to watch the men’s professional race with Michael’s parents. I spent the day wandering through the streets of Verona, chatting with friends, sipping Cappuccinos, eating pizza and being a fan.
Michael looked strong in the early laps, but unfortunately, he had a bad fall at the top of the climb that forced him out of the race. He was beat up and limping and it reminded me of how fragile good form can be in cycling.
In the past weeks, my mind has been spinning with thoughts of the past, present and future as I have considered my final race. I am very appreciative of the experiences I have had racing my bike, the people I have met and the support I have received from fans, sponsors and family.
My bike has been the vehicle that allowed me to explore the world and experience the ups and downs of life. I will continue to ride the bike each day in the coming months and years, as I love it, it keeps me healthy and fit and for me, cycling is a spiritual experience. There are many things I will miss while not racing, most especially all of the friends I have made through the sport, but I know I will always stay involved at a different level and I am excited to open a new chapter in my life.