By Fred Dreier
It’s been two weeks since Rachel Lloyd closed out her 2007-08 racing campaign at the 2007 UCI world cyclocross championships in Treviso, Italy. Lloyd, a native of Fairfax, California, was the highest-finishing American during the January 26-27 championship weekend, crossing the line in 9th place. She briefly rode as high as third, until waning fitness from a long season caught up with her.
“I just started fading — I knew I didn’t have the legs that I had during [the North American] season. It was a little disappointing,” Lloyd said. “I just got to the point where I needed to recover and see if I could finish. I was waiting for the people to start passing me.”
Not too many did and the top-10 finish was as good as Lloyd scored at the 2001 world’s in Tabor, in the Czech Republic. This year’s finish came despite a series of spills and bobbles she suffered on the slippery course. Lloyd started in the fourth row and was felled in a crash shortly after crossing the line. After sprinting up to the second group of riders on the second lap, the American found the going tough on a course thawing from an overnight freeze.
“I thought it was more tricky than the nationals course,” said Lloyd, who scored a second-place finish on a similarly tricky course at the 2007 USA Cycling national cyclocross championships in Kansas City. “The ground would freeze at night and then thaw in the morning. It was slicker than the ice [in Kansas City].”
Despite the mud, crashes and fading fitness, the world’s race proved a successful bookend to Lloyd’s return year to professional bicycle racing. Along with her second-place finish at nationals, the Californian picked up a sixth-place overall in the 2007 Crank Brother’s U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross series, won Oregon’s Rad Racing GP UCI race and won the USA Cycling national Super D mountain-bike racing title. Alongside her teammates on the Bay Area-based Proman-Paradigm team, Lloyd also jumped in a handful of road events.
The season marked Lloyd’s first full racing campaign since the 2004 world cyclocross championships in Pont Chateau, France. Lloyd finished an impressive 14th at that race. But following worlds the Californian decided to walk away from professional racing. She had spent nearly a decade racing full-time — Lloyd was a pro downhill mountain-bike racer, a top-level cyclocross racer and a roadie as well. The lack of sponsorship dollars in women’s racing and the constant travel-heavy racing schedule, she says, led to her burnout.
“I had been dirt-bagging it for so long, and part of me felt like if I’m going to be living like this I might as well just have fun and not stress about results,” Lloyd said. “I felt like if I was meant to be a bike racer, I should have been getting paid. I mean, most people don’t spend 10 years working a job where they don’t get paid.”
Lloyd kept her bikes around for recreational riding, and instead honed her athletic focus on running events and mountaineering. She picked off summit ascents in the Cascade and Olympic ranges and backpacked. She also began studying massage therapy. After earning her license as a certified massage therapist, Lloyd opened a practice out of her house. Not surprisingly, local cyclists made up her clientele. With a more steady income rolling in, Lloyd says her motivation to race bikes returned. In the summer of 2006 she entered the Downieville Classic mountain-bike race and set a new course record on the downhill course, and almost took home top honors in the cross-country as well. She decided that 2007 would be the year of her return.
“Once I started working I realized I could have plenty of time to ride, but it’s not like I have to worry about results to survive,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd admits that she has yet to finalize her 2008 schedule. With her diverse skill set as cyclist, she could easily find results in road, cross-country, downhill and cyclocross races. Cross-country racing could stand as a challenge — she doesn’t yet own a racing mountain bike.
She has ambitions of landing on the podium at a World Cup cyclocross race, but says she realizes the conflicting schedules for North American and European ’cross racing ups the challenge.
“I know that if I could do more World Cups I could get on the podium. There are about 15 girls that are at my level, who are fighting for 3rd to 15th place,” Lloyd said. “It’s tougher for North Americans, we start in September and by December nationals is already over. If we started in November and had [nationals] in January then maybe [the schedule] would work better. Or maybe we just need to have worlds here.”