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Becca Fahringer could have given up a few months ago.
In fact, she could have not even started the seemingly interminable gravel season due to persistent symptoms from a head injury she sustained in September of 2021.
But, when the longtime cyclocross pro registered for the Life Time Grand Prix series in February, she thought she would be feeling better for the season ahead. In fact, she was confident she’d land somewhere on the spectrum of the series’ $250,000 prize payout.
After a disappointing race at Sea Otter, where she finished 23rd out of 36, and a DNS at Unbound due to Covid, Fahringer had to come to terms with a reality that was far different than the one she’d envisioned.
“I went in knowing I would get a top 10,” Fahringer said. “It wasn’t even a hope, it was gift wrapped for me. I had experienced a lot of success in this sport before, not necessarily with the talent pool of the Grand Prix, but I tend to rise with rising tides. I was pretty disappointed to say the least when I was bringing up last place in the series.
“I think between the emotional struggles that come with head injuries and the emotional struggles that come with a change in identity, like being a bike racer that no longer wins races, I kinda lost motivation to race.”
However, on Sunday, outside of the confines of the Grand Prix, Fahringer got confirmation that she is still a bike racer that wins races.
The 33-year-old won Belgian Waffle Ride Kansas, a 125-mile race that some say is the most fun, dynamic BWR course of all. Fahringer dominated the singletrack sections and didn’t give up on the road, even when she was left out alone.
So what does a win like that — late season, after a long spell of injury and self-doubt — do to your mind?
“It’s a mixed bag of feelings,” Fahringer said. “Content. Curious how Big Sugar will go. I have nothing to defend in the Grand Prix, so it’s one of those ‘no pressure, see what happens’ things. Maybe I’ll still set a goal, maybe I’ll see what the day brings. It’s a little sad that the form starts to come around when the season ends, but I guess it sets up excitement for next season and a drive to train instead of two or three years of slogging though mediocre results, and illnesses. It wears on you.”
‘Hey, it’s gravel’
Although “mediocre results” and illness and injury have cast a persistent shadow on Fahringer’s season, she crafted a clever strategy to help her keep going.
One, she chose not to race Unbound after having Covid before the race. Then, knowing that she’d sunk to the bottom of the Grand Prix standings, she opted to enter the subsequent races — Crusher in the Tushar, Leadville — with a different approach. She let the “boisterous and almost annoying” side of herself get goofy on the race course.
The goal was not to heap more hardship onto an already challenging situation.
“I thought, ‘hey, it’s gravel’ — so you’re riding with people who are riding, you’re not just racing racers,” Fahringer said. “I started to maybe find the spirit of gravel. I went out and was content with riding my own race. It sounds silly, but it was really helpful when the women who were in the Grand Prix who I was around in the beginning ended up saying, ‘I appreciate your attitude out there.’ I realized that maybe my part in cycling doesn’t have to be high-end athlete but maybe stoke bringer.
Yet Fahringer also knew that her actions — antics? — hinted at defense mechanism.
“I definitely still waffled with my identity of wanting to be fast by embracing other side,” she said.
Nevertheless, the strategy worked insofar as it kept her from beating up on herself over results, and she staved off physical concussion symptoms.
When Chequamegon — the fifth race in the Grand Prix — came around, Fahringer was actually a little excited. The last-minute mudfest made it even better. Fahringer has raced pro cyclocross since 2013, and gravel actually came about as an “off-season fitness thing,” she said.
At Chequamegon, a 40-mile XC race, Fahringer missed the group she wanted to be with on the first incline of the race but decided to “race with the group I was in, and I felt invigorated and excited.”
Again, her result was nowhere near the top 10 she’d envisioned before the season started, but she felt a shift regardless.
“I don’t know if it was a positive feedback cycle of having fun that made me want to do better in training or if it was a coincidence,” Fahringer said. “But I felt like the sensations on the bike started coming back. I was enjoying long rides, pushing harder, leaning into the efforts. The power wasn’t necessarily there, but it felt good with whatever I was producing.”
It’s a good thing she didn’t give up.