Race 1: U23 Women
It is hard to decipher what we just saw there. It's been a couple days now, and we had hoped that some sort of clarity would arrive with some amount of distance. Yes, the Spanish now have a U23 medal holder in their midst. Something that hasn't been accomplished since, well, since who knows when? Well, actually I went and looked it up and the answer is — never. There was a time when an Italian was champ (Franzio!) but that's about as close as we've gotten Spain.
Also, it should be interesting to note that Ellen Noble came closer than any American before her (Timmy J was 3rd in 1999, if we can dust off our memory banks). That was pretty awesome and a race that was more than worth noting, it was downright EXCITING! Especially for a race that is in it's infancy.
Ellen's steadfast positioning throughout the race was unbelievable to say the least. There was twisting and turning, a dance atop mud and ice that no one wanted to lead, so she took over with commanding excellence. And excellence that no doubt points to her future prominence in the sport as well as her childhood smashing vert ramps or whatever young skaters do these days.
Richard Fries told everyone that was listening at Worlds about how her parents built skate parks and she smashed them down on not only skateboards, but also BMX bikes. This was proven true, in my mind at least by her ability to remain the most consistent factor over the course of the race. Not once did she waiver in her fierce focus on getting to the finish line.
There was one bummer note to this race however. She had a little slip up on the last lap that allowed eventual winner Annmarie Worst to take over at the front. This wasn't the bummer, this was just racing. The bummer happened when, I greeted the entire USA Elite Men's team near the finish line. They were all on their bikes having just done some sort of preparatory ride through the surrounding countryside and were all jazzed up that their twitter feeds had told them that Ellen was about to win the title. I was the one that contributed to their crestfallen faces upon breaking the news to them about the finish line and who got there first.
Then, when that line had been crossed and her 2nd place finish secured, she did something that wasn't seen in any other race (at least by me) on either of the days. She went and hugged Evie Richards of the UK, the rider who finished directly behind her and had the pressure on for the entirety of the race. They smiled and laughed to each other and maybe there were some tears, but maybe they were just stoked to be racing bikes?
Any way you slice it, we're all now firmly in the Ellen Noble for Prez camp.
--- Elite Women ---
Julie remarked that "it was the final off camber section that makes the race. And whoever gets there first, or cleanest, was going to be the winner." She wasn't wrong as the previous races would go to show.
To say that we were cheering for Sanne Cant would be a bit of an understatement.
"I won't be able to take it if Cant doesn't win" is what Rich Bravo said as the race kicked off. And at first glance, the race gave the appearance of disappointing Mr. Bravo. It looked for a minute that Marrianne Vos would be adding another accolade to her long list while Bravo would be silently weeping in the corner with his Belgian friend.
Then, it happened.
We reviewed the tape again and again, or at least the number of times that Sporza replayed it up on the big screen, and what appears to happen is a slip. Then a jam, a stab of the pedal into something unseen and then, when she goes to reengage....nothing. The chain is off the competitor is gaining.
It was a tense couple of moments there, we all held our breath and grabbed each other by the arm and then, when Sanne deftly maneuvered past Vos, we cheered like madmen. Not so much for the negative effect that it may have on Vos, but more FOR Sanne Cant.
We openly tried to imagine what she must have been thinking when she rolled up and over that short rise to see MV leaning over her bike struggling with the drivetrain. And yet, in one Athenian and almost audible wrench Vos' chain was freed and she was back on the bike. As if the appearance of her competitor had allowed Vos to squeeze another ounce of strength from her tired bones. And wrench she did! She was free and they were simultaneously shoulder to shoulder forcing their way along the icy course.
The back and forth that happened next makes it hard to remember the order of events. Was all of this taking place on the last lap? Was there another to go? I don't think so. All I know is that there wasn't much breathing, only shouts of "no!" alternating with "yes!" and a few "holy shit!" exclamations thrown in.
I tried to keep it under control as they crested that last corner. We were just on the outside of it to the racers left. And I have to say, it's nearly impossible to cheer like a crazy person and take a photo at the same time.
Again with the breath holding as we turned to face the screen behind us, hoping that it had all not been in vain. The she would be able to hold off the just-as-feirce Vos down the stretch. As immediately as we could, upon seeing the outcome and a defeated Vos, we turned our backs on the screen and started our cheers once again for another - "Goooooo Katerina!" was all we could say as the emotional ups and downs started to take their toll (that's a lie, we were totally into it). 3rd! Podium!
We would speak to her fellow compatriots on the Czech Republic National Team the next day and they, like us, were in awe of her spirit and her ability to ride that course the way that she did.
Same with the Japanese National Team. They get the distinct honor of being the only National Team out there to be wearing our socks on course. And that, to us, is everything. Well, not everything, but you know what we mean. We braved the cold and the wind and a little bit of rain all weekend to bring you the very best in knit hosiery and already, one day into the weekend, we had been, in turn, greeted with the best racing that we've seen in a long, long time. This indeed, is why were were here.