By ALP Athelte Mia Cheeseman
While I have been athletically involved all my life, I was not born with amazingly athletic genetics. I am the quintessential underdog, coming into cycling late in life and having faced a number of weird experiences in the sport. I've known to be successful I need to work a bit harder on the bike and keep my head in check.
Last year I competed again in the nation's largest competitive race series, Tour of America's Dairyland. My prior training paid off, I was sitting in 3rd in the overall on the last day and was in perfect position to take 2nd in the 10-race omnium. Then completely unexpectedly I was taken out early on the last race. I rode up the outside when simultaneously a rider to the inside overlapped wheels and pushed me into a metal pole. When my front wheel wrapped around the pole it snapped my bike in two. I landed on my left temporal and blacked out. I finished the race on a pit bike, but there was confusion from the officials that I could not persuade that I was should be 2nd. I went home taking 4th. It was a huge upset to me.
Recovery took much longer than I had imagined. My head and neck were sore for weeks, the facial fractures caused some internal bleeding, and the vision issues made me less confident. I partnered with ALP Cycles in the fall to help me stay on track - I knew I didn't want to give up riding my bike.
But I hadn't been fully convinced I would ever race again. I had recently had bad luck with work and health insurance issues - it was no longer a question if racing really worth it, it was more of a question of whether it was even responsible?
Then I raced an early season local crit to help get the jitters out. I felt decently fit, but not nearly as snappy as I was a year ago. I missed a big opportunity and wasn't set up well in the sprint. But I thought if my timing was better I could have podiumed. Ok so timing I can make better - I can alter that for next time. It's not as though I felt great but got lapped twice .
Then with some prodding from Coach Jen Sharp, I decided to enter the La Crosse omnium. The P/1/2/3 criterium was a legit women's race with nationally recognized crit racers, 32 on the start line. I struggled initially to hang on. I was forced to the back 3/4 of the race and knew a big part of the issue...
Watching the men earlier,
I knew it was possible to pedal through all the corners except for the downhill last one - if you were going faster than 25mph in the front, it was safer to counter lean on that one. Otherwise everyone was pedaling through all the corners.
But many women weren't comfortable with slow pedaling through the corners. I watched as seasoned women riders stopped pedaling too early before the corner and then had to work so hard after the turn to stay on. Others tried to cut others off by darting into the early part of the corner, instead of taking a wider, faster radius.
On top of that, the larger teams' threw out big attacks and accelerations so frequent and intense, I knew I needed to be toward the front. I found a few good wheels to corner with and worked my way up. As the race went on, I was really getting my rhythm. The race was smooth and safe, no one was racing with their mouth - this was 100% legs. I wasn't able to carry as much speed into the last corner as prior laps and ended up 3rd on the line with 2 other Cat 3s, 14th overall. The race averaged 26mph. It was not a stellar result but I was happy to have made mental progress. It was a magical race for me that I will remember forever. This is the type of race I was made for. I got my mojo for racing back. The intensity, the smarts, the brute strength, the careful eye, and being around other good riders reminded me why I race. I can't stop - I love this sport. It's moments like this we need to channel before every race. Push ourselves in our training to be the best we can be. Encourage others to be safe. Find the confidence to overcome the dark thoughts holding us back. Take time to celebrate and always keep your goals in check. Thanks coach for pushing me - it addressed a good deal of uneasiness.