Greetings from El Salvador, or as I like to call it, Hades. It's a little hot here. But I don't want to give you a weather report right now. Nor do you want to hear about a saddle sore the size of Pluto growin' where my sun don't shine. I want to tell you a better story.
See, I wasn't supposed to be here. I was never supposed to get this far in this quest. ESPN thought it would make an interesting article or two. Not twelve (and counting). They have been wonderful and generous about sending me to races and paying for my articles, But because they did not expect St.Kitts and Nevis to come through, nor did they expect for me to be asked to join cycling teams in China and South America, nor did they expect me to ever ride my bike at this level, I have--quite frankly--exceeded their budget. So here I am in El Salvador, half way through my points quest, but without any way to visually document my story other than with Amanda the Wonderminion's little digital camera. Oh well, we still have words!
Today was the Grand Prix de Santa Ana, a 96K road race with 70 competitors including national champions from Spain, Ukraine, Brazil, Venezuela, the Netherlands and other far away places. And among them, some chick from St. Kitts and Nevis. Without teammates. Who was never supposed to get this far.
After four weeks of flat-course races where the sprinters dominated the points and ranks, I was feeling a bit dejected. Putting myself on the line day after day, giving my all but coming up short again and again...this beats up a brain and body somewhat. I wondered if I had it in me anymore. I wondered if I belonged here, among the best. I wondered if my confidence would come back. And then something changed. I stopped wondering. I don't have time to wonder. I'm not sure what clicked in my head, but when I landed in El Salvador and saw the profile of the race courses--rife with hills--I felt a strange sense of calm. You see, hills are my homeboys. All of a sudden I had teammates of the topographical kind.
And so, 15K into the race, there came a large, long hill. And a break of 25ish girls. And lo, I was in it! And off we went. I kept up with every surge and sprint and attack. Better still, I initiated some of them! And when the pace backed off with 20K left to go, a voice inside me said "There is no way I am slowing down, there is no way I am going to let a sprinter win this race. A climber will win this race, and I'm going to F-----G make sure of it." So I went. With no teammates to help me, the other women sat in and waited for me to get tired. But I didn't get tired, not yet. A rider from Spain came up to me and took her hands off her handlebars and put one hand across my waist (like a "mom arm") saying "Stop. Slow down." A string of expletives flew out of my mouth, though I'm not sure which language I used. I shook her free and kept going. When the finish line rolled around, there was (of course) a sprint for it, but only the climbers were left in the pack. I did not win. Marianne Vos, the reigning world champion won. I came in 20th place. But this was the highest level race on the UCI calendar. Qualifying Points went 20 place deep.
I now have three UCI points. I'll need more to qualify for the Olympics. About 43 more by May 31st, as it stands now. But today, my 3 points feels like 3,000. Feels better than an Olympic medal. And now I know three things: I can get these points, I can climb, and I deserve to be here.
March forth. 8 races to go.