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Posted by Editoress on 10/28/16
Sara Bergen, who currently races for Trek Red Truck, was a member of the Canadian team for the Elite women's road race at the 2016 Road Worlds this year - her first Worlds. After the race, I was talking with Sara about it being her first Worlds, and she said so many insightful things that I asked her to write about it for us. Here is Sara's story:
Cycling is amazing, because it so true that as a team you are stronger then the sum of the parts. As a team you thrive off each other's energy and drive - it's pretty awesome. I am excited and hugely proud that I was able to do my job for the Canadian team at my first Worlds and deliver the sprinters in the best fashion possible in the last several kilometers.
Sara Bergen (3rd from right) before the start of the Women's Road Race in Doha
Still the UCI road race in Doha, Qatar.... It was certainly the best of times and it was the worst of times - and how did I love it ;)
Ready To Race
This was my first time representing Canada at Worlds. After spending almost 3 weeks in the Middle East (2 in Israel and 1 in Qatar) I was feeling ready to race. I was feeling confident in the team. Confident that if we worked together we had what it takes to win - which is so cool! Under the direction of Zach Bell, the women's director, the whole team was incredibly motivated and committed to this goal.
The team was a pretty amazing group and included the second ranked cyclist in the world Leah Kirchmann, the 3 time TTT world Champion Karol-Ann Canuel, the powerhouse Joelle Numainville, along side Alison Jackson, Annie Foreman-Mackey and myself. I was so excited to have the opportunity to contribute to the possibility of a win and to lay it all down in support of the team.
A Note on Riding for the Team
Cycling is a unique sport for many reasons, notably the variety and specialization of the athletes. You have climbers, sprinters, time trial specialists, and all rounder's. The peloton and each team for that matter is a patchwork of these different riding styles. It's pretty magical how all these different specialties can come together in a team and that team race in support of one rider. It's a bit of organized madness but that's why I love this sport.
As a member of a team you ride for the team. You support the strongest rider who is best suited to that specific racecourse and who has the best chance to win. This is notably interesting and somewhat confusing, because at the team presentation everyone stands on the stage together and the team is introduced. During the race the riders work together in support of the strongest athlete. Yet at the end of the race there can only be one winner who gets to step up on the top step of the podium.
The Plan and My Role
The plan in brief was to win the sprint by delivering Leah and Joelle to the line via a world class lead-out. The hope with a lead-out is that you give your sprinters a clear path to do what they do best. It's not uncommon for a world class sprinter to get boxed in and not be able to fully contest the sprint. How you try to ensure a clear line for your sprinter is by protecting them from the wind, bringing them around and ramping up the speed such that when you deliver them to the line they are already up to a very high speed and then they just need to deliver that final ~250m effort.
With a lead-out, the idea is that the members in the lead-out train are completely emptying themselves before the end of the race. For example, in a train of 6 the first rider's job would be done at perhaps 3 km to go, the second rider would be done at 2 km to go and then onwards until the sprinter is within a good distance of the line. The beauty of a lead out is that you are literally burning through teammates, each person in the lead-out is going 100% out in support of that sprinter and the team result. My role as second in the lead-out train was to deliver my teammates within the 2km mark then let my other teammates take the sprinter in. This would prove much easier said then done on this fast technical course.
Take a Feed all the Feeds
I would be lying if I said the extreme temperatures ( ~38 degrees C) were not wearing on the athletes. The course was 135 kilometers, composed of a 15km technical circuit that we did 7 laps of [plus a run-in from the start at Education City]. This circuit was complete with at least 9 roundabouts and two 180-degree turns. The course was technical and fast; it was mayhem yet fun, aggressive and fast, very much my style. There were two feed zones at either end of the circuit and it was critical, due to the temperatures, that you took a feed every lap in each feed zone to ward off heat exhaustion. That meant 2 bottles a lap; the only trouble with this was you were kinda stuck as an athlete, it takes effort to jump out of the peloton and grab a feed and get back to your same position. You have to slow down to take a feed and that leaves you having to fight your way back up to the front time and time again. Such fighting over 7 laps starts to wear on you. However, if you don't drink or dump cold water on yourself you risk heat exhaustion and not being able to contribute to the team, and perhaps being forced to abandon the race.
Adjust the Plan
With bike racing you always need to be ready for things not to go as planned; you need to be ready to adjust your plan to whatever the race throws your way. We can communicate with each other and our follow car through our race radios. This gives us the ability to adjust the plan to some degree. However, sometimes things just happen and you need to react on instinct.
It all started when I got tied up in a crash on the 180 turn on maybe lap 4. The crash was relatively slow speed yet I went down hard [note: cracked helmet and a visit to the hospital after the race]. Despite this I was able to get back on my bike and, working with other riders, catch back on to the lead group within 1/3 of a lap. This didn't really affect the plan too much, all it meant is that I had already exerted some effort chasing back on to the group. Once back in the group I needed to be sure I recovered as fast as possible and regained my position for the last lap. I won't lie - it's really, really hard not to panic when you crash and get dropped from the pack. You need to be calm and believe you will catch back on. You also need to start working hard, if possible work with other dropped riders and use the follow cars to bring you back up as quickly as possible.
The Last Lap - 100% Focus 100% Chaos
The last lap was probably the most intensely focused I have ever been in my life; it was so cool. I was, for lack of a better term, I was "in the zone"!! I knew, crash aside, I needed to perform my job for the team. I needed to be there for them in those critical last 5km. Coming into the final lap I hear Zach over the radio "Annie's out, Sara move up, this is why you are here, we got this". He was right, I was too far back, I had about 10 km to make up the position and grab everyone on my way up to the front. We had to organize and get ready for the lead-out. As soon as Zach said "Sara move up", I was off . I think I moved up over half the peloton in 1 km.
Side note: in bike racing you need to react instantly if someone says move this way or that way; you have to do it right then. This is incredibly important in a lead out.
Over the next couple of km I went by my teammates and yelled at them to get on my wheel. Since Annie had to end her race due to heat exhaustion, I was now the first in our lead-out train. Once I got up to Joelle (which was a fight and a half in itself) things got real. We were now within 6km of the finished and we still had to move up. I knew those last 4 km were so crucial. However the amount of gutter riding, fence dodging, pushing and squeezing into gaps, and forcing people out of the way was insane.
Joelle kept the pressure up, it was exactly what I needed , "Sara go now, go left, hold it, wait wait ,now go!!". Her experience truly showed in those last 5 km; she was driving that train, it was awesome. We managed to claw our way into a better position coming up on 4 km, and caught up to Leah right then.
'Ok, sweet' I thought to myself, we have the pieces of the train, now to lead this mother out. From 4km to 3km we needed to be top 10 wheels, I knew this. The fight for positioning was insane going into the 180 corner. Since there were only 3 of us (the others had been unable to connect) the fight was comprised of using other teams' trains to shelter from the wind before moving up.
The highlight of my race was these last 4 km. I literally remember every metre of those last 4 km. Once we grabbed Leah, we tagged onto the Great Britain train then jumped to the Dutch train. Leah now took over driving the lead out telling me when to go, when to stop, to wait, or to get on a wheel. After the 180 corner and all the fighting we were still just over 3 km out. The group of 3 of us were sitting in the top 10 perfect position - I was stoked!
The peloton was getting strung out behind us as riders struggled to match the top-10s acceleration out of the 180 corner. Now within the 3 km , it was my job to keep the sprinters as free and clear as possible and to take them as far as possible. Since there was only 3 of us, we knew it was going to be a bit of chaos and they would have to fend for themselves in the last 1km. This wasn't ideal, yet both Leah and Joelle are crafty seasoned riders and are well suited to do just that.
Looking back on it, this was one of the highlights of my race, after we took the fast left I was moving them up, literally pulling up along the Dutch lead-out train. I knew my race was over soon (because I was exhausted from the effort to that point); I just needed to get them within 2km.
Until then the pace had been fast and the field was strung out, which is great for keeping the sprinters out of trouble. But as soon as you feel the pace slowing the wave of riders "the swarm" will quickly engulf you and ruin all that effort you spent setting the sprinters up.
So when they said 'Go!', I went with every last drop I had to keep the pace fast, to keep the field strung out and give them the best fighting chance possible. As soon as you feel yourself crack (max effort done) you have to get out of the way so your teammates can continue on.
It's really intense, burning out like that 1.5 km from the finish. The whole pack blows by you like you're standing still. You can't breath, your legs are dead weight, you hope your efforts set your teammates up for success.
We may not of achieved the win we believed we could; however, due to the team's efforts, Joelle was able to achieve a top 10 result, which is fantastic, and Leah was 14th. Having 2 in the top 15 was outstanding and very telling on how strong the Canadian team is.
The future for Canadian Women's Cycling is most certainly bright!
Sara Bergen Out ;)
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