Ali’s World Championship bid in Hafjell Norway

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There was no time to think or take in the full realization that I was going half way around the world. With the multitude of business set-up endeavors, family events, and garden/home management, packing started late on Friday night. Saturday morning left time for a last garden check, house tidying, packing recheck and it was off to B-town. My travel to Norway was seamless, however when we pulled into the Nermo hotel/condos after nearly 20 hours of travel, exhaustion set in. It was only 4 in the afternoon, and we were encouraged to stay awake until evening to acclimate to the time change. At the Oslo airport I had joined up with the other members of the USA cycling team, XC/ DH (there was one trials rider this year as well,) and we bused together the 2 hour drive to Oyer, the town that houses Hafjell, the ski area/mountain resort that would be our host. By 8:30 we crashed hard.

Much of inland Norway is similar to Vermont. Green hills and valleys, with small farms and hay fields dotting the landscape. The trees are primarily large conifers with far fewer deciduous tress the back home, and the lakes are massive. Trails for biking/commuting (and skiing in the winter months) are everywhere. In many places the bike rack areas are brimming with activity and the car lots are sparse. There continues to be a hub of  recognition and pride from the 1994 winter Olympics in Lillehammer, where the ski jumps are visible from a great distance. It is truly awesome to see an active and vibrant community at work. The Norwegian Kroner is worth far less then the dollar. 100 K is equivalent to about $15.30, however things in Norway are not cheep. Luckily throughout the trip I only purchased the few things that I brought back home as gifts and one beer, which alone clocked in at 100k ($15!).

9/2/14
“Officially self employed. World Champs. fluctuating between a sense of belonging and lack of self confidence….although the nervous emotions and anxiety of racing are torturous I need to remember that: 1) this is the only world champs I will experience as an athlete 2) I got here from being passionate about riding and working really hard 3) my one personal goal is to try my best.”

The first three days were a waiting game. No riding was allowed until Thursday. Time was filled by walking the course every day, treking all around hafjell, watching the XC racers practice, stretching/yoga, visiting with the mechanics and pedaling around the parking lots, all the while enjoying the awesome buffet meals Nermo had out for us morning, noon and night. Team USA brought along three PT/Physio/body work therapists. Twp were designated to the xc team, and one was for the DH team. Chanley, our DH team rolfer/masseuse extraordinaire quickly became a friend. As 30 something year old moms, on our first trip with the team we had the most in common. Having the opportunity to have body work was wonderful. I did get the opportunity put my PT skills to work the first couple days per the request of one of the coaches, and furthered the likelihood of being asked to travel with the team in future years as a physio with the added perk of having experience as an athlete as well.

In a cute and cozy condo I roomed with Jill Kitner (despite only having briefly meet once before was a great roommate,) who was super encouraging and easy to be around. It was awesome to hear Jill’s story about growing up as a BMX racer, taking the world BMX bronze medal in Beijing, then transitioning to DH MTBing. Watching Jill review her daily Gopro footage, make detailed drawn out maps of the course and talk through her mental preparation was impressive to see first hand. We shared the condo with four XC racers. It was quite provocative to merge the disciplines that we can each understand one another a bit more. It seems many of the XC racers did not understand how much time and effort downhillers put into racing, both in training and over the course of a 4 day event. I think rooming with these awe-inspiring ladies helped each of us respect the other discipline more.

9/3/14
“A few times this weekend I have wished I was an XC rider. Not having to wait around for days, riding so much, nothing too crazy to have to ride- but the skin tight suits and awkwardly set up bikes would be hard to handle…..the risk and fear of injury always looms over you…with my family and business this is more challenging than ever.”

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Above: Ali on one of the massive start step-downs!

Thursday finally came and it was time to start riding the course. After not having been on my DH bike at all for over a week starting off with the ‘monter jumps’ was super intimidating. Despite having done jumps that big before, never four in a row. Yet, each time I rode they always felt good and it was a super fun albeit exciting start to the course. The upper woods sections went well. I stuck with the smoothest lines I found in course walking, and although not the fastest, they gave me confidence. The next section of the course was similar to a build up highlands track with jumps, super fast berms, and flow. The huge road gap with no lip looked like a huge pull to make the transition. Th guys were having trouble making it there first few attempts, which is never a good sign. Jill confided that none of the women were hitting it. Phew. The small road gap looked do-able, but when I stopped to watch it, a junior washed out really hard in the berm before it and was carted off my the medics. The sound of him moaning/screaming was not easy to get out of my head. My last 2 runs of the day were not as smooth as the first two.

9/4/14
“So nervous this morning my hands were a little shaky…these crazy tracks take everything vision, focus, drive, confidence, zeal and reckless abandon.”

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Friday, more training. Every times I went up the lift my stomach would be dancing with butterflies. My goals for the day were to hit the smaller road gap, smooth out the rock garden line, get more comfortable with the steep R hander before the fast open section, and to smooth out the final wooden bridge jump. Practice started well. I was feeling good on the jumps and upper woods, the smaller road gap went well every time, my entrance to the rock garden and upper section was solid. The lower rock garden there were many lines. I found a couple that worked well for me, but had trouble on the exit. After watching a number of other women have trouble in the same spot I worked on a different line and finally found one that seemed to be the best for me. Not the fastest, but smooth and one I could get comfortable with. The Steep R hand turn that Jill coined her nemesis, had been going well all day.

The lower section of the course had been great the first day of training and continued to be where I felt the most confident. I pedaled a bit harder into the wooden jump and made the transition. On the last run of the day something went wrong fast in the steep R hand turn, and at the bottom of the compression with speed I went over the bars, flying off the course into the woods. The DH coach happened to observe the crash, and he and the course marshal were sure I was done-for. The looks on their faces when I got up, dusted myself off and gathered my bike was of shock. They asked me some questions, made sure I had my wits about me and let me continue on. Close Call, so thankful I was unscathed! However, that experience made me take a more conservative line on following runs.

9/5/14
“Digging deep to make it through the next two days. Doing my best, putting in my all. Part of me wants to tuck my tail and hide, but I owe this to  myself to complete the task and finish!”

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Saturday: On the lift at 6:45 am, and riding at 7am, by far the earliest I had ever DHed! My one run went well, and at 8:30 it was a timed run, which was a race practice and would not make any difference in seeding or standings. I was first to drop, and everything went well, until I rolled out of a berm in the open section, summer salted down the hill, lost my knee pads and was caught in the tape. Yet no worse for the wear I gathered myself and continued. Further down the course on the last jump a small tear in my shorts caught on my seat and ripped a huge tear. It must have looked pretty funny crossing the line with a gaping flapper in my ass. Practice over I had time to watch and cheer for local hero Lea Davison as she tore it up and pedaled off with the Bronze. Yeah Lea!!

Sunday finally came after a sleepless night. An intense blend of excitement and nerves were constantly there. A serious crash had happened on the upper jumps and after waiting a good 20 minutes, we were allowed to ride, but had to roll around the jumps as a medic was still working with the injured rider. My run went well, and I was confident that the jumps would go well despite not riding them, so I opted for one practice run. I went back to my room, listened to music, rested and tried to relax. Not an easy task.

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Above: Ali in the gate

At 11:15 it was time to head up to the start for spinning, warm up, and to take my last run down. The intensity was nearly overwhelming. In my mind I was focusing on making it to the speed trap without coming off my bike as the rest of the course had been feeling great. First to step into the box, pull up to the gate and look out at the course, this time with a huge video camera right there. I focused, took a few deep breathes and was off. The upper course went smooth, I went around the second road gap as a teammate suggested it was faster to go around then transition off the berm and ride it. The rock garden went fine, and at the speed trap I was still on my bike.

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Above: Ali putting the hammer down

And then it happened..my guard went down as I had made it to the point I was most focused on, and at the sandy tight corner I was down. Dumbfounded and stuck in the pedal with my bad ankle I couldn’t move for a few seconds, and was instantly deflated. Finally got back on, but my focus and mo-jo was gone. The rest of the course was a struggle as the mental anguish of crashing was permeating into everything. And then I came off my line at the last rock section and was down a second time, and again I could not get out of my pedal. Crossed the finish line both relieved it was over, and totally crushed I had lost it. Had I put a foot out, and focus for 30 more seconds to have had the opportunity to ride the course in its entirety well. As I watched the rest of the women ride on the big screne emotions flooded through me in every direction. I went for a few free ride laps to check out more of Hafjell, watch the pro men and clear my heavy head. Made it back to the bottom to watch Nekos unbelievable run, Sam hills, scary crash, Gee’s winning run and Ratboy nearly taking the win it had it not been for demolishing his foot. What a scene!!!

A race is never over until you cross the line. World cup and champ courses demand everything mentally, physically and emotionally. Training by yourself is challenging. Having real fears of injury preventing me from starting my business, and making times super tough for my family enforces conservation and hinders the ability to fully let go and race. Riding under pressure is challenging and although sometimes that helps me to step up and push harder, much of the time it can have an reverse effect and make me reign it in a bit more…choking under pressure. Riding with people that have riding experiences which vastly outnumber my own is/was both awesome and intimidating.

So So THANKFUL that I had this opportunity. Some needed rest and a day of contemplation helped me to let go of the down trodden emotions and celebrate the experience, finishing, coming home in one piece, and the craziness of it all.  My plan has been to retire from DH racing after this season as my goals with DH riding have been met and surpassed over the past 2 and 1/2 years that I have been riding these big bikes. Luck has it that I will attend one more race, as I leave next week for Mammoth CA . At the final ProGRT I will attempt to take the title for the season and finish my DH career riding with friends on a track that looks like fun. Riding will always be a part of me, coaching, training, weekly women’s rides, and enduro are on the agenda for next season.

9/9/14
“Sad frustrated and bummed that I did not pull a good run together…glad to not be part of the carnage. Just embarrassed my skills didn’t come through. My goals and focus need to shift there intensity to building a successful PT practice and filling my primary role of being a mom….I have grown and changed, am more open and pliable, bending with life, open to changes and accepting of the challenges that face me.”

Heart felt thanks and love to all who have helped me on this adventure!!!!! Rolling on. AZ

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