Life as a bike jockey: Are you in or are you out?

If I was racing, I was going to be in it 100% with whatever I had

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Whenever I get down on something, I think of my friend Linda, who would approach any situation with the question. “Are you in or are you out?” Granted, she’d pepper the moment with an F-bomb or two but the lesson was always the same.

If you’re in, be in with 100% of whatever you’ve got, even if you’ve got practically nothing. There’s no judgment if you decide to be out, but whatever you decide, do it 100%. Don’t be in and wishing you were somewhere else.

Anyhow, I thought about this as I stared at the hospital ceiling in Belgium, the day before the Houffalize World Cup.

Houffa, Houffa

When we arrived in Houffalize on Thursday, I was stoked on the course after my pre-ride. The super steep climbs suited my goat nature and even from the first lap, the descents we’re all rideable.

In contrast to the first World Cup race in South Africa, I was feeling pretty confident. I wouldn’t say I was BeeGees struttin’ confident, but I was feeling good about the race on Sunday.

And then I went out to ride the course one last time on Saturday.

Houston, we have a problem

While I couldn’t tell you exactly what I did, I do remember second-guessing my line down a couple of log stairs. After that, it was ass over teakettle and a CRACK! as my face hit the ground. I got up and started spitting blood.

Luckily I was riding with my friend, Caroline Manni (smart little French cyclocross racer and who’s looking for a summer internship in the States… anyone?… anyone?). Caroline helped me off the course and phoned my boyfriend, Tom who had made the trek out to Belgium with me.

Tom and I made a plan to meet at the medic station at the base of the course. I’ll give the fella points. He kept it cool when I told him what happened. He has since informed me, however, he’d prefer to never again hear that I was “looking for my tooth in the dirt.”

Coming down the mountain

I caught a ride to the base on a four-wheeler with one of the Red Bull TV camera guys. It wasn’t his job, but with my scraped up face and a toothless smile, he was powerless to my charm.

When we got to the medics, I was thinking it’d be alright since I was walking and was able to pronounce all the swear words I wanted. But the doctors were a little more concerned with my “asymmetry.” They sent me to the hospital suspicious of a cracked jaw.

Good times, good times

The rest of the day is a mild adventure and nothing I thought I’d experience when I packed my bags for Belgium. As far as I’m concerned, marked off my list of things to do before I die are ambulance rides in foreign countries and CT scans for broken face bones or worse.

Tom’s day was a little more exciting in a high-stress, my-girl-is-in-the-hospital sort of way. He made new friends all over Belgium. There were the paramedics on the ambulances, the nurses in the admission office, the doctors and everyone he met on course as he hunted for the bike I stowed with a TV crew I couldn’t name. Big day. Little guy was all tuckered out that night.

By the time Tom returned to the hospital with the car and a bag of my clothes for an extended hospital stay, the CT scan had come back negative and the docs had cleared me to ride. It was huge relief and almost brought a smile to my swollen and now duck-billed face.

Still, the emotions fluctuated from knowing how incredibly fortunate I was to being really bummed. I’m lucky Tom was there to lighten the mood. Once he found out I was ok, he mostly returned to his normal jokey self.

If anyone else had told me I needed a tattoo to go with my new tough look, I’d have given that clown a black eye to match my own.

But now there was the matter of racing.

Race day

Sunday morning came coldly and quietly. The pain medications the doctors gave me had worn off and so had my enthusiasm to race. The usual Houffalize morning fog was a welcome sight. I was racing no matter what, but had it been raining, it would have been so much harder to get on the bike.

I headed out to the course. My legs in warm-up weren’t encouraging. Neither were the worried looks and “Ooffs” from passer bys. (“Ooff” is French for “Giiiiirl, you messed yourself UP.”) I tried to get pumped up for the race; mantras, visualization, Maori war dance, but the energy still stayed low.

The gun went off and the sweet 32nd call-up I earned in South Africa seemed to vanish. I went backward by the second. The legs weren’t there, but Linda’s words were. If I was racing, I was going to be in it 100% with whatever I had. So I jumped on every wheel I could and passed at every chance I got. Even if I was pedaling for last place, I was going to pedal hard.

How it played out

I finished in 62nd in Houffalize. I had hoped to rally by the next weekend at Sea Otter, but those finishes also fell far from what I had hoped. And that’s the roller coaster that is racing. I had a great start to the season and now a couple of WTF weekends.

It doesn’t weigh well for my chances making the Olympic team but I’m still taking my shot at it. Nothing is decided and anything can happen on any given day.

What’s next

Pretty crazy schedule coming up, but I’m thankful that I’ve got this opportunity to live my dream. As I type now, I’m on a plane for the Whiskey 50 in Prescott, Arizona. Then it’s home for two weeks before heading back to Europe for World Cups number three and four.

Yup. I’ve decided.
I’m in.

Thank yous…

Thanks to everyone for all the support and well-wishes after Houffalize, especially to my teammate Chloe, my team managers Tim and Amanda, Caroline Manni, UCI’s Simon Burney, the doctors on the course, my family and friends, the Red Bull TV guys (wherever you are), the Trek-Subaru mechanics who offered to rough Tom up so he didn’t get funny looks sitting next to me on the flight home and of course, to Tom for just being pretty awesome.

Judy Freeman is a pro mountain biker out of Boulder, Colorado. She was nominated to the Olympic Long Team as a potential rider at the 2012 London Olympics. Freeman races for the Crankbrothers Race Club. Team sponsors for 2012 include Ibis Bicycles, X-Fusion suspension, Formula braking, SRAM shifting, Crankbrother components, Pactimo clothing, Fi’zi:k saddles, Continental tires, Rocky Mounts racks and Pearl Izumi footwear. Join her for her monthly column on called “Life as a Bike Jockey.” Also, be sure to follow her adventures on her Facebook athlete page.

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