The transition from junior to elite racing is different for everyone. Some people can make the transition quickly, while others take longer. I was fortunate to be allowed to race with elite women in the USA while I was still a junior. This meant I had some idea of what I was getting myself into in the future, but even with some experience, racing in the World Tour has been a steep learning curve.
Due to COVID-19 in 2020, I was not able to race on the road once during the 2020 season. My second year as a junior was ‘canceled’ essentially. Moving into 2021, I focused on the track for the Tokyo Olympics, which meant I was not racing on the road until August of 2021. With COVID-19 and my track focus, I did not race on the road for around 18 months (except for US Nationals in 2021). After I finished the Olympics, I went directly over to Europe to start racing with DSM. Going from racing as a seventeen-year-old at Junior Worlds in 2019 to racing at the World Tour level was a shock to the system, to say the least.
On DSM, I usually race as a support rider for my teammates who are capable of winning the races. I was not in a position myself to win a race last year or most of this year. There were a couple of points this spring where I started to feel like I belonged in the peloton, while other times, I questioned what I was doing there and if I would ever be able to be competitive at this level. I think there was more doubting than optimism, but there were little hints of hope now and again to keep the motivation high. I loved being able to help teammates succeed, but I always wanted to do more and be at the front of the bike race a bit longer. Yes, it depends on the course, but for many of the spring races, I just felt like I was missing one small thing each time.
Fast forward to late summer, post-Giro struggle, I was in the car driving to the airport for the Tour of Scandinavia. I was supposed to be my teammate’s last lead-out rider, but there was a late roster change because of illness. This roster change resulted in me being moved into the sprinter position on the team. There was no pressure from the team, but it was an amazing opportunity I did not want to miss. Several courses were suited for sprint finishes, and the team was committed to helping me in every way possible.
The team plan was for me to save energy each day while teammates looked for opportunities to get in breakaways. If the breakaway wasn’t successful, we would go all in for a sprint for me. The first day ended in a sprint, and I found myself at the front with around 3km to go after the girls positioned me. From there, it was about executing the plan for the sprint I thought about before the race. It was such a strange feeling to be sprinting for the win of a World Tour race. It had been so long since I had this feeling. I don’t think I was fully sprinting in the final because I was so shocked. I was sprinting against Vos, “the goat,” for the win. I placed second on the first stage behind Marianne Vos!
To say I was in shock and ecstatic would be an understatement. I kept trying the following days, but I made some mistakes which cost me more podiums. I still picked up 4th place on stage 2 and gained invaluable experience for the rest of the race. After this podium, I realized I was meant to be in the World Tour and that I was good enough. After struggling through the Giro and questioning why I race, to being on a World Tour podium at Tour of Scandinavia, I realized things were falling into place. A couple of weeks later, I was back racing for the win at the Merxem Classic, where I again placed 2nd, but only by like a cm. Things started to click for me, and I feel like I have made a lot of progress with my move from junior to elite!
Thanks for reading!
Photos: Cor Vos