Posted on August 16 2017
Sol Breads-Cyclinic Team Rider Megan Williams headed over to Norway in September to represent Australia in the Junior race at the UCI Cross-Country World Championships race. Megan has put a few words for us about the race together here...
As someone who left England aged 2, I’m as used to the long flight to Europe as you can be, having travelled back many times to visit family. I was really looking forward to the break from school, having to hand in four assignments about two hours before setting off to the airport on the Wednesday. It had been a huge challenge balancing Year 12 and training for the World Champs and Anna B had done a great job dealing with this in my schedule. Also with the help of some disgusting immunity concoction I’d stayed pretty much illness free for the 5 months of training even when it seemed the whole school had come down with the flu!
This flight was no different to the others; no sleep, sore legs and type of people who keep moving their chairs back when you’re trying to eat. Though it gave me an awesome excuse to catch up on all the movies I missed out on seeing during Year 12. 26 hours later when we got to Oslo airport (on the Friday afternoon) the fun started as we stood for an hour watching an empty carousel going round. No luggage, and more importantly no bike! After lodging a lost baggage claim and popping into a local shop to grab some essentials (i.e. clothes), we started the drive up to Hafjell, just north of Lillehammer. Norway is such a beautiful country, and all the way up the mood in the empty hire car was lifted by the rivers and mountains on view, and then lowered again by the fact every other car on the road had a bike on the roof. After the 2 1/2 hour drive we got to our ski lodge accommodation. First thing we noticed was the grass growing on the roof (good insulation?). Not sure how you would mow it. The weather was much better than it had been in Hafjell in the preceding weeks and while a bit colder, wasn’t that different to the Brisbane winter we’d left.
After a couple of nights in the ski lodge I joined up with the Australian team for breakfast on Sunday morning. Still with no bike! Fortunately I’d packed my helmet, gloves and shoes in the hand luggage as well as cycle kit from the Saturday’s shopping trip. The team were really supportive and Phil and Donna immediately set about trying to find a bike for me in case mine didn’t turn up at all. Dad also contacted Lillehammer MTB club and they were fantastic, organising for me to borrow a bike (thanks Lisbeth and Mari). As it turned out all our luggage arrived on the Sunday night, so mum and dad did a 5 hour round trip to the airport to pick it up. I got the bike on the Monday morning and after some work by JZ was good to go, and I finally got to ride the course.
After a lap I almost wished my bike hadn’t turned up. There were 3 technical downhill sections which I was particularly nervous about and had to force myself down them (photos just don’t seem to do it justice). I was amazed to watch many of the elite pro’s running it rather than ride it. And again later on Wednesday when I heard Nino Schurter audibly gasp when he rode down it in the relay. Anyway, with dad at the bottom waiting to catch me (instead taking a photo) and JZ at the top egging me on I went for it…and survived. Full of confidence I did it a couple of times more (making sure it wasn’t just a fluke) I was stoked that I could now ride the whole course. It was very different to the dry, dusty Australian courses I’m used to riding, really wet and slippery roots and rocks everywhere, and the climbs were unrelenting.
I went for another lap on the Tuesday in full Australian kit. When I reached the rocky downhill (near the end) there were about 10 other girls in my category crowding around it with their coaches and I refused to look at it to prevent myself psyching out. It was however unbeknown to me that the UCI had done a course inspection on the Monday night with one of the changes being the removal of my rock (circled in red) which I’d relied on getting down the day before. Instead I just leapt the edge… and went straight over my handlebars. Fortunately dad was stood at the bottom talking to one of the other nation’s coaches when I came down… so luckily he caught me and I walked away with a bit of bruising. The bike however, cartwheeled straight into the coach dad was talking to, knocking him off his feet and into the bush (thankfully he took it well!). I was pretty spooked but worked out another line and forced myself down it again. Thanks Christine for patching me up.
That evening we went to support the XCE riders in Lillehammer. The Aussie riders did really well, including my fellow U19 rider Ellie Wale who made it through the qualifiers! The team relay was raced on the Wednesday and Dan, Bec, Cameron and Reece got 6th. Race day on Thursday was looming and I was getting pretty nervous. The Australian team was great fun and everyone was pretty upbeat. It was also a huge help having Donna and JZ to work things through with. Also having the likes of Dan and Bec there to pass on their knowledge really helped.
Thursday came and before I knew it I was lined up in the rider’s pen waiting to be called out. I took a quick gel and rode to the start line. The organisers then proceeded to play a bit of pre-race music to build everyone up. It was terrifying, like something out of a horror movie followed by some really loud heartbeat noises. They played it before all the races and every time I heard it my heart rate jumped about 30 bpm! The gun went off and all the U19 girls that had been smiling and chatting before the race went for it. I had over 40 girls around me and it was all elbows and dust. Starting near the back was a bit of an issue particularly when a girl two lines up lost traction at the first tech section blocking the path and causing the inevitable traffic jam. Back on the bike I was desperate to make up some ground. Unfortunately I took a different line in an attempt to get past someone however I forgot to lift my wheel (instead out the saddle pumping) so I went straight over the bars, landing heavily damaging my wrist. I jumped back on and kept pushing hard though. I got pulled at the end of the third lap on the 80% rule literally a few seconds from making it through.
My finishing position was taken from the start of the lap and I ended up with 34th. I would have liked to have finished the 4th lap but the whole experience was fantastic and it was such an honour to race for Australia. With school finishing in a few weeks my focus now is to work really hard in the time before I start Uni and try and get picked for Australia to go to Andorra next year. I really want to thank Anna Beck and Cyclinic for where they got me to with just 5 months of proper coaching and Kenmore Cycle Club for the financial help in getting me to Norway and Alex (training) and Michael (mechanical) for their help in getting me prepared. Finally I want to thank the Australian team for being so supportive and making me feel very welcome and in particular Donna, JZ, Christine and Paul van Der Ploeg.