The Pan Am championships…Proof that where there is a will there is a way to get to Brazil

After what was the most last minute travel and race prep I have done I ended up in Brazil October 10th as the sole female representative for Canada at the Pan am Championships. It all began on Monday, Oct 2nd. I got a call from the CCA asking what my form was like? Not great, but not horrible was my thoughts…and being a quick responder I was confident that a couple weeks of fine tuning would have me ready... a good thing too because 2 weeks was exactly what I had. Alison Sydor was scheduled to go, but could not get a Visa in time in France where she was preparing for Roc D’Azur – which she won. So that night I got a passport pic taken, got a Brazil visa form printed – great time to run out of ink! And put them with my passport to be Fed Exed to Ottawa the next day. My Visa was to be ready Friday and my tickets ready Wednesday.
Okay so it looks like I’m good to go.
Then the problems start; no Saturday shipping to Kamloops – so visa and passport will go to Max in Victoria and we’ll meet in the airport. Tickets sent to me and arrive Friday – but I’m at work till 6 and they didn’t leave them for me. They’ll be available for pick up next business day…did I mention it was Thanks Giving and I’m supposed to fly out Monday, but can’t get tickets until Tuesday. So after a whole lot of phone calls b/w me, the CCA and their Travel agent, and attempts to contact the courier or rebook we decide Sunday evening that it is not going to happen. Damn all those intervals and restricted treat intake!
Enter Michel Leblanc again. Not prepared to give up he stays up till 2am Sunday (Thanks Giving) making phone calls. Keith and I had gone to Friends for some Turkey and were just enjoying some tea post meal when I get a call from a Frantic courier, and could I meet her in 15 minutes? So we’re off at 8pm to North Kamloops to get my plane tickets…but oh yeah they’ve been cancelled. So I have tickets which may or may not be valid by the time I am supposed to board a plane at 9am. Keith and I go home and pack up the bike and will know at 6:30 am tomorrow when people are up in Ottawa whether or not it’s really a go. You can imagine the ups and downs of this weekend.

6:30 am: It’s a go. We’re off to the airport. But some obstacles still to be taken care of…with no passport or Visa I will have to claim baggage and get boarding tickets for the rest of my flights when I arrive in Vancouver. Stressful, but it all works out. The morals here are …never get paper tickets if you can go electronic and where there is a will there is a way.

So Max and I are off to Washington DC where we meet up with Matt Toulouse, Michel Leblanc and Jerome (our mechanic)…but just barely. Michel and Jerome had just 10 minutes to connect from their flight. So when we arrived in Brazil we weren’t surprised to find they had no luggage. But we and our bikes made it there and settled into the Pousada Hotel Atlantica in Camboriu, Brazil. A reputed Beach town and tourist destination, but with no notable mention in the Lonely Planet. It was a big city on the ocean with lots of natural beauty, but also lots of pavement and apparently not very representative of the country. After over 24hrs of traveling, sleeping on a plane and a 4hr time change we took just a quick spin around the city before having some grub and heading to bed.

Breakfast was served at the hotel. Lots of fresh fruit, breads, cakes!, cookies, coffee and interesting jams like pumpkin coconut and avocado puree. Lunch (almoco) and Super (Jantar) were served at a cafeteria where you could catch a gondola to the race course and a nicer beach. The meal hall, ahh a warm spot for us where we could eat rice and beans, beets, cooked carrots and as much fried and fatty meats as our hearts desired. Not necessarily fine dinning, but we all made it through…probably only gaining a couple pounds!

Wednesday, our first full day in Brazil, was sunny and the course was in great condition. There were some off camber descents, steep climbs and loose surf style descents and pavement sections before sending us down a 4 cross course and through the start finish into 2nd lap. I used my granny a lot, but enjoyed the course. Max, not having a granny gear, thought it was one of the harder courses he had done that year. A granny gear was put on his bike.

That night it rained…and rained. Max and Matt hit the course Thursday, but said it was disgusting and not to bother. Friday was more of the same. I did one lap and after running over 60% decided a 2nd lap was not necessary. Instead I went off exploring and wound up atop a really steep climb where a gigantic statue of Jesus shared a parking lot with a paint ball operation. It hadn’t rained in Camboriu since Thursday, but in the muggy air the course was not drying up quickly. Another dry, but overcast day Saturday and the course was much better and I was excited about racing again.

Sunday (Race day) – The women lined up for the Start. Representing the USA were Mary McConneloug, Willow Keorber, Heather Irmiger and Jenna Zander (U23), Argentina had their Olympian Jimena Florit, Brazil Jacquelin Mourao and Mexico with their top women Carla and Lorenza. In total there were 20 elite women and 6(?) Espoirs in the field. It was a talented and intimidating field, but my confidence was increasing with every day in Brazil. It was hot and muggy and I felt that could play out well for me. The gun went off and we started up the really steep paved start climb. I started out conservatively, not having raced in a while, but when too many girls hit the dirt in front of me I turned it up a notch. After the longish start loop Mary was off the front, Jimena in pursuit and Jacquelin between me and them. I got past Jacquelin on a paved climb before the first descent and didn’t look back. I was in pursuit and breathing hard. In the feedzone Michel was worried I might be starting too hard, but I felt okay and was crossing my fingers I was right. By the long climbs I could see both Mary and Jimena and we settled into a rhythm. Mary pulled away a bit every lap eventually gaining 2:30 on me, but Jimena and I kept very consistent time gaps to each other and I judged my pacing in the heat off the Argentinian. By Second lap and a comfortable gap to the next girl Michel no longer worried about my pacing. Giving me a cold wet sponge for my neck each lap. Last lap we knew it was determining time. Jimena and I both felt good, but luck was on my side that day. Start of last lap Jimena flatted. It’s never the way you want to beat someone, but it’s part of racing and goes both ways. We had 2 minutes on the next girl at this point, so I had to ride smart to the finish and she had to do a quick change and ride hard to keep in medal contention.

I knew third lap if I didn’t mess up I was guaranteed at least third, but now to be riding in second after such a last minute trip was exhilarating. Before heading down the 4 cross course I zipped up my Jersey so the Maple leaf would show as I crossed the line. It was a great moment and the first time I would step on the podium wearing my Team Canada gear. For Michel and I who spent countless time on the phone trying to get me to Brazil this was the icing on the cake. My job was to finish top 12 and qualify someone for the Pan Am games next year, but to medal was something else. Mcconeloug won and Jimena was bale to fight back for 3rd.

The day kept getting better for Canada. At 2 the Elite men and espoirs lined up. Again the US had sent their A squad – Jeremiah Bishop, Adam Craig, JHK, Mike Broderick and Todd Wells. Central and South America had also sent their top guns. For the U23s they had sent the two Sams. Starting 2 mins behind the elites, Max (U23) quickly rose to a podium position within the elite field. Matt rode conservatively and moved up a bit each lap. Max was able to hold onto his lead and took the U23 Pan Am Champion title and gold medal. Matt, who entered last lap in 4th or 5th position was able to overtake his competitors and pass all but Hector Leon Paez (6th at Worlds) to take our second Silver of the day. So it was three athletes sent for Canada and three medals. Time for celebration.

We decided to ditch the meal hall our last night and head out to a Churascaria where we ate from a great buffet spread and had meat skewers of almost anything you can imagine (lamb, chicken hearts, steak, stuffed roast..) and of course a couple celebratory local beers. Stuffed, we headed out to a local bar where we were eventually heated out by the wall to wall mesh of people and headed to the beach.

Monday Jerome and I were off to the airport as Matt, Michel and Max stayed behind for a couple days of surfing. A slight detour sent me home via Chicago, but I was back in the loops on Tuesday and back to work on Wednesday. I didn’t touch the bike or do anything athletic till Saturday when Keith and I decided to try out our first cyclo-cross race! It was fun, but hard and a piece of wire wrapping around my cassette sent me to the back after I had finally worked my way up to 2nd on the twisty course. Cross is certainly a different experience…kind of like throwing all my cycling weaknesses into a 40 minute period of intense exertion. But I’m stoked to give it another go with the things I picked up this weekend!