Rider Diaries

Rider Diary: Michaela Thompson from Europe Cyclocross Trip 2019

There are many experiences in my life that have helped me grow as an athlete, but this trip is on the top step.

I started bike racing in the Fall of 2018 with the Boulder High Mountain Bike Team, and I had no idea I would end up where I am today. I joined Boulder Junior Cycling in the Spring of 2019 for mountain biking, and I travelled with the team to my first UCI mountain bike race in Missoula, Montana. That was when I knew I wanted to become more serious with my cycling. After 4 months of cyclocross with BJC, I earned 2nd place at the National Championships at Fort Steilacoom Park in Lakewood, Washington. This result earned me a spot on the World Championship team, coming up on Feb. 1, 2020. (This will be the first year ever junior girls have their own race.)  It also gave me the opportunity to travel with Team USA to Belgium during the Christmas holidays to prepare for Worlds with a series of races including one World Cup (Zolder) and three other big races.

I flew to Brussels on December 22nd and was brought to the team house in Sittard, Netherlands, two hours from the airport. The first thing I did was a recovery ride and meet all of the other athletes and staff.

I arrived three days before my first race, and both mentally and physically I was not prepared for the race, mostly because of jet lag. Arriving at Zolder was a totally new experience for me; seeing so many spectators and all the team camps set up. Everything from warming up, to the start, to the race was such a new experience. There were eyes constantly watching us. Even while warming up, spectators were standing around watching. I think that this scene, my first ever World Cup, and racing with the Elite Women brought me out of my usual focus and preparation. I started in the 10th row and raced as hard as I could, but ended up getting lapped by the leaders on the last lap. But either way, I was amazed by the people and the way the course was set up. I ended up finishing 71st out of 94 riders.

The next day, I raced Loenhout which was a tough one for me. It was super muddy and I still felt off my game because of my inexperience and the field I was in. This course was mostly flat with many mud bogs and ditches that I had to dismount for. This race had a junior women’s category, so I was able to see who the faster girls were. It was amazing to see how fast and aggressive the junior girls are compared to the field I race in back home. I ended up finishing 28th out of 61 juniors.

Between these races, I was able to rest back at the house in Sittard and explore the trail systems surrounding it with some of the other junior riders. We were also able to ride a few town bikes into the town of Sittard that was just a few miles away and explore the shops, eat amazing pastries, and get to know the area. Every night, we had a chef who made amazing dinners for us and we would have team meetings to review each day and process what we had done. 

I learned so much from the other more experienced athletes on the team while listening to the advice they would give me and hearing about how they felt during their races. I learned how much grit the athletes have even when they don’t race at their best. I also learned that even though these experienced riders have done races like these so many times before, they are still learning things from every race they do.

The support I was given from all the USA Cycling staff while racing so many days so close together was incredible. The bike technicians kept our bikes in perfect condition and I was given the chance to have the best recovery process possible. With massages, lots of rest time, and the best food possible to both recover and perform at my best.

Two days after Loenhout, I raced Diegem which was my first night race ever. This was one of my favorite races because of the excitement that surrounded it. I raced in the elite category and I knew that I should focus on the learning experience and not worry too much about the result. There were many road sections which I liked so I could use my power to my advantage along with a sand pit, an off camber section, stairs, flyovers, all the features you would see in a cyclocross course. The toughest part for me in this race was the cornering sections where I struggled with keeping my speed up and lost most of my time. I finished in 53rd among the elites.

The last race was Baal. When we arrived in this small Belgian town, it was very interesting how people generously let us set up camp in their driveways and right in front of their houses on the streets of a little neighborhood. I went into this race with the most focus I had all trip, and physically felt the most prepared. This was another junior race, and I got called up in the 2nd row and was ready to have my best race of the trip. My start was spot on and I was in 5th place coming onto the first section. Unfortunately, right away when we turned onto the grass, a girl came through and pushed me to the ground. My handlebars dug into the dirt and I got my pedal stuck in another girl’s spokes. I could feel the seconds being lost while struggling to get my pedal out of the spokes and fixing my handlebars. It didn’t stop there! I bent my derailer and had to ride the course leading up to the pit in my third hardest gear. I was in dead last but made my way up to 19th by the finish. When I look back at this race, I am disappointed. But I look at it as an experience that I know can happen and I can train in ways to avoid these problems for future races.

One of my biggest takeaways from doing these races is the amazement I have with how much cycling is growing, especially within the women’s field. I feel honored to be able to be a part of it and am excited to see what it becomes. I learned how to keep a positive mindset even through challenging sections of the races and doing the best I can in whatever moment I’m in. I am inspired and motivated to train even harder and become the best athlete I can. I now have the experience of these races in my head that I can use for specific training and will feel more comfortable when racing at Worlds.

I would not have learned what I did, collected the memories, or met such incredible people without the support of USA Cycling, and Jesse Anthony, the cross manager. Thank you to the Mudfund Foundation for supporting USA Cycling and making it possible for us to go on these trips. Finally, thank you to Boulder Junior Cycling and the amazing community I am surrounded by, including our sponsors Giant Bicycles, SRAM, Donnelly, and many others.

Now, in just a couple weeks, I leave to race World Championships on February 1st in Zurich, Switzerland with Team USA!

UCI World Cup Heusden-Zolder
UCI DVV Trofee Loenhout
UCI DVV Trofee Loenhout
Team USA Riders and Staff
The BJC Team: Coach Pete, Michaela, Maddie, Jared
Jared – UCI World Cup Heusden-Zolder
Maddie – UCI DVV Trofee Loenhout