Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Liz Hatch: An Invitation to the GiroDonne





American Liz Hatch, simultaneously known as a very good professional cyclist in the U.S. and for her photospread in MAXIM magazine, recently was invited to join an Italian team and her first race was the GiroDonne. Here are her comments, before and after the race:

5-4-3-2-1 it's time for the Giro

"I'm gonna puke."

"You're fine, just relax."

"Nope, definitely have to puke."

"Focus, idiot!"

And so continue the voices in my head. Can I blame them? Not really. What normal person wouldn't be nervous, it's the Giro d'Italia for god's sake! (Normal is all relative when it comes to pro cyclists; I've never met a normal one in my life. Eccentricities amplified!)

The countdown to the start of the Giro prologue begins 5-4-3-2-1 beep and things snap into acute focus. Adrenaline, that sweet rush of warmth, a chemical reaction that makes an athlete feel superhuman fills my body and I'm off. Legs pushing the pedals over quicker and quicker, the feel of gears shifting and the disc wheel hissing. In aero tuck I imagine I'm a knife cutting through the evening air and slicing the noise of the crowd in two parts. A clean precise line. I pretend that my legs are not screaming in an ever-growing fiery pain and if that doesn't work I tell myself that the pain is the most enjoyable feeling one can experience. Anything to convince the brain that the legs are doing what they should be doing, not to give up until the line has been crossed.

So many times a cyclist repeats this ritual in their career but for me this particular moment carries with it extra importance. This is my first Giro d'Italia, a race I grew to love over the years of being a cycling fan before I ever raced a bike. If someone would have told me four years ago when I lined up for my first small town criterium that I would be perched atop the start ramp of the world's most beautiful stage race (in my opinion), I would have told them to have their head checked. Yet, here I am in my second year as a professional, in Italy, on an Italian team and doing the biggest race in the country. Bonkers!

So how did I get here? Only months ago I was still racing in the US with my team, Vanderkitten. Aware of what a huge opportunity it was to race in Europe, and specifically the Giro, they were kind enough to "loan" me to a small Italian team based in Lucca, Italy called System Data. I can't fully express my gratitude to my team and teammates back home for all their support and understanding, which has allowed me to start on the path to fulfilling my ultimate goal: racing full time in Europe.

And so it began, my Tour of Italy. 2.7km of sweet suffering. In the end I placed 28th. Not bad I tell myself, but naturally a competitor is always searching for more. Faster, stronger, better.

Not bad doesn't quite satisfy the appetite. Domani, as they say in Italy. Domani.

So here is where I leave you for tonight, my bed is calling and there is another race tomorrow... See you then?



ed. note: Hatch finished 98th of the 105 finishing riders

Donne and dusted

After 10 days and many hundreds of kilometres the Giro Donne has finished. As I sit in the car on the drive back to Lucca I'm quiet, reflective and trying to gather my thoughts on my experience from the past week and half. So many thoughts - things I learned; things I assumed I knew but didn't; things I wish I had done differently; but most of all how much I enjoyed the race. Even the bad moments (and there were plenty of those).

I won't go into a play-by-play account of each stage as I honestly can't remember much of it in finite detail although strangely it's a vivid burning memory in my head I won't soon forget. In the end I feel like the details of a race are left behind us on the road, a play-by-play is always just an interpretation of what happened. For me it's the behind the scenes stories that tell the most interesting tales.

So where do I begin? With the word respect.

Respect for the women who pedalled and pushed themselves beyond the limits of what most would ever consider natural. These are tough, strong, buoyant athletes. They fight for every last metre, they crash, break themselves and get back up, they love racing bikes with a passion. And I am honoured to have finished among champions and unknown riders alike. We may not all be friends off the bike, I may never know more than someone's name, but I applaud each of us.

This year's race was said to be one of the hardest in years therefore I would like to pay extra respect to the girls who raced their asses off despite the obstacles. For instance the rider who told me she was at the race without a mechanic or massage therapist. It takes guts and extraordinary fortitude to suffer for something one has a deep love for.

In the cycling world it's more often the men that get the glory, so to speak, but I can assure you that the women race just as hard and most of the time without many of the advantages one would expect a professional athlete to have. In no way am I taking away from how tough the sport is for men, I am only wishing to pay tribute to our side and say that I am endlessly inspired by my peers.

In the grand scheme cycling is just a sport but it might change individual lives. In fact I'm sure it does as I'm personally one that has been changed for the better because of it. The life experiences racing has afforded me and the sporting family I've gained and learned from are priceless. All from a perfect, simple machine - the bicycle. Belissima!

Photos: on the Vanderkitten team, in GiroDonne with Test Data. Photos of Hatch's MAXIM photoshoot: http://www.lizhatch.com/Smoke_Show.html

Stories, including cycling trip stories, for the Italian Cycling Journal welcome; contact veronaman@gmail.com

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