Haley Smith: PanAm Champs - Cota, Colombia

This article was originally published on Haley Smith's website.

Well, things sure are wild south of the equator.

This past week was my first trip to the Southern Hemisphere, and it was quite the experience. After a brief altitude camp with the National Team in Big Bear, California, we packed up and headed out to Bogota, Colombia. Words can’t really explain what Colombia was like… suffice it to say that the city was “bustling”.

We arrived late on Wednesday night, and hit the course first thing on Thursday. I was warned that Colombians like to climb, and the warning was well justified. The lap was just about 3 km, but it took the U23 women ~18min per lap… To me, that math means the course was STEEP. Just to add to the difficulty of the climbing, we were racing at about 2500m (around 9000ft). If you were looking for any oxygen up there, you weren’t going to find it!

For some reason, the organizers had the U23 women starting at the ungodly hour of 8am. My teammate (Catherine Fleury) and I woke up well before the crack of dawn (5am to be exact) and tried to rouse ourselves with treated-water tea (which really just tasted like blackened, chlorinated water) and choke back some breakfast before we headed to the venue.

Things got interesting as soon as we started our warm up. At 7am, the people of Cota were mostly still asleep. Their dogs, however, were not. I was warming up on a cobbled street, right alongside 2 golden retreivers, a yellow lab, and a rottweiller who all seemed to think I was the perfect target to be chased. Let’s just say I was more than a little nervous (bikes + dogs are often not a good combination!)

Whatever the circumstances, I made it to the start line in one piece… only to have the organizers mess up the call up. Kate Courtney (plate #1) and I (plate #3) missed the call up (did it even happen? Who knows.). No matter, we rolled up to the line anyways. I dinstinctly remember thanking the Lord when the mic was handed off to the chief commissaire, who happened to speak English as his first language (at least I’d know how many laps I was doing, right?).

The gun went off (or rather, the commissaire said “GO” in a medium-loud voice) and we charged around the stadium for the start lap. We were climbing within 30 seconds of the start of the race, and I found myself boxed-out and then running as I was cut off turning a corner. This happened a few times in the next 5 minutes, and I found myself in about 7th as I finished the first half lap. Or at least, I thought I was.

Coming down the descent on the first lap I heard my coach yell, “20 sec to gold, you’re in silver!” – I proceeded to yell back “WHAT?”. I could have sworn I was in 7th. I must really need to work on my counting. Or maybe I was just seeing double (or septuple) due to the severe lack of oxygen.

Photo: Anderson Bonilla

Photo: Anderson Bonilla

If I’m being very honest, I don’t remember much of the race. I honestly think all of the avaiable O2 was being diverted to my legs instead of my brain during the race. I know on the second and third laps I was in a pretty tight group of 3 (fighting for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th), before managing to launch an attack that severed fourth place.

Photo: Anderson Bonilla

Photo: Anderson Bonilla

On the last lap of 4, I had 2nd within my sights again… and then a tree literally jumped out of nowehere and clocked me a good one in the face. I swear the tree wasn’t there before (Damn forest out to get me…). I got my head back on straight and started turning the legs over after this, but I’d lost contact with 2nd. I gave it my all, but I had to roll home for 3rd on the day.

The racing was pretty exciting, what with the added elements of altitude and unpredictable conditions. I’m quite happy to get my first international medal in the U23 category! I owe a HUGE thanks to the entire Cycling Canada team for all of the support preparing for the race, as well as the organization and help down there in Colombia. An equally large thanks to Norco Bicycles, SRAM, Kenda, and Stan’s NoTubes for setting me up on my rocket for the race!

Now it’s time to get back to training (it is only April 1st, afterall… the season hasn’t even started yet!). The next stop on the calendar is one of my favourites – the Sea Otter Classic. I hope everyone is enjoying the first signs of spring!