All you can give is everything you have.
As I watched Mara Abbott, alone, straining against the pedals and headwind with a 38 second lead and 8 kilometers to go in the Olympic Road Race last Sunday, it was plain to see she was pouring everything she had into the effort. Across the nation and across the world we were screaming at our television screens, willing her to Olympic gold.
Alas, it was not to be.
Mara and her teammates did everything right. The final climb suited Mara’s climbing ability and the team set a hard pace going in to the climb to put the peloton into difficulty. As the lead group reduced in size, Mara was in her element. Cresting the summit only one rider was left with her, Annemiek van Vleuten of the Netherlands.[blog_promo promo_categories=”coaching” ids=”” /]
By now everyone knows the tragedy that unfolded on the technical descent. Van Vleuten appeared to bobble on a tight right hand corner, but rather than slide out, her back tire skipped. She “high-sided”, going airborne and landing heavily on her head and neck in a deep roadside gutter. With the benefit of a few days worth of news we now know she suffered a bad concussion and three fractured vertebrae. But as Mara and then more riders streamed by her soon after it happened, no one knew the extent of her injuries.
Mara successfully navigated the tricky descent, but then faced a long, flat ride to the finish by herself. In that scenario your only choice is to ride as hard as you can, and hope. It’s an all or nothing play, and a Catch-22. If you give everything you have you could make it to the line for a solo win. But if you give everything you have and you get caught, there’s no energy left for Plan B.[blog_promo promo_categories=”camp” ids=”” /]
Tactically, Mara was up against a perfect storm. On the flat run to the finish there was a headwind and a chase group of three pursuing her (Anna van der Breggen, Emma Johansson, and Elisa Longo-Borgini). Not far behind that group was another containing four riders, including World Champion Lizzie Armistead.
When you are in a solo breakaway the best thing that can happen is for the chasers to start battling each other. Riders start sitting on instead of pulling, or they launch attacks and then slow down. The infighting behind you slows the chase and increases the chance you can stay away.
With a three-woman chase group, everyone in the group had a chance to earn an Olympic medal, but only if they caught Mara. There would be no infighting, but rather committed cooperation until they were on Mara’s wheel. To make matters worse, there was a four-woman chase group mere seconds behind the first chase. If both chase groups came together to form one group of seven, chances for a medal dwindled significantly. Even if they couldn’t catch Mara, the first group was going to ride all out to keep the second chase from catching them.
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It was four against three against one, in a headwind. Yet, because there are no race radios in the Olympics, Mara didn’t know what was transpiring behind her. It wouldn’t have changed her strategy even if she did. She was all in, full gas, either way.[blog_promo promo_categories=”bucket list” ids=”” /]
The best any athlete can do is to make all the right decisions to put yourself in position to win. That is what you can control, and that is what Mara did. When you do that you can walk away from any race, regardless of the result, with your head held high. Of course, that is infinitely easier to say when the result works out in your favor or you’re a coach sitting thousands of miles away.
I am so proud to call Mara a #CTSAthlete, not just because of her results, but more because of who she is, the strength of her convictions, and the way she competes. Mara Abbott may not have won an Olympic medal, but her courage won the admiration of everyone who watched her race. On Sunday I wanted to reach through the television and give her a big hug, and I’m glad her coach, Dean Golich, and her family were in Rio to support her. As a community, do me a favor and show Mara what her performance meant to you in the comment section below.
CEO/Head Coach of CTS
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