With an unknown course awaiting her, Meredith Miller (CalGiant/Specialized) is not willing to set any public goals – yet – for the upcoming Cyclocross World Championships in Koksijde, Belgium this weekend.
“I really have no idea what to expect.” Miller told podiuminsight earlier this week from her Belgian homebase close to Kalmthout. “Of course, I’ve heard a lot and I’ve seen the videos. But still I’m sure it’s going to be 10-times harder than even what I have envisioned in my head.”
Miller has been training with eight-times and reigning USA Cyclocross Champion Katie Compton (Rabobank-Giant Off Road team) and Compton’s husband and mechanic Mark Legg while in Belgium.
“Where we’re staying here, there’s a lot of sand and forest around us” she continued. “We were riding in the sand, and they’re like ‘pfft this isn’t even as hard as Koksijde’ and we’re still struggling in what is a 100-meter section of sand here.” she laughed. “It’s going to be challenging but I have to remember that it’s hard for everybody and sure there are going to be a few specialists who do super well on the sand but I just have to roll with it.”
Given all that, Miller is not setting any expectations until she see the Koksijde course and see how she feels. “I don’t want to set any unfair expectations for myself and let myself down if I don’t meet them, especially when I don’t really know what it’s store yet.”
With her top-15 result at the Tabor World Cup at the beginning of the season, Miller earned an automatic nomination to Team USA. She along with the four other women on the team raced at the Hoogerheide World Cup last Sunday where she finished 11th after avoiding the nasty crash at the start.
“I was lucky to have a good start and be in front of all the chaos, I heard the crash behind me but I had no idea that so many people got caught up in it. Obviously I knew that one or two people had gotten seriously injured because they were laying in the road the whole race but I didn’t know who it was after the race was over. “ Miller said. “We started and we made the first left hand turn and dropped into a muddy section, I saw people starting to dismount so I dismounted but of course, it was elbows and bikes flying everywhere so I got over, got tangled up a little bit, and all my hard work in the start kind of went out the door so I had to play a little bit of catch up.”
Then it was up to Miller to ride hard enough to catch and pass other riders. “I rode a smooth race.” she said. “In the end, I wished that I had a little bit more in my legs, I did everything that I could and I think I rode a smooth race, it was just a matter of being able to stay on the gas the whole time. I think I did a pretty good job of doing that, I’m bummed that it came down to a sprint for tenth at the end and I was the one that lost out but I did everything that I could. I could have played cat and mouse with her a little bit but there was another rider pretty close behind us and so I didn’t want to take the chance of getting caught and trying to sprint against two people instead of just one. You take your chances and unfortunately I came out on the losing end of that little battle but I was still happy with how I rode.”
Before coming to Europe, Miller had to deal with her disappointment with her 6th-place finish at the USA Cyclocross National Championships in Madison.
“It just kind of how you have to be in cross because you can’t have a great day every day. There are a few people out there, Katie Compton, how many times now has she won nationals? eight times, eight years in a row. But for her, even in those days, she’ll probably admit that every day hasn’t been her best day and unfortunately my best day doesn’t mean that I can still go win a race.” Miller laughed, “It means that I’m still trying for second or third or something.”
As a professional athlete for many years on the road and cross, Miller has learned to deal with disappointments and setbacks.
“That’s part of the sport is being able to mentally rebound from those bad days because if you let it get to you then you’re just going to end up going backwards and digging yourself into a deeper and deeper hole. I know that I’m capable of riding stronger than I did that day, so I just had to wipe the slate clean and look forwards instead of looking backwards. Sure I learned from some of the mistakes I made that day but I’m not going to let it affect my racing from that point on because the racing here in Europe is important. Obviously World Championships are huge and I’m not going to look at one day of racing in Wisconsin, granted it was a big important day but I’m not going to let that get me down. The course is different, everyday I wake up feeling different, my legs are different, there are so many factors that go into a race race day that it’s impossible, you can’t ride at your best if you’re going to let a bad day affect you.”
Though it could have been any day, the bad day happened at Nationals with her family present. “I had an interview after the race and I said that it was probably one of my most disappointing result since I’ve been racing cross. I still think that, definitely it was incredibly disappointing especially because Madison is sort of like a hometown for me, it’s where I started racing, I had a lot of family there because my parents, brother, sister-in-law, nieces, they’re just one hour away and they were all there watching, my cousins, so there was a lot of pressure to do well,” she laughed, “and so that made it even worse when I didn’t do well. But it was a tough course, I couldn’t seem to do anything right that day but I’m not going to dwell on it, I haven’t dwelled on it sure I would have liked to have seen a different result but got to move forwards.”
After her workout on Wednesday morning, Miller re-located to Veurne, close to Koksijde to start her final preparation for the race which includes course inspection and pre-riding. With a course so sandy, a slower pace for course inspection can be difficult.
“I bet a lot of it we’ll just end up walking the course because you can’t ride it very easy.” she said. “Thursday or Friday, we’ll probably ride the course and then the other days, we’ll probably ride and then just go walk the course.”
The other decision will be where to line up, if she has the choice when she’s called up on the second row on Sunday morning. “Sometimes you don’t get a choice and other times, it’s really about the person who’s in front of you and knowing that they get a good start, and then other times it’s just well do I want to be on the left side or the right side depending on what that first turn looks like.”
Many factors go into making that decision, Hoogerheide World Cup was a good example.
“I got called up right after Caroline Mani and obviously she has good starts so I thought okay I’m going to line up next to Caroline and then use her as my motivation to get off the line quick, unfortunately she was caught up in that crash.” she said. “At Hoogerheide, I knew that I didn’t want to be on the inside because there were some roots on the inside of that first turn, and I wanted to take the outside line so I was able to line up on the outside.”
Some of the quick starters include World Champion Marianne Vos (Stichting Rabo Women Cycling Team) and Helen Wyman (Kona).
“If you look at the start from Sunday, Vos, she was off the line quick. Helen Wyman is another one who quite often gets the holeshot, when you watch the videos, she’ll go out and lead for the first half lap or so because she gets a really fast start. I would say Vos and Wyman are the two fastests.”
Miller finished 27th at the 2011 World Championships in St Wendel, Germany.