by Yannick Eckman (California Giant Berry Farms)
The day started like any other, with waking up and getting breakfast. The only change was that I awoke super nervous with a little ache in the stomach from my nerves. After having a good, solid breakfast, I went back into my hotel room and put my feet up until I left for the race.
When the course opened, I went out and did a couple of laps until they closed it down again. During those two laps, I found out that the bike got muddy almost instantly. My bike was just covered in dirt that was hard to get off since the temperature was getting close to freezing. When I got back to the tents, I told my mechanics that I wanted to switch bikes every half-a-lap to reduce the risk of a mechanical. Still nervous, I went onto the trainer for forty minutes before the race. I put my music on and I was in my own world going over the course a couple times in my head.
With twenty minutes to go ‘til the start, I got off and got everything ready and then rolled up and down on the starting line to stay moving and keep the legs warm. I was being staged in the second row because the first row was for the top finishers from last year and the top finisher from the 17-18’s. Everyone was staged and we suddenly got the one minute warning.
When the whistle blew, my nervousness went away and I focused on the race and trying to get to the front. My start was the best I had, but I still went into the mud around tenth place. This could have been a potential mistake because someone could have crashed in front of me or taken me down because of the mud and the ruts underneath. To avoid that, I chose to take the bad lines that cost a bit more energy but would be a lot safer. That ended up being a good decision since the first crashes happened right away on the left and right.
After the pit, I caught up to Drew Dillman in the lead. I had an advantage on the hill because I was able to ride it while he was running it. I passed him right away and just chose my own lines from then on, never looking back. When I switched bikes, my dad told me the time gap I had on the next rider. It was great getting splits just to assure that everything was going the way it should have. I kept switching bikes every half-lap and a clean bike made a huge difference because everything worked smoothly and I was able to extend my lead every lap.
Going into the last lap I started smiling, already thinking that if nothing went wrong I would win the race. With half a lap to go I knew I had it and I was super happy. Going onto the finishing straight, I started to celebrate and crossed the finish line with the biggest smile on my face. After I finished, I started to freeze right away with all the mud and wet shoes on me. I gave a couple interviews and then headed to my tent to change before going off to doping control.
I am really thankful to all the people out there that cheered for me at the race, and to my family in Germany who were waiting to get the result from my dad. Also, I want to thank all the people that made this possible (pit crew, sponsors, team, and supporters). I couldn’t have done it without any of you guys.