Passing the torch - Inspiration from former Olympic team members

The recent news of Team TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank riders, Kendall Ryan and Lauren Stephens, being named to the Olympic long team has us full of the Olympic spirit! In that light, this week's Lockdown Lowdown features a behind the scenes look at the management team's Olympic memories, experiences, and insights for Ryan and Stephens as they navigate Olympic waters.

Team TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank owner, Linda Jackson, is a six-time Canadian national champion and competed in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic road race.

To my riders, I started this team back in 2005 for women like you. For talented women that dreamed big. Women who wanted that pinnacle of women's cycling - to become an Olympian. I am very proud of how far both of you have come, and I am thrilled that you have made the long team. All of us on the team, from riders to staff, are rooting for you. My first race ever was a little local race in Morgan Hill, California.

I was brand new to the sport, didn't know what I was doing (i.e., towed the strongest rider around the whole race and lost to her in a sprint), but I was hooked.

Cycling was in my blood; I had to see if I could become a top international cyclist, and the only way I could do that was to focus on it full time. So in 1993, I left my career as an investment banker to pursue my dream of becoming an Olympian.

I never looked back. I went to my first world championships that summer, won a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in 1994, made the 1996 Olympic Games at 38 years old, and accumulated six national championships along the way. The Olympics were everything that you dream about as a little kid and more.

I can easily say that it was an amazing highlight of my life, and one that I will never forget.

As I think about Kendall and Lauren and their pursuit of the 2021 Olympic Games, I offer them these words of wisdom:

  • Focus on the little steps along the way. The only way to get to your long term goal is to achieve each daily goal.

  • Persevere: Never wonder, "what if?" What if I had trained a little harder when I didn't feel like it? What if I had been a little better with my nutrition? What if I had worked on my weaknesses instead of focusing on what I was good at? Give it 100 percent in these coming months so that, no matter the outcome, you know you did your best.

  • Be Positive: The difference at the top between the winners and the losers is largely mental.

  • Have confidence and believe in yourself: You have come this far because you are talented.

  • Stay balanced: You can't be all cycling all the time. You'll need some downtime. Spend some time with your family, your pets, do other hobbies that make you happy.

Directeur Sportif Rachel Hedderman has represented Great Britain at the world championship level, the 2006 Commonwealth Games, and the 2004 Olympic Games. Our communication manager, Ingrid Drexel, also has an accomplished palmares, competing in multiple world championships, the Pan-American Games, and the 2012 Olympic road race when she was just 19-years-old.

What was your Olympic selection process like?

Rachel Hedderman: Our selection wasn't based on one race; it was a combination of UCI rankings and a coaches selection. Throughout the year leading up to the Olympics, I focused on being the best that I could be, not just through results but through results also the way I raced. The road race is all about the team, so a big part of the selection process was proving that you could be a valuable team player.

Ingrid Drexel: For me, it was different. As a "smaller" country, we had to fight on every possible race where we could get points to get one spot. After getting the spot, we had to fight among five riders to be selected by the federation.

I was only 18, my first year as an elite, and didn't know many riders at a high level. I knew I was strong, although I never thought I'd make it to the Olympics this young.

After several races, Mexico didn't get a qualifying spot. In the end, the IOC gave us a wild card, so Mexico was to be represented in the road race at the 2012 London Olympics, and we had to battle it out between us.

The Mexican Federation gave us three targets, and from those, the best rider was selected. The first was nationals, where I won both time trial and road race. The second was the best-placed rider on the last stage of Nature Valley Gran Prix, which I achieved as well. The final target was to be the highest placed rider on the individual UCI ranking. Sum up the three objectives, and there was no doubt I was the one to go.

Can you recall the emotion you felt when found out you were going?

RH: I think the official notification was a letter from the BOA (British Olympic Association), and the feeling of getting that letter is hard to describe. By the time it was made official, I already knew I had been selected, but seeing it on paper brings a whole host of emotions: excitement, relief, and nervousness.

ID: I remember I had just finished training and met my coach for a chat. While we were talking, I got a phone call from the Mexican Olympic Committee. They told me that, after a very intense and extensive meeting, they finally selected me. I honestly couldn't believe it. I guess I didn't have time for anything except concentrate and get back to work because there were very few days left before the race.

I honestly couldn't get my head around it. I couldn't digest it. I always thought my ultimate goal was to make it to the Olympics and then retire, but I was too young for that and was just getting started.

Share some specific memories from your Olympic experience. What are some things that surprised you about it? What was unexpected?

RH: Everything was "bigger" than anything I had experienced before. I had been to world championships and commonwealth games, but everything at the Olympics was just bigger. From the trip to GBHQ in London to get my kit, to the athletes' village with buses to get to the food hall, to the specific lanes on the highway only for Olympic traffic, to the crowds at the race itself, it was easy to get lost in the event.

The best part, for me, was standing on the start line of the race and realizing that this was what all the hard work of the last four years had been about. It was time to put aside all the "overwhelmingness" of the occasion and race my bike.

ID: It was all like a fairy tale. I turned 19 years old a day before the race, and couldn't go to the opening ceremony because I competed the next day, so I had to be at my best.

In the lead up to the race, it rained every day, so I was optimistic that it would be dry on the day. But it was the opposite - rain, hail and super cold weather was on the menu. I was scared because I had never raced in these conditions before, but I knew everyone was under the same circumstances. So off we went.

On the last lap, the winning attack happened. When it did, I was caught up in a big crash in the middle of the peloton. It was too late to catch the leading group, but I worked hard to get back.

Still, I was doing all by myself. The group I was with had all their leaders in the main bunch and didn't want to work. I said to myself, 'you are here to finish and do your best.' I rode around 50 km by myself, cold as I could be, feeling the hail hit my skin every pedal stroke I gave and feeling the mud all over my face. I finally made it to the finish line. I was out of time limit, but I was proud to be the only Mexican and fighting until the end. I could go on and on, but the rest is history, I only know that this gave me more willpower to continue growing my professional career.

What advice could you share with Kendall and Lauren based on your experiences?

RH: Control what you can control. You can't do anything about what anyone else does or the current situation, so your focus should be on the process of doing everything you can do, in each race, in each training session, to be the best that you can be.

Enjoy the experience, you have already proven yourself to be at the top of your sport, and you should be proud of that.

ID: My only advice would be, give everything you've got in the tank. Enjoy every moment, and believe that you deserve to be there. People will always talk. You will never make everyone happy, but you just got to believe in yourself. As Lauren (Stephens) told me, 'FOCUS only on the things you can control.'

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