Sports

Paths of Glory

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Even after a national cycling championship in 2008, and even after a fifth-place finish at the world championship in 2009, Leigh Thompson said she had a confidence problem.

That's when her coach threw her a new idea: Separate the training process from results.

"That actually freed me," said Thompson, an author and professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management in Illinois, who spends her summers training on Sequim roads.

"If you get focused on results," she said, "you can't ever be happy."

Perhaps that explains her reaction this August when the 50-year-old American won the women's Masters division at the world championship cycling time trials in Tirol, Austria.

"I was a total emotional basket case," Thompson recalls three weeks later, back in the United States.

"My husband came over and said, 'Congratulations, you won.' I said, 'Please don't lie to me.' Somehow I just thought this can't be true. I thought I did a decent job, a respectable job. I started crying.

"Now that I have a result, it feels like it worked."


No drafting allowed

For the casual cycling fan only familiar with the Tour de France, the time trial is a different kind of race altogether.

In the Tour and similar competitions, using other riders - including teammates - to "draft" behind is all a part of the strategy.

With the time trial, Thompson explains, it's all about the power and persistence of the rider.

"It's known as 'The Race of Truth.' I think that means the strongest rider ... wins."

The time trial is so focused on individual performance that they don't allow riders to get within 10 meters of another, or they'd be considered to be drafting.

So excruciating is the pain and focus of riding for those 20 kilometers each cyclist raced that some riders find it hard to move afterward.

"You should almost collapse (by the end of a time trial)," Thompson said. "It's kind of hard to train yourself to do that."

Many times, Thompson recalls, she'd have doubts as she pedaled along those rural roads out in Dungeness.

"When I think back on all those mornings when I started my simulated race training at the end of Three Crabs Road, went along Marine Drive and out past the spit, I feel that Sequim put me in position to win, so to speak."


Full-time, part-time


Thompson teaches full time at Northwestern and lives just north of Chicago, but she and her husband Robert Weeks keep a summer home in Sequim.

It was during her schooling at the University of Washington that she and Robert discovered the Olympic Peninsula.

"We made commitment to return to the Pacific Northwest," Thompson said. "We just fell in love with Sequim, with the water, the mountains. I love the fact you can hear the cows mooing."

After school lets out, Thompson is back on her bike, mentally mapping out the course she's to have in Austria weeks later.

"My key training in Sequim was in June and July to try to gear up for that event," she said. "I picked out this great stretch starting at end of Three Crabs (Road). I would just go as hard as I could. There isn't a lot of cars and traffic, and people there are very friendly."

Her training included racing to the eastern end of Port Williams Road toward the beach, racing up the hill, then back down and up again.

"I must have gone up and down that hill 250 times (this summer)," she said. "It's a great place where you have to go really hard. Some days I couldn't do 100 percent."

As a treat, she said, she'd do a meal at downtown Sequim's Oak Table Café.


The world stage

Thompson said she needed a bit of a confidence boost before competing once again at the world competition, taking on other top masters division (ages 30-plus) riders.

Thompson said that after analyzing her races she knew she had to get better at certain weaknesses, such as a mid-race turnaround.

"I tend to be more cautious," she said. Odd, for a professor whose classes include such courses as negotiations and decision making and creativity.

That's why encouragement from Thompson's husband was key. Weeks, an engineer by trade and an established rider himself, Thompson said, pushed her just enough during training to pull out the win in Austria.

"He's so critical - if I've accomplished anything, it's because of him," she said.

Following the win, Thompson strode atop a podium as she joined other winners in receiving medals and coveted "rainbow" jerseys.

Though not displaying the array of typical rainbow colors, these jerseys are special in cycling circles. Unlike national championship jerseys, which are worn for a year and then put away, world champions are allowed to wear their rainbow garb anytime they please.

The jersey was nice, Thompson said, but the best part of the ceremony was seeing the American flag raised.

"I'm a very patriotic person - I know what those flags mean to a lot of people."

"That was the greatest moment of my life, actually."

After reaching the pinnacle of masters time trial cycling, Thompson plans to keep on riding.

"I'm all pumped up now," she said. "I love competing, I love racing but I haven't thought about the calendar for 2011 at this point yet. I know something will be on it."

 

 

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