Levine Law Group Elite Women’s Racing was ready for the first national-level race of the season in Birmingham, AL when the COVID pandemic set off a chain of event cancellations, sending riders home into the unknown. Instead of taking on the thrill of a full race calendar, these professional athletes improvised one day at a time to stay safe, motivated, and connected to their teammates. Team Director Lauren LeClaire shares how the team has coped with the challenges that have come in such an unexpected year.
In a normal, non-COVID-19 universe, our Levine Law Group women’s squad would be gearing up to head to the finale of the USA CRITS Series. A long summer of travel filled with racing and camaraderie would all be about to culminate in an exciting night under the lights in downtown West Chester, PA at the Benchmark Twilight Criterium.
Instead, we encountered a 2020 race season that never even had a chance to begin. As we arrived at our first event of the season in Birmingham, Alabama – a prequel race and media camp – the world was being flipped upside down by a virus. One by one, major sports leagues in America canceled their seasons as COVID-19 cases rose around the country. We arrived at our host houses, ready to race and meet new teammates for the first time, yet shortly after my flight landed in Birmingham, the event was canceled. In a moment of panic, I had to call riders stalled at home until the last possible moment, directing those waiting in airports not to board their flights. I sat with riders who were already in Birmingham to help everyone make new travel plans to get home safely as soon as possible. I had no idea it would be the last time I would see many of my friends for months. It was a tough day, but only after a whirlwind of activity and a very long drive back to Massachusetts, everything really began to set in.
Other than the lack of toilet paper at the grocery store and barren shelves, it would be the uncertainty which would become one of the biggest sources of frustration in the early part of the spring. Would there be any racing? If so, where (and when) would those races actually be? Riders were left to train for races with continually changing dates that would then disappear from the calendar altogether. Many were left to sweat it out in solitude on indoor trainers, for fear of encountering others when out on a ride in dense urban areas. We eagerly awaited communications from USA Cycling and the USA CRITS Series to get any idea of what to expect. And when those updates would finally come, the answer was generally that we couldn’t really plan on anything for the foreseeable future.
Of course, every athlete is going to handle this scenario differently. As a team whose riders live coast to coast and as far away as Canada, this involved a lot of FaceTime calls, Zwift dates, and finding new ways of staying connected. We had to adapt. We had to find new ways to keep our competition-driven minds engaged.
For Hayley Bates, a second year rider with our squad, this process was a bit of a roller coaster:
“Everyone was anxious to test the legs. No one knew how to approach training – so we just kept on going using training as our return to normalcy. At first it seemed like we might race in June. Then July. And then one by one, races dropped off the calendar – until there was nothing left.
Initially it was easy to remain optimistic. I put in some of my biggest miles ever. I planned new routes and aimed for big training weeks. I went through swings of extreme motivation. I’d do more than my coach laid out for me, and setting PR’s left and right. And then I’d burn out, my power numbers at 60% of what I was capable of. My poor performance in training didn’t help my self-esteem, and I ended up caught in a cycle of trying to make myself happy with my training and trying to be happy that I could train.”
Since the end of March, we have all gone through individual journeys of finding a balance with training and goals. While some riders trained and piled on miles, many turned to other hobbies and interests to maintain motivation. We all did a lot of baking, camping, mountain biking, gravel adventuring, home renovations, and more. We did what we could to feel active, engaged, and somewhat normal. We turned to the virtual world, raced online as a team, and created a coast to coast fundraising challenge to pile on the miles together while raising funds for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund amidst the Black Lives Matter movement. We found new ways to be together, apart.
We needed to feel like athletes, despite being bike racers without a race season. We needed to feel like teammates and support one another, despite being thousands of miles apart. Like the rest of the world, we’ve had to adapt. And now, we hope to look ahead to when racing returns in the U.S. and we are able to go back to pre-race pancake bake-offs, dance parties together, and the privilege of being there for one another as we turn fast corners around the country.