Friday, July 5, 2013

Mara's back, and Vos is human.

A funny thing happened on the way to Cremona. Cycling is a beautifully unpredictable sport. After Vos took control of the Giro in stage 3, I thought that she would stay there until the end in the final ITT in Cremona, and wrote as much in my last post about it. I thought she would be pushed for sure but believed she would maintain her position through the high mountains and finish on the top step of the podium. Mara Abbott had other ideas. 

Mara Abbott has been working her way back from a battle against anorexia that robbed her of the form that took her to the heights of the sport - including the 2010 edition of the Giro Rosa (then known as the Giro Donne). That was a dream year for her, punctuated by the Rosa victory, but filled with many other achievements as well. It was a culmination of a quick rise to success in a career that had only begun in 2007. 

Once at the top however, things started to get challenging for her. A yoga instructor as well as a cyclist, she had a fierce desire to protect the environment while portraying a positive example for others. She placed an unfair amount of pressure on herself not only to win, but to lead in a way that would be an example for others to follow. You can find a great article about it here that I urge you to read, but the result was a downward spiral in an effort to exert control over a situation she wasn't sure how she got to in the first place. It manifested itself in an eating disorder that resulted in her becoming dangerously thin and caused more than a few of her fellow riders to reach out to her at the 2011 Giro. 

With the help of a mentor, she was able to turn things around and realize that her demons weren't necessarily cycling related. She got back on the bike and competed for the first time at this years women's individual time trial at the Amgen Tour of California in May. The ultimate goal was getting back to competing in the Giro. With no pressure as a leader, she joined the USA national team that entered and showed up as the starting line last weekend. 

She performed well in the first 4 stages, sitting in the top ten as the racing started on yesterdays stage 5. Feeling good and sensing a bit of an opportunity, she and teammate Evelyn Stevens attacked at the start of the biggest climb of the day and blew the race apart. She ended the day 1:44 ahead of her closest competitor and ripped the Maglia Rosa of Vos' back. She followed that up with another equally impressive victory today beating Claudia Häusler on the road to San Domenico by an additional 24 seconds and increasing her GC lead to 2:40. 

The race is not over by a long shot, and I won't make the same mistake as I did in my last post about it where I all but christened Vos as the 2013 champion. I'd never count out Vos and some of the others in the remainder of the race, but Mara Abbott looks incredibly strong and I would absolutely love to see her overcome her recent challenges with such an emphatic response. 

In the interview I linked to earlier, she is quoted as saying: "talent begets responsibility, responsibility for being that good. If someone's inspired by you, you're responsible for holding that space, responsible for people looking at you". I think that Abbott is a shining example of how to handle responsibility, not only as an athlete, but more importantly as a person - and as one who can give inspiration for the millions who also battle anorexia and other eating disorders on a daily basis. Kudos to her.

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