2018 was a very special year, a very busy year and a very hard year. But isn’t every year full of high and low points? It’s certainly a valid question as everyone experiences both positive and negative things in their lives. But for me, last year was not like any other year before it.
Grandad’s passing & Snow Bike Festival
The start of the year was anything but great, with the news of my grandfather’s death. He sadly lost his battle with cancer in early January. I was sad, missed him, and still miss him. Despite everything, I tried to focus on the upcoming Snow Bike Festival in Gstaad. I managed this quite well, and with an overall ranking of 4th, I got my first UCI points of 2018.
Off to the training camp in Gran Canaria! I was really looking forward to the sun, the warm temperature and the “time-out”. At that point I was in the middle of my preparations for the upcoming final apprenticeship exams. It was good to have nothing on my plate for a while and to focus purely on training. Unfortunately, I fell ill after the first week and this illness then dragged on for another two weeks. Déja-vu! Lots of stress at home, a lot going on and not much time to recover. At the training camp then 100% focus on training and recovery and suddenly you’re ill. A well-known phenomenon.
An early start to the season! The anticipation of the World Cup in Stellenbosch, South Africa was huge. Compared to last year, I had to be much fitter and stronger. Okay, I had a cold, but there was no more going around on crutches for 4 months. The lengthening of my leg was now history and I had put 2016/17 behind me. It was good to finally get away from the cold, nasty weather. Although the change in temperature from -10°C in Switzerland, to +35°C in Stellenbosch certainly took some getting used to. I was excited to finally be back on the start line and even more so to be in South Africa. My expectations and my aims were high. The route was top, the weather was top, and my motivation levels were right at the top. This just made the disappointment all the greater when I crossed the finish line in 2nd last position. I didn’t know what had happened. Numerous questions shot through my mind. What have I been doing all winter? Why am I so bad? How can I qualify for the Swiss World Championships like this? The doubts and the self-sabotage began.
Back in Switzerland, it didn’t get any better. Going from lovely warm weather back to grim, wet cold didn’t exactly do anything to improve my mood. Sure, as an athlete you learn that training can’t always happen in the sunshine, but combined with my self-doubts, a depressive mood was looming.
I didn’t feel well, physically and emotionally. I was stressed about the upcoming final apprenticeship exams, competitions, and my driving test. “2018 was supposed to be my year. I must take part in the Lenzerheide World Championships!”. Many thoughts like this revolved around my head. Caught in this downward spiral, I felt worse and worse.
The anonymous letter that I received at this stage also did nothing to make things better. Nobody is perfect and everyone can learn something new. It is also clear that nobody likes everyone to the same degree. But to express this in an anonymous letter is low, cowardly and just wrong. Those who know me, know that my family is very important to me. This means it saddens me all the more, when someone talks ill of them, or insults them. My parents in particular, who contribute so much to our sport, do not deserve such an insult. I hope that the person concerned thinks carefully next time, about the effect his or her words can have on other people.
Under attack physically and mentally
On top of all this, then the physical problems started. Day in, day out, I got up in the morning with heavy legs, from too much lactic acid, and feeling tired. Regardless of how much or how little, how hard or lightly I trained, heavy legs. The daily back pain and headaches were sometimes barely tolerable. I reduced my training, but it didn’t get any better. Heavy legs when I got up, heavy legs climbing stairs, heavy legs when training and heavy legs going to bed. I skipped the Swiss Bike Cup in Schaan and sought medical attention. Blood tests showed an iron deficiency. “Good, at least that is something that can be resolved,” I thought. Yet some time after having iron infusions, I still didn’t feel much better. Still I had heavy legs when I got up, heavy legs climbing stairs, heavy legs when training and heavy legs going to bed. I was distraught, didn’t know what I should do. At this point, I had already reduced training to a minimum. Further medical tests followed. “Ramona, you are healthy. There’s nothing wrong with you!” This was my sports doctor’s evaluation and conclusion. I didn’t know what to do next. I just wanted a diagnosis, something concrete, clarification. The season continued and I still wasn’t feeling any better.
At the World Cup in Albstadt and Nové Mêsto, there were two important World Championship-qualifying races on the programme. I still had heavy legs. I tried to accept my form, tried to accept that I wasn’t at the level I’d like to be. The mudbath in Albstadt did me a favour and helped me achieve qualification for the World Championships for the first time, finishing in 22nd place. But I couldn’t rest on my laurels. “Achieving the qualification criteria does not mean direct qualification to the Championships.” This is what our organisation, Swiss Cycling, specifies. What that means for me? Even though I had achieved the criteria, this did not mean that I had actually qualified. With the defeat in Nové Mêsto (flat tyre and mechanical problems with my bike), I slid further along the downward spiral.
No WHEELER Pro team any more!
I decided to miss the Swiss Bike Cup in Gränichen and concentrate on my final apprenticeship exams. I had only just got these over and done with, when the next bad news arrived. My team, the WHEELER Pro team was being disbanded. A shock! This was completely unexpected and a total surprise. I would have to look for a new team for 2019 as well. “Great,” I thought. Yet more pressure to get good results. I had over three weeks to recover and get myself into shape before the next race, the Swiss Championship. In recent months I hadn’t been able to train as well as I would have liked because of my physical and emotional problems. You can imagine how hard this was for me. I wanted to train, I wanted to put my foot down and suffer, but my body and my head wouldn’t allow it. In the last few months I had also been feeling very alone and misunderstood. I wasn’t enjoying daily life, didn’t know how to carry on, negativity was taking over. It seemed as though I couldn’t talk to anyone. Hardly anyone knew how bad I was feeling. I needed to help myself. But how on earth would I go about this?
Sleeping at altitude on Niesen
The topic of altitude training came up in relation to the World Cup in Vallnord (Andorra), which takes place at around 2000 metres above sea level (MAMSL). In a cloak-and-dagger operation, my father was able to arrange altitude sleeping on our local mountain, the Niesen (2362 MAMSL). I was looking forward to the new experience, the mountain air and the view. I was looking forward to getting some distance. For me, the “live high-train low” model meant working
& training down in the valley and sleeping up on Niesen at night. I finally saw some light at the end of the tunnel. The fresh mountain air, the view and the peace at 2362 MAMSL helped me find myself. Down below it was very stressful. The first and last train times were fixed of course, and so my time down below was very limited. But up on the mountain I had peace and quiet, I had some distance between me and the rest of the world. At this point in time, this was just the balsam my soul needed. My day looked something like this: get up, 30-min train journey down to the bottom, work for about 3 hours, off to training, rush to catch the last train at 5pm, 30-min train journey up, relax, switch off, read a book, think, sleep. At last, I gradually started to feel better.
At the Swiss Championship in Andermatt I finally felt as though I could perform again. Even the back pain and the self-doubts had lessened. What’s more, I had passed my EFZ (Swiss Proficiency Certificate) apprenticeship in business with a grade of 5.2. When I think back now, it’s daft how worried I was about getting a bad grade. The graduation celebration was one of the best experiences in a long time. To have finally completed the four years was an indescribable feeling.
Bad luck in Val di Sole
The positive vibes carried on to the next World Cup in Vale di Sole (Italy). I was feeling much better physically as well as emotionally. I felt ready. Ready to perform. Unfortunately, I had a mechanical problem. The screw on the front derailleur had come loose which made changing gear impossible for me. So unfortunately I didn’t get a great result. I didn’t let it bother me because I could feel how my form had improved and this was more important to me at this point than any kind of number or result.
Next race, next chance
I carried on, in the direction of Vallnord, Andorra. The positive thoughts returned. No longer was everything rubbish, bad and negative. My goal, to qualify for the World Championships on home turf, had become realistic again. Before the race I was less nervous than usual, which I couldn’t really explain. After all, this was the last World Championship-qualifying race. In order to qualify, I needed to show once again what I was capable of. I needed to deliver and achieve a good result. On the evening before the race, I sat on a blanket on the grass, enjoying the view, the peace, the fresh air and internalising the following: “Ramona, you have prepared well at altitude. You like the course. Enjoy the race and just give it your all. You can’t do any more than that!” And that is exactly what I did. With an amazing 20th place, I qualified for the World Championships for the second time. A few days later, I also got the confirmation. I really had qualified for the event of the year, the World Championships at Lenzerheide. I was overjoyed!
Unachieved goals in Canada
The next journey was approaching. I was going to Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada, for the next World Cup. The feeling of anticipation for the technically and physically demanding course was huge. A year previously, I had achieved my first top 15 result at a World Cup there. Once again I put myself under excessive pressure, wanted too much and was very disappointed with my performance. Back pain, which had been bothering me all season, plagued me and my legs were once again not strong enough. Self-doubts and pointless thoughts spun around my head once more.
At the next World Cup in La Bresse it got even worse. I had another new problem, my breathing. It’s difficult to describe what happened. I kept getting the feeling that I couldn’t get enough oxygen. Whether training or lying in bed. Falling asleep was hell for me. I was wheezing, gasping for breath, and continually felt as though I was suffocating. All day, my focus was almost completely just on breathing. I was still gasping for breath during the competition and breathing irregularly which led to terrible stitch. Another competition where the disappointment was high. Yet the World Championships were getting closer, making the pressure ever higher. “You must deliver at the World Championships, Ramona!”
World Championships Lenzerheide
Just a few days until the World Championships. It will soon be the moment, the event that I have been working and fighting for all year. The whole thing was an unbelievable and unimaginable experience. The people, the atmosphere! You can’t put it into words. Even if I wasn’t at all happy with the result, I was still happy to have been able to be part of the World Championships 2018, after the season I had leading up to it.
A great ending
So, there was now just the Swisscup in Carona, Lugano left on the programme. With the World Championships over, a great weight fell from my shoulders. I had put myself under so much pressure all year to achieve my goal, that I had lost sight of the important things. Fun, passion, enjoyment. I didn’t really train (much) for Lugano. The fire had gone out. “I’ll still do the race,” I thought. But, when I stood on the start line, the fire burned inside. I was excited about the great course and just wanted to enjoy the last race and have fun. That’s exactly what I did. And that’s how I achieved one of the best results of my entire season.
Off to Ecuador
Finally holidays! After such a year, I was really looking forward to some time out. And I indulged myself. I travelled to Ecuador for 2 weeks. There I spent 9 days on the Galapagos Islands. A paradise for all animal and nature lovers.
New Swiss MTB Pro team
It is official! A completely new team is going to be put together for the next season, the Swiss MTB Pro team powered by STOLL. The idea came about as my father and I were discussing sponsoring and teams last summer on a bike trip. Until I knew which team I would be in and what kind of obligations and conditions I would be under, I couldn’t start negotiations with my private sponsors. We also talked about how a new team could be advantageous for me. New team, new responsibility, new people and new experiences. This would certainly be an important and educational step for me, because ever since I’d been mountain bike riding, my parents had always been at my side. So, to experience something different, would certainly not do any harm. However, you can’t lose sight of the financial aspect in all this. After all, I want to be able to make a living from this and not be on the breadline. Then there’s the loyalty towards my private sponsors. With new teams you can sometimes get lots of guidelines on dos and don’ts yourself, but without getting much from it financially. Athletes are sometimes very restricted on where they can place their private sponsors’ logos (if at all). Yet these are the people who are my biggest and most important financial support. So this is the question, do I join a team where I would get the personal support, or do I carry on alone (with the support of my parents) and have absolute freedom to decide which races I ride, which materials I use and where I place my sponsors’ logos? In the end, neither of the two alternatives was an option. A third, new, and initially unthinkable alternative came into being, the Swiss MTB Pro team powered by STOLL.
Starting a new job
Having finished my apprenticeship on 31.07.2018, I began a new job at armasuisse. I have been working there on a part-time (40%) basis since then.
Those who know me, know how much I love Christmas time. For me it’s about more than swapping presents and taking part in all the different kinds of Christmas events and eating. No, it’s more about the whole atmosphere. The lights that twinkle in the darkness and light up the houses. The scents of cinnamon, aniseed and nutmeg that fly around in the air. The Christmas markets with their special charm and delicious mulled wine. The secret lies in not getting stressed, planning in advance and simply enjoying it!
In my 2018 there were plenty of low points and the year didn’t go at all as I’d imagined it. As the saying goes, “it always turns out differently, and never as you think.” Despite everything, this was one of the most educational years of my sporting career. I met a lot of people, travelled to many places and enjoyed 3 weeks of mountain air on Niesen. The year also had its positive sides throughout. As I said at the start, everyone experiences both positive and negative things in their lives.