JAM Fund/NCC's Natalie Tapias is preparing for the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to race in Europe. On December 17, she departs for three weeks of intense racing in Belgium. It will be her first time racing there.
"I'm excited to experience challenging courses and race with some of the best women in the sport," she said. "The plan is to race five to seven times."
Tapais will return to the states on January 9, the day that U.S. Cyclocross Nationals begin in Reno, Nevada. But Tapias and JAM Fund Coach Alec Donahue decided that she will skip cross nats in exchange for the European experience.
"The goals are for Natalie to get familiar racing in Belgium, and to see the level of competition and the difficulty of the courses," Donahue said.
Tapias is having her best-ever cyclocross season, including a 10th place finish at HPCX and 15th at KMC where she earned her first-ever UCI point.
"By October, I was pleased with some progress I'd made with the help of Al and my teammates," she said. "At the same time, I was disheartened that there were so few race opportunities in November and December. We decided that instead of training during December with the aim of racing Nationals, as I have in the past, I'm going to fly to Belgium to race as many times as possible."
"This trip allows for a good block of races at the end of the season and helps us identify what we need to work on for the coming year," Donahue added.
Fortunately, JAM Fund has some support overseas. Tapais will stay at the ChainStay where her teammates stayed on a previous trip.
"Once a rider gets to Belgium there is minimal travel, so they can focus on putting everything into being a top level athlete," Donahue said.
Racing overseas requires a lot of preparation and organization, skills that Tapias masters well.
"I'm preparing, as I do for any big race, with a focus on my fitness, nutrition, technique and mental game," she said. "I'm also watching a lot of European cross race videos. I'm going through my bikes and wheels this week to make sure my equipment is in top shape."
Tapias will travel with Tim Willis, her teammate both on and off the bike. He also races with JAM Fund and the two were engaged in late November.
"I'm definitely intimidated by the level of racing on the women's side," she said. "Tim will be there for moral support. Mechanical support is TBD but we will work with Greg from the ChainStay to find a solution for each race day."
Tapias says her goal is to soak up the experience.
"It's an incredible opportunity to get to travel and race at such a high level," she said. "I aim to learn as much as I can, figure out the areas that need improvement and make changes to my practice so that I can continue improving in 2018."
You can follow the adventures of Natalie Tapias on her personal website at https://natalietapias.com/.
Header photo of Tapias racing at DCCX in Baltimore by Daghan Perker.