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The Last Rainbow Finish Line


 

WORDS BY CAROLINE MANI

Racing internationally has been my life for over 17 years so as I sit down to write it’s challenging for me to put 17 years full of racing and emotions on paper. I raced 14 UCI Cyclocross World Championships and a few UCI MTB World Championships.

My trip to Europe this year was supposed to be like every other year. I got to see my old friends, family and even race a World Cup in my hometown. I realized I’m in another place in my life and honestly didn’t have enough support or fight to get in front. I was sick most of my time in Europe, got injured and came back early to prepare for Worlds.

This year was my last participation at a CX World Championship and will stay special for the rest of my life. I got to race for France in my adopted country. I was able to show my French teammates what an amazing life I have here. Now they understand why I have stayed here for 10 years. Cyclocross in the states is like a big family and people enjoy having a good time watching. It doesn’t matter if you are from France, Belgium or USA. The fans will cheer for you and make your day magical!

Cyclocross and the community have saved me so many times the last 10 years. The Cyclocross community has been my family and saying goodbye last month was intense. Announcing my retirement from international racing was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made. One of my friends who retired years ago told me I would know when it’s time and the last few weeks leading to World Championships, I accepted it was the end of a chapter for me.

World Championships was magical because people I love were there and I was able to share that special day with all the fans. I wasn’t at my best physically, but I knew I would show up and do my best. Hearing my name over and over still gives me chills. The last corner of the race, it finally hit me! This was my last rainbow finish line. While I’m writing this, I can feel the emotions coming and it brings tears to my eyes. Tears like the ones high fiving fans the last few meters before the finish line. I gave everything I had that day.

I did laugh about the fact I got selected for doping control and wasn’t able to open all the bottles of champagne. The tequila shots and cheers with my friends, family and fellow riders would have to wait a few minutes?

When I was 17 years old my dream was to be part of the French team and I wanted to win Nationals. I got on the top step of a UCI MTB world cup, wore the leader jersey and made my first CX World cup podium. My best finish was a silver medal at World Championships in 2016 and a number 2 in UCI ranking. I worked hard to get there and it will stay one of the most memorable races in my career. I had so many dreams when I started, and I can say I accomplished most of them and it’s hard not to want more and more.

 

Racing at the highest level is a lot of work and sacrifices. Your entire life is organized around training, recovery, traveling and having the lifestyle to perform. All details matter and when you get off the rail for even one second it has a major impact. I am lucky to have support from my family and friends. It’s so hard to ask them to understand why you are not always physically or mentally available.

You wake up thinking about your day and work around your training schedule.

I’m not closing the book but I’m on to the next chapter. At times it seems hard to accept but I’m excited for a new challenge. I know I have accomplished my best international results and I can now do different things on and off the bike. When you get older you realize that there is more than just winning bike races. I will to continue to race my bike at a high level but won’t go overseas anymore. I want to inspire more women to ride. I want to mentor younger athletes to help them have the same opportunities as I did.

Now time to get back to training to be ready for some gravel, road, mtb races and of course the full UCI CX 2022 calendar in USA! 

 

Watch the trailer to Unsettled Dirt, the 3-part series that goes behind the scenes of Caroline Mani's 2022 Cyclocross World Cup.