Professional cyclist Rebecca Fahringer has carved a new bend heading into her 11th professional season, this time on a new path laden with gravel, single track and stable health.
Over the past two seasons, the cyclocross stalwart suffered multiple concussions that sidelined her fledgling career, where the 2019-20 season saw her earn a career-high 10 wins. That season, she won three World Cup top 10s, the bronze medal at the Pan American Cyclocross Championships and a silver medal at the US National Championships. Then came the bumps in the road, or rather the hard impacts from the ground and the coronavirus pandemic.
A new focus off-road and with competition in the Life Time Grand Prix series this summer brought her back on the bike and on the podium. She also “learned to embrace the spirit of gravel”.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster because when I started this [Life Time] series, I was still having pretty extreme concussion symptoms from last season of cyclocross,” Fahringer said. Cycling news during the series finale in Arkansas at Big Sugar Gravel.
“I was very disappointed for the first two races. And then I realized, oh, you can have fun on a bike without being fast on a bike or winning the bike race. Everyone’s “fast” is different from winning speed, right? Yeah.”
She admitted to being a little hesitant at the Sea Otter Classic in April in the Fuego 80K mountain bike, but she finished 17th in the Life Time standings. Then a fight with COVID caused her to miss Unbound Gravel, so she focused on the remaining four events in the series. She was consistently in the middle of the pack, referring to mountain bike events as “survive, not thrive,” her best results 13th at Chequamegon MTB and 14th at Big Sugar Gravel. She didn’t finish in the silver, which was the top 10 in the invite-only series, but she knew she could race again.
Just a week before Big Sugar, she took part in the Belgian Waffle Ride Kansas and took the win. She was back on track, but not in the discipline she loved the most. Cyclocross racing remained off its schedule for 2022-23.
“So I missed cyclocross with all my heart, and I hope to do more next year when I’m in better physical and mental shape and emotionally fit,” said Fahringer, who is still supported in all the disciplines by it. Kona Maxxis Shimano Team.
“I don’t get into CX racing right away. Kona, like many other bike manufacturers, took a step back from the cyclocross front for a while and did not produce new Jakes (their line of CX bikes). No new bikes to highlight means the team focused on CX and gravel. It worked for me because my health wasn’t ready to come back to CX.
“I always get concussion symptoms at the highest heart rates, which impairs my vision and my decision-making abilities, and that combination accounts for about 90% of cyclocross. Also, I really don’t want to concuss myself three years in a row, so health is at the forefront of my still soft brain as I choose to sit out this season.
Far from ready to race
Rewind to 2020 and Fahringer had big plans after his most successful cyclocross season. The coronavirus pandemic hit and the American races were canceled, so she headed to Belgium. In her second race of the season, Superprestige Merksplas, she crashed headfirst on a descent. She then missed the next two races to allow her back, neck and brain to recover. She finished the season with only two top 10 finishes from 22 races.
During the 2021-2022 season, Fahringer never traveled to Europe. She hit the snooze button, unintentionally, with a crash on her second race, this time at GO Cross in Virginia, and hit her head. “I had a lot of yellow lights and a few green lights, but no one put a red light on the run,” she noted on her blog. Persistent headaches and bouts of disorientation accompanied her for another 10 runs, and she saw a concussion specialist.
“I was hoping for some kind of brain scan to tell me I was normal or decide I was definitely not normal and then have it fixed by some magical procedure. But instead I got this gentle wash, ‘yeah, I guess you’re still concussed, just go ahead and do nothing and hope you get better’.
“I stopped doing anything. I did nothing. No screens, no reading, no television, no riding or running, no driving, no hiking, no alcohol, no hanging out with friends. I didn’t do anything.”
Days turned into weeks and she didn’t race the Nationals in December of last year, nor attempt to chase points. Instead, she fought an uphill battle with ongoing concussion symptoms of anxiety, depression and brain fog. She made a surprise appearance at the World Championships, motivated to compete for the rare American venue in February, but the finish was not what she was used to – 28th instead of the top 15 of the previous two seasons.
“For the past two years, I’ve just limped off with concussion symptoms and never fully recovered,” she explained to Cycling news. “Last year I skipped the national and European races due to my concussion. I will miss those races again this year due to various factors – health, motivation, resources, etc.
Back on track
While her foray into ATV racing with the Life Time Series was “underwhelming,” she bounced back with the unexpected win at BWR Kansas. The progression proved that his health was almost back to normal. She also regained enthusiasm for racing, especially with gravel and other adventures. And it was fun to ride and win again.
“Hopefully a good rest period will put me on the right track for great physical shape next year. Good physical recovery so I can start fresh, remind myself that I am capable of winning bike races and be strong,” she said.
“I think I’ll do more gravel, maybe a few gravel runs, some mountain bike racing, and then maybe I can balance the season with some cyclocross.”
In just a week, the cyclo-cross races will take place at Merksplas for a Superprestige round. She can watch from afar and miss the action, but still doesn’t want to risk another brain injury. Instead, she focuses on new challenges.
« British Columbia Cycle Race [July 3-9, 2023] is something I’d love to dip my toes into, and hopefully some Grasshopper events [Low Gap begins series January 28] to warm up for single track races! I sure would love to do some more proper mountain biking, but I’ll go back to some gravel favorites like Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder, and get redemption at Unbound and hopefully throw my hat in the ring for a good start at Leadville 100.”