Lex Albrecht enjoying success after joining pro team

By Gene Pereira, Special to Postmedia Network

Barrie native Lex Albrecht, right (in the red dots), is now one of the top road racers in Canada after joining a professional American women's cycling team, Minneapolis-based Optum Pro Cycling. She is shown here in July at the Cascade Cycling Classic in Bend, Oregon. (Brian Hodes Photo)

Barrie native Lex Albrecht, right (in the red dots), is now one of the top road racers in Canada after joining a professional American women's cycling team, Minneapolis-based Optum Pro Cycling. She is shown here in July at the Cascade Cycling Classic in Bend, Oregon. (Brian Hodes Photo)

Lex Albrecht has had her share of ups and downs in her first season competing in the National Race Calendar (NRC) Prestige Series.

“I’m actually starting to get a nice collection of scars,” quipped the Barrie native, who has suffered through some nasty crashes and a pair of concussions in her first season with the Minneapolis-based Optum Pro Cycling Team.

Albrecht admits some of her crashes were a little bit hard to swallow and left her heartbroken. But that’s OK she said.

That kind of thing happens in cycling and it happens in every day life. After all, you’re not a rider until you’ve crashed and gotten back up.

“I don’t think you can get very far not taking risks,” said the 25-year-old, who now calls Trois-Rivieres, located between Montreal and Quebec City, home after she moved there at the age of 18 to attend the Universite du Quebec a Trois-Rivieres.

“Sometimes those risks don’t turn out the way we want them to. I’ve never met anyone who competes at a professional level who has never crashed. We all go down, but we come back from it.”

And come back Albrecht has. After crashing and suffering a concussion that knocked her out of the Canadian National Championships in Lac Megantic, Que. in late June, the Optum road racer tore it up in late July to post her best performance of the season at the Cascade Cycling Classic in Bend, Oregon.

In the NRC six-day stage race, Albrecht, who has finished on the podium four times this season, enjoyed her biggest stage victory. Her Optum team captured three jerseys, including two by Albrecht, who brought home jerseys for the best climber and best young rider.

It was a special victory for the Canadian in more ways than one though. Not only did she show her ability to bounce back from adversity, but the stage win came on the same day as her grandfather’s birthday.

Manfred Albrecht passed away this past January.

“When I came over the line, it was a solo finish, I was able to do a little victory sign and I did the AOK sign,” Albrecht said.

“When my grandfather was in the hospital, when he was pretty sick, he sent a picture to the whole family doing the AOK sign to say he was doing well after his big surgery. I did that in memory of him and I think my family really appreciated that, so that was a pretty big deal. It was a really good race.”

Albrecht knew her grandfather was right there with her on race day. She definitely believes something special happened because when she started that day she didn’t think she was going to be able to hold on to her climber’s jersey because of the way the points were being distributed throughout the race.

“Because I was able to win that stage, I guaranteed myself that jersey and got that solo win,” she said. “It was like a dream. It was very, very special.”

Her effort in Oregon was a huge boost for Albrecht after her crash at the Canadian National Championships. Last year at the nationals she was the vice-champion, but this year suffered a “really, really nasty spill.”

“I hit my head so hard on the ground, I was knocked out cold for one minute and I didn’t even know,” said Albrecht, who moved to Oro-Medonte when she was just 11-years-old. “I didn’t even know until after the race when some people told me about (the crash). I ended up getting a concussion and I couldn’t finish that race. It was a tough pill to swallow.

“Cascade was the next big race back, the race where I got those results… that was nice. It just kind of shows that tenacity pays off.”

Fortunately for Albrecht, her second concussion of the season wasn’t as bad as her first, which kept her out for some two weeks.

While her legs may have been ready to go, Albrecht knew she had to make sure she was fully recovered. 

“The only chance to succeed is just to focus on what we can control and just do our best,” she said. “Just doing that and having that kind of attitude is what made things turn around for me and got my season going in a positive direction.”

It’s been a great season for the Optum women’s road racing team. They have already clinched top spot in the overall NRC North American women’s standings.

“We’re extremely proud and I think one of the reasons we’re so successful is that we work together so well as a team,” said Albrecht, who also praises the work done with the team by former pro rider and Optum team director Rachel Heal.

“As a team, we sometimes have to sacrifice yourself for other riders and we all know that each and every one of us has our strengths and weaknesses and we try to play off each other’s skills and we try to make up our game plan so we have the best chance of winning.”

Albrecht knows she has grown and matured a great deal as a rider this season and a lot of that comes from competing against the top competition she faces, which includes some of the top riders in the world.

“It’s always fun to see names of athletes I used to watch on TV or used to read in newspapers,” said Albrecht, who also helps train a junior team in Trois-Rivieres. “It’s always special to ride next to Clara Hughes or next to Kristin Armstrong. That’s really motivating and really special.

“Clara had some pretty kind words for me this year and last year and that’s really cool.”

Albrecht also got to watch Hughes along with Optum teammates Joelle Numainville and Denis Ramsden compete in this year’s London Olympics.

Despite having a race the very same day themselves, Heal arranged Optum’s team schedule so that they could watch the women’s Olympic road race on television.

Seeing her teammates and Hughes compete on the world’s biggest stage is plenty motivating for Albrecht, whose goal one day is to compete at the Summer Games herself.

“This year wasn’t a goal of mine, but I know 2016 is something definitely in reach,” Albrecht said. “I know it’s definitely not easy to get there, but I think it’s possible with a lot of hard work. If I can continue to have the same support I have right now, then hopefully I can make that a reality.

“So far in my career as a cyclist one thing I’ve learned is that it’s really important to dream big. It doesn’t hurt to have big aspirations. It can only help. First you start dreaming and then dreams turn into goals and then goals eventually become reality.”

The women’s racing season is coming to an end. Albrecht has a race at the beginning of September in Vermont and then closes out the year at the end of the month in Boston.

Albrecht plans to take a couple of weeks off of strict training and then get right back into the swing of things to start preparing for her third professional season.

“Overall, it’s been a really good season,” she said.

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