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Out in the desert, Barrie woman reconnects with her passion for cycling

Arizona-based cyclist still has the competitive fire in her to race, but has also realized she may have a career in coaching ahead of her

After having completed the first part of her off-season training in California early this year, cyclist Lex Albrecht headed to Florida to continue her workouts with Team Quebec, a triathlon group.

"It was cool," the Barrie native told BarrieToday of working with Team Quebec, "because I was doing some mentorship in the cycling part and then I was doing some awesome cross training with swimming and running, and I really wanted to keep working at the swimming because it is good cross training and it was really fun to be learning something brand new.

"But then the pandemic hit and I had to come home," she added. 

With the gyms closed, Albrecht found herself stuck in her condo, and with no end to the pandemic in sight, she found her plans for the upcoming season slipping away.

The 33-year-old professional cyclist was looking forward to a competitive season that would be quite different from the ones she had doing in the past eight years. She had been aiming to do a lot of gravel racing, different from her normal scheduled road cycling events.

Albrecht was also planning to do strategic guest riding for the road racing calendar and hopefully make the Canadian National Road Cycling Team and compete in the world championships. A different journey compared to the professional team racing she had been doing the past few years.    

All that went out the window thanks to COVID-19 and she admits it was tough to deal with at first. Until Albrecht discovered the forced changes helped her reconnect with her pure passion for cycling. 

"I was already planning to have a much different year than normal then the pandemic hit and I totally had to adjust again all of my plans and I lost a lot of contracts with partnerships and it really destabilized me," she said. "Then I got a little used to it and realized, 'Holy, here I am and I have this really cool opportunity to just ride for the pure love of it'."

She had no idea what was coming up, but then again in a normal year that's essentially the case anyway. So, Albrecht switched her mindset a bit.

"Live in the moment, keep training as if you're going to race, but just do it for the pure fun of it," she said. "My training program became a little less rigid and I did do more cross training and I went on a few cycling adventures, so it's actually been a real cool opportunity for me to reconnect with my pure passion for cycling."

Finally, Albrecht didn't have to focus on performance because there was nothing to perform in.

"I could just go out and ride to my heart's content," she said. "I have such a strong love for riding my bike and it was real cool not to think about any other factors except just having as much fun as I can. That's been so cool."

The three-time podium finisher at the Canadian National Championships, who has been a member of the Canadian National Cycling Team, is currently down in Tucson, Ariz., training. She arrived there the first week of December.

"It's nice to be down here because of the weather and stuff, but most importantly, psychologically it feels good to be here and not cooped up all alone," she said.

This is all possible, Albrecht explains, thanks to the Homestretch Foundation, which was founded by professional cyclist, author and film maker Kathryn Bertine. As well as providing female professional athletes with the same opportunities as their male counterparts, Homestretch, which opened in 2017, provides free housing.

"The goal of this house is to help bridge the gap in inequality in cycling, so it gives the opportunity for women who are either professional cyclists or who are up and coming to come and live here and stay and be able to train in the good weather," Albrecht said.

"It's kind of cool because it's a shared house," she added. "We can connect and share experiences and sometimes there's a bit of mentorship that goes on. Other times, it's just nice to be around the people with the same type of mentality you have and the same type of style and goals."

Albrecht is sharing the house with another "really good" cycle-cross athlete and is looking forward to the arrival of American mountain biking star Lea Davison, who is targeting the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.

"There are less people staying here (right now), but it's still going to be nice to have a mix of good athletes to train and live with," said Albrecht, who is able to do some part-time work remotely and isn't sure how long she'll remain in Arizona.

The cyclist would also like to continue helping young cyclists like she was earlier this year in Florida.

"That's actually been a real surprise, because I never saw myself perhaps being a coach some day," Albrecht said. "At the beginning of the year, when I was working with the younger triathletes on their cycling, I was surprised at how rewarding I found it to just see their improvement and be able to pass on information in skills and experience that I take for granted because I get used to just having those tools in my tool box."

She applied for a bursary for coaching courses with National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) through an organization called Game Plan (Canada's Total Athlete Wellness Program). It's an organization available to all national athletes who are retired or in between. They provide a lot of different resources to prepare athletes for their retirement.

Albrecht did an RBC financial plan course through program, as well as coaching courses.

"It's just opening lots of doors for after my career and finding other passions that I have that are kind of related to cycling too, so it's kind of cool," she said.

Albrecht loves interacting with her followers on social media because she believes it's such a "cool way" to connect with people interested in cycling who she knows from all her travels throughout the world.

One fun way to interact on Twitter has been playing what she calls "What's in the Box?" 

"I'm pretty fortunate to receive a lot of fun surprises in the mail of all different sorts," Albrecht said. "When it happens, I'll take a picture of me with the box and ask who wants to play What's in the Box and they just have to tweet their guess with a hashtag. Then we go through the guesses and I open it up and we find out together what it is.

"It's just something really fun. It's cool to share something outside of training that's still related to my life as a cyclist."

As for returning to competition and what's ahead in 2021, Albrecht has registered for a 140-mile gravel race being held in Steamboat Springs, Col., this summer.

"That's one thing I'm looking forward to and because it's so far into the calendar – it's in the middle of summer – I think it's pretty likely that's going to happen," she said. "For the rest, I know I'll be buying my licence to race at the beginning of this season for sure and I'll just keep the doors open to doing all the competitions that I can."

As for the holiday season, Albrecht will be spending it down in Arizona. It's not the first time she hasn't returned home to spend time with her family in Barrie for Christmas. It's just not feasible to return home this year.

"It's OK, I'm still happy to be down here," she said. "We'll probably do some type of virtual calls, Zooms or something like that."

Albrecht normally plans something special for herself over the holidays when she's away.

"I'll probably celebrate by doing some kind of awesome ride," she said.

While most people are ready to put 2020 in the rearview mirror and out of mind thanks to the pandemic, Albrecht feels it's been a really good lesson for her to really focus on the moment.

"There are definitely tons of positive sides of this," she said about the changes the pandemic have forced her to make. "I think it's actually been a pretty good year. It's been a lot different than I expected and at first it was difficult to expect that, but I think overall I've definitely made the best of it so I'm really happy with my 2020."