viernes, 20 de julio de 2012

Summer Camp


I spied Jack as he ambled on to the infield – and immediately took off running at full tilt. I barreled across the grass and leapt straight at him through the air, arms stretched wide. We collided into a hug as he took three staggering steps backwards, narrowly missing the rack on which he had just hung his bike. It was two days before the Alpenrose Velodrome Challenge in Portland, Oregon, and the bike racing Summer Camp extravaganza was in full swing.
                When I was a kid, summer camp entailed a week plunked into a chunk of Pocono forest and doing, well, campy-type things: hiking, canoeing, horseback riding, archery, campfires, arts n’ crafts, sleeping platform tents. It was a time to get out of town and reunite with friends whom I hadn’t seen since last summer. We kept in touch with letters or email as we impatiently awaited a blissful 7-day block of shenanigans.
                Now, at 22 years old, my version of summer camp has taken on an entirely new meaning. The winter World Cup season had long since ended and the summer domestic season officially started up in June. It was time to load the bikes and prepare for a couple race weekends of fast and friendly racing up the West Coast. Besides Nationals, this is the time that we bike racers can get to commune en masse with others of our kind – and not have a damned care in the world.

I had stuffed myself into the back of Missy’s Subaru Impreza like a troupe member in a clown car. The vehicle had three humans, five bikes, a bike box, a wheel case, three sets of race wheels, and luggage loaded in and on top of it. We were chugging up the 5 from Los Angeles to San Jose for the first stop of Summer Camp: the Hellyer Velodrome Challenge. My vision was still hazy as I was coming out of post-nap stupor, having been dozing and cuddled up next to a Mavic disc wheel for about two hours of the trip.
                “Are you okay back there?” Missy said, blinking into the rearview mirror.
                “Yep, I’m good. I told you, I’m little. I’m totally compact and built for travel,” I replied.
                The name “Summer Camp” started out as a playful nickname for the West Coast race series. The idea is that each major track – Hellyer in San Jose, Alpenrose in Portland, and Marymoor in Seattle – hosts a three-day track race. The relative proximities of the tracks makes a drivable trip, and riders go to as many of the races as they can; more often than not one sees the usual suspects year after year. Like the summer camps that we attended as kids, the race series has become a summer staple – both athletically and socially speaking.
                The Hellyer Velodrome Challenge felt like a warm-up. There were fewer familiar faces at this particular race than in seasons past, but that only left me more stoked for Portland. Wagons-ho!

Every summer camp needs activities, right? Our theme might be bike racing, but that doesn’t mean that other interests are neglected. If one thinks about it, we’re already sort of camping: tents litter the infield at each race and we’re based out of said tents for most of those three race days. In Portland, there are requisite day trips to Sumptown Coffee and Bike Central, or sometimes Voodoo Donuts.
                “Arts n’ crafts” pertains to decorating one’s race number with stickers, as well as nail painting. I can’t speak for the male racers, but any girl worth her salt takes these necessary decorative measures into her race prep. Racing is a lot more exciting with glitter and neon colors.
                Picnic lunches consist of splitting a slightly smushed peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich on a blanket under a pop-up tent – followed by a banana and an energy gel for dessert. We don’t have campfires, but we all like to gather around a table with food and some beer after racing. Singing, dancing, and rambunctious laughter undoubtedly ensues – much to the chagrin of normal diners. It’s almost the same.

We sat in the ready area for the keirin final. The rain had passed lightly over Alpenrose and we had been able to move on with the third and final day of AVC. Some of the girls skimmed their tires for dirt; others shook out their legs as final wake-up for their muscles. I stared straight ahead before turning to my right to look at Missy.
                “Attack pandas, engage” I said as offered up my hand for a pre-race fist bump.
                “We got this,” she said as our knuckles clacked together through our gloves. We then drew starting position Popsicle sticks and walked to the line.
Racing is the common thread that ties us into this whole thing in the first place. But it wasn’t until this year that I myself actually started to get it. I went to my first summer camp race in San Jose in June of 2010 and treated it like a World Cup. It was my first race anywhere else other than Trexlertown or Los Angeles. I had no idea who anyone was, no actual team mates, and limited race skills. I did, however, manage to put a lot of pressure on myself, regardless.
However, this was my third year of Summer Camp and was somehow different – more relaxed, I suppose. We all race to win, and it’s true that this is about competition – it always has been. But it’s also about fun and just racing your freakin’ bike. It’s about cheering for everybody. The same people that race each other in a sprint final become partners in the team sprint. The friends you make and keep along the way are just as important as any cash you make or records you break.

*

domingo, 18 de marzo de 2012

Don't Cry For Me, Argentina

This time was going to be different, I was sure of it. I lay on my cot in our tiny hotel room as the Mar del Plata nightlife roared on outside; the Argentinean beach city was alive and glittering beyond the 19th-story window. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, letting my belly balloon with air and my spine to press into the smushy foam mattress.
                We’re in the starting gate. Count-down is starting. Beep-five, beep-four, beep-three, beep-two, beep-one, beeeeeeeeep-GO!
                Yes, this time would be different.
 

Located on Argentina’s Atlantic coast, the city of Mar del Plata is about 400 kilometers south of Buenos Aires – the second largest city in the Buenos Aires province after the capital itself. Mar del Plata was built essentially on national and international tourism; it’s the quintessential South American beach city, complete with a host of hotels, restaurants, casinos, and golf courses. It also hosted the 1995 Pan American Games, which attests to the city’s certain athletic panache.
                Subsequently, it was here that we were plunked for the 2012 Pan American Continental Track Cycling Championships. After roughly 20 hours of planes and airports, as well as a five and half hour bus ride, it’s only fitting that I was genuinely enamored with Mar del Plata. This went beyond the normal gritty fieriness that I enjoy about South America in general. The vast expanse of ranches and grassland we had covered to get there belied the vibrant mixture Old World European-styled architecture and modern coastal flair of the city itself. It’s lively, loud, and eclectic.
                Plus the steaks were to die for. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise about Argentina’s meat products should be smacked. Period.
After months of trying to rebound from Colombia, I was ready to sink my teeth in Argentina. Immediately we settled into the all-too-familiar, enticingly chaotic routine of the South American bike racing scene. Game on



It was if, for a moment, the morning breeze was being held like baited breath. Liz and I sat in the ready area for the team sprint in anticipation of our qualifying heat. We had practiced handfuls of starts together prior to departing Los Angeles and upon getting to the track in Mar del Plata. The track here was 250 meters of outdoor concrete, a seemingly far cry from the protected indoor wooded tracks we had raced on before.
                It matters a lot less in the pole lane, assuming I can get on Liz’s wheel. We had started perfectly in practice the day before. Somewhere in training my breathing rhythm had clicked, my bodily mechanics slowly and consciously aligned to enhance my start. We were ready. We had to be.
                But as I sat in the plastic lawn chair on the home straight, all my demons from the Cali World Cup came screaming out of the closet. The frozen legs as the gate released, the wheel bobble, Liz slowly pulling further and further away with each pedal stroke, all replayed in my head as I remembered the disaster.
                Not this time. You just nailed it yesterday. You visualized your perfection last night. You will do this.
                At the call of “Estados Unidos!” we rose from our seats and went to the start line; Liz got situated in the gate as Ben rolled me up next to her.
                “Cincuenta segundos!” Hands on top of the bars, deep belly breathing. Yoga’s good for stuff, see?
                “Treinta segundos!” Keep breathing. Remember, hips forward and up.
                “Deiz segundos!” Hands in the drops. Breathe in on the odd counts, out on the evens.
                Beep-five, beep-four, beep-three, beep-two, beep-one, beeeeeeeeep-GO!
                It was the scene I had played in my mind’s eye the night before. Our start was perfectly synched as the gate released; I filed directly behind Liz before the middle of the first turn, building smooth speed as I latched onto her wheel in her draft. Leave a gap, take a run. By turn four Liz was swinging up for the transition and I slung myself ahead. I barreled along the black line for my second lap, legs cranking against the lactic strain in my quads and hamstrings.
                I busted across the line with a guttural yelp and swung up to graze the rail, hoping, praying for a satisfactory time. Holy hell.
                Jamie gave us the news as I spun on the rollers: we had qualified second behind Venezuela and would be riding against them in the gold final ride-off in the evening.
                “Dana, that was the best start I’ve ever seen you do. Ever.” Mind: blown.



That afternoon I eased onto my bed and watched the ceiling fan wobble precariously as its blades whirled in a breezy blur. My open palms faced skyward, my feet splayed lazily outward. Outside, gulls squawked overhead and boats bobbed on the deep green Atlantic in the distance. A tired taxi horn blared somewhere down below.
We were in the gold final. It would be easy to get wrapped up in anticipation of the races to come already. But the sprint and keirin were far off – and whatever happened in those races happened. The focus was here and now, and I had to visualize accordingly.
                Let’s get this.


Shakira blasted over the loudspeaker – it’s difficult to attain maximum groovitude at a sporting event without a decidedly Latin beat. I tapped my cleats on the concrete as we sat in the ready area on the backstretch. The Colombian team sprint team sat next to us as they prepared to ride off for bronze.
                I glanced to my right at the Colombian starter and extended a fist in an offertory good luck fist bump. She met my knuckles with hers and smiled, braces glinting; I smiled and nodded back.
We watched as the Colombians clinched bronze in a perfectly-executed ride.
                 It was our turn; we settled into the starting formation as usual. Just more of the same. The countdown and breathing began.
                Breathe and GO.

We finished second after Venezuela edged us by 0.3 seconds – close enough that it should have felt like a crushing defeat. Compared to my Cali ride, however, it was perfect. Nothing to cry about there. 

*

domingo, 1 de enero de 2012

Blurtful

Blurtful (adj.): inadvertent in nature and with the potential to be harmful to feelings, image, self-esteem, or judgment.


My team mates and I were walking down the hallway in the Team USA building on our way to the dining yurt of the PanAm Games athlete’s village. At this point, we cyclists had been on the ground in Guadalajara for only a few days; a handful of athletes and staff were still trickling in before competition began. Liz Reap, Maddie Godby, Robin Farina and I were about to board the elevator when off walked USAC’s Olympic Team leader Ken Whelpdale. Liz greeted him with her usual friendly “Hello!” (as Liz seems to know all of the important people) and we went in a semi-circle of introductions.
                “Hi, I’m Ken, ” he said as he extended his hand to me.
                “Hey, I’m Dana. Dana Feiss,” I replied with a firm shake. Not too firm, not too lame. MAN-SHAKE.
                “Ah, so you’re our keirin racer,” he asked.
                “Yep, that’s me.”
                “Feeling good and ready?”
                “Aw, hell yeah! Ready to murder some bitches!” I piped emphatically. Oh, man. Did I really just say that? Blurtful. Didn't even flinch.
                Ken blinked for a beat and straightened up. “Well, okay then!” He made his way to the coaches’ room and we proceeded to file into the elevator. As the doors closed, Liz glanced at me.
                “You realize who you just said that to?” she said. “That’s our team leader and USOC representative right there. Might want to be careful what you say.”
                Didn’t the intros already cover this? “Oh. Shit. Hmm.” I’ve said before that I have peculiar neurological condition in which my lips move when I think – the end result being statements that often push the limits of social grace. In this particular instance I had had a terrible lapse.
                Robin chuckled and said “That was awesome.”
                “Send me off to the ladies room the next time we run into someone important,” I huffed. I gave Robin a half-hearted high-five and studied the linoleum as we descended, trying to decide if I should be proud or ashamed.
I would learn later in the week that not only did Ken himself curse like a sailor, but that he was rather impressed with my confident response. My stupid knee-jerk reaction turned out to be one of my more socially savvy achievements. Two points for Dana – blurts be praised!

The New Year is everyone’s time to pick something that we need to change about ourselves. We vow to do something that will make us better individuals in some way: lose weight; drive less; get fluorescent light bulbs; be friendlier. But what about things we like about ourselves?
                Understand that I’m all in favor of resolutions for self-improvement. But, to add to that, here’s my New Year’s proposition: find something that you like yourself and won’t change, no matter what. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do – chances are that you bring at least one cool and good quality to the table. Something you think a flaw just might be a saving grace.
                Go be blurtful if you want. But more importantly: Train hard, ride well, love yourself, and be good to everyone else. Let’s make 2012 awesome – GO TEAM!

*

domingo, 11 de diciembre de 2011

Black Belts

I was slumped down on the kitchen floor and leaning against the dishwasher; I had my knees hugged to my chest and my feet pigeon-toed in. The Trader Joe’s shopping bag lay limp on the tile – I had momentarily forgotten the post-travel grocery mission in favor of conversation. I peered at the tips of my Vans and held the phone to my ear.
                “It’s tough, you know? I know it’s bike racing, but sometimes I still need wrap my head around this whole thing,” I said.
                My father cleared his throat. “You work very hard, and these are World Cups. Lots of competition, seasoned riders,” he said.
                “Gah. I completely agree. Doesn’t mean I don’t want to kick ass.”
                “You know, there are no two-year black belts.”
                What?


My elbow skimmed the rail at the top of the track. For a split second the stadium was illuminated in white; a crack of thunder reverberated though the bleachers and over the boards on which we rolled. A light tropical rain flicked my glasses as Liz and I wound up and dove to the pole lane in a team sprint formation.
                Yeah. Feeling good. Just another training day in Colombia.
                I was immediately enamored with the track. Technically the Cali velodrome is indoor, but to explain it properly: it’s 250 meters of outdoor and covered tropical hardwood – an open-air venue, if you will. It meets the basic UCI and Olympic-caliber track requirements. However, being always open, the track has a tendency to take on water as well as host moths and beetles the size of small dogs. It’s less of a nuisance than one would think; I prefer to consider it as “keeping things lively” – something for which South America in general has a certain propensity. 

                We had touched down in Cali a few days before – it was now Tuesday and we were doing our final race prep for our first event, the team sprint. Things were going fine, all factors considered. I was feeling a little apprehensive about this particular race – it occurred to me that I hadn’t done a real team sprint race since Nationals at the beginning of October; it was now December.
So what? I’m here and I’m feeling good, feeling strong. Ready to race? Hell yeah, ready to murder some bitches.

We shoved off the line and immediately my front wheel bobbled. Not good, not good, not good. Panic! I heaved myself forward with each pedal stroke, but already I was watching my team sprint partner pull away from me.
                At turn two she was two bike lengths ahead. Crap. Turn three, turn four, she was still out of range as she pulled up and I swung through.
                Ding, ding!
                We hadn’t predicted much better than tenth for our team sprint, but more could have been expected for our execution. That was terrible. Period.
I was certain that there was nothing worse than completely flubbing a ride in front all of Colombia. I tried to take the next couple days to focus on what I considered the “real” racing: the sprints and the keirin. In the 200-meter I rode almost the same time in Cali as I did in Astana; it wasn’t enough to make the tournament. Tactically, my keirins were improving: I narrowly missed qualifying through the second round by riding from the front. It was difficult to decide if I should feel frustrated with the misses or happy with the progress.
Dude, I could write the book on mixed emotions right now.  What do I do with all of this?


I uncurled my legs and readjusted my seat bones as I cradled my cell. “What? What’s that mean?”
                “There are no two year black belts,” my father said again. “In martial arts, belts tell a fighter’s skill level. Black belts take a while to earn, and there are levels.”
                “How many levels?”
                “Sometimes six, sometimes twelve, depending on the fighting style. But anyway – my point is that anyone who gets a ‘black belt’ in as little as two years didn’t really earn it. There’s a difference between a black belt and someone whose belt happens to be black, you see? Stuff takes time.”
                “Got it. I’m going to be a black belt. Bike-wise, that is.”
                “That’s it. Proud of you.”
                “Thanks, Dad. Love you, too.”

*

miércoles, 23 de noviembre de 2011

All Saints Day

Author’s Note: This incident happened a few months ago, but I feel that it’s still relevant and worth sharing. Like the rest of my posts, this one was crafted according to detailed notes. Please enjoy.

This is madness. I’m at least half blind and it feels like there’s a fork in my hamstrings. This is not good. Fridays are generally welcomed by the average American. It’s the end of the work week, an open door to the weekend, and usually a casual, relaxed weekday. Fridays in Dana Land are met each week with a strange mix of anticipation and dread – and this one was no exception. The end of Team USA’s work week is graced by three different workouts, and I had just finished my last set of the day’s third session: lactic 500-meter repeats; it put the aaaaack in lactic. Pain was radiating up from my legs, through my ass and abs and out across my shoulders. My left eye was involuntarily clenched shut and my arms were seizing in spirals of acidic agony. I slumped over my bike as I rolled around the track apron. I would have thrown up, but my stomach was empty; the last meal I had eaten was at 10 a.m. and it was now 3:30 p.m. I could die right now. I could flop down and pass out and that would be fine. Dear God, just make the pain stop. Why do I do this?
                He was there when my vision cleared: a man in white painter’s pants and a white t-shirt standing at the top of the bleachers, smiling and waving. I glanced and waved back with my still-tingling arm. What the hell?


Ben is a barrel-chested man of medium height in his late fifties to early sixties – no one is quite sure of his age. His shining hazel eyes are encircled by a round, leather-tanned face that nearly always wears a smile; his long salt-n-pepper hair hangs past his shoulders in unkempt strings. He likes to dress in white. And he loves track cycling, as well as the athletes that race and train for it.
                On this particular day Ben had been in the stands watching our team work out. We had all seen him around the track from time to time, but none of us really knew much about him. Today he would have seen every painful pedal stroke, had he not slipped out for a few moments. He arrived back at the track with two platters of Subway sandwiches – along with ten Bank of America envelopes, each with a twenty-dollar bill inside; one for every rider at training.
                We ate and were merry for the fact that someone cared enough to do this for us. I looked down at the envelope in my hand. Twenty bucks. I’m going to go to Sprouts and buy as many mangoes as I can. Or maybe I’ll save it for when I need it. Something.  
It didn't really matter after such a hellish workout. The mere gesture was cool by itself. Who would do this for a bunch of rag-tag American cyclists?


I saw Ben as I made my way to the door after the post-training festivities. I smiled and gave him a real wave, along with a handshake and a formal introduction.
                “That was so wonderful, what you did for us today. Really, we can’t thank you enough,” I said.
                “It was my pleasure. You guys train so hard, it’s beautiful to watch. So inspiring,” he replied. “We should help you any way possible. And I have the means. It’s just right.”
                “Well, it was awesome. It means so much to us as athletes to know that people care about us. I dunno, maybe sometimes we forget.” People like this made training worth every ounce of lactic acid. I looked straight at him and grinned. “I’m going to call you Saint Ben. Because you are!”
                Ben laughed and shook his Wild Man of Borneo locks. “Okay.”
                Yeah, I know why I do this.

*
               

martes, 22 de noviembre de 2011

Back to School

I breathed in the scent of drywall and polished hardwood as I walked into the empty gymnasium; each footstep made its own resounding echo across the basketball court and out to the bleachers. “The Den of the Lobos” was painted in black and orange along each white wall, accompanied by banners and plaques displaying the school’s sports records.
                It was the first time I had set foot in a high school since graduating from own in 2008. I was preparing to present to all of the sports teams of Los Amigos High School on my experience as an elite athlete – I had to take a moment to get my bearings as to what it was like to be in a high school again. The gym in particular here in was very similar to the one I had used myself three years ago in Pennsylvania. Everything looked smaller and older and more worn than I remembered.


This plan to present had been hatched just a few days before I left for Kazakhstan. My friend and housemate, Lori, is a physical education teacher at Los Amigos; Lori herself is an Olympian who went to Barcelona in’92 for team handball. We had gotten to talking about the plight of athletics in public schools – and how that tends to carry over into other areas. She told me how sports aren’t available at the middle school level for Los Amigos.
“The kids aren’t encouraged to do sports” she explained. “And once they can play in high school, it’s difficult to keep that fire to play alive. No one tells them what they can achieve, that they can achieve.” Lori stressed the trickle down from athletics to academics, and how students’ ability to focus on sports tends to go hand in hand with focusing on school. Those that see the value in both with excel in both.
My aim was to impress upon these kids, by way of example, not just how awesome sports can be (everybody knows that, right?) but how important it is set goals.


The kids began to file in – over 200 of them – and take their seats on the floor. I had made sure to wear my garb from the PanAmerican Games – it’s the only stuff I own with the Olympic rings on it, and I figured it would make a statement. I sat on the floor among the students as Lori welcomed them in and introduced the “special guest.” I popped up when she said my name and pointed in my direction. I probably would have felt more impressive if I wasn’t about a foot shorter than everyone else in the audience.
                We kicked off with a video called Dare to Dream which Lori got a while back as courtesy of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Cue dramatic soundtrack and inspiring sports cinematography.  We used about three minutes of this to set the mood. Bingo.
                I introduced myself and briefly explained track cycling. It’s Nascar for bikes except we don’t have brakes. We chase motorcycles and beat the crap out of each other as well as ourselves. I then proceeded to share my own story: how I got started; my journey over the past four years; recent competitions; a typical training day.
                My God, there are a lot of kids here. I’ll be lucky if what I’m saying gets through to half of them.
                The natural flow of the presentation went nicely into a question-and-answer session.  Thank goodness; oddly enough, I hate talking about myself and was starting to get uncomfortable. Cool. Let’s see who’s been paying attention and who’s still curious. Hands crept up and bunches of questions bubbled out.
                “What do you do to prepare for a competition? How do you get ready?”
                Well, I try to keep calm and relaxed for as long as possible. Then, once at the line, I get really intense and ready to commit murders. “I’m a big fan of visualization. Study videos, get a mental plan of how you’re going to execute during race time or game time. Once you have a plan, just relax, maybe zone out to your ipod, and keep focused on what you’re going to do.”
                “How did you manage to go to school and do cycling full-time?”
                Dude, it was hard. It was 5 a.m.-to-11 p.m., two-workouts-and-eight-hours-of-classes kind of hard. Days-in-the-hurt-box, no-sleep kind of hard. But it was worth it. “It was all about time management. You work it out in your schedule, on a spreadsheet, how you’re going to fit in both. There’s not as much social time as you might want, but that’s part of the deal. And it’s important, that whole ‘school’ thing. No matter what happens, a degree is something that no one can take from you once you have it.”
                “How do you stay motivated through all your training?”
                Blind faith, sir, blind faith. I have to keep believing that if I put in the work now that I’m going to get where I want to be – whether that’s right now or four or five years from now.  “It’s one part faith and one part toughness. You have to know that your training is going to pay off. That payoff is largely dependent on how you train. For every one day of practice that you feel good – fast, strong, fresh, whatever – there are going to be ten more practices where you just feel like crap. They hurt, but you need to get through them. You have to know that it’s those days, the hurt days, that make you accomplished. They make you better.”


About fifty kids lingered after I finished my presentation – the soccer, water polo, cross country, and track teams hung out and continued to ask me questions. I took photos, signed notebooks, and gave out hugs and high-fives.
                Sweet, I made an impression! About fifty kids’ worth, actually. I should go back to school more often.

*
               

sábado, 12 de noviembre de 2011

Borat Was Wrong

In 2006, Sacha Baron Cohen released the mockumentary and comedic sensation that was Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The satirical story follows a Kazakh journalist along his journey through America. A master of stereotypical characters, Cohen enlightened the American public to the socioeconomic plight of Kazakhstan through his (in)famous role.
                I was a junior in high school that year – and hoping to have a better grip on my future by the time the following year rolled around. College sounded like a good idea; the tricky part was nailing down where to go and what to go for. I had good grades, hometown friends, track and field, and no immediate plans. Fabulous. Too bad I wasted eight bucks on that damn movie. It wasn’t even that funny and I could have used that cash for other things – like lip gloss or something.
                Four years later, I found myself in Astana, Kazakhstan for my first-ever UCI World Cup. I never thought I would find myself here, of all places – and as a member of the US national team, with an Olympic goal, for all reasons.  
                Holy hell.


First of all, Borat was wrong, at least in part. The capital city of Astana is exceptionally nice – almost too nice. Kazakhstan gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and designated the small city as the new capital in 1995. Development began and the capital was officially moved from Almaty to Astana in 1997. The result was an ultra-modern city so new that there appears to be very little remnants of true Kazakh culture. High-tech office buildings, hotels, apartment complexes, and shopping malls make up most of the cityscape; it’s unclear as to whether there are even enough people in the area to fill up this created space. 


                This is Kazakhstan’s huge stores of oil money at work. The locals that mill about the city are polite, pretty, and well dressed; a sizeable chunk of the population knows English. The young ones seemed friendly. However, we were cautioned that the older population still harbors icky feelings towards Americans from the Cold War – and we were therefore advised to pretend to be Canadians or Brits when out and about. Awesome.
                Our four-star hotel , the Dumont, had 15 stories and was occupied by most of the teams in town for the World Cup – only a handful of teams were in the Radisson across town. It was like a dorm, or quite possibly the world’s largest international locker room, but classy – complete with high ceilings and granite walls and floors. I was out of my element in that regard, sure enough, but the poor hotel staff was probably worse off. Cram 100-plus track cyclists into one building and see what happens.
                Actually, what happens is just a lot of odd meals, bike traffic, and roller noise – at least until after racing. Then a bit of beer happens. Enough said.


It’s 80 degrees in here and yet there’s still a cold spot in turn one. What the hell? Focus. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is going fast.
                I made my way up from the blue line and to the rail, just like always. The track felt almost exactly like the home track in Los Angeles – the difference was it was only six months old and looked clean enough to eat off of. We had been in town for a week, mostly getting over the 23 hours of travel required to get there. I was now beginning the wind-up for my 200-meter qualifier, and my biggest concern was simply that I would have enough legs just to keep me from looking like a goober on the world stage.
                First lap, second lap, it’s just like home, it’s just like home. Pressure on the pedals. Goose it here. Omigod, stand! Stand now!
                Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!
                I rolled a personal best for a sea level track, but it wasn’t fast enough to make the tournament. I was a little dismayed, but not surprised. After all, this was a World Cup. Plus, it was Baby’s First World Cup; I was just happy to be there at that point – we all have to start somewhere, right?


I swallowed hard as I waited in the buffet line. It was 6:30 p.m., a.k.a feeding time, on Friday night and a handful of Brits had just walked into the dining room.
                Oh God. That’s him.
                Chris Hoy filed in line directly behind me – I was now in fact standing next to track cycling royalty. I let out a whoosh of air.
                Don’t panic. He’s just a bike racer, just like you. Don’t panic. Actually, he’s shorter in person than I thought. Don’t panic.
                We shuffled down the row of food, bypassing the buttered vegetables and mystery meat. Hoy leaned over for the tongs, looked at me, and said “Nice that the food’s actually hot today, eh?”
                Yes, you are. Very. Um . . . what? Shut up, brain, shut up.“Hm. Um. Er. Uh, yeah, totally!” I stammered.
Good work. A moment of silence, please, for our dear friend, Conversation. I scuttled to the Team USA table before I could blurt out anything else.  


Sitting up squarely on my seat, I leaned over to Jamie and blinked. “Any last nuggets of advice?”
                “Get second or third. Be patient. And do not panic.”
                Hm. I wish I had thought of that. We were lined up for the keirin repechage – Sandie Claire of France, Daniela Larreal of Venezuela, the Ukrainian, the Korean, and I comprised heat four. 
                 Don’t panic. Don’t panic. It’s a keirin and you’re riding a big gear. Don’t panic, just race. I tipped down into my bars and got set.
                Bang!
                I settled into fourth position and waited, controlling my speed and making space behind the Ukrainian. Five laps, four laps, three laps to go. The motor swung off on the back. With two laps to go I rose from seat and made as if to sprint, hoping to spook the three riders in front into action. Panic, panic, panic. For God’s sake, will you people go already?
Oh, they went – fast. I was trailing the Venezuelan, the Frenchwoman and the Ukrainian going into the bell lap. I swept up the Venezuelan in between turns three and four, but couldn’t catch the other two before hitting the line. It was hard not to feel a bit disappointed – I am a bike racer, after all, and this was my favorite type of bike race. But this was the international stage, and this was a World Cup for a reason.
I’ll take that for Baby’s First World Cup. Eat your heart out, Borat. Kazakhstan rocks. 

*