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.”
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.
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.”