Judging by the size of things, I knew this was going to be different than most race weekends. And when I say by the size of things, I mean the size of my bum and thighs compared to those of the international racers. My glorious golden engine paled in comparison.
Oh, and the rainbows. There were lots of rainbows, all of which were manifested on cuffs and armbands of skinsuits reserved for world champions. The riders that wore them were plunked in Colorado Springs for the 2011 Winslow BMW Grand Prix of Sprinting.
This was as close to a World Cup race as I had ever come in terms of competition. In fact, a team mate so accurately described it as “a World Cup race without the World Cup pressure.” It was true. The PanAm championships were close, but I did one race against the clock. It’s a bit different to be racing a keirin with a slew of seasoned international riders. Australia, Canada, Colombia, Holland, and Trinidad were all there in force.
That’s when the butterflies came. It had been a while since they had last appeared. But upon preparing for the keirin qualifier on Saturday, the butterflies surged through my stomach and into my throat on a wave that was one part anxiety and one part anticipation.
For the past two months I had been bouncing around the domestic track racing circuit – a handful of races on the west coast, a couple on the east coast, with a whole lot of training in between. This circuit had gotten dangerously close to being comfortable; by this point in the summer season most of the American racers know one another and their particular racing styles. Throw some world champions and other international riders into the mix and you have a whole different race – the riders are brand-new to the locals and well-seasoned in their racing capabilities.
Not to mention that several teams were sharing space at the U.S. Olympic Training Center just down the road from the track. The campus is like a college campus without the classes: dorms, dining hall, gyms and training areas, offices. It’s funny to sit down in the cafeteria with an Aussie or Canadian or Dutchwoman for lunch and know that you will be slaughtering each other on the track that same evening. But such is sport – nice that it’s all in fun and that we don’t actually kill anyone.
To summarize the racing, I managed a 3rd place in the team sprint and a 5th place in the keirin; the sprints could have gone better, but I was happy with the overall results. However, it’s not necessarily the placements that are important, but rather the processes that went into them. I went into this with eyes wide open, embracing the learning opportunity. My abilities for planning and executing tactics in were tested. For example, I chose to attack from the back in the keirin final as opposed to my usual habit of immediately riding from the front. I used it as a chance to test new moves; after all, I was racing the world’s best – I didn’t have much to lose.
Equally important was not letting the butterflies drive the bike. The sequence is simple: see rainbows, get butterflies. If one is expected to successfully race on the international stage, one must overcome this tendency quickly. Everyone needs to start somewhere, and what better place for me than for this event?
I still have my eyes wide open – and I’m grinning.