Mind blowing. That's what I'll use to first describe my experience at the Melbourne world cup. I hope to capture every single aspect of it, but it's also something that you will have to experience on your own.
I have surrounded myself with the world's greatest. Or rather, they have surrounded me. It was intimadating at first. Walking through the concrete belly of the velodrome, entering the infield for the first time amongst a whirl of high end carbon fiber, mavic wheels, matching track suites, 35 or so countries represented, international coaches, UCI officials, current world champions, fit, fit, FIT cyclists, some with legs bigger than anaconda snakes (Beth- wait till you see Megan's photo of the German). Yet when I took to the boards for the first time, spun my first revolution, I felt like I had arrived. That I belonged there along side of them all. What an indescribable feeling, this kinship linked via the machine we use to transport ourselves as quickly as possible through space and time. No matter the cultural origin, the shape of your body, the color of your spandex - we are all here to do one thing and one thing only: go as fast as humanly possible.
Despite traveling the 16 or so hours via air, car and foot travel, my excitement grew to such heights that nothing could wipe the smirk off my face. We met Emy, our Ausie teammate at the airport and she whisked megan to the velodrome as my dear friend Monique picked me up curbside. Monique is a month away from having a baby and looks fabulous. She took me to a local cafe, helped me unpack my bike, attended to my every need and then we headed to the velodrome. I couldn't have asked for a better tour guide; as she showed me the city's highlights, I fell in love with Melbourne. On our return trip to her house, we stopped at a local park and went kangaroo spotting. They are the funniest creatures - they use their tail as a tripod balance point with their massive rear legs, their front arms resembling t-Rex appendages with little practicality other then scratching themselves. I must have sounded like a elementary kid as I ooed and awed over their quirky movements. Monique giggled as i took delight in their colloquial sayings such as flaming galah and other unmentionables. My biggest regret on this trip would be how little time I got to spend in Melbourne, let alone Australia. Let it be known here and now, I plan to return. Perhaps the christmas carnivals next year?
Okay, so second biggest regret: I didn't travel with a camera. Dope! I'm picking one up this week.
The next morning, Monique and I headed into the city early to grab a crepe and flat white in one of the lanes (alley ways) in the heart of the city. Much to my delight, the little sidewalk cafe we ate at had a nutella and banana crepe, which i had to order in honor of my friend cam. One word: YUM! And I'm happy to report, the ausies know how to do coffee. I arrived to the velodrome a little early that morning and walked down to the yarra riverside to absorb in my surroundings and soak it all in.
We had a training session, more to familiarize ourselves with the track and with our new teammate Emy. Since this was our first efforts as a team, we looked at melbourne as a race/training opportunity. This mentality placed no expectations or additional pressure on us - other than staying together as a team an not do anything embarrassing. Mission accomplished.
Afterward, we headed to the AIS, a state funded athlete facility that contained multiple ice plunge baths, warm pools, weights, etc. Emy referred to it as "recovery" and as she and Megan plunged between the warm and ice cold pools, while I decided to try and freeze my extremities off by plunging for a solid fifteen minutes. A couple of famous football players drifted in and out of the facility, as the three of us hooted and hollered our way through recovery. Afterward, we opted to stash my road bike in emy's old rowing house along the yarra as we grabbed a bite to eat and decided our next move. I switched lodging to emy's house but there was one problem: not enough room in her car for three of us and three bikes. So i headed to massage with the national team swanie and was going to adventure back to emy's in the Kew neighborhood via bike, mass transit or taxi, depending on the weather. The only problem? It was pouring rain when i headed out to the hotel headquarters. Never one to shy from adventure, i was armed with a hand drawn map, multiple instructions on how to get to her house and my bike. Lucky for me the rain stopped after my hour long luxurious rub down. The life of an elite athlete can be rough sometimes, let me tell you.
Perhaps a little dazed from the rub, or still seriously jet lagged, i got all turned around and had to ask directions several times from other cyclists. Lucky for me just about everyone rides their bike in Melbourne and i soon found my way back to the house. A quick introduction to emy's father Peter and her brother and we headed out to dinner at a local establishment. Get a little food in my belly, relaxed muscles and I was a live wire in dinner conversation. Not so much. It reminded me of a little dinner party we had with the blatchfords last february. I think I fell asleep before my head had hit the pillow.
The next morning was race day..... And nerves were running high. Emy arranged for her friends stewart and Matilda to help us track side and attend to our every need. They did a fantastic job, calming our nerves, weighing our bikes, setting up rollers, bikes, pumping tires, etc. Before we knew it, we were sitting in the hot seat as the French team encircled us. Benjamin helped with our split times and walked the line, adding a sense of familiarity for Megan and I. I lined up in the start gate with complete focus and determination to demonstrate 100% of my ability. The 10 second beep sounded, i grabbed my bars, ready and anticipating the start. Beep, five, beep, four, beep, three, beep two - ready to pounce, weight shifted back into the gate for max propulsion forward, beep one, beep GO! Out like a rocket, adrenaline pumping, I
was into corner three, getting into my aero bars and accelerating through the first lap of our twelve lap effort. My first exchange was solid and Megan did a good job of setting pace. The effort went by in a blur. As soon as i hit the front, my thought was, my turn! My turn! My turn! Pull, pull, pull. Exchange, relax, recover. Up, up, up. Here we go, reel it in. Let's go, let's go! And with three laps to go, my cottonmouth caught up, mouth wide open trying to suck in as much air possible; wishing i were in a 98". Tunnel vision closing down my senses and Emy did the final pull, clocking us in at a 3:38. Not bad for our first go. And a fantastic start for the season.
I took two laps to get off the track, and could barely walk down the stairs to the infield. A steadying hand on my back nearly knocked me off my feet. My body went into shock, lungs spasming for air, pale as a ghost, legs pumping full of lactate, knees close to buckling. The other girls could move and talk. The deep satisfaction of going as hard as i could coming to me like a tidal wave. The world ceased to spin for two minutes, and if it did, I had no recollection of it. Turning your body inside out like that is not natural, yet necessary for optimal performance. Somehow, some way, you are able disconnect your mind and body by diving into the pain, going beyond what's comfortable. Or as Jennie puts it, getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. This feeling, this please stop feeling, and then pushing through it is why I do sport, why i push my body. It makes me feel alive. And as painful as it is to be temporarily in that state of discomfort, i seek it like a rare gem hidden in the depths of a mountain.
Need i say more?
The rest of the evening was magical too. I got to watch the world's best track cyclists do their thing in the flesh. From the men's team sprint, woman's team sprint, the team pursuit final where the ausie women nearly upset the world record held by the american women, the omnium elimination race and my favorite: the Madison. Wow. WOW. WOW!!!
Sadly we left the next morning. I spend the next ten days in l.a. Training and prepping for Columbia, the next stop on the world cup tour. I'm still waiting for someone to pinch me.