"I'm gonna puke."
"You're fine, just relax."
"Nope, definitely have to puke."
And so continue the voices in my head. Can I blame them? Not really. What normal person wouldn't be nervous, it's the Giro d'Italia for god's sake! (Normal is all relative when it comes to pro cyclists; I've never met a normal one in my life. Eccentricities amplified!)
The countdown to the start of the Giro prologue begins 5-4-3-2-1 beep and things snap into acute focus. Adrenaline, that sweet rush of warmth, a chemical reaction that makes an athlete feel superhuman fills my body and I'm off. Legs pushing the pedals over quicker and quicker, the feel of gears shifting and the disc wheel hissing. In aero tuck I imagine I'm a knife cutting through the evening air and slicing the noise of the crowd in two parts. A clean precise line. I pretend that my legs are not screaming in an ever-growing fiery pain and if that doesn't work I tell myself that the pain is the most enjoyable feeling one can experience. Anything to convince the brain that the legs are doing what they should be doing, not to give up until the line has been crossed.
So many times a cyclist repeats this ritual in their career but for me this particular moment carries with it extra importance. This is my first Giro d'Italia, a race I grew to love over the years of being a cycling fan before I ever raced a bike. If someone would have told me four years ago when I lined up for my first small town criterium that I would be perched atop the start ramp of the world's most beautiful stage race (in my opinion), I would have told them to have their head checked. Yet, here I am in my second year as a professional, in Italy, on an Italian team and doing the biggest race in the country. Bonkers!
So how did I get here? Only months ago I was still racing in the US with my team, Vanderkitten. Aware of what a huge opportunity it was to race in Europe, and specifically the Giro, they were kind enough to "loan" me to a small Italian team based in Lucca, Italy called System Data. I can't fully express my gratitude to my team and teammates back home for all their support and understanding, which has allowed me to start on the path to fulfilling my ultimate goal: racing full time in Europe.
And so it began, my Tour of Italy. 2.7km of sweet suffering. In the end I placed 28th. Not bad I tell myself, but naturally a competitor is always searching for more. Faster, stronger, better.
Not bad doesn't quite satisfy the appetite. Domani, as they say in Italy. Domani.
So here is where I leave you for tonight, my bed is calling and there is another race tomorrow... See you then?