It's 5:30 in the morning. My hand reaches over and slams my alarm off as quick as possible. I raise my head and I'm relieved to see my two roommates are still asleep. I get dressed in the dark and make my way downstairs to the kitchen. We don't have to be awake for another hour but this is my quiet before the storm, my time to chill out and prepare. I pour a pot of tea, scramble up some eggs, and pour a bowl of muesli. I do this before every race in Europe.
I hear stirring. Here comes the storm. The race prep, the group breakfast, the bags into the vans, the departure. Behind the driver and against the window of the sprinter is the best seat in the van; of course I take it. It's still dark and we roll out. My iPod goes in and before the first song by Netsky is over I'm asleep. Signs in kilometers fly by. We pass cars on the left then shift back into the right lane. A simple concept most Americans will never figure out.
Team parking is on the left, a quick debate in Flemish that I can't understand and the parking man in his day-glow green vest lets us pass. We see the USA vans. We pull in and park.
Two spotless race bikes sit in the stand dialed and ready to go.
“What pressure do you want for preride?” asks the mechanic.
“Lets do 22psi.” Its wet and muddy today. Its always wet and muddy at these races.
I swing one leg over and I'm off. I've done this race before. The layout is familiar but that's it. Every rock and root, every rut is new. These are the things I note to myself. I've already broken the course down into sections. The pin it sections and the all too short recovery sections. I already did five laps of the course yesterday and now I know that 22psi isn't going to be enough as I slam off rocks and roots that have been uncovered from the wear from all the others in the past day. Into the pit I roll.
“More pressure, lets go up to 24.” I tell the mechanic.
After a quick change I'm back onto the course. I can tell right away I've compromised a small amount of traction with a two psi increase, but I can hit the roots and rocks faster without the abrupt feeling of them slamming into my rim. I might be a second or two slower per lap with a tad less traction, but a flat tire from running too low on a course like this makes you a minute or two slower, time that cannot be made up.
I'm satisfied now. I know all my lines for the race. I'm confident.
My cranks spin furious circles on the trainer during warmup. It's cold out and I can see my breath. I can see my back steaming in the van window's reflection. I shed layer after layer. The sweat is coming and the warmup is nearing its end. I can feel the blood pulsing through my legs. They're starting to get that good warm fuzzy feeling. I skip songs on my iPod, Deorro comes on. The perfect song to end my warmup to.
Bundled back up I roll to the start.
We're individually called up. My back number and tires are checked by the official and I pull into the start grid on the right side. This is the side I practiced on. The side I wanted. The quickest and cleanest line to the holeshot.
“Three minutes!” calls the official.
I don't move. I breathe. I focus.
“Two minutes!” he shouts.
I unzip my warmup pants and jersey. The brisk air slaps my bare legs.
I finish taking everything off. Check my cassette to make sure I'm three down from the top gear. Its an uphill start today. The perfect gear is everything.
“Thirty seconds!” he shouts one last time.
I can feel my heart pulsing in my chest. Everything is silent. Everything is still. I'm crouched and balanced, ready to spring. Ready to push forward with everything I've got. Today is all about going forward, all about progress, relentless forward progress I think to myself. Relentless forward progress.
In the blink of the eye the lights flash green and we explode off the line.