Time for a cool change

October 2, 2007

Before the World Championships in Stuttgart, we watched the weather reports religiously from our idyllic Tuscany base. Thankfully, all of the seemingly damning predictions of 80 percent chance of rain for our entire stay turned out to be healthy exaggerations. But this pre-race focus on weather conditions heightened my awareness of and attention to the climatic conditions enough to notice their significance.

When we pre-rode the course on Friday, I wore a hat and gloves. By the end of the ride, I got that feeling of being slightly and deliciously overheated underneath all of my layers. The trees of Stuttgart were just beginning to change and the predicted rainstorm on this day actually turned out to be a bright and chilly sun.

It was fall. It felt exactly like Halloween. This turning of the seasons had taken me by surprise, because I hadn't really believed in the mortality of my endless summer. The focus that I had begun to place on cycling allowed the sport to become my lifestyle this summer. I finally took that step towards releasing a fear of commitment - like the way it works in any relationship, I was able to acquiesce to the vulnerability of saying 'I love you', in this case to the sport. Now I am able to tell people I am a cyclist rather than I am a swimmer, or I am a student, as I so choose.

And all of this had happened through a spring and summer of crescendoing warmth until all of a sudden, arriving in Stuttgart, I realised that it was actually fall. And with fall comes the end of the 2007 cycling season. It makes me emotional to write it, because I am able to think of all of the things it meant to me.

My first real stage victory at Oak Glen at Redlands. The first time a reporter asked my opinion of a stage. My first leader's jersey at Gila. The first time I used warming oil. My first experience racing with a real team, having constant team-mates. My first crash in a race in Montreal. First World Cup there, too. First World Cup podium (and I hope there are more). First flat in a race. First time I cried about a cycling performance. First time I got dropped. First time I actually had it figured out what I want to do after college. The first time I wore a pair of compression tights. First time I paid attention to a frequent flier miles account. First time I spent a morning 'riding' at a coffee shop. First time I won a national championship and when I ran to meet the FedEx truck as it delivered my first personalized stars-and-bars jersey. First time I fed from the car in a race, first time I chucked a bottle through an open window into my mechanic's face. First time I drank a Coke in a race. First time I wore a radio. My first set of SRM data. My first flight to Europe. My first whole cup of coffee. The first time I cracked. The first time I motorpaced. My first World Championships and then the first time I packed my shoes with my bike in my checked luggage, because it is okay if they don't arrive right away…because it is my first real off season.

I guess upon revision of that list, it is legitimate to feel emotional about this closure. I look at the other riders, the ones who have been racing for years, and I think that to them this cycle might now come naturally. Maybe they have developed the same innate memory bank of triggers for changing sports seasons that I have for fall - low sun, leaves changing, cold air, my apple tree at home, the first frost…

Maybe someday I will get used to it, too. But for the moment, I feel disequilibriated by the loss or ending of something monumental. I am on the plane rushing back to school for tomorrow's 9am class and I am scared to go back. Not because I am apprehensive about the amount of catching up which awaits me, but because I feel that everyone will expect a story, an anecdote, a summary of my two weeks' absence, of the Stuttgart World Championships…and I don't have one. I don't know how to describe it at all - sometimes you can kill an experience with words, certainly you can discount it.

I never envisioned this September 30 what I would become, what I would learn and this discovery of an entirely new world.

So perhaps appropriately, as it has been the theme of my entire season, I now can't figure out how to conceptualize its termination. I get to go home next weekend for our four day break, so maybe mountain climbing with my dad will be a good start. It seems necessary, because for all of the insinuating cold breezes, it never is officially fall until I can see the Colorado aspens turn.

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