37,000 feet over the Atlantic, ripping along at 630 miles per hour in an aluminum can with wings I had a strange thought. This thought was really just my brain confirming something I had suspected for a few weeks. A sort of weird reality sinking in.
I realized that this isn't a fluke. I'm on my way around the world to compete in the World Championships. To do a job. 12 months after I had effectively quit and given up my ambitions at top-level international competition. Last March my world was set to become a much more simple cruise of local races and bike shop routine. One email from an Olympic champion later, I took a hard right down a more difficult road.
All this, it's something I wanted since I was a teenager and it's not a dream anymore. And it is absolutely terrifying.
If you want to know what the World Championships is like from the rider's perspective, I don't know how much I can tell you. Consider a situation with more pressure than you've ever experienced. TV cameras everywhere and that red "record" light is staring you in the face. Millions of people are watching. You're wearing a wife beater and underwear in a room full of black-tie socialites, and your socks don't even match. You're standing under an anvil tied to a rope, and you have to throw a dart into a bullseye for the first time in your life, or the rope lets go. You're robbing a bank with a fake pistol, alarms ringing and cops on the way.
Keith Richards writes in his autobiography about recording Exile on Main Street and although I'd be a fool to consider myself a rock star, I can relate every word of this to the sensation of race day on the world stage:
"You'd be surprised when you're put right on the ball and you've got to do something and everybody's looking at you, going, OK, what's going to happen? You put yourself up there on the firing line - give me a blindfold and a cigarette and let's go. And you'd be surprised how much comes out before you die. Especially when you're fooling the rest of the band, who think you know exactly what you're gonna do, and you know you're blind as a bat and have no idea. But you're gonna trust yourself."
It's over in a flash. Sometimes, like in Manchester, everything comes together and you can feel success before the time flashes on the board. Other times, like in Apeldoorn, everything goes wrong at once, and the disappointment is total and ultimate. To be disappointed with 12th in the world seems out of touch, but success at this level depends on a slightly skewed reality and uncompromising vision. The "normal" world says that "shit happens" but the Swiss timing system and the organization spending thousands of dollars for you to ride a single lap doesn't always see it that way.
All you can do is think about what's next. For me that's Pan Am Championships in Medellin, Columbia. Just about 5 weeks from now. One more big blast to finish off the season. One last chance for Olympic points and hardware for the mantle. One more chance to close your eyes and see what comes out.