This past weekend the best track riders in the world toed the start line at the Olympic velodrome in London, England for the final stop on the 2011/2012 UCI Track Cycling World Cup circuit. The event doubled as a World Cup and as the test event for the Olympics this summer, therefore 340 athletes from 48 nations and 18 trade teams made the journey to the English capital to get a peek into the future. 12 Americans helped to make up those 340 riders, and enCompass Racing’s Maddie was among them.
“So what’s it like to ride under an Olympic champion?”
This question had been presented numerous times to me over the course of the past 4 hours, however at this particular moment a BBC reporter was holding a microphone all of 6 inches from my face. “Well,” I thought, “He definitely challenges us, but that’s only natural because he wants us to reach our full potential. And the Olympic title isn’t so much an intimidation as it is a motivator. It serves as a testament to how hard work can make dreams come true.” The reporter smiled kindly and turned back to Jamie to continue asking questions about his 2008 Olympic title, London 2012, and the USAC National Sprint Team. I sat back in awe and just watched, amazed at everything going on around me as Jamie answered question after question graciously and effortlessly.
Kevin Mansker and I, along with the US Sprint coach Jamie Staff, were seated at a table surrounded by reporters from several media outlets in Jamie’s hometown of Ashford, Kent. We had taken the train down from London earlier, and had spent the day exploring the roads that our coach had grown up training on with about 30 other people aged anywhere from 9 to 69 who had come out to support their hometown hero.
But let me begin at the beginning of this story, which had begun 14 days earlier on a plane headed from Los Angeles to Mallorca, Spain.
Para Cycling Track World Championships were taking place at the track in LA, so the Sprint and the Women’s Team Pursuit teams who were slated to compete at the London World Cup headed across the Atlantic for a 10-day training camp in Mallorca. We stayed at a beautiful villa 9 kilometers outside of the city in the quaint town of Esporles. The food was wonderful, the views breathtaking, and the weather, well, it dumped snow the majority of the time we were there. But we still managed to get in some amazing rides along a small farm road to the track to train. Training went well for the team, and everyone was excited to get to London to see the velodrome and get ready for racing to start!
Sun streamed into our room as I parted the curtains the next morning and I let out a little smile, as the weather gods were seemingly bestowing upon us clear weather for the day. Today Jamie was taking Kevin and me on an adventure to his hometown of Ashford, and I could barely contain my excitement. As the wheels turned faster and faster the industrial setting of London gave way to green rolling country hills dotted with farm houses straight out of a story book. Upon arrival we descended the platform stairs to the street and were greeted by a large crowd of both kids and adults who were already straddling their bikes raring to go. An easy 45-minute ride winding through village lanes brought us to Jamie’s pub, which soon after our arrival filled close to bursting. Jamie told us all stories of his racing days and was the star of the show when he produced the glistening gold medal he rode to 4 years ago. After a healthy amount of autographs were signed and pictures snapped, we once again mounted our bikes and headed out for a longer ride to explore hills and twisting rural roads joining charming country villages. Our final destination of the day was at a sports complex, and the amount of people had doubled from when we originally departed the train station. Obstacle courses were created, and kids were zipping every which way on their bikes, while numerous media outlets were beginning to set up shop. Various radio stations, TV channels, and newspapers interviewed us for 45 minutes before we were recruited into competing with the kids on the various courses. Interacting with Jamie brought so much joy to these people, which created such an amazing feeling that we were able to give back to the community. I know that both Kevin and I left Ashford with a huge smile on our faces and a better understanding of how big the impact of taking some time out to share and connect over a simple dream can be.