Clara Hughes on road worlds: "I'm so nervous right now"
Clara Hughes isn't afraid to admit it: She's scared.
Hughes will race in the road cycling world championships Tuesday in Copenhagen for the first time since 1999. It's also her first shot at the world's best since she made her comeback to cycling about one year ago.
"Believe me, I'm so nervous right now because this is such an unknown for me," said Hughes in an interview last week. "But I'm also so excited because these are the challenges and these are the nerves and the uncertainties and the unknowns that I live for as an athlete. I'm in the thick of it right now and I can't wait to get on the line Tuesday."
The time trial on Tuesday is her best event, it's the one where her ability to suffer is her greatest weapon. She's more of a dark horse in the road race, but has an Olympic bronze medal in that event as well in the time trials and has won races this season.
"I've always believed when you do things right and you have integrity and you work your butt off, no matter if everything goes wrong, in the end the universe is still going to conspire to give you the chance," said Hughes.
"I also think that that the same time that universe is conspiring to pull you away from what you think is important. Things and people and circumstances are always trying to pull you away from that and the biggest challenge is to keep yourself centred and keep yourself firmly planted on your goal and not care about anything around you."
That's where some tunnel vision is required.
"It's a feeling and an energy and a focus," Hughes said. "At the same time it's incredible but it's also terrifying because it can crush you. It can lift you up and it can light your fire, it can propel you forward. But it can also crush you if you're not prepared to handle it. I know I'm prepared. I mean this is my bread and butter."
No one's going to argue that with six-time Olympic medalist, who went into her new challenge without expectations about how hard it was going to be.
"The moment you think it's not going to be hard is the moment you're going to get your ass kicked. It's just all really, really hard. It is so hard to try to be good at something. And it's next to impossible to try to be the best at something. But not impossible."
And then there are afternoons like the one last week when she got to go for an easy ride up in the hills of Girona, Spain, where she was training before the worlds.
"I just had the feeling of 'Omigosh, I love to ride my bike. I love riding my bike.' And I get to actually race the thing. How cool is that?"
How cool, indeed.
(Photo: Canadian Cycling Association)