Keegan Swenson's 2014 World Cup mountain biking campaign got off to a promising start in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, last month.
Racing in just his second professional season, the 20-year-old Parkite finished 10th in the men's under-23 cross-country race, six minutes behind race winner Jordan Sarrou of France.
Swenson, the top American finisher in the race, was pleased with the start to his World Cup season.
But the good news wouldn't last. In the jungles of Cairns, Australia, Swenson fought his way to a 21st-place finish, despite battling food poisoning on race day.
"I finished, but it was a struggle," Swenson said. "We think it might have been something I picked up on my water bottle - mud or something - because it rained for three days straight. We were all eating the same food, so I think it was just something out in the jungle that I picked up."
Back home in Park City for a couple weeks before heading to Europe for a couple more World Cups, Swenson said he's still got a lot of work to do to accomplish his goals this season.
"This year, I'd like to try to get a top-5 finish in a World Cup," he said. "Hopefully at the one in the U.S., in New York, which is in late July or early August, I can't remember. That would be pretty awesome and it'd be a great way to start off my U23 career."
After only doing light training this week, Swenson is hoping to get in some good, hard high-altitude training next week.
"It's nice to come back to some altitude for a little bit," he said. "It's good. It helps to get it for a couple weeks here and there. I've been at sea level for so long it's good to come back up here to the altitude for some training before going back to sea level."
Swenson will race in a smaller event in Germany next weekend before getting back on the World Cup circuit. Then, on May 23, he'll be in Nove Mesto na Morave in the Czech Republic for another Cup race. The following weekend, May 30, he'll race in Albstadt, Germany.
Now that he travels the world on a regular basis, Swenson said beating jet lag has become a regular part of his routine.
"It's a lot of travel," he said. "You just do what you can and take it easy to make it the least stressful you can. Normally it takes me about three days [to get over jet lag]. But I feel like it's almost easier to adjust to a big time change [like going to Australia] when you have a long flight, because you're just so tired anyway that your body just wants rest."
But he couldn't imagine doing anything else. Ever since his mom and dad got him started in the world of cycling when he was about eight years old, Swenson has been moving toward a professional career.
He said the moment that made him realize he could be a professional cyclist happened when he was only 15.
"I went to my first national championships in Colorado that year," he said. "I finished third there. Then I went back the following year as a 16-year-old and won. I just kind of went from there."
Now with the Cannondale racing team, Swenson has been around long enough to know which courses suit his style and which ones are going to give him trouble.
"I tend to like the ones with longer climbs," he said. "I like longer, smoother climbs as opposed to the course that are short and punchy. South Africa was one of the best courses we've had so far. It was really easy for spectators to get around and it was a really well-made course - lots of manmade obstacles. It was hard, but it wasn't scary hard. The course had a nice flow to it."
As Swenson gets more familiar with the courses and travel demands on the World Cup tour, he would like to make his move up the standings.
Then in the offseason, after August's world championships, Swenson hopes to get back to intense training with his coach, Tom Noaker, to keep improving. After all, there are bigger goals he sees in his future.
"I'd love to be one of the top riders in the U.S.," he said. "And I'd love to go to the Olympics at some point."
To keep track of Swenson's World Cup progress, visit www.uci.ch.