There is always uncertainty going in a new season. Truly, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying that, as I think every competitive cyclist can relate.
UnitedHealthcare’s Tayler Wiles recently wrote in a piece for Cyclingtips about the start to the season and what she calls “the pesky inner dialogue of ‘Do I actually remember how to race? Of course, of course I do…but wait, do I really?”’*
Every year, you race your last race, either in the fittest form of your life or absolutely burnt from a season that can sometimes span almost as long as, if not longer than, an entire pregnancy. You finish that race and, if you’re sane, try to forget what a bicycle even looks like.
You indulge yourself. You go out. You stay up past 11:00 P.M., and you pass those wonderful fall months without a seat halfway up your butt for twenty-plus hours a week.
And then comes the end of the off-season—the end of the end of a season, so to speak, meaning it’s now time for the beginning of a new one.
Since starting cycling just about two years ago upon my arrival to California, the sport has provided a pretty convenient cyclical marker with which I can ring in the New Year. Is it January already? Well shoot, I better be fit.
The word “fit”—in conjunction with it’s equally subjective and vague cousin, “form”—are tossed around often during this period of beginning. It starts with a preliminary statement: “Wow, I am unfit.” We then move to a base-building period seasoned with more focused workouts: “I’m getting fitter.” But then comes time to race. In other words, for me, at the moment I write this, just about now.
In less than two weeks time I will clip in and bump elbows in Herbalife24 colors for the first time, officially kicking off my first season in the domestic elite ranks. And I find myself asking the perennial question, “I am fit?” (read: “Please, let me be fast”) more earnestly than in years past.
In large part, this is because of a rather wonky and difficult off-period, training-wise. I ended my 2016 season after two months navigating my way through Belgian kermesses in what were some of the hardest but best race days I’ve ever had. Logging multiple weeks of well over 1000TSS in 22-24 hours of riding, I had arrived at a fitness I had never seen before and was literally living in a perpetual exercise high.
But like all highs, this one faded just the same, and with it’s dissipation came the crash. By the time I crossed the line of my last race in Evergem, I had already checked out mentally of the sport for the next couple of weeks and couldn’t wait to do a whole lot of nothing.
Which is exactly what I didn’t do.
The day after I called it quits on 2016, my parents, as part of their vacation through Europe, met me at my flat in Ghent, stuffed my bike, bag, and me into their rented mini-van, and began our family road-trip through Belgium, France, and much of Spain on our way to Madrid.
I was then dropped off in the Spanish capital to attend school there as part of a study-abroad program for the next four months, an invaluable experience in and of itself that I will never regret doing, but one that did make training often times pretty difficult.
Navigating out of a busy metropolitan city, familiarizing myself with a new area in a new language, and having to do so all while managing time with shorter winter days and a grueling commute to school—about two and a half hours of total travel time there and back—riding my bike became quite a logistical effort.
Thrown into this mix were also the cultural norms of what was a social life that rarely saw me in bed before 3:30 A.M. I remember I had a four hour ride planned one Saturday, and had gone to bed at 8:00 A.M. that morning. What had been a great night ended with me descending a mountain in the dark, as I had misjudged the timing and started my ride far too late in the day, having tried to get at least three hours of sleep.
Needless to say, never again.
In short, Spain was very difficult in this regard, and I don’t like sugar-coating it. It was a balancing act of two conflicting obligations: the first, a need to train very hard because this is a new year with a new team with new opportunities and I want to get good results in bigger races; the second, a need to travel as much as I can and take advantage of the educational opportunity my parents and my school had provided me. I found myself sacrificing vital training days to leave the country for the weekend, or missing out on valuable trips because I felt I needed to maintain form.
Which brings us back to right now, on my couch in my Los Angeles apartment. I’m still asking myself whether I’m fit, whether after such a hectic four months romping around in an exciting and new culture I had managed to keep up the momentum I had built up over the last few years. But I think I’m doing so now out of excitement to see what I can do rather than anxiety of poor performance.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t openly welcome my return to the states along with the life, food, and friends I hadn’t seen in six months. But from my time in Europe, whatever frustrations I may have had, I have gleaned unbelievably valuable skills in efficiency and self-motivation.
I did the training in the pouring rain, freezing temperatures, and sometimes even in the dark and on highways because I’m excited about this year.
I’ve started to receive some of the goodies from our team manager, Phil Mooney. I cannot stop eating all the Nature’s Bakery fig bars he sends me because they’re too delicious, and I’m absolutely addicted to using my Marc-Pro recovery device while sitting on my bed. Matter of fact, my thighs are jiggling away getting ready for tomorrow’s session on the bike as I type this right now.
I’ve started to meet my new teammates and talk to them more and more, and it just reaffirms all the excitement I’m feeling. I trained for four months by myself, and I could not be more excited to toe the line with these dudes in the coming months.
And if nothing else, my time abroad taught me this: yes there were frustrations, but striking a balance was possible, and I achieved that between schoolwork, a completely different structure of social life, and having to orient myself in a completely new place.
I realize the toolishness typing this all out and sharing it. It’s patronizing to some and just redundant to others. I am not a professional speaking from experience, but rather an amateur speaking to his future self. I think this is more of a way of reminding myself that whenever I was pissed or wanted to quit, the old adage of “what doesn’t kill you” actually and actively applies regularly now. It just comes back to that relative perspective, I guess.
And you know what? Even after all of that, I’m starting to feel real fit right now.
*For the full article, check out the following link!