Last time I wrote, the pre-season was in full swing, training camps were being held in various locals, and thoughts of racing were still distant. Now, with all of that past, the season has begun in earnest. For me, racing is why I train. Of course I love riding my bike and I am sure I will continue riding for as long as I can, well beyond the end of my professional cycling career. However, racing is different. It’s like the flip of a switch: my mind and body shift into another mode with a single-minded focus, creating an excitement and emotion that no training ride can ever reproduce.
The Under 23 world championships, my last race of the 2010 season, feels so long ago. By that point, I was tired, mentally and physically exhausted, and despite my best efforts to conjure up one last race-worthy effort, I came up empty. After a nice break, and a few months of solid training, I lined up at Tour Meditareneen with quite a few things running through my head. It was my first race for Team Garmin-Cervelo, my first professional race and it is fair to say that I was a little nervous. However, as I learned a long time ago, for me, nervous means good. It means I expect something of myself. Whatever the team asked of me, I was prepared to do it.
There is a notable difference between amateur racing and the professional ranks, not just in the race style but also in the riders themselves. There are some riders in the peloton who seem to command respect, the ones who make their hardest efforts appear effortless, never showing the strain that their bodies are surely going through. The names Thomas Voeckler and David Moncoutie come to mind. There is something about their pedaling, the way they appear on the bike, that just inspires awe from those around them. They wait and wait, and when the moment is right, they attack and, more often than not, they win. Voeckler did exactly that on stage 1, sprinting to the very end and taking the win from an unfortunate rider who began his victory salute to early. Four days later it was Moncoutie showing his class, taking the stage win and the overall.
For me, that final stage marked an important turning point. I wrote a blog during Med that was titled “A Reason to Believe.” I said a few things that some referred to as bold and encouraging, some referred to as naïve, and some just thought were plain ridiculous. I have always felt that strong words have to be supported by strong actions. As the saying goes, “talk is cheap.”
When we hit the bottom of Mount Faron, the climb I had studied and focused on since before the race began, I felt at home. The fighting was over; this was the race, right here, right now. All that mattered was climbing faster than the next guy. In some sports they call it “the zone,” referring to what happens when mind and body align to produce a great performance. Whatever you want to call it, I was definitely in it. When that happens it’s not something I can accurately describe, but for those 15 minutes all that mattered was getting to the top of that climb.
After crossing the finish line I was in a daze, the adrenaline still coursing through my veins and it took me a little while to calm down. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am, for the most part, a fairly calm person off the bike and in training. However, as some friends are quick to recall, I am a different person when it comes down to those decisive moments in races. Good or bad, take it for what it is, but it works for me. Having experienced a few intense moments together at the Tour de l’Avenir in 2010, Taylor Phinney told me on a ride a few days before I left for Med that he had never seen someone who was so different when they were racing.
Upon learning that I had finished fourth, I felt a mix of emotions. While to the outside world that may seem great, as athletes we are always striving for more, and the first feeling that hit me was a bit of disappointment in myself for not clawing my way onto the podium, I missed it by less than a second. After a few phone calls and text messages from friends and family (most notably my always-positive girlfriend) I quickly put things into perspective and was quite satisfied with how the day had turned out. I realized that tomorrow I could think about how to improve but it was equally as important to appreciate the effort and the result that I had right in front of me, to enjoy being in the moment.
After the race, we all went out separate ways, saying quick goodbyes, knowing that we would see each other soon enough. As I drove home that night I had time to think of what an exciting journey I had just begun. I am part of a team where everyone has the singular goal of winning races, a goal that we achieve together, through hard work and camaraderie. Everyone from the riders, to the staff, to the management, are committed to the goal of becoming the number one team in the world by seasons end. I am proud to be part of such an endeavor. Whether that means getting bottles, winning races, or anything in between, I hope that you will all continue to follow along!
Thanks for reading,