As the beginning of my season at Volta Algarve has come I thought it might be a good time to take a look at one of, if not the, most important factor when it comes to racing and training: motivation.
For any pro cyclist there will be highs and lows throughout the season. We will keep pedaling regardless of how we are feeling mentally or physically but our varying levels of motivation make it easy to differentiate between the riders who are simply going through the motions to those who are fighting for the win with all of their heart. As I have said countless times, no one can be a successful professional in this sport if they do not love it. However, as with most things, there will always come a time when your “love” wavers, when your motivation wanes and it is during these times that you learn about what really drives you to succeed.
I think that best way to describe motivation throughout the year is to compare it to a fire. At times it is burning so bright that everyone around you can feel it, while at others it is sputtering, trying to stay lit, hoping for something to jolt it back into action so it can burn bright yet again. Generally we all start the season with high motivation, our respective “fires” burning strong. We have had months of training and we are ready to race, to feel the excitement and expectation that toeing the start line is sure to bring. We are ready to once again feel the burn of our lungs and legs as we do battle over snow capped mountains and windswept roads.
As I made the journey to Europe at the beginning of January to my home in Lucca, I have to admit that my fire sputtered a little. After what I can safely say was my best December to date, soaking in the beautiful, peaceful roads that Napa Valley has to offer, it was a shock to return to the congested roads of Italy. I was off to training camp shortly after arriving. However, a seed had been planted for my rather shocking dislike of the roads upon my arrival in Europe.
I want to make it clear that I love Europe. I love living here, I love the riding, I truly enjoy my time spent here almost as much as I enjoy my time in Napa. The lifestyle is easy to adapt to and enjoyable for me. So what had changed? I had made Lucca my base for what was a successful 2011 campaign, but suddenly it didn’t feel like home and I knew that a change was in order. Upon returning from training camp I could feel my motivation wane so, with the help of my wonderful girlfriend Kate (who always seems up for whatever adventure I throw her way) we decided to pack up and move to Girona, Spain, a town that many generations of American cyclists have called home.
As I quickly discovered, there is a good reason riders like Levi Leipheimer and Christian Vandevelde have been here for over a decade. From my first pedal strokes on a quiet, winding, country road, I could feel it: my fire was burning again. The excitement and motivation that had been lacking in Italy had returned. With not a car in sight and nothing but the sound of the wind through the trees as company I pedaled for four hours, rediscovering the joy that I first felt when I got on a bike just over five years ago. I was like a kid again and the road was my playground. I arrived back in Girona with a smile on my face and, without me saying a word, Kate knew that I had found what I was looking for.
Now, after two weeks spent riding on tranquil, beautiful roads, my motivation is plentiful, exactly as it should be at the start of the season. At Volta Algarve I have the first opportunity of the year to test myself. The race boasts a short, steep uphill finish on stage three and a crucial race against the clock on the final day. I feel prepared, I feel ready, and most importantly, I feel a burning desire to win.