Last week I was out training and noticed something was different: I was feeling pretty good. The long winter of training left me fit, but there’s no substitute for racing to get the legs turning with ease. Now that a few hard cycling competitions are in the books, the good sensations in the legs are starting to make a comeback; for the first time this year it felt good to go hard. I’ve settled into my new position on the CAAD 10 and once again I feel one with the bike. It’s a great time for any cyclist when you start reaping the fruits of your labor. You invested all those winter miles and now you’re starting to see the return.
Then something else started to happen; I started to get excited. I thought, “maybe I can give it a go this weekend.” Then I instantly had a twinge of nervousness. Not the, “Oh God, we’re all gonna die!,” nervousness but the kind Goose experienced because Maverick was always pushing it to the edge. Yes, that just happened. The Bennington Stage Race awaited, and along with it my first crit of the season with the team. I’m not a one trick pony of a crit racer, but that’s where a lot of my results have been and that’s the reason BikeReg.com/Cannondale signed me. I’m here because of my circle game and tough man sprint power, which I hope I can continue to improve. The previous weekend, one of our great climbers, Peter Hurst, stepped up and crushed a hill-top finish to win the Quabbin Road Race. I definitely had the mentality that he did his job, now it’s time to do mine; so for the first time this year, I started seriously putting pressure on myself to perform and started to get “switched on.”
I’ll spare you the race report but the legs were alright and I made my mark on the race. I wasn’t tearing anyone’s legs off but I played my part and the team ended up having a great weekend. It confirmed that the form was finally starting to emerge. Hopefully it also means I’m on track to have a big summer and that I can fill the role the team brought me on board for. The results aren’t pouring in yet but don’t fret, it’s a long season.
For me, the beginning of the year sees me going to races not so much in search of victory but in search of form. With a solid base from a long winter of training, I’ve been piling in the race miles to fine tune the top end that has been in hibernation. It always takes me a while to race into form. So up to now, I haven’t put any pressure on myself to get results. I was there to do my job and get a win for BikeReg.com/Cannondale, but I wasn’t expecting that result to come from myself. I was prepared but not hopeful. Bennington was a bit of a turning point in that respect as the mentality started to shift. For anyone that’s seen Over the Top, I was starting to turn the hat backwards. (As a side note, hopefully this column isn’t as big of a waste of your life as that movie was.) But before that, I knew I didn’t have the form to really stick it to the top guys so I raced with that in mind as I tried to guide races in a direction that ended with BikeReg.com/Cannondale winning. So far it has worked and the team is off to a great start.
As elite cyclists, we race a lot. Most of us will do 50 to possibly even 90 races in a year, especially if that includes a full cross season. We race almost every weekend from March or earlier all the way till September or October with the occasional stage race and weekday race thrown in there. By the time the road season is coming to an end, cross has already started and more pain awaits. I’m sure you’ve heard about peaking and how Lance perfected the art of preparing for the Tour. Going to the Alps for training camps at altitude instead of racing with his teammates, motor pacing sessions whenever needed, and a couple of smaller stage races to get the legs going. Then you didn’t see him again till next year. Obviously it worked for him, but for most of us, life as a bike racer is a lot different.
Amateurs, and the vast majority of pro’s, don’t get paid tons of money to win one Grand Tour each year. We have to produce results over a much longer period. We might have certain goals throughout the year that we try to be in top shape for, but it’s not like we’re in cruise control the rest of the time. We’re fighting tooth and nail, week in and week out, hunting for that result that will hopefully catapult us to the next level. The most important result is always the next one. That said, no one can be in top shape for the entire season. There will undoubtedly be times when you line up and aren’t 100 percent and you can’t line up to every race saying, “I’m gonna win today.” There are times you have to switch that instinct off, just to protect you psyche. This means that some races are really glorified training rides. In other words, you show up to a race to kick ass or chew gum, and sometimes you chew gum. Not to say you don’t try or ride hard; you always give it everything you have, but sometimes it’s just not enough.
Good legs are what you train for, but with form comes pressure. That’s when I get nervous, when I’m going good and expecting a result. You have to take advantage of good form when it’s there. It won’t last forever and that’s the period when you’re most likely to get big results. It’s no secret that results are the keys that unlock doors to bigger teams, so when I’m going good, the pressure starts building and that is when I get “switched on.” Now that I’ve written it down it sounds a bit lame. I’m picturing the guy warming up on the trainer in the middle of a baking 100 degree parking lot, no doubt listening to crap industrial metal, jacked up from some enormous energy drink and getting pumped out of his mind. However, my definition encompasses more than adrenaline and caffeine. You are nervous but your head’s in the right place; the desire and determination are peaked and your legs legitimately have the race winning effort in them. You just want it so damn bad, and you know you can make it happen. It’s an exciting period. You can’t wait to race because the next one could hold the result you’ve been dreaming of all year. Motivation is at its peak. You don’t think twice about training in the pouring rain, you don’t want dessert, you spend extra time dialing your bike in and you double check it to make sure everything is working flawlessly. Hopefully it’s a long period, maybe a few months. The form keeps going up and up and you always want more, more, more. Then there comes a time you have to switch it off and recharge before you ride yourself into the ground. The easy cliché is that it’s like a roller coaster, physically and mentally. Hopefully when you get off the ride, the snapshot from the drop isn’t of you throwing up all over yourself.
A great cyclist once told me that to be a successful bike racer you have to have everything in moderation, whether it’s training, your diet or whatever. If you’re weighing your food on a scale and training 36 hours a week in December you’ll never make it through the season. You have to know when to switch it on and when to switch it off. I think that’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given, and finding that balance between moderation and excess is the key to being a successful bike racer. The only thing you can’t do too much of is enjoy it.
*Photo courtesy of Lyne Lamoreaux