10, 9, 8…The crowd becomes a single body as the countdown begins. 7, 6, 5… Tension builds as zero grows ever closer; 4, 3, 2… This is not the countdown to the start of a race or even the launch of the next NASA rocket, this is the countdown of the last moments of one year and the beginning of the next. ZERO! With embraces, cheers, songs and fireworks, the passing from the 31st of December to the 1st of January is marked, and the New Year, with all its potential, is warmly welcomed; but there are some who work to a different time schedule.
A year is the measurement of the amount of time it takes the earth to do a full orbit of the sun. Like the circular motion of a pedal stroke, once turning, it’s down to anyone to determine where this cycle starts and ends. The western world has adopted the Gregorian calendar to mark when one year ends and the next one begins. After many revisions it’s still not a perfect system. With its complex changes in days per month—thanks to the egos of those for whom the months are named—it’s necessary to add an extra day to every one in four years to keep in sync with our planet’s orbit.
The humble bicycle, a very young invention when compared to the age of the earth and any notion of time, has developed a calendar of its own. This simple two-season calendar is followed by supporters and racers alike. New Year’s Eve has always been something of an anti-climactic celebration for me, the pre-celebration hype never quite living up to the event, and the last day of one year feeling very much the same as the first day of the next. I often feel out of place during these celebrations, not because of an inability to party, but because as a road racer I follow the bicycle calendar and my year ends and begins in October.
As Big Ben strikes twelve midnight on the 31st of December and Auld Lang Syne rings out, I’ve already had my moments of reflection and celebration at the changing of years, 3 months earlier. For the racer, September is the month which is the start of the wind down towards the end of the year. With fall’s cooler temperatures my mind would always look back at the past 8 months of racing, reflecting on achieved and missed goals. I would look forward to a break to recover, and sort out the logistics for moving back to the UK after 9 months in France, whilst also starting to plan for the following year. Most of all, I would be focused on getting one last result to complete the season.
Ending the final race of the season, either by finishing, climbing off, or crashing out, is the true New Year’s for the cyclist. Normally taking place in October, the year’s last race marks the end of the racing season and the start of the off season. The cycling calendar simply has two seasons, but as with the Gregorian calendar there is a moment of celebration between the two. Like the festive season at the end of December, it’s a time of excess. There is a brief moment when Le Metier (the monastic life led by a cyclist in order to race at their best) is not followed, opening up a full menu of beverages and sustenance to the racer. This period is short and the mind is soon refocused on the preparation for the next racing season.
For modern pro’s the “Off Season” is when the work takes place, and due to the higher level of competition they are normally back into training by the 1st of November, not the 1st of January as with the early pro’s who were more in sync with the Gregorian Calendar. For the full-time elite, the following season is worked towards, financially and also physically, with a balance achieved between work and training. As the New Year’s celebrations takes place in Times Square, the racer has already been focused on the soon-approaching racing season for two months. Training whilst others recover from the excesses of their Gregorian celebrations, the racers have been sticking to their own resolutions, already set at their New Year in October. For them, the 1st of January marks the start of more intense training to prepare the body for the rigors of racing again, just two months away.
There are also the Cyclocross racers. Their calendar marks their year-end as February. As the midnight fireworks light the sky and glasses chink in toast during the first few moments of the 1st of January, they are focused on the most important prizes of their season. January sees National and World titles up for grabs, so they look beyond the Gregorian New Year as they focus on a potential jersey.
Calendars have become a central part of our modern society, having evolved from simply being used to tell farmers when to plant their crops, which transformed us from hunter-gatherers to farmers. They also allow the racer to plan their year’s goals and targets in the following race season in order to maximise their achievements, and they mark the passing of time, with all the major historical events recorded on them. I’ve raised eyebrows many times when I have politely turned down an invite to a New Year’s Eve party on the 31st of December. The issue is that I have already celebrated the end of my year 3 months earlier. I’m sure that the response would be the same if I asked my would-be hosts to a celebration in October with other cyclists.
Like the spinning of a wheel as you ride, the orbit of the earth around the sun is continuous. Wherever you deem the end of one cycle and the start of the new one, I hope that the following year is full of happiness, new roads and great rides. Oh, and of course, many tail winds.