Well it’s about that time again. With one of my all-time favorite races, the Giro di Lombardia, still a month away, things here in the states are already winding down. The leaves here in Western Massachusetts are starting to turn and fall is in the air, which in New England means you can smell the tubular glue from everyone getting ready for cross. I only have one more race on the road this year with BikeReg.com/Cannondale and with all the transitioning around me it’s finally starting to hit home. I don’t have to tell you there’s a shared bond between cyclists. Whether it’s the group you ride to the coffee shop with or the guys from the weekend hammer ride, you create memories and relationships with the people you spend time in the saddle with. At the elite level, everyone works incredibly hard and sacrifices so much just to be here. So there is an immediate amount of shared respect between everyone, whether you like them or not. Add to that, hours and hours spent in cars, hotels, host housing and of course the all-important suffering for each other on the bike, and the bond goes much deeper. At the beginning of the year they were just my teammates, but now they are some of my closest friends.
As I think all the way back to team camp, I’m reminded of what a huge leap that was to come up here. Driving to team camp, the car loaded with everything I was to have for the next six months, it began to snow. I was driving to a place where I knew no one and it was snowing…in April. That was the first time I thought, “Was this really a good idea?” The first day of team camp was my birthday and my family and friends were hundreds of miles away. With no raging party in the cards like the year before, I settled for a beer at the café with the teammate I was staying with who at that time was still more or less a name on a string of e-mails.
Then I remember going to the hospital after that same teammate crashed at the Wilmington GP and broke his clavicle. In my race fatigued state I had the amazing brain power to ask if the recovery time was similar to a broken collarbone. My other teammate’s parents, who are both doctors and had accompanied him to the Emergency Room, chuckled and said, “Yeah, something like that.” I still cringe every time I think about it.
Throughout my toughest times this year, it was the very same teammate that helped me through it. At a time when it seemed like every race was an infernal search for rock bottom, he picked me up, dusted me off, threw me on my horse and smacked it on the ass. In other, non-southern, words I started working with him as my coach and things started to look up. Without him, I would be going into the off season broken and bleeding, demoralized and unmotivated with the bleak prospect ahead. Instead, the legs are getting better and better and I’m more motivated than ever to do it right over the winter and make up for everything next year. I would never have guessed that the first beer in that café would be the start of such a crucial relationship.
Of course there were countless other memories that come to mind as I reflect on the long year. The times in the car on the way back from races when we laughed so hard it felt like a full on ab workout. The epic day at Nationals, 100 degrees, 100 miles, 200 starters, hills. There are two things I’ll never forget from that day, the look on everyone’s face when Max won and how good that ice towel felt. Ahh, that feeling of complete and utter exhaustion combined with elation from knowing that all the suffering was worth it is impossible to replicate.
It seems odd to hit this point and all of a sudden became so nostalgic, but with work, training, racing, moving, etc. I haven’t had much time to think about it. With an especially tough year almost in the rear view mirror, I need to assess what went wrong and make improvements for next season, as we all do, but that can wait another few weeks, I just want to enjoy this moment.
Looking back, I’m reminded of those precious times that I will undoubtedly cherish for the rest of my life. As I’ve said before, when my cycling career is over I want to be able to look back and say I did everything in my power to be the best bike racer possible. I haven’t changed my mind, but at times like this it’s good to know that no matter what happens, I love racing my bike and I’ve created memories that will forever bring a smile to my face and a warm feeling in my heart. You have to remember that being a bike racer is about so much more than trying to cross a line first. The next time you feel the frustration level rising as you think about the last race or ride you were dropped from or the form not being what it once was, think about the training with your friends, rocking out to Miley Cyrus in New York City traffic with the windows down on the way to a race, or the feeling when you get a shiny new bike (you can admit it, it never gets old). Then you can question how much you love bike games.