Sometimes You’re the Hammer
Any athlete, well shit, any person really, will have an off day once in a while. I picture an off day for the 9-5er being something like a tongue-lashing from the boss and 2nd degree crotch burn and and staining from a coffee mishap. For me, an off day means a couple of hours of uninterrupted, futile agony. A cyclist can expect a couple of these every season, but their inevitability doesn’t make them any more welcome, nor does it lessen their pain and misery.
I had one of those days on Sunday at the Rutland. The legs had been feeling pretty good after Mallorca, but how the legs feel in the days before a race is not always a sure barometer of raceday success. Past versions of the Rutland have seen a decisive break go early in the race and stay clear to the line. Figuring this edition would be similar I gambled heavily on the early move, and I paid for it.
No move got more than about 10 seconds in the 50k of open roads before the race turns onto narrow country lanes. I made some attacks, some smart, some stupid, then took off the gloves for the shitfight for position going into the rough stuff. This is my domain. I love the split second thinking and constant calculation required to move through an aggressive pack and maintain position. My senses are never as heightened, my focus never so sharp, as when I’m ripping downhill at 40 mph just inches from a whole army of adrenaline junkies who want to be where I am. This is when I get to throw my weight around. These are some of my favorite moments in bike racing.
I positioned well and I wasn’t outside of the top 12 from the moment we turned onto the lanes. Then, on the KOM, I lost it. I was sitting right at the front of the field, and when guys attacked for the KOM I went as hard as I could to go with them until I couldn’t go anymore. It’s hard to find words to explain what a terrible feeling this is. The physical suffering is bad, but in bike racing you deal with that all the time. Suffering is the name of the game and you experience it in degrees every day, whether you’re crushing a race or doing midweek intervals. No, the body is used to the abuse, but the mind doesn’t take well to a battering like that.
I’m a professional. This is my job. I’ve moved thousands of miles away from my friends and family, from everything and everyone I know and love, to do one thing: race my bike. To sacrifice so much, and to pursue something with such a singular focus, and then fall short in that pursuit is crushing. I was out there pleading with my body to cooperate. I was wincing with pain and gritting my teeth to choke back screams… and I was going backwards. It was one of those awful moments when you ask yourself, “what the fuck am I doing here?”
But you know what? I’ve had this experience before. Every bike racer has. If you are truly challenging yourself, truly exploring and pushing your personal limits, then some days you are going to come up short. And on those days the anguish and disappointment you feel will be proportionate to the passion that you have for your pursuit. But if you can endure an ass-kicking like that and come back asking for seconds then what you experienced wasn’t failure. It was an invaluable lesson in perseverance.
If you can beat your body up like that and recover intelligently then you will come back stronger. If you can endure that kind of emotional turmoil and stay positive you will come back with greater mental fortitude and redoubled determination.
So yeah, that’s bike racing sometimes. It’s always nice to have good people around you to talk this stuff through with. Jamie had some good perspective on shit days, and I’m going to start calling Phil “Cation” because he is just always, always positive. My coach, Jesse, forever has my back, and my parents would probably still support me even if I took up Rhino poaching. Well… that might be pushing it.
I’m already up Newcastle way getting ready for the next adventure, but more on that later.
Let no man say I don’t call ‘em like I see ‘em on this blog.