There is something about bike racing that either kills brain cells or it makes you a philosopher. This latest race had me writing a haiku of the emotional roller coaster in that resounded in staccato notes within my head. The painful places of depth that you go while racing allow you to explore your insecurities, motivation, and courage, even if you don’t want to. You dip into that cave and then quickly try to ignore everything you just discovered and hit the mute button to regain focus. Just when you think you have surmounted an incredible mental hurdle to finish the race, make the front group, or perhaps even win, you look around and realize that you really are not that special. Those warriors around you have also put their mind over matter, taken risk, ignored the pain, made rash decisions, and kept reality on call waiting to accomplish something of note as well. Don’t even get me started on the how this pales in comparison to life outside of sport. So many people put up with a lot more than the possibility of a bruised ego or burning legs. Regardless of how philosophical I become or what I can endure, sport is an allegory to life. It gives us endless opportunities to learn and grow, and maybe compose the occasional poetry.
The race was the BeNe Ladies Tour which precariously balances between the border of the Netherlands and Belgium. 4 stages and many kilometers of cobbles on every day. Even the time trial had cobbles. I love cobbles. The team was racing well and 5 of the 6 riders placed in the top 15 in the TT. I considered this TTT training, or maybe it was because our accommodations had 6 girls in one room on 3 pairs of bunk beds. We are getting comfortable drafting each other even in our sleep. With 3 of us entering the final day within the top 10, Optum had no shortage of options and tactics we could employ. The team rode beautifully and when I escaped solo with 36k to go, they put their faith in my ability to win the race. The moto came alongside me as I darted through tiny roads in the Belgium countryside and through towns and over bridges, to tell me that my team was racing strong and smart because they believed in me. He told me to keep fighting for my team. It could have been sweat dripping down my face, or it could have been tears that briefly shadowed my vision, but this moment touched me and suddenly I could feel all the emotions that I had been suffocating throughout the effort. You attack on heightened emotions, but then you silence your voices inside, and you commit in a cold hearted fashion. Just so you know, even that win the race, still are doubting themselves. I crossed the line 12s in front of the peloton, won the final stage, and finished 4th in GC, just a mere 1s off the podium. It was a team win, and I do not take this lightly considering any of my teammates could have been in my position. Once crossing the finish line, I could release those emotions that were stored away and enjoy the moment with my team over mussels and frites. Yet, there was a pang of guilt for the moments I doubted myself or tried to make excuses.
What I learned from this race is that you don’t have to be perfect, but you have to complete your plan. Use what drives you, silence it at times, and ignite it when you need to finish the job. If you are doubting yourself, others have their own battles too. Your struggles may not make you special, but you still have to get through these sections to be your best. It is all a part of the course we run. Or in this case, the course that is prepared for you. It is up to you to tackle it your own way and conduct your own orchestra the way you see it.
My BeNe Haiku:
Died a thousand deaths
Quit the sport several times
Happy for the win
Yes, I am happy for the win, yet I will also acknowledge all the times during the race and other days I felt incapable of rising above. No path is smooth and without cobbles, and the easy way is not the one you may enjoy the most. It is for the moments of dark depth, tearing eyes, and release of elation that make it all complete. It is the seasoning of life and in this case, bike racing.
La Course by Le Tour de France
Giro Sparkassen World Cup
US Pro Challenge
Thank you to Optum Pro Cycling p/b KBS and our sponsors, and my coaching from Carmichael Training Systems!