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Cycling –much like the sea is rumoured to be –is a cruel mistress. Each and every year as I arrive teetering on the edge of a new season, I have to remind myself that cycling owes me absolutely nothing. You see, while she may have led me all the way across the world in the previous seasons, brought me untold bounties in the years gone past and taken me to emotional and physical highs throughout my life, she can still turn her back if given just a moment’s inattention.
I know now that each and every year when the racing season kicks off the goal posts will have moved. No season’s preparation is ever as simple as knowing exactly what you have to do to be good the next year, and then just doing it. It’s a matter of knowing exactly what you have to do to be good the next year then finding something that motivates you to push yourself even further again.
It starts off hard when you’re young; physically you have to push yourself to new levels. You have to work on becoming stronger, faster, better. You have to get out there in the inglorious winter winds and improve your physical parameters. Then you get a bit older and it just gets harder. Physically the margins of improvement shrink and instead of making lovely big clear steps, you eek away at the tiny gains, which of course are harder to achieve and almost invisible to the naked eye. It’s a matter of doing what you have done before, and then finding more and doing it better.
Then of course, as an adult there is the mental game you have to play. After doing this full time for ten years I know that for me to be able to make those physical efforts and push forward my abilities I am going to have to have my head in the right place. Searching for motivation each and every new-year is a big deal.
When I was a kid, the motivation was clear; I wanted to be a professional. Then when I became a professional I just wanted to win everything, I soon worked out that sadly wouldn’t be the case. At a certain stage, I learnt what I actually could win and my place in a team and I train for that. Even with those goals in mind there has to be a bit of extra motivation, something that makes me grit my teeth and push on, on, on.
For some guys its quite simple, the very thought of the money is enough to get past that heartbreaker moment when your girl opens one hazy confused eye too early in the morning and watches you climb out of bed, then buries herself alone under the warm sheets. For me money’s never it. I love the fact that I earn a living from my passion, but let’s be honest, if I wanted to make money I would have imported earth moving equipment or started an office cleaning business.
Some guys are still like sixteen year olds trapped in that excitement of flashy kit, a shiny bike with their name on, twelve different pairs of sunglasses or some specially coloured shoes. This is admittedly what I was like as a kid, it was all about that shine. I had to be good, because then someone would give me all this great stuff.
Cyclists are all on some small level perverts for these things. I must admit having new kit Fed-ex’d to me in Australia is pretty cool and it is nice to be given expensive stuff for free. But as soon as I turned pro I rather philosophically saw the kit as the compromise I had to make to be able to ride and race my bicycle, to pursue my passion. Not motivation or reward more the uniform that turns me from a boy on a bicycle to an employee, a travelling salesman or simply a sweaty moving advertisement.
Now for me my motivation at aged 28 going on 29 has come from the simple stark realisation that I can’t do this forever. I am no longer looking to move up the ladder of professionalism, or change to a different team with a bigger bus and better choice of airlines. I don’t need my name in lights or painted on the side of a camper van. I’m no longer looking to try to establish myself amongst a clique of foreign peers or trying to get my face into a magazine.
You see the fact of the matter is I love what I do; I’m cycling for the love of it. Cycling might well enslave me at times, and force me to find new angles to keep her keen, but she also makes me feel free. On those days, when it all goes right, I get everything I’ve ever needed.
The days that follow a win when you ride around feeling ten feet tall, or the moment you look around and realise that its 11.30 am on a workday and you’re riding about the countryside with three or four of your best mates. These are the perks that you couldn’t find anywhere else. Success and a continued career will only come from that stony faced hard work, but I know I want to keep cycling interested in me, and that, beyond all the kit, the money and the foreign travel is what really motivates me.