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I think I was still shivering slightly when my Jelly Belly-Maxxis team director Danny Van Haute coyly told me the news. “Yeah Gordo, you’re going to Amgen.”
I had just finished one of the mostly treacherous and ultimately miserable races I can remember — the Sunset Loop Road Race, the final stage of the Redlands Bicycle Classic.
But somewhere amid the rain, hail, and relentless attacks I had done enough to earn my spot to the biggest race on the North American calendar, the Amgen Tour of California.
Beginning Sunday in Sacramento, I will line up with my Jelly Belly-Maxxis teammates against some of the world’s very best in a blistering seven-stage, mountain-packed showdown.
Just getting to that starting line is a big deal. With its new WorldTour status, only two Continental teams were accepted to the Amgen Tour this year, and Jelly Belly-Maxxis was fortunate enough to be one of them.
On top of that was the matter of making the team for the race. We had a talented group of eleven Jelly Belly-Maxxis teammates all vying for eight roster spots. I trained and raced with a few ounces of extra fervor these past months knowing that final cut would be decided only a week before the big event.
That dedication paid dividends with a second-place finish at the San Dimas Stage Race and some strong rides in the extreme conditions of this year’s race Redlands Classic. Whether or not I was selected for the Amgen Tour of California, I have made a commitment to raise my competitive level this year after learning the ropes of professionalism in 2016, and it is already showing in my racing.
Sometimes it was difficult to train so intensely not knowing whether all the hard miles and intervals would ever go to use in the big event. One thing I have learned so far as a professional is the importance of the “act as if” mentality when it comes to preparation.
A good professional team will always be stacked with talent, and in the uncertain world of bike racing you will rarely have a crystal clear picture of your schedule and season objectives. It becomes important not to dwell on sunk costs and potential wasted efforts and instead act as if you will be attending the “A” races.
For me that meant an altitude camp with my fiancé at the Big White Ski Resort and a heavy training block through April. Sometimes a change of location for training can be just the right impetus to re-calibrate mentally and summon extra devotion to critical factors like sleep, nutrition, stretching, and even meditation.
With the Amgen Tour of California now on the horizon, I am feeling confident that I did all those little things as well as I could have.
When I allow my mind to wander onto the subject of the Amgen Tour, the word “surreal” usually follows close behind. I have read figures estimating well over a million spectators watch the race in person every year. I remember getting butterflies performing in a high school play in front of a hundred parents — and now this.
Beyond the racing itself, everything gets taken up a level at the Amgen Tour as small teams like ours step up and swing for the fences. We travel in a team RV, and are treated like stars by team staff and race organizers. This sort of treatment might be ordinary for WorldTour teams, but often it still leaves me pinching myself and beaming with gratitude.
When I raced the Amgen Tour for the first time last year, it was sometimes difficult to push through the waves of distraction and emotion to focus on the racing. It also took time to adjust to the raw speed and power of the peloton, and to figure out how to be aggressive and factor in the race.
Everything has to be more deliberate and calculated at the WorldTour level and the commitment to performing has to be ironclad in the face of adversity. There is an art to raising your mental and physical game to meet those demands and I think with last year’s experience I am up to the challenge.
Along with good physical and mental preparation, I will have a little bit of extra motivation for this year’s race. While I’ve had my best early season ever in terms of training and racing, my personal life has been darkly colored by its own surreal events. One week prior to the opening stage of Redlands, my stepfather Wendall lost a five-month long battle with cancer. The entire process has been overwhelmingly distressing at times and surprisingly inspiring at others. Wendall was a huge part of my life, a big supporter in my pursuit of sport, and more than anything a shining example of how to live. We talked a lot these past months and when I sheepishly told him about the prospect of racing Amgen Tour of California this year he enthusiastically responded: “Well, isn’t that great. You go get em!”
In spite of a severe illness and a dire prognosis there was no hesitation, only excitement and pride for the opportunity I had. With all the preparations made and the biggest race of the year awaiting, I guess that is all there is left to do: “Go get em!”
About the author
Jordan Cheyne is a second-year member of the Continental team Jelly Belly-Maxxis. He lives in Kelowna, British Columbia, and has been racing bikes and writing about it for the last five years. His breakthrough result came with a podium at the 2015 Tour de Beauce, and he was a member of the winning Jelly Belly teams at the 2016 Tour of Gila and Tour of Utah. Follow his adventures on Twitter, Strava, and Pro Cycling Stats.