Things I don’t miss about professional cycling…and then again, I do
The title is probably going to throw people a bit, and some of you might think I’m going to go on a rant about women’s cycling –the poor wages, the inequality, etc etc. But no, this blog is more about the elements of racing as a professional cyclist, for men or women, that I just don’t miss.
After travelling around with my mate Lizzie [Williams] for a couple of weeks before taking on the role of Directeur Sprotif for Roxsolt Attaquer in the US, I came to the realisation that I’m both content with having stopped racing, and also having bits of “FOMO”* here and there. Which makes me feel like I made the right choice to retire from the WorldTour, however, perhaps not racing entirely. In an ideal world, I would race in the USA with a team like Roxsolt and attempt to share my experience and knowledge with them, in the race, as a captain. I’ve seen quite a few pros transition to this role, Greg Henderson being one.
I’ve had a lot of people asking me if I miss racing. I always pause for a moment to reflect, I guess I haven’t elaborated much more than I was done racing at a very high level. So here are a few things I certainly don’t miss.
1) Power Meters
I hate power meters as they made me stop liking my interval training. When I started out riding, there was no set intervals, just riding around with my training buddies, racing each other up climbs, sometimes sprinting for zebra crossings (pedestrian cross walks). I loved riding my bike. Even on the bad days, I still liked it because I knew that when I was strong, I could beat the boys, or at least match them when we raced up the Bilambil Hills (local hills back home on the Gold Coast, Australia). As soon as I was given a power meter, and informed that my numbers weren’t in the top percentile of the professional field, I stopped liking training as much. I hated those numbers, and I hated the fact I couldn’t produce the numbers that others could produce, no matter how hard I tried. I used to stew over my training files…even when my coach said I had a great day, I knew that compared to say Ellen van Dijk, they were shithouse.
I guess I’m an old school type of rider, and loved to go on feel. I loved getting into that zone where you’re suffering like mad, but you’re flying, so the pain doesn’t even matter. Side note here: do not compare yourself to others. It is a flaw of mine, and something I am trying really hard to work on. It is a massive downfall.
2) CARBO LOADING
This was the worst for me. When racing in Australia, I would eat as much at racing as I ate at home when I was training. I figured I trained as hard as I raced, so why would I need to do all this carbo-loading BS? It worked for me…until I went pro. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with information about what I should and shouldn’t be eating, and it all got a bit much. For someone who had struggled with an eating disorder as a teen, all the talk and emphasis on food eventually caused my eating disorder to come back and ten folds worse than before. I used to overeat to combat nerves, binge to combat disappointment. It was a spiral of self-destruction, that only now I’m slowly breaking out of.
Tired. Always so goddamn tired.
Anyone who knows me, knows I am a busy, busy person. I cannot sit still, so being constantly buckled was difficult for me. I have to laugh now at my pro athlete friends who get tired walking, can’t be bothered going for a coffee or are too buckled to get out of bed in the morning. I have so much more energy these days to do things and feel good doing them. I do not miss being tired. Plus, I’ve always been a shit sleeper, so now it doesn’t matter if I get 7 hours, it is more than enough for me. Again, rest was something I used to stress over, and just added to my anxiety and tiredness…I could never sleep.
4) RACE DAY TRAVEL
The only way I can truly express my emotions in speaking or blogging is using the word ‘fuck’. I’m sorry for those who are more eloquent with their words, but I f*&$ing hated travel days. They did my head in! For some reason, I was always on some ridiculously early flight (6 a.m.), which meant a 4 a.m. wake-up. A travel day usually entails walking, taxi, train, team car, hotel. By the time you got to the hotel, you were so tired, and had eaten so much from boredom, that you were ready for bed at 5 p.m. This does nothing for the ‘race brain’ the day before a race. One thing, I did really appreciate about my time with ORICA-AIS, was that they would fly us in two days before a race to account for the shit travel.
The one thing I really couldn’t forgive myself for was going overseas in 2015, when my mum had breast cancer. The guilt certainly played on my mind, and made me realise that there is so much more in life than bike racing. God, how selfish had I become as an athlete!
When you’re a professional athlete, it is so easy to become self-absorbed. It is all about me, me, me and my results. If you’re not getting results, and things aren’t going well, then your world seems like it is ending. You forget that there are things far greater, and far more important, than a silly bike race. I’m not referring to world peace or famine as such, more about the relationships we have, and the impact we have in our community. I had gotten so caught up in myself, I forgot about my loved ones back home, as well as my friends around me.
Now, I still live abroad, but I make much more of an effort to be in contact with my family, and I try with my friends too. I’m trying to be conscious of the fact that everything is not always about ‘me’.
What I do miss? Where do I begin?
The camaraderie you feel between not only your teammates but your competitors. There is nothing better than sitting around and debriefing how hard a race was, or how epic that hill was, or did you see when so and so did that?! Yes, I miss the camaraderie and banter with my teammates and staff. One big happy, dysfunctional family, a travelling circus of misfits, with one thing in common: the love of the bike and competing.
2.) Throwing my hands in the air
Even if I only won a couple of races a year, man, how I miss that feeling of winning! A small race, the World Tour –it didn’t matter, that feeling was so addictive. Being a part of a victory was equally as special, and sometimes even more rewarding. Again, being a part of a team is something I miss, and being in the role of Directeur Sportif , I am getting those feelings again, and I love being a part of something bigger than myself.
I actually miss the physical exhaustion. Yes, I know it sounds odd, and I did say that I don’t miss the tiredness, however, I do kind of miss the pain, and aching in my legs after a solid session. Perhaps it is the sense of accomplishment that I miss. After completing a session, even if it went poorly, at least when I got home I felt like I had accomplished something for the day. Now, I’m not feeling so accomplished, which means I need to do something about it.
I guess the big question now is whether I start racing on a lower level again, to satisfy this urge, or do I start my own team?
*FOMO: Fear of Missing Out