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Sitting here in seat 20G, on a nearly empty flight from Barcelona to San Francisco, I feel as though I am stuck inside a nightmare that I so badly want to wake up from. To be honest the past few weeks have felt that way. Life lived in a haze, with the phrase “is this really happening” always on the tip of my tongue as we cycle through a chain of events that feel increasingly more dire, abnormal, and more like a very very bad dream. How did we get here?
For me 2020 started off with a lot of positives. I worked extremely hard over the winter to prepare for the early season races in Australia and the Spring Classics and was in the form of my life. Australian racing with my Trek-Segafredo teammates was successful and I was happy that all my winter training efforts were paying off in races. I was more excited and motivated than ever going into the European spring campaign and was looking forward to a training camp with my teammates in Calpe to prep for the classics.
Before traveling to Europe I had heard mumblings of a virus that was spreading quickly in a city in China. Admittedly this was a headline in the news cycle that made me pause but did not cause a great deal of concern. I remember feeling sad for that city, and for what the people there must be going through but in all honesty it felt so far away. I remember thinking I needed to be a bit more careful with washing my hands while traveling to Europe and bought some hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. There were the odd few at the airport wearing masks but for the most part it was a very dull hum of menace compared to the five-alarm fire we are facing today.
For a lot of us I think we felt an underlying anxiety about what was happening or the potential of what could happen for a long while, but we pushed it away. I know I certainly did. I often try not to get ahead of myself — forecasting the future can so often lead to fear and I have been actively trying to be more present in my life. This mental strategy, while good in a lot of circumstances and a powerful tool for performance, only enabled me to deny reality in this instance.
Opening weekend came and the races went ahead, however the cloud surrounding the Italian races started to form and questions about whether or not they would go ahead started to become more serious. For me this is when COVID-19 started to feel real and much closer. My teammate Ruth Winder and I made it to Barcelona airport before our director called and told us that Strade Bianche would likely be cancelled. It seemed the race organizer wanted it to go forward but the Italian government did not.
Looking back now it seems absolutely crazy to me that we were ever considering racing, given how dire things have gotten in Italy and how each day they get increasingly worse around the world. I was disappointed about the race — it is one of my favorite races of the year — but I was heartbroken for the people of Italy.
Once Italy started their lockdown, we received a message from my teammate Elisa Longo Borghini about just how terrible things were there, how people were dying, how there were not enough beds in the hospitals, and how unthinkable decisions were being made about who was to receive care and who was not. It was at this point that the cycling aspect of all of this started to feel much smaller and the low-level anxiety about what kind of impact this virus was going to have on the world as a whole started to rise.
Once all Italian races were canceled, the entire race calendar started falling away with each passing day. And then the number of cases in Spain jumped and their government decided to implement a lockdown. This meant only essential businesses would be open, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, but all other businesses were to be closed and outside activity of any kind was prohibited. You were only allowed out of the house to go to the grocery store or walk a dog and you had to maintain a strict distance of 1 meter from others around you.
I had heard of Italy doing a lockdown but I did not realize that also meant no riding outside, walking, hiking, running, etc. Of course this at first seemed crazy and somewhat over the top but the more I thought about it the more sense it made as the only possible way to slow the spread and I was committed to doing my part with containment. I am a guest in Spain and I have always tried my best to respect that.
The first few days of lockdown were very eerie. They were rainy days, and it’s an incredibly strange feeling to walk outside in a city and have it be an absolute ghost town, without a soul in sight, with all businesses closed, and in complete and utter silence. I walked to our local family-run market in Girona and walked in to see Lau (the owner) in a mask and wearing gloves. I had to hold back tears — it just made me so sad that this was the reality.
I said “hola” and asked him how he was doing and he said he was ok but I could see in his eyes that he was as somber as I was. I did my shopping and walked back, passing signs hanging from balconies that read “STAY HOME.”
This is a region and a city of immense pride; Catalan flags and ribbons line the streets, there is barely a single window or balcony without a flag flying the Catalan colors. They are passionate outspoken people but on that day they were speaking up in a different way: with silence and solitude. It didn’t take argument or discussion — on the very first day of the lockdown everything was in order, everyone was in their place, and everyone was doing their part to look out for each other. As eerie as it felt to walk down the street and not see or hear another soul, it was beautiful just the same.
My wife Olivia and I got into a rhythm during the lockdown. We would wake up, have coffee and work for a few hours. I made the decision to take a week off the bike to rest, reset and rebuild for a season that could possibly be moved into the Fall months, if it happens at all. I had planned to take a mid-season break after the spring classics and build back up for Nationals, the Giro Rosa and hopefully the Olympics but now seemed like an opportune time as I needed to focus my energy elsewhere and let myself just “be” for a few days.
After breakfast we would do an online yoga class and then a solid core or strength session, and in the afternoon we would work more. We both work for Velocio Apparel so this was a good time to focus in and throw our hearts into that.
My life, no matter the circumstance, revolves around meals and in lockdown it was no different. I had the extra time to be creative and try new recipes for dinner and bake some goodies. Having little things to look forward to each day seemed to go a long way, and it still does.
We had a few reality checks during the lockdown — one when we were walking to the grocery store together, which we hadn’t realized wasn’t allowed, and were stopped by the police and told that one of us had to go home. It felt really strange to be stopped by the police for doing something that felt so normal, so innocent, but I completely understood and respected why they did this.
Grocery stores could only allow a certain number of people in at a time and they had lines of tape near the checkout that measured a meter to make sure you didn’t get too close to other customers or the cashier. Receipts became mandatory as the police were stopping people to look at the time stamp to be sure you were just out to get groceries. I admit the restriction made me feel fearful at first, uneasy, but once I thought more about it it actually made me feel safe. They were doing their best to protect everyone, especially those most vulnerable, and I needed to do the same.
After days of decision limbo we made the very difficult choice to fly back to the US as soon as we could. We love our home in Girona and the community there, but my fear of being eventually cut off completely from my family back in the US was pulling at my heart. There were mumblings of airports closing and airlines completely ceasing operation so we decided to try and get back before the window of opportunity closed.
Our last few days in lockdown in Girona came with some really beautiful experiences: an underground flower delivery to help a local florist; watching families together on balconies having picnics, playing games, and laughing. My favorite thing by far happened every night at 8PM when everyone would hang out their windows or go out onto their balconies and clap, cheer or bang pots and pans in appreciation for the medical workers. It was a community in isolation coming together with one message: a very heartfelt thank you. It was absolutely beautiful and brought tears to my eyes every single night.
The day of our travel back to the US was one I will never forget. Taxi Tony saved the day as usual. Taxi Tony is a wonderful Girona local who is a legend in the pro peloton. At some point he has taken all of us to and from Girona/Barcelona airports, at all hours of the night, waited for us during delays, and is always there with a big smile to help you with your bags when you walk out from the baggage area. Tony always brings a bit of safety and comfort on travel days that can often feel anxiety-ridden.
On this day more than ever, with the state of the world, I needed that comfort and familiarity that Tony brings. He showed up at our door, smiling as always at 9:45 AM and we headed off to Barcelona. Saying goodbye to Girona this time was particularly painful for both Olivia and I as we have no idea when we will be able to come back, and what the world will be like when we do. This realization made my heart ache and we both shed a few tears as we pulled away from town.
We left with plenty of time because the police had roadblocks to check to make sure that the travel you were doing was absolutely necessary. We had boarding passes and passports ready and were only stopped once and it was pretty quick.
It was very odd driving to the airport, through Barcelona with no traffic at all, and with empty streets every way you look. We got to the airport and saw a total of 5 flights on the monitor for the entire day. Thankfully ours was still there, no cancelation. Tony walked us to check in and I gave him the warmest 1-meter-away goodbye I could give and we started the check in process.
They had the check-in desks roped off so that you could only get within one meter of the workers, and everyone was in masks and wearing gloves. We were the only people in line. The airport, as expected, was completely empty. We checked in and breathed a sigh of relief that our flight was actually going to fly.
Walking through the airport I felt like I was in a sci-fi movie about the apocalypse, as if we were some of the last humans left on the planet. Everyone was in masks, everyone was walking as far apart as possible, and for some reason everyone was avoiding each other’s eye contact.
On many occasions when I would meet eyes with another person I would instinctively smile and they would quickly look away. I can understand why they did this — it is a really scary time and a smile just might not feel like the appropriate social reaction, but it was my way of holding onto one last piece of normalcy, of tricking myself into thinking this was just another travel day.
I kept myself busy at the airport as we were quite early but as we boarded the plane a new truth set in. Olivia and I sat in the middle two seats of the economy cabin and there was not another soul in that cabin with us. The flight attendants closed the cabin doors and even though the airplane was empty, I felt as though the air had been sucked out of it. This new reality was suffocating, I was scared.
I clung to Olivia and we both let the wave of it all wash over us, the wave of knowing that life is going to be very different for a very long time.
One of the things I have found most difficult about the past few weeks is that everyone in the world is living this out on a different timeline. Those in China felt it immediately, Europe followed, and other countries are just starting to wake up and realize that they are not immune to this. This is not a “foreign” virus. This is not something any country can magically outrun or escape. I had to take some time away from social media because it was too hard to be living in a country where they are taking it incredibly seriously and fighting every day to help stop the spread and save lives, while my friends, family, and loved ones worldwide in countries that still believe this isn’t their issue, were understandably going about life as if nothing is wrong.
Of course, I don’t blame them — we have leaders for a reason and those leaders need to stand up and lead. Give direction, give clarity; that is the only way to give hope. The hysteria I feel has been caused by lack of direction, people are scared, and understandably so. This is a worldwide crisis and waiting to implement strict measures has lost us so much time and, I fear, so many lives.
As we landed in the US things were noticeably different and in ways that I did not expect. We were screened as we left the aircraft however it was incredibly relaxed given we had all just flown in from one of the countries hit hardest by this crisis.
No temperatures were taken, it was all based on how you “currently felt”. As we know, this tells us little about whether or not you have been infected and has resulted in the significant spread of the virus. You don’t feel sick so you go about your day, interact with 10 people who then interact with 10 more and so on. We simply filled out a form asking where we had been over the last 14 days and what symptoms, if any, we had, and then sent on our way just being told to self-quarantine.
To me, this was insane given what we were currently experiencing worldwide, and the extremely strict environment we had just come from. As happy as I was to get through the airport quickly, it also terrified me how relaxed they were about this.
It seemed that social distancing was much more relaxed in the US as Olivia and I found ourselves trying hard to stay away from people who just didn’t seem to have a clue. I was shocked as well that most of the passport control agents were not wearing protective gear of any kind. No masks, no gloves and touching the passports of countless people passing by. We felt as though we had just taken a step back in time, and it was the kind of time travel that was not pleasant. It felt like knowing that something catastrophic was about to happen and wanting to scream from the rooftops for people to wake up and start acting.
There has also been so much misinformation pushed out into the media, especially in the US, about this virus, how it started and how it spreads, and that misinformation is going to cost lives. In the United States we aren’t used to our liberties being taken from us. I realize this is the foundation of our country and what so many fought so hard for, however in situations like the one we are facing worldwide today, these liberties need to be reframed and our entitlements need to be put on the backburner.
People need to act today in a way that protects those most vulnerable, out of selflessness and compassion. Every move we make in a day should be with them in mind. Shelter in place and social distancing are measures that need to be taken seriously. This means stay at home unless it is necessary to go out, and when you go out, be mindful of those around you. If you are in a country that allows you to exercise outside please do so in solitude and in walking distance from your own home. People should not be traveling for recreation just because they have the extra time right now; that defeats the purpose.
Yes we all need to get outside to move and feel healthy and for professional athletes this is our job, however please do so alone or with the person you are isolating with. What you do every single day not only affects you but everyone you come in contact with. Think of the vulnerable people in your family, in your community, and act with them in your hearts. Reach out and help people who may need it in ways that are safe.
This crisis has shown more than ever that we are all connected in this world, that we are all the same, and that we need to come together in order to get through this together.