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Coronavirus has made life difficult for many people across a range of industries, cycling commentators included. With no bike races for much of the year so far, Dutch commentator José Been has seen virtually all of her work dry up. But there’s been a silver lining: the opportunity to ride her bike more, and all the benefits that come with that. Here’s José’s story.
In the past, whenever I boarded a plane to a race I was going to commentate, to a training camp to interview riders, or to my favorite roads to ride in Lanzarote, Luxembourg, or France, I never gave it much thought. Of course, I knew I was fortunate enough to do this job and earn the money to travel and ride in beautiful places, but it had become my life. This was my normal. Until all of that changed.
The peloton’s wheels stopped spinning. Planes to far-away races stopped flying. The commentary microphones are sitting idle in empty studios waiting to be switched back on again.
I had almost no assignments left. What I did have was time and lots of it. I had so much time to kill and a lot of anxiety about everything that happened in the past few years; about what was happening in the world right now and about everything that might or might not happen in the near future.
I fuelled that anxiety for nearly a month by taking in huge amounts of news from around the globe every hour of the day like a junkie. But one day I decided to turn off the TV. It was time to do things differently.
The freedom to go wherever I wanted was gone for now but instead of thinking about the places I couldn’t visit, I decided to go for a holiday in my own country.
I walked to my shed and took out my bike.
I had ridden all through winter but the stress of the pandemic and my sudden unemployment had taken a toll on my stamina. I needed to start building up my rides again: 40 km, 50, 60, 70.
The build-up to longer rides is not easy. It’s one step forward and two steps back. When you think you are on a roll, the next ride can feel like torture again. Or vice versa.
Also, I didn’t want to compromise my immune system by going too fast and asking too much of my body, making me more susceptible to the coronavirus. A doctor friend gave me the best cycling-related advice I’ve had in years. She advised me to look at my heartrate and not at my speed.
I had to try not to exceed my cardio threshold which is 141 bpm in my case. At first, I only got to a 23 km/h average. This was the hardest part of it all: letting go of the speed, being as competitive as I am. I had to tell myself over and over again that it was about enjoying the ride itself.
Soon I saw progress. This approach has boosted my endurance so much in the past few months and all this riding has come with all sorts of bonuses like weight loss, a clearer mind, and a more relaxed lifestyle. Visiting friends and family by bike for a (socially distant) coffee and to refill my bidons brought me so many smiles and feelings of happiness.
Before you think this piece is all about the happy things that bikes bring, don’t you worry. There are also not-so-great bonuses like tan lines everywhere, spending more money on grocery shopping because of all the extra food and energy bars I consume, plus heaps of extra laundry.
There was another small problem though. With these long rides I was now venturing into unknown territory and I am terrible at reading maps. I am that person who walks in the exact same direction I came from when I leave a building or shop. Totally disoriented, I can stare at maps and hear Google tell me ‘go north’ and have absolutely zero idea where north is.
My bike computer, Strava’s route builder, and my husband save me from wandering endlessly in unknown cities, dead-end streets or worse. My husband is the exact opposite of me when it comes to the art of finding your way around. He once told a taxi driver in Seoul how to drive to the hotel. My husband had never been to Seoul before. I am in awe of his skillset.
But as the great Dutch ‘philosopher’ Johan Cruijff once said: “every disadvantage has its advantage”, and my navigation problem was soon to be solved in the best way imaginable. I discovered my own country all over again.
My husband started building new routes for me and I just had to follow the arrow on my screen. Now I ride from home or throw my bike in the car for a half-hour drive to have a change of scenery.
It opened up a whole new world I’ve seen before but never really seen. The many rivers and lakes, the little villages with those quaint old houses, 1,000 shades of spring green, pretty castles, dense forests and large open fields, endless dykes with tailwinds, gravel roads and all the new-born life around me. My rides now bring back the same smiles and the feelings of utter happiness I remember from those wonderful days in France, Luxembourg and Spain.
It shows that discovering and enjoying the beauty of the world doesn’t always require a long plane ride. Just a bike is enough.
The world’s emergency stop has changed me for the better. My mind was always switched on to watch cycling, find new jobs, tweet race results, get rejected for jobs, read the news, try to find jobs again, tweet cycling news, or visit races. In this new reality my mind has settled for a more relaxed pace. I rekindled old friendships, forgave old friends and met new people. And I just embraced being home with my husband and the dogs. I started seeing the world in a different light on two wheels.
That old cliché is really true. It’s not about travelling to faraway places or having the busiest of jobs to boast your status. It is the small things I already had so close to home that matter most. That is what I came to realise in these past months. On my bike.