It has been a while since last time I wrote, too long to go over all the details, but I have good news: that light at the end of the tunnel I previously mentioned, well I have finally found it. It wasn’t easy, and it certainly wasn’t without it’s own hurdles, but all that is in the past now and I am more excited about, and focused on, what is yet to come.
The cycling season is an interesting thing. Lasting nearly nine months from late January through October, with races that take place in conditions ranging from freezing snow to searing heat, covering famous mountains and historic cobbles, and encompassing nearly every corner of the globe, there seems to be something for just about everyone. As riders age, they find their niche, they find the races they love, the ones that hold a special place in their hearts and draw out of them performances that would not ordinarily be possible. For some, this takes years, but for others, it seems they are born with a certain passion.
Last year at the Vuelta I roomed with Sep Vanmarcke, a name most of you will probably recognize from his successful classics campaign. Sep told me that thinking about the spring, most notably Paris-Roubaix, is what gets him through everything else. It is what got him over endless Spanish mountaintops and through absurd heat. It is what got him back on his bike after he suffered a crash that launched him nearly forty meters down into a ravine. Thinking of the spring was what kept Sep going.
The point is, we all have something we dream about, a race (or perhaps a few), that we look forward to the entire year. As I was lying on the couch, sick as a dog, after Algarve in February, I couldn’t see things clearly; I kept thinking to myself that I hadn’t planned for such a setback. When I crashed in Tirreno, I started to wonder how I was going to do this, how I was going to find my form in time. At Critérium International, I started to think maybe it was too late.
Now, with the start of Tour of California less than a month away, I have found my way again. While I wasn’t able to see it at the time, the setbacks I faced have actually helped me. Last year at this time, whether I realized it or not, I was struggling. My fitness was up and down, I would be good one day and bad the next. I had a great Tour of Romandie, then I was missing something at California.
This year, from the moment I sat down with our team of directors in November, California has been my dream. California was what kept me going through all of this. As the days tick by, I can feel my fitness building. With every pedal stroke my form is returning like a long lost friend and the bike has once again begun to feel like an extension of my body rather than a machine I am constantly fighting. I am fitter than I was at this time last year, I have more experience, and perhaps most importantly, I have a blind belief that hard work will be rewarded.
While it may not be a WorldTour event, or hold those ever-so-precious UCI points, it is beside the point because, simply put, I love the Tour of California. I would go as far as to say that from a pure sporting perspective, it is a much greater event than some of the races that have been granted WorldTour status.
It is a chance to compete on home roads, in front of my friends and family, and an opportunity to share my dream with those who are closest to me. While they may follow the races I do in Europe with a close eye, nothing can compare to being there in the moment. There is something about knowing that all the people who believe in me, and who have supported me from the beginning, will be there watching that helps me find something special within myself that otherwise might not be possible.
Allen Lim once said, “That is the thing about sport… there is nothing special about what each of us possesses except how we are going to showcase that to the world, how we can display that.” He was right. All of the hours we as professionals spend training, all of the hard work that is done when no one is watching, we do it because we love to race. No one is going to watch a video of us training and feel that they have witnessed something incredible. A race is the only venue where such a performance is possible.
I understand that some people feel that a bike race is just a bike race, and nothing more. However, I tend to agree with American distance running legend Steve Prefontaine when he said: “A race is a work of art that people can look at and be affected in as many ways as they’re capable of understanding.” I have believed this from the day I started riding a bike and I will believe it until the day I die. Sport can be so much more than just sport if you allow yourself to see it.
At the Tour of California, I believe myself and my teammates are going to give all of you something truly special to watch. A performance that I hope you can find inspiration from, one that will show you that no matter the obstacles you face in sport or in life, that you can overcome them. I hope to see you all out on the roads of California!