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Lee Rodgers Diary: Mind games on the last day of the East Java tour

Editor’s Note: Seventeen years after stopping racing as a junior in England and traveling and working around the world, Lee Rodgers started cycling again four years ago “to lose a bit of weight” and now rides for the UCI Continental CCN Cycling Team, based in Taiwan. He works full-time as a journalist and part-time as a cyclist.

“What am I going to do… play it safe and secure second? Or go for broke and try to claw back the seven seconds I’m down on Tissaruk, the race leader? The Iranians are going to try to bust the race open, but when? And can they actually do it? Got to remember the guy in third, too; he’s just six seconds behind me… But then he’ll be worried about the guy in fourth… What if the Hong Kongers throw down too? If I do go, when should I go?”

These were just some of the 1,000 thoughts going through my head as I got into bed the night before the final stage of the Tour de East Java, in which I was sat in second going into the final day. The race was consuming my head and I was torn between the calm that knowing I was going well brought and the fact that I was in uncharted territory, on the verge of achieving my best overall result (and a podium to boot) after racing in some 15 events in the UCI Asia Tour.

I often say that I don’t race for the results but for what cycling brings to my life: good health, travel, a deep sense of satisfaction from just riding my bike. But right there on that start line on the last day, all that seemed as plausible as Richard Virenque winning multiple Tour KOM titles… oh, wait…

I wanted second badly. I wanted first even more. I wanted the result, and with it the vindication for all the training and the recognition for the hard work. My CCN team needed points, though, and 30 UCI points for second looked better than zero as a result of an idiotic move too far out. Riding for second would mean that all I had to do was to ride in next to Tissaruk, unless the guys behind me broke free, but Tissaruk’s turquise Kazakhs were riding like WorldTour riders, easy at 45 kph on the flats and in cruise control even when responding to attacks.

Attacks started from the gun but I had no trouble following, tucked in just behind the 20-year-old race leader. I sat there behind him thinking that he really should defer to his elder and let me win — after all, even before he was born I’d already experienced the delights of puberty, been kissed at least twice, thrown up after drinking my friend’s dad’s cider (more times than I’d been kissed, that’s for sure) and dropped out of cycling. That, and the wilderness years during which I more or less partied my way through a decade-and-a-half, was surely worth seven seconds!

I don’t know, kids these days, no respect…

After three days of racing, during which I felt in great shape, suddenly I was doing a mental check list as we sped along and I was starting to worry about my form. That twinge in my right knee felt worse than the day before, my thighs suddenly felt a little heavy, that little boil seemed to be growing with every pedal stroke. I was hot, where were my teammates? On and on it went, until I realized it was just the nerves messing with my head. I had to calm myself and concentrate on staying focused.

Cycling is unlike most other sports in that there is a lot of time when not much is happening. You just literally sit there and think, your concentration dulled by the lack of action, fatigue and the sometimes dull scenery we have to pedal through. It’s an often overlooked quality, but the ability to keep on top of your mind is vital to being any good at this racing lark. Sometimes I spell out the names of sponsors on other guys’ jerseys backwards in my head, or count my breath or pedal strokes, just to keep my mind from getting distracted. Other times, I realize an hour’s gone by and I’ve been going through memories of ex-girlfriends, meandering through business ideas or debating the qualities of Clint Eastwood’s westerns to myself. (For the record, “The Outlaw Josey Wales” wins every time.)

Back to the racing. After 40 of the 150km, the Iranian TPT team started to attack, sending up volleys of one or two guys again and again. The Kazakhs, though, had the wind on their side. Head on and strong, it meant anyone that got out there was soon coming backwards, fast. They didn’t lose their nerve and chase like crazy, but just sat there and notched it up a K or two, slowly reeling in the escape attempts. Five guys with an average age of about 21, putting on a clinic on how to control a race — again, impressive.

I sat behind Tissaruk with my teammate Darren Benson (who did a great job supporting me all week) behind me. Gotta say it felt pretty cool sat up there, sitting in second on the GC! I still have to pinch myself from time-to-time when I’m doing these awesome stage races, just to be sure it’s all real.

And that’s how it went for the whole stage. There was a little drama at the end when I got whacked from the side by a Terrenganu rider with whom I had to chat about it later in the car park, and when Yeung of Hong Kong got a smack in the face from a Java rider in the last 3km (Yeung later found his nose was broken, and the Java dude was disqualified from the race).

I had a little go with 800m to go on the rise before the finish, but I didn’t get far. The stage was won by the ever-smiley Zamri Salleh of Terrenganu, with Tissaruk taking the overall, me in second and Eko Nur of Timor in third.

Absolutely thrilled, I was. Still am, in fact!

Thanks to all our sponsors, especially CCN and Cervélo, and thanks to you for reading.

’Til next time, ciao…

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