Editor’s Note: American Kiel Reijnen has been a professional since 2008, but 2016 is his first season racing for a WorldTour team, Trek – Segafredo. He is a two-time winner of the Philadelphia Cycling Classic, and a stage winner in both the USA Pro Challenge and the Tour of Utah. He’ll be writing journals for VeloNews throughout the coming season.
In the European peloton, March is the month of truth. The classics are starting, the week-long WorldTour stage races are in full swing, and the weather is as temperamental as a tween hitting puberty. It is the month when you find out if winter’s hard work paid off. Or if one too many holiday parties turned you into a permanent fixture in the grupetto. There are no easy races on the calendar anymore, but you can fake your way through the first month or two. If by March you haven’t found your legs, you’re really in trouble.
This year, I am bound and determined to no longer just survive the onslaught of European race days. It is not enough to finish or make the day’s breakaway. So I did what every good (or aspiring to be good) professional cyclist does: I trained my ass off. I suffered day in and day out. With Tour Down Under and Ruta del Sol under my belt, I continued to squeeze in training blocks between weekends away at one-day races. I’ve got Costco-sized bags under my eyes, the color of a Colorado thunderstorm. I feel like a rag that has been wrung out and hung on the line to dry. But this is the moment when, as my coach Ben Day would say, “You need to embrace the suffering.” And by all accounts, pushing through the fatigue is working. Each week, I can see measurable gains in power — the big numbers on climbs don’t seem so inhuman anymore. But each training block is quickly followed by yet another, with only a day’s rest between.
Pretty soon, mundane chores like grocery shopping and washing the bike require heroic efforts. I had no rear brake for an entire week because changing the pads was too big of a challenge. If I’m not riding, I’m at home on the couch in pajamas, not strolling through Girona’s gothic cathedrals or taking a leisurely lunch on the stone rambla. I’m dancing a fine line with fatigue on one side and willpower on the other — if you’ve seen me at a wedding, you know I’m not a good dancer. But each night, as I fall into a deep coma, I reassure myself that the work will pay off with a superhuman effort. (You might see it on a frustratingly bad, pirated computer stream.)
Because of the heavy training and racing load, March is when I start to question myself. Which means relying more on my wife, close friends, coach, and relatives. Being tired all the time is stressful for any relationship. Fortunately my wife, Jordan, is an old hand at this and knows exactly what to expect when I come in from a ride, too fatigued to get my cycling kit off. And Ben, my coach, knows the difference between standard complaining and when it’s time to back it off a bit. I also have a handful of close friends here in Girona, all training just as hard, with whom I can commiserate. But those relationships aren’t formed overnight. Plenty of North Americans have ventured across the pond only to find themselves without the resources they so desperately need. Tired is normal in the peloton. For most of us, it is probably a prerequisite to surviving the season. But it comes at a price, and finding a balance is the only thing that keeps us from overdrawing our accounts.
Next week, I will line up at Volta a Catalunya to see if all the hard work has paid off. Until then, it’s time to go out once more and bang my head against the brick wall, hoping against all odds that I actually break through the damn thing this time.