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Six weeks in America, gone faster than I can type those words. After a whirlwind spring filled with training, then more training to return to pre-ICU form, and then the most ambitious race calendar I’d ever undertaken, I was physically and mentally ready for a break. I’d hoped to do something at the Critérium du Dauphiné after fulfilling my job of helping set up John Degenkolb’s lead-out train in sprints, but my legs struggled for days to return to life after the Giro. They finally came good for stage 3, and then were gone again just as quickly. With nothing left to accomplish but digging myself into a deeper hole — and the hardest stages still to come — my coach and I decided that I would be better served by going home early.
I was awash with relief that I’d made it to my summer break, and then I got word that my dad was not doing well. The French railway strikes delayed my return to Spain, but I barely noticed as I spent the time researching earlier flights back to Texas. I found one and was in Girona barely 10 hours before heading for the airport, thankful I’d had the good sense to pack my bike up before leaving for Dauphiné.
On June 25, my hero was freed of the pain of six years spent battling cancer. He was surrounded by family, even cracking jokes in his last hour of consciousness — for those wondering how I could joke on Twitter from my hospital bed, now you know.
Long before cycling was my job, it was my mobile think-tank. I would spend hours pedaling around, lost in thought as the pedals turned the gears of my brain, the noise of the world drowned out by the sound of my tires on tarmac and the wind in my ears. In the days following my dad’s passing, I wasn’t training. I was just returning to what I’ve always done to process runaway thoughts, but I was going a lot faster.
I couldn’t find time to ride, though, except in the middle of the days, which wouldn’t normally be a problem except for the fact that I was in Texas, and it was summer. If you’re going to be dumb, you should at least be smart about it, so I returned any cool points I’d ever accumulated and took to training on the road with a Camelbak. With the heat index in triple digits and the sun bearing down, my two jumbo bottles and Camelbak combined to give me two whole hours before I had to break free of my trance and find a gas station. Knowing that I would be lost in thought, I also picked quiet routes on the rural roads I know so well. I rolled out and let my thoughts and legs do what they wanted, not paying any attention to either. Occasionally my train of thought struck a landmine and I struggled to see the road through the tears, my body shaking from sobs. I let it run its course, then rolled on. I would sometimes be miles down the road before realizing I couldn’t remember how I got there, but I would eventually find my way home and see that I’d done 80 miles in 4 hours.
While my primary purpose was to clear my head, these rides did also count for training, which I was supposed to be doing. Heat training has additional benefits on performance, provided that you don’t put yourself in the hospital, hence the Camelbak. Aside from those training benefits, I found that the heat had a few hidden bonuses: Dogs are unwilling to leave the shade to chase you, and drivers frantically wave you through intersections because you’re obviously a maniac. I was snapped out of my trance once by a guy leaning out of his truck at a stop-sign, shouting at me. I was glad that I’d only waved in response and continued on, as I soon realized he hadn’t been shouting profanities — he’d been encouraging me to “CHECK OUT THE HUGE HAWK ON THE POLE!” Dad would’ve had a laugh at that one.
The good news is that all the turmoil this year — the most trying of my life by leaps and bounds — has not cost me my desire to race. Instead, I’ve doubled down. Hagas are fighters. My dad taught me that.
I want to include a quick PSA in my Dad’s memory: If you have a lingering, unexplained cough or other respiratory ailment, please go get it checked out. Lung cancer is so devastating to non-smokers because nobody suspects it, and it is allowed to progress too long before receiving treatment.