Going away in the middle of a cycling season can be a
tricky thing to pull off. It can, however be as important as any other aspect
of training or racing.
A clear and healthy mind is the key to making a bike
go fast in my opinion, so what the mind needs, it should get. Unfortunately, this
does often mean that a rider needs a break at a moment that doesn't fit in with
the requirements of the team.
In these instances, sometimes a rider will just have
to hold his edges together for a little while longer and push through to a time
when a break can be worked in.
Sometimes a rider might just try and sneak off for a
few days. This is a plan that has many potential flaws - for example, should the
call to prayer go off during a phone call to your team manager it can become
apparent that you are not in Bristol as you claim to be, but are in fact in
Marrakesh - where you are really not supposed
But a simple change of pace can give you the chance to
refresh your weary mind.
I found this happening to me over the last week, when
I headed out to Italy to ride the Gran Corsa d'Italia. The event that is being
run by the Prostate Cancer Charity, with assistance from our sponsor Sharp,
tackles the entire route of the Giro, day for day, kilometre for kilometre.
This would be a fairly ambitious challenge even for guys
riding at the top level. The speeds might be quite a bit lower than in the race
(the event has no competitive element at all) but just covering the 3,496km of
the Giro is no small feat.
With my racing form notoriously unpredictable, and the
Tour Series dominating the UK calendar at present, I was sent out for the first
week, to help the guys along their way and to impart any advice that I could.
As a pro bike rider you expect to do a little bit of
this kind of thing every now and again, it is part of the job and I know mine.
Yet I could feel I was slightly ill at ease with the concept as I flew out to
Torino to get the riding underway.
As a bike racer I like to approach time on my bike
like I do robbing a house. I get in, get the goods and get out as quickly as
possible. From the moment the chamois makes contact with my backside, I am in a
rush to get back out of it. I am never more comfortable than when getting out
of the shower after training, it is always the best moment of the day.
Taking on the Grand Corsa with riders who simply
enjoyed the pleasure of riding their bikes was a new challenge all together. I was shocked, for example, to see on the itinerary
that we would be stopping three times a day for food, and wouldn't just take
the provisions we needed, or get them from a following car. Stopping more than
once on a ride is an alien and dangerous concept to me, which could well see
unnecessary hours added to my working day.
I had the distinct impression that I was going to get
incredibly frustrated with the event, the plodding, the pottering and all that time
in the saddle.
And yet, after all that (and just as my girlfriend
predicted) the reverse happened. Instead of me losing the will to pedal on
after seven or so hours in the saddle, and resorting stopping to hide in a bush
(that has also happened) I found myself enjoying the sensation of riding my
bike with no agenda, nowhere else to be, and no-one trying with all their might
to beat me into submission before the final destination.
I started to just roll along, back off on climbs, take
note of the names of the towns I was passing, and - heaven forbid - I actually
had a look at the view.
I admit that I had to draw the line at having an ice cream
in my cycling kit at the end of a 210km day, when the hotel was only kilometres
away, but I think I kind of got it in the end.
What was even more marvellous was coming home feeling
like a new rider, with not only a new appreciation for a country that I seemed
to have missed completely (despite living there for three years) but also a
fine tan, and the will to keep pressing on. There is a good chance I can make
the year out without having to run off to North Africa to feel normal for a while.
All that from a trip where I had to ride my bike, for longer than usual, who would have thought it?