My mother is one of the best chefs I know. She can cook anything and it’s pretty much always great. Mom doesn’t use recipes, just taste, thought, and a bit of trial and error. Ask her to make a dish and she will re-create it, going off her extensive experience in the kitchen.
While she could use recipes, she often finds that following the rigid guidelines provided doesn’t necessarily always produce the best end result. A few tweaks here, a modification there, and she makes it better. I find it to be one of the coolest things about cooking: there are many guidelines you can follow, but to really take it to the next level, you need to mix it up. Try something new. Go out on a limb and experiment.
As a professional cyclist living far from home, I’ve taken up cooking myself. I try to follow in my mother’s footsteps, mixing and matching ingredients and spices, and for the most part, forgoing recipes. Sometimes it’s great, but occasionally, I add the wrong ingredient, and, to be frank, totally fuck it up. I ruin the meal.
But, as I’m cooking for one, I’m stuck with what I’ve got. As salty, spicy, sweet or just plain shitty as it may be, I eat it.
I eat it, partly because the food I buy is expensive. But I also eat it because if I don’t, I may never learn from my mistake.
There’s a fine line between creating something great and totally flopping. The thing is if you never push that line, if you never come close enough to the edge where you can see the other side, then your food will be mediocre at best. You’ll never learn, never improve, and never come close to approaching the mastery of my mother.
Cycling is the same. A quick internet search will provide you with a thousand recipes for success and guidelines to follow. How to train, how to eat, how to sleep. You can find coaches, pre-made training plans, pedalling techniques.
If you follow the guidelines, you may get good. You may have some success. You may even win a few races. But I don’t do it that way. No, I approach my cycling like my cooking: I go all in. I ride the line. I dance on the edge between breakout success and abysmal failure.
It may often be my downfall, but I’m not one for basking in blandness and mediocrity. I’d rather go for greatness, even if that means dying in the process.
And long story short, that’s where I’ve been. It’s why I haven’t written for so long and also haven’t raced for quite a while. I pushed that edge in training, in diet, in lifestyle. My body broke down.
From high altitude training to low carb food, if there was an extreme, I did it. I pushed my limits beyond what was possible, and during the Giro, my body said no.
I was stretching on the rest day and when I stood up, my leg had gone numb. My tight muscle had pinched a nerve in my hip. And just like when you ruin a meal, there was no reversing it. There’s only one me, so my only choice was to carry on, subpar, until the team doctor forced me to stop.
The good thing is that no matter how bad your last meal was, the taste only lingers so long. Sure, maybe you’ll suffer some indigestion or something a bit longer term, but you always have the next meal to look forward to.
Cycling is the same. I may have botched my last objective, however, there are always more to come. For me, it’s the Tour of Poland – and I’m hungry as hell.
Postscript: Larry Warbasse took his first WorldTour top ten at the Tour of Poland, finishing seventh overall.