Riding in the peloton, the fatigue everyone is carrying becomes quite clear. Somewhere around day ten, everyone becomes irritable. Still strong on the bike, but you notice positioning becomes easier, many guys too tired to fight for their place, or to ride out in the wind.
“After the second week, you can start to see it in their eyes. One neo pro in the race was really strong for the first half, often making an impact on the race. But somewhere around stage 17, I saw him with his glasses off, climbing a mountain, while I was descending back to the bus from the finish line.
This poor kid looked like he lost his soul somewhere out on the road. He was the shell of a man, his eyes like two black holes – no light could shine through, he was a star dying…
The fatigue can lead to many changes. A general apathy towards everything ensues and your patience dwindles. We have a T-shirt on our team with the saying of one of our sponsors written across it: “No Shortcuts”. I joked that after week two a more appropriate shirt to wear would be one with a new saying: “No F**ks”.
Yet with all these changes, with this absolute exhaustion, there is still, for some reason, one thing that never changes – the speed. Even after three weeks, our pack of rolling zombies could ride at somewhere around the speed of light.
It’s somewhat incomprehensible: we can hardly walk up the stairs, put food in our mouths, construct a decent sentence, or even throw our leg over the top tube, yet we can turn our pedals as well or better than the start, flying up mountains at 6+ w/kg, rocketing down descents, and sprinting with the enthusiasm of a guy on your local Tuesday night group ride after being stuck behind a desk for years.
I have to believe our bodies adapt to the absurd demands we make of them by conserving energy from nearly every other ‘unnecessary’ human function other than pedalling our bicycles. We are great at racing. Worthless at everything else.
The entire race, riders seem to count it down. Count the stages, the kilometres, the days. Most seem to look forward to Madrid before they even get to the start. Yet for me, it was different. I wanted – no, needed – to make the most of every day.
Each stage was a chance. A chance to get in the breakaway. A chance to get a result. A chance to make an impact on the race. The end of the race meant the end of my chances. So while my team-mates counted the days in anticipation, I counted them in trepidation. I did not want my race to end, for the end of the race symbolised the end of my ability to mould my future.
It’s a tough thought to end a race on, especially one that went as well as the Vuelta. And while I didn’t leave the race with any big results to my name, I know I left an impact on the race.
I got out there. I raced aggressively. I showed my strength. I got seen. I know I gave the race my all and left everything on the road, and that is everything I can ask of myself. It was one of the last races for my team, IAM Cycling, and it was the best one I was ever a part of.
I’d like to think we were successful because we “enjoyed ourselves”, as my room-mate and I liked to say each day. We enjoyed the racing, the bus rides; we enjoyed the circus, and our chocolate covered ice-creams on sticks. And if there’s one thing I am sure of, that is it. Because in the grand scheme of things, it is what riding a bike is all about.
We aren’t doing this to get rich. The victories are nice and the lifestyle is cool, but it all comes down to one thing. The reason we got into this sport in the first place is the same. It’s the same for those of you reading this, for my fellow team-mates, the other riders in the peloton, and for myself.
Before we became avid cyclists, recreational riders, amateur racers, or professionals, we all started this wacky, tough, beautiful, unstable obscure sport because of one simple reason.
It’s fun. Simple as that. You could feel it from the first pedal stroke on that tricycle as a kid, to the first time you felt the freedom and relief after removing your training wheels. The first time you felt the wind blowing your hair (underneath your helmet of course), to the first time you felt the adventure of leaving your driveway and going beyond your block. From the first time you felt the speed of a racing bike, to the first time you felt the adrenaline of winning that town-line sprint.
The whole time, there has always been one common theme. It’s fun. It’s one thing we got right at IAM this Vuelta and it’s one thing I don’t want to forget for the rest of my career. It was our unlikely key to success, and it’s one I hope I never forget to apply in the future.