My last race of the 2016 season was the Cascade Cycling Classic in Bend, Oregon.
I still struggle with whether or not going to that race was the right decision. I might have chosen, instead, to race for Team Canada at Tour de l’Abitibi, the Junior Nations cup that takes place in Quebec every year. From there I would have gone with Team Canada to Belgium for a few weeks to prepare/qualify for Junior Road Worlds in Qatar.
To put my thoughts into some context: two major goals of mine from the age of fifteen were to win Junior Road Nationals, and race at the Junior Road World Championships for our national team. My first chance to qualify would have been Nationals in 2015, but a concussion put an end to those hopes. Last year was my second and final chance. I started the season really strong, but as a climber the Nationals course didn’t suit me, as it was pan flat– a total sprinter’s race. A crash in training a few days before Nationals didn’t help my form.
I knew my chances of a result were slim due to the nature of the course, so I changed my main objective from trying to win, to trying to get in a break and get noticed by the Team Canada coach.
I attacked relentlessly from the start line until I broke away. I stayed away for the first 15 km, and attacked the group again as soon I was caught, taking with me another rider. We stayed away until ~90 km into the 120 km race. I crashed with 15 km to go, and chased back on to try one more solo attack as we began the final lap. Although I finished 23rd, it was one of my best displays of strength last season.
The National time trial two days later was a disappointment. I had now had two crashes leading up to the event- one on each side. Swelling of both my hips caused me a lot of discomfort when I assumed my position on the tt bike. Even if I hadn’t crashed though, I still didn’t have the legs to win that day. I finished 6th. After having a season of meeting and exceeding all of my goals up to that point, this was a very tough blow. I was tired, sore, and disheartened.
Despite my disappointment, my performance at Nationals did result in my selection to represent Team Canada at the Tour de l’Abitibi and in Belgium. But, after a lot of thought, I declined the offer on account of the flat courses, and the associated costs. At the time, it made more sense to me to send someone who can sprint, and for me to try my hand at races better suited to a climber, such as the Tour de White Rock Road Race and the Cascade Cycling Classic. Another consideration was that my team, Accent Inns/Russ Hays, would be covering all expenses for these races. My coach and I believed that I had a decent chance of impressing some pro teams if I could hold my own at these races.
The decision to skip the Team Canada projects remains one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make.
After Nationals, I had a few days of rest followed by just over a week of hard training for my next race. My first race was the Giro Di Burnaby Crit. This was my introduction to racing with the pro men. The speed combined with my junior gears led to 85 minutes of holding on for dear life. The following day at the PoCo Crit I got a call-up. I was the youngest in the race and got to start on the front line. It was a fast course, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay away, but I couldn’t resist the urge to go on an early break with an NSWIS rider. I finished 40th which is nothing special, but mid pack was an improvement on the day before.
The final race of BC Superweek series was the Tour de Whiterock road race. This would be my second last race of the season, and my goal was to finish in the top 20. I spent the day riding at the front of the Peloton. I was able to get into a few small moves, but found myself chasing hard for the last few laps. A break had been gone for most of the day, and with five or so laps to go the pace was high on the steep climb when we caught the break. As soon as we caught it, there was a split as some riders couldn’t quite hold on to the increasing pace. The next few laps I chased hard, but couldn’t quite get to the lead group. I finished fifteenth. Although I achieved my goal of top 20, I wanted more. I wasn’t proud of myself that day. Maybe I should have been.
Next was Cascade. We had one day of rest before driving 8 plus hours to Bend, Oregon, for the Cascade Cycling Classic, a pro stage race. I was tired and sick by the time we arrived. Each stage was harder to finish than the last. I rode about 20 minutes in the final stage before packing it in. Suffice to say I wasn’t proud of that performance (or lack thereof). I flew back to Winnipeg to spend the last bit of summer with my girlfriend, and take a nice long break from racing. I was burnt out from a long, hard season.
Cascade was to be my last race of the season, and I had made the decision to race it, a pro stage race, rather than a junior stage race. The confidence I had at the beginning of the season had been dwindling since Nationals, and after Cascade I was exhausted. I had no motivation, and wanted nothing to do with the bike.
Cyclists are constantly made to believe that they’re only as good as their last race. This is an extremely unhealthy mindset. If you win a race you might be the talk of the town, but as soon as the next race takes place, if you’re not on that top step, all that attention suddenly disappears. For some this is motivating, but for emotional riders like me, it’s heartbreaking. It’s especially hard if you’re expected to win a race, but you don’t. The pressure put on you by everybody’s expectations, and the pressure you put on yourself becomes hard to deal with. I was used to the attention last year. But by the end of the season, I felt I was failing myself and others.
In my time away from racing I’ve identified just how large an impact this mindset has on me. I’ve made a promise to myself that I’ll remind myself that I’m more than a result. I’m more than a number on a page or a step on a podium. I will not be defined by my results. A result might represent the cyclist in me, but it does not define the athlete or the human that I am. I am Oliver Evans, I’m not ‘DNF at Cascade’.