I believe that I was one of the fastest junior road cyclists in Canada last year. For a couple of years before that, I believed that I one day could be Canada’s fastest junior. But, I didn’t believe in myself beyond that. I didn’t even really think of any ‘beyond that’.
Many of my ambitions and goals have always had a ‘best by’ date. I haven’t been fully aware of this until now-I had essentially set every goal of mine to be achieved before I turned 18. With nationals taking place this weekend, many thoughts are racing through my head. I am realizing that every goal of mine has, up until now, had a best-by date.
My first experience with road nationals was as a second year cadet racing a year up with the junior men. The course was hilly which suited me quite well, and I finished 16th. That wasn’t too bad for my age, I’d like to think.
In 2015, I sat nationals out due to a concussion. This was tough as I was coming into great form at the beginning of June right before my crash. The national’s course was hilly again, and the World’s course was also hilly that year, which I potentially could have qualified for. None of this, of course, is a given, as anything could have happened, but I’m well aware that my best chance at a result in the nationals road race was in 2015.
That year, as we approached nationals, I became very depressed. I had spent a week alone in a dark room, followed by two weeks in a mostly dark basement, permitted only to walk for a couple of minutes a day. I had to follow along with the race on twitter, in a basement, alone, and unfit. That was the first time I somewhat addressed my depression internally, and decided to try and do something about it. I moved home to be with my girlfriend and have a bit of a ‘normal’ summer. We went to the beach a lot and had late nights. Something I’d never really done as I was always busy racing or training.
All the while though, in the back of my head was the unshakeable notion that I had missed an opportunity to perhaps be Canada’s fastest junior.
I entered the 2016 season with the idea that this would be my last chance. Again, I found the best form I’ve ever had. I was riding really strong and went into nationals confident that I would be a contender. Unfortunately, the course was pan flat, and that didn’t suit me at all. I raced my heart out and had a ton of fun. But my result was not impressive. My final chance at getting that maple leaf jersey had come and gone, and I was left empty handed.
As I rode on my own this past Friday morning, I thought a lot about past nationals, and this year’s races which would begin the following day. I was reminded of my failed attempts, and ultimately my unachieved goal. I started to feel a little down about it as well. I was disappointed. But I told myself to move on. I’m no longer a junior, so I mustn’t dwell on the past. I can’t let it bring me down. I missed my chance, so now I had to move on. Then, I had a thought. I asked myself why I had never even considered trying to podium in the U23 race.
I was so focussed for so long on what seemed to be long-term goals. But I was oblivious to the bigger picture, and, somehow, of the fact that I could be competitive after being a junior. I think that I’ve always seen U23 and elite races as light-years above my capabilities. To set a goal for a race of that caliber would be silly. Impossible to achieve.
As a cadet, I may have believed that I could be the fastest junior one day. But as a junior, I never believed that I could one day be among the fastest U23’s. I’m not saying that I think I will be. However, I have to build a new mindset, with new goals and consider new possibilities to U23 and beyond.
The way I’m looking at things now, I have three more years to try and get that jersey as a U23. I’m taking things one step at a time, and have other goals that I’m working towards right now, most importantly getting strong enough to race properly again, but I’ve come to the realization that I do have other opportunities, if I choose to take them.
I don’t have to believe that I peaked as a junior. If I continue with that notion, I may as well stop riding now. Without ambitions, there’s no hope for me in cycling. I need to set goals, and believe that the seemingly impossible is in fact possible. As I focus on the next two months, I’m making an effort to reinvent my cycling future, in order to create new opportunities.
Maybe I’ll have another shot at that jersey after all. Maybe.