Saturday, the 15th of July, the day before the White Rock Road Race, I started stressing. I was causing myself to become unnecessarily nervous and anxious.
I didn’t race on Saturday, as the plan had always been to rest the day before the road race. I got up and went for a morning spin as usual, but while I was waiting for the guys to meet me at the coffee shop, sitting/leaning on my bike’s top tube, I felt something poking through my shorts. I turned to examine my bike, and found a large hole in the carbon tube.
As I looked my bike over, I realized that my crash the night before had badly damaged the frame and it had gone unnoticed. Luckily, the damage was on the top tube, so racing for another 40 minutes after the crash had gone okay. I felt pretty lucky that the damage wasn’t on the fork, for example, in which case I likely would have crashed again. Either way, the damage had now become another stressor for me, particularly, as I didn’t want to give my mechanic more work or cost the team more in terms of equipment.
I remained in my home stay’s basement suite. As the day went on, I developed a head ache, a stomach ache, and my leg was killing me. It swelled so much that I started to wonder if I had broken my shin. It hurt more than road rash should have. I felt really tried all day, in part because the pain in my leg had prevented sleep the night before. Also, the week of racing had caught up to me.
I began psyching myself out. With nothing to do but sit on my bed, I told myself that I was screwed for tomorrow. I hadn’t done a road race in a year, less a week, and I was exhausted. White Rock is also the hardest road race I had done before, so it wasn’t exactly like I was easing into things. The truth is that I had no idea how I would do, so I scared myself into thinking that I would be shit.
I knew I needed to relax. I wanted to go spin to a coffee shop near the beach, but without a bike (our mechanic, Kevin, was in the process of building one up for me), and a leg too sore to walk, I stuck around.
I made myself lentil pasta for dinner. The idea was to use up all my food, and have leftovers for on the ferry the next day. I also thought that lentils would help ensure that I had no extra weight when I started the next morning, if you know what I mean. The race was essentially 134 km of hill repeats, so I wanted to be light.
I woke up on Sunday in much better spirits. I made my oatmeal, which I pre-mix at home and take with me everywhere I go. Having the same breakfast every morning is important to me. I keep things the same. I know what I can digest, what provides me with sufficient energy and what I like. It also allows me to save money. Spending causes me immense stress for some reason. Control what you can control, right?
My director had told me that he believed I could finish the race. I didn’t, but he did, and he had been watching me race all week. I took the pressure off myself. I’m not racing for a result; I’m racing to help my team. I decided that I probably wouldn’t finish, and that would be fine so long as I raced until I could race no longer. As we rode to the race, Chris asked why my bag was so full. I joked, and told him “I brought my laptop so that I could blog about the race after I get dropped.” My spirits were high, and the pre-race jitters were back, giving me the energy that I imagine a cup of coffee gives other racers.
Around 45 minutes to the start, I went to the washroom. This was perfect timing. The lentils worked. I felt light, and my stomach/gut felt perfect. Maybe the placebo effect was the greatest result, but small things can make a big difference.
Off the gun, team mate Alexis attacked. He broke away, and a few riders joined him. I stayed near the front of the peloton covering attempts to bridge. I made it through lap one, but the second and larger hill hurt. A lot. I covered an attempt to bridge by Paco Mancebo of Hangar15 at the start of the second hill, and my chest screamed at me as I pushed myself to hold on.
On the second, third and fourth lap, I lost contact with the peloton as we crested the second hill through the feedzone. Each time, I could see the orange kit of my best friend, Danick, barely holding on to the pack ahead of me. I wanted to be there with him. It was enough for me to put in a massive dig each time to get back before the decent. I knew that if I tried to slowly reel them back in, the gap would grow before the decent and I’d never see them again. I spent the rest of each lap at the front, covering what I could. I told Travis and Connor that I wasn’t going to make it and offered them my water and gels. Connor asked for a caffeine gel, and I was happy to contribute even if it was minimal.
On the fourth lap, as I caught back on, I rode beside Danick. He was dying too. I told him we could do this. But I told myself that it was okay that I wasn’t going to finish. I thought: you have an excuse. Your leg hurts. It’s okay. But my leg didn’t hurt. Not because of the injury anyway. I was just suffering. Don’t make excuses for yourself. You’re finishing this race.
Right then and there, I got my shit together. There’s a difference between having to work hard to achieve something, and not being able to achieve something because it’s simply impossible. I didn’t have a real excuse not to finish, and I wasn’t going to trick myself into thinking I did. I made the goal of finishing. It wouldn’t be impossible. Just hard. I had to ride defensively: riding at the front to cover moves and allowing myself to sag on climbs.
Somewhere within the next lap or two, the breakaway established itself. We had Travis, Connor and Alexis in it, along with the favourites from the other teams, such as Paco, Nigel Ellsay and Steve Fisher. The large teams were content with this, and the pace calmed down. I spent the rest of the day riding in the top 5-10 wheels. That’s where I’m most comfortable. I could cover attempts to bridge or chase.
My goal quickly changed from trying to finish, to getting a top 30. Then a top 20. With 30 km to go, I wanted a top 15. With 10 km to go, I wanted a top 10. With two laps of the small circuit remaining, we caught a couple of riders from the break, and a few others distanced themselves from the pack. I couldn’t hold their wheels.
As we crested the final hill, and all that remained was a descent into a sharp left, and then a 300 metre uphill drag to the finish, I tried to attack the peloton. I knew that if I could get a small gap there, then it would increase my chances of a decent result (I can’t sprint). My legs were pretty done by that point though, so I couldn’t get a real jump on my opponents. One rider managed to get ahead of me before the turn, and 5 or so guys jumped on behind me. I sprinted, and crossed the line right beside two others. It would have been a photo, but I got 12th, the same time as tenth. My team mate, Travis, had remained in the break, and pulled off a huge result by finishing second.
I was proud of my result, and my contribution to the team and the team’s result. Last year I finished 15th, and that was a big deal. Somehow I bettered my best result, after just over a month of riding. I was shocked.
I said goodbye to my team a couple of hours later. I left with a sense of satisfaction. I felt that I had proven my potential to my team mates.