What I hadn’t really considered before arriving at camp is that team camp, in a way, is the first competition of the year.
With 10 guys on the team, and only 7 man rosters at the UCI races, three will be left out at each race. That said, there’s a handful of riders on the team that, without a doubt, form the core group of our strongest riders. For them it’s a matter of showing our director, and the riders, who is strongest. It’s an exercise in gaining trust and loyalty from staff and team mates, so that we know who we can trust to pull off a result if we work for them during a race.
Of course, I don’t want to make it sound like a true competition. We’re a team and as we ride we’re pushing each other in order to be stronger together. It’s a ‘friendly’ competition. A necessary enforcement of the pecking order for the early season races, if you will.
On my way to camp I grew nervous about being unfit compared to the rest of the guys. We know that February didn’t end up being the most effective month for me in terms of training. Once I learned a little more about what camp would entail, I grew more anxious. My head was in the wrong place. I was stressed by outside stressors. The small things, such as negative attitudes expressed by team mates weren’t so small. I wanted to go home before it even began. I had no faith in my physical strength on account of my mental lack thereof, and had accepted defeat at the start.
Camp started with a few easy days of spinning. My legs felt like shit the whole time. On our first hard ride, we raced up a short hill about an hour and a half into the ride. I was fifth over the top. Not a good start. Over the last half hour of the three hour ride, we formed a rolling paceline. Pretty soon the group was down to 6. A few of the six started skipping pulls. Everytime I pulled I said it would be my last one, but I kept pushing and taking my turn in the wind. I sprinted ahead at the top of the final roller. I needed that. I needed to see that I could ride with these guys. I gained a bit of confidence.
The following day we did a four hour ride with some leadout practice. I was offered some criticism, such as roll through steadier, and wait for the guy ahead of me in the train to pull off before pulling through (be patient). Important lessons. On the way home, I felt pretty tired, but as a similar rolling paceline scenario developed, I pushed again, eager to prove myself worthy of being with these guys.
I took a day of rest and my grandparents visited me from Phoenix. It was a delight to see them, and a lovely opportunity to go into town and be just me for a while. I sat in my favourite Tucson cafe after having lunch with them, and wrote a blog post. I met up with a friend and had a fun night of exploring old mines, driving through the desert, and flying kites out of the car.
Life started to feel pretty good. I had better legs than I’d expected, and time to improve, and I was also doing non-bike related things which instilled the balance I so desperately need. I felt genuine happiness away from home, and started searching for my ‘home within’ while focussing on only one day at a time.
A few days later we rode up Mount Lemmon. This was a test I was dreading a bit. As someone who is expected to be a descent climber, I put myself under pressure to perform. I woke up that morning feeling pretty rough, with a sore throat, stinging eyes and a headache.
We hit the base of Lemmon and the pace Alexis set was ballistic. By mile 9 we were down to five riders. Shortly after it was just four of us left. Two of our stronger riders attacked. I chased hard over the next couple miles and caught back on. Not long after making contact I took another pull, only to be attacked by those two again. I got dropped and rode the rest of the way with JD, who caught me a few miles later.
I was disappointed with that ride. Not entirely, but certainly not pleased. It was a fun one, and we got the obligatory fudge at the top of the mountain, but I wished quietly that I had better legs.
We rode six hours the following day. I was dropped going up Madera Canyon and rode up alone. Not good. Three hours in I wanted to quit and told myself just to ride until 3.5 hours. I rode in half hour increments. At four hours I got behind our team car and drafted it for around 20 minutes. I didn’t want to get in so I stubbornly stayed on my bike in it’s slipstream. I got back into the group and suffered for another hour and a half. My 30 min increments turned to 15, then 5. Like I said in my previous post, I’ve tried to adopt a one day at a time mentality to avoid the anxiety caused by having such an unpredictable future. Sometimes though, you have to take it five minutes at a time. Five minutes got me through the six hour ride.
I made it through the entire six hours, having done 210 km and 2000 m of climbing. It stressed me out that it was such a struggle, but I was pleased that I made it.
A couple more days of short, easy rides followed before our final long day. I finally had decent legs on a couple of the short climbs that we raced over, which was refreshing. Still a long way to go, but I saw improvement over the first hard day just over a week prior.
As camp neared its end my brain went a little fuzzy again. Anxiety returned and I allowed the attitudes of others to affect me more than they should have. I anticipated the stress of being uprooted again, having kind of settled in Tucson over the two weeks I was there. I moved to Silver City, New Mexico yesterday, and felt the same way I had when I left Victoria on my way to Tucson. I had friends, routine, a pool (such a luxury) and was genuinely comfortable in Tucson.
While it was hard to leave, today I can reflect on the positive parts of training camp, of which there were many. It was a pleasant surprise to feel happy while I was there. Considering how dark I had felt on my way down, I never would have imagined my mental health improving as rapidly and dramatically as it did, even if it was temporary. On to the next thing!
If you're interested, here are some links to a few of the bigger rides: