It feels like only yesterday that I turned 30 and I thought it was all downhill for my athletic endeavours. When my 20s ended I had this mental block that I had to get over and went into maintenance mode instead of build mode. It was silly when I think about it. Looking back, my 30s were the best years of my cycling youth, in terms of enjoyment and form. I cherish the memories from those years.
Ten years on and I’ve just turned 40. A decade wiser (with still lots to learn), I look at cycling differently now and know for certain that my best years still lay ahead of me.
I no longer have ambitious goals in cycling except for consistency, enjoyment, and the odd challenge. I’ll never take for granted that I have my health, a factor that’s so important in all of the above, which I’m aware not everyone is blessed with.
I’ve pushed myself through the journey of seeing how far I can go in cycling, which was an enormous amount of work, but enjoyable, satisfying and addictive. After going through that process many times and knowing what I know, I no longer have any urge to put that type of commitment and sacrifice back into the never-ending pursuit for success. If I’m honest with myself, I’ll admit that chasing those race results had everything to do with self-validation and ego. It served its purpose at the time, but cycling has taken a different place in my life now.
Cycling has given me much of what I have: my friends, my community, my health, my job, my passion, and my identity. But releasing expectations will often reward you with unconditional enjoyment and sometimes surprise.
I may not have many lofty goals in cycling any more, but I still love to pin on a race number. There is nothing like the thrill of when the race picks up and the shit hits the fan. When you’ve made that final crucial move at the pointy end of the race and you’re at your absolute limit, locked on that wheel in front of you, assessing your competitors, gauging their form, exploiting their weaknesses, scheming about how you’ll make your move and cross that finish line first.
Once in a while you’ll have the good form and fortune to win and when that happens there’s no other feeling like it in the world. That’s what gets me fired up about bike racing. The competition, the game of chess. Even just thinking about it makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. But after enough wins, you’ll find that you’re only as good as your last race and that feeling quickly fades. You cannot get by on this sensation alone.
Racing is only a small part of it. Everything surrounding the race is where I get the most satisfaction. The anticipation, the war stories, making the move, getting dropped, the crashes, the drama, the visits to the hospital, the extreme ups and downs that are essentially self-created. If you think riding is fun, try racing. You’ll be hooked.
More than anything, I look forward to getting out for my weekly ride with a group of my mates. The Friday email exchanges, the banter, the clashing personalities, the ups and downs you’ll experience together, the fun of trying to crack your mate who’s having a bad day … As a former cycling superstar once said: “Some days you’re the hammer, some days you’re the nail”.
Some of you will have gone through this journey already, some of you are going through it. The thing that’s vastly different about cycling compared to other sports is that once the bug bites you, it’ll never let go. It’s not just a sport, it becomes part of you. It’s served many different purposes through my life and has changed substantially, but it’s always a constant.