More races means more experience. More experience means improvement, right? In many ways, yes. In practice, it’s complicated
Progression isn’t linear. In principle, I accept this. In practice, it is hard to swallow. I arrived into pro cycling with an embarrassing amount of inexperience. I had every right to feel imposter syndrome in my first race outside Australia. That was Trofeo Alfredo Binda in 2018. The year prior, I did one road race - the Nationals.
Team Tibco took me under their wing to give me a shot. I was excited by the unknown, and I still am now. What can
I do among the best in the world?
On a ‘small’ team in the WWT, you are really riding to survive and see how you compare against the best. You mostly have to look out for yourself. Top 20s reap points, which get your team into more races. More races means more experience. More experience means improvement, right? In many ways yes. In practice, it’s more complicated.
Now I am on a WorldTour team with riders who can win big races, who have worked hard for years with setbacks and periods of adaptation. Look at any pro’s results and you will see anomalies not explained by finishing position.
I was hired to be a strong domestique. This job still takes figuring out. I don’t need to preach to Procycling readers what a domestique does, but every drop of energy used to cover attacks, position your leader, collect a bidon - that is the race. You are aiming to absorb the energy not spent by your team leader, so that they have the least fatigue when the race gets the most hard.
It is now on FDJ that I am learning all these skills, and it’s fun. But on paper, I am regressing, not progressing. In my third Binda, a few weeks ago, I was a DNF. I also hit many power PRs for the year in the first 60km. I was out of the race by the local laps. Our leader Cille came third: it was a successful day.
Do I want to win races? No doubt in my mind. But I want to be confident that I can deliver on that day, and that takes patience and the true wish to work for a team goal first. The pressure of being a leader is immense, and you can’t fade into the peloton, having done your domestique duties.
A great example is my compatriot Grace Brown.
We are similar in age and experience. She was a quiet achiever in the early years, tirelessly riding the front, trying to attack, being the first cab off the rank. I used to think, “Grace is strong, why are they wasting her?”
But she wasn’t being wasted, she was being primed. Now that she has the chance to use that strength for her own results with a few years of experience behind her, it’s very impressive.
I’ve not yet figured out how to get the best out of myself, but I know if I keep working, keep showing up, reflecting, asking questions and wanting more, I will improve. It just might not be a number-based improvement in results.
This is my job. I get to be part of tactical, hard, crazy, iconic races and try to figure out how to have the best rider win while pushing to the physical limit with 160 others doing the same thing. It’s pretty wild.