B&B HOTELS P/B KTM
Six weeks. That’s how long it took me to resume training after starting my break on the night of the French Champs. Six weeks is a long time but it was necessary to regain the desire to compete in my last pro races. Between the unfavourable weather and my personal Tour de France in July to spend time with family and friends, I felt the time was not right to force things. I had to wait until I was mentally ready to resume training and to know whether I was still capable of being a pro a few more months.
I had a frank discussion with my managers about the end of the season. I was honest that either I wouldn’t be able to reconnect and I’d stop, or I’d find the right feeling again to race 200km and be there for the one-day races at the end of the year. I’m leaning towards the latter but it’s hard to resume after such a long hiatus.
For one recovery ride I accepted an invitation to ride from Bryan Coquard, who was passing through my home in Vendée after returning from the Arctic Race of Norway. Our former team-mate Lorenzo Manzin, with whom I often ride, was also around for a good outing. At first, everything was cool… And then everything got tough, as if my body were punishing me after letting it rest so much. I suffered like never before - the desire to ride took over and I ended the day with six hours on the clock. Luckily ‘Lolo’ was there to bring me home on his wheel.
This is my daily life as a cyclist at the moment: the first hour I don’t feel fresh,
I am like a diesel. Then comes the second hour, where I feel able to push hard and be a racer again. The energy starts to run out from the third hour, and from the fourth I am dead. It’s worse than a winter ride, where it’s hard, but everybody is at the same level and the demands are less intense. In the middle of summer, opportunities to enjoy life are more frequent… But no, you have to be a pro, stiffen your resolve and think about the pounds you have to lose and about the coming races.
I would like to be competitive to restore confidence to my team-mates and the staff of B&B Hotels, take responsibility and leave on a high note. It’s important to come out of this environment with correctness, to say goodbye to all those whom I may never see again but whom I have enjoyed being around all these years. There are also those that I will see again once my career is over, for sure. In July, I was able to visit some team-mates past and present, and it was a pleasure to talk about life after cycling.
I’ve had my time in this environment and too bad if the phone doesn’t ring as often after 11 years as a pro. I’ve already received proposals to become a TV consultant but I have other projects, away from the bike. I might take this kind of one-off job to clear my head, but I won’t chase invitations. This book is ending and I’ll be happy to close it, so I can write a new one. I discussed this in July with Angelo Tulik, a former team-mate who opened a business in the Alps after retiring, and I know there are many things outside cycling. We are often too afraid to leave the environment we know the best but it’s crazy what exists outside this bubble: all these good things.
I can’t wait to discover that without fear and without bitterness. But before that, I have just a few more jobs to do in the Glaz jersey!
“The first hour, I don’t feel fresh. The second I can push. The energy starts to run out in the third and from the fourth I am dead”
The problem with learning through experience is that contrary to traditional learning, first comes the test, and only after do you get the lesson. The test is where you make the mistake, and recognising it and taking steps to correct it is where the learning actually occurs, according to neuroscientists. It just sucks that you have to go through the emotions and consequences of the mistake, feel all the internal, usually melodramatic rage and shame before the benefits. After that has passed, you work to break it down into the lesson. In every race, someone is making a mistake and learning a lesson.
From things like not fuelling enough and fading at the crux of the race, to starting a sprint too early and getting swamped, or hesitating and starting too late. The difference between first and eighth can be down to seven compounded missteps. Sitting in the peloton when the winning break went. Messing up a bike change, or stopping to pee at the wrong time. Going too hard too soon and then watching the race disappear ahead. Mishearing the race radio or underestimating your competitors. Misjudging a corner on your way to the win. I could go on.
Of course for fans, these moments make the racing unpredictable and exciting.
Often we are our own worst critics, but also, we wouldn’t be elite athletes if we gave up our pursuit of glory after a few mistakes. We always want more, we are never satisfied, that’s why we keep striving to be better. We all know that it is more often than not that we will lose, or go two steps forward one step back, on our path to mastery.
I was talking to a friend about a sprint recently. Despite her exceptional power, positioning and experience, she didn’t sprint to what she knew was capable of. I am so far from being a sprinter that I have no idea how one can even think and act that quickly in the chaos.
Her ability to feel the frustration, but almost immediately break down what went wrong was the marker of a true pro. She improved her placing in the remaining stages remarkably. There is little time to mourn your mistakes when the next race is less than 24 hours away. The dichotomy of disappointment and proaction takes practice.
In the moment it feels like we have really screwed up. However we know fully that in order to improve, these errors are non-negotiable. We can listen, watch and ask questions, but nothing is a match for marching straight into the flames. We can recall the experience of that error next time, the physical gutting, the emotion of having lost what you sought. We can only hope that next time, we engage damage control before it happens.