Grandma could have seen this com­ing

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - by James “Cranky” Ram­say

The beauty of late-sea­son fit­ness

“Bet­ter late than never.” This is what my dear de­parted grand­mother used to say when I pre­sented her each year in June with a thank-you note for the birth­day gift she had given me the pre­vi­ous Oc­to­ber. Her words al­ways caused a twinge of guilt, but not enough to make my next thank-you note any more timely.

It’s an age-old say­ing for a rea­son, and it ap­plies to many things. But not all. There are things that would be bet­ter never than late, among them con­scrip­tion no­tices, pub­lish­ers’ re­jec­tion let­ters, and spirit-crush­ing at­tacks by op­po­nents in bike races.

These days, now that grandma’s dead, “bet­ter late than never” is what my cy­cling friends say to me, see­ing that it’s fall and I’m fi­nally able to hang on to the Sun­day ride with­out get­ting dropped. And they’re right – it is bet­ter to have late-sea­son fit­ness, if the al­ter­na­tive is to not have fit­ness at all.

Peak­ing in late sea­son is some­thing I’m fa­mil­iar with, both as it per­tains to cy­cling fit­ness, and on a macro level, as it per­tains to life it­self. It took me half a life­time to get to where I am to­day, but look at me now: I’m a pub­lished writer with a reg­u­lar col­umn in a na­tional mag­a­zine – a col­umn that peo­ple ac­tu­ally read. I know that peo­ple read it be­cause two of them have taken the time to write let­ters to the ed­i­tor in the past five years. Nei­ther one was com­pli­men­tary, but that’s OK with me. I’m re­ally only in this for the money.

But let’s get back to the late-sea­son fit­ness ques­tion. There’s ac­tu­ally some­thing clever about tak­ing one’s time to de­velop strength and en­durance. It’s a bit like the con­trar­ian in­vestor’s ap­proach to mak­ing money in the fi­nan­cial mar­kets, in which the in­vestor seems to do the op­po­site of what most are do­ing. Tak­ing this ap­proach to cy­cling train­ing won’t make you rich. (Al­though if I write a book about it, it might make me rich.) But this strat­egy does al­low you to do a num­ber of won­der­ful things.

First, it means you can re­lax for most of the win­ter. We all know that lying on a couch eat­ing wine gums from De­cem­ber to March is much more fun than grind­ing it out in­doors on the trainer. Oh yes, I know that Zwift and all these other marvelous new tech­nolo­gies have trans­formed trainer work­outs into epic vir­tual-re­al­ity rides across pix­e­lated alpine passes. But I’ll take a belly full of candy and a three-hour nap over that any day.

Sec­ond, it means you can launch sneak at­tacks on peo­ple who’ve been trash-talk­ing you all sum­mer. It’s the ul­ti­mate form of sand-bag­ging. If you leave your fit­ness un­til late enough in the sea­son, your ri­vals will be lulled into to­tal com­pla­cency and will be stunned as you fly past them up the fi­nal hill on the week­end ride, or crush them in a de­ci­sive show of power as you sprint for the county line.

Third, it means that by the time you’ve gained suf­fi­cient fit­ness to feel that you de­serve a new bike, you’re in a great po­si­tion to ne­go­ti­ate a deal on a close-out at the end of the sea­son. Not only does this tech­nique get you a new steed at a dis­count price, it also means you now have more dis­pos­able in­come for the ad­di­tional lux­u­ries that your newly fit self de­serves. What lux­u­ries are these? Well, cus­tom-tai­lored com­pres­sion tights and hand­made pasta in the shape of Tour de France cham­pi­ons from days of yore, to be­gin.

So as you can see, leav­ing it all a bit late is fine – as long as you make sure you can leave it all on the road while the road is still dry and clear of snow and ice. As soon as the win­ter hits, your mo­ment in the late-sea­son sun will be over. Be­fore you know it, all that hard-won fit­ness will evap­o­rate. You’ll be back to where you started last sea­son: strug­gling to keep up, feel­ing a twinge of guilt. If you’re like me, the guilt won’t be enough to make your come­back any more timely next year. If grandma could see me now, she wouldn’t be sur­prised.

“But I’ll take a belly full of candy and a three­hour nap over that any day.”

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