Looking back

Last weekend my 2016 season finally came to a close, I now find myself at something of a loss. What am I to do? I ask myself, in the three weeks I have before training for the new season begins. There is no bike to clean, no kit to wash and no power data to analyse. For the time being, I must admit it’s rather enjoyable. My first competitive season has, after all, been rather a long one – incorporating ups, downs and just about everything in-between. Time I think, to look back at the last 5 months of cycling – anything to avoid starting on the massive pile of Uni work that is, at this moment, perfectly concealed by the computer on which I’m writing this.

It all started with a rare episode of motivation and resolve – to finally start racing and pit myself against others. Being a highly neurotic individual, the thought of being beaten had long since put me off – not least for the sake of those around me who would inevitibly suffer in the aftermath of a bad performance. I was, at the time, searching for a purpose, something to get me out of bed in the morning (or early afternoon as it often turns out) – for the first time in living memory, exam results no longer mattered – having dropped out of my ill-fated first attempt at University and received an unconditional offer to start a new course in September.

Books were read, equipment bought and something vaguely resembling a training plan was pinned to the wall. For the first time, riding became a truly serious business – evolving very rapidly into more than simply a hobby. My mentality in life does tend to be all or nothing, in this case it was the former – I began looking at diet, mental skills and even strength training (though admittedly, with the last one, looking was as far as it got – I’d much rather be out on the road than stuck in a gym).

The year began with sportives, long distance events to boost my endurance. My big target being the Tour of Wessex, which I managed to complete in a respectable time. It was now time to turn my attention to racing – entering my first road race, now there could be no turning back.

As recounted in my first blog post, my first few close circuit races weren’t exactly a triumph. Illness, mechanical failure, crashes and overtraining added up to a grand total of zero points. I’d set myself the goal of moving up to 3rd Cat by the end of the season – this looked increasingly unlikely. Finally, in early July, I began to see some improvements – taking 6th in a bunch sprint and 10th a week later. Not exactly spectacular, but enough to give my moral a much needed boost.

Finishing my first road race felt like a big deal. The pace was tough and many were dropped on the climbs – I resolved to hang on no matter what, managing to survive a crash & subsequent chase in the first lap. Yet another crash, this time in the last kilometre, put an end to my hopes of a high place – yet I was still pleased with my performance. The hard work had paid off – early nights, salads and riding in the rain truly felt worth it.

Of course, it couldn’t all go smoothly. Soon after the race, I was forced to take a break from training – having managed to make myself ill. I learnt another important lesson – namely how crucial it is to listen to your body and that its ultimately better to miss one or two workouts than succumb to overtraining. In short, I lost fitness and put on some unwanted weight – time to refocus my energies once again. I cheered myself up by purchasing a new bike with my summer wages. Saying goodbye to having spare money at University in the process – yet completely worth it!

It wasn’t until late August that I really began to feel like myself again. I was still a 4th Cat, with five races to go until the end of the season, my chances of moving up were hanging in the balance. Looking back, this had a very positive effect – going into races with nothing to lose helped to change my mental approach. Rather than try not to lose, I had to ride to win.

In the course of ten days, I went through the full rollercoaster of experiences. Starting with defeat, letting myself down by waiting for the final sprint – which I started from the back of the bunch. Two days later, it got better, a top ten in a local time trial – riding my road bike and beating several riders with full on TT rigs. Two days after that – a 6th place finish in a circuit race, this one came with mixed emotions, had I realised where the finish line was, it would probably have been 3rd.

Three more points were needed – I recognised that my chance of getting them in a road race were slim. My hopes rested on the last circuit race of the year – only three days after the previous one. Waking up that morning and looking at the weather, I doubted whether I’d make it to the start line. Thankfully things did improve – I can’t recall ever being so stressed on the start line, ending the season a 4th Cat would have been a massive disappointment. As luck would have it, almost everything went right – a solo attack with 4 laps to go lead to second place. Job done.

The feeling of relief will always stay with me – for the first time in a while I felt able to genuinely relax. Thats another lesson – next season I am determined to enjoy it more, its easy to lose sight of the fact that race results aren’t life or death.

A week after my late season redemption – it was time to take a trip to the French alps. I’ve probably said enough about this already so I’ll keep it short. Lots of climbing, more food, good company and another thing to tick off the bucket list – the Ventoux Cingles challenge.

Thereafter it was time to go back to University – how time had flown. Fortunately, I managed to find some good routes quickly, maintaining my fitness before the season ending race. In that space of time I joined the University cycling club – discovering that I still have a long way to go before I can truly call myself a good rider. Its provided much motivation for next season, nothing like riding with people (much) better than you to bring about rapid improvement!

So it came down to one more race, a chance to finish the season on a high. The legs felt good, the first 20 miles passing by very quickly and without incident. However, my luck soon ran out – caught behind a crash and trying to chase back on, this time I was on my own, by the time others caught up it was already too late. It was a valiant effort but ultimately the bunch got away. It could of course have been much worse, I still managed to finish the race – body and bike unharmed. My Father, competing in his first road race, caught behind the same crash as me, somehow managed to go the wrong way (for anyone who knows him this won’t come as a huge surprise!). This provided a little humour to ease the pain of defeat – he’ll certainly never live it down.

All in all – I’m pleased with the way the season has gone. All the goals I laid out at the very beginning have been achieved, some have even been exceeded. I’ve had enough good results to keep me motivated and enjoying the sport but not so many to warrant complacency. My thoughts turn to 2017 – yet another year of challenge awaits. For now, I’m just grateful for an opportunity to relax, after 12 races, a few TT’s and a couple of very challenging Sportives, both body and mind are in need of a break.

Time I think, to get on with some Uni work – having spend the last two hours writing this. Signing off.

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