I’m not sure what the hardest thing I have ever done in my short career is… but moving from 43rd to 10th in the Dalby World Cup might have been it. Without question I have finished races in much poorer condition… pushing myself through bonking, exhaustion and/or being broken. But never before have I pushed through a race relying on my head as much as I did this weekend.
I got called up in 40th position, and after spending 3 minutes shaking with excitement on the starting line, I proceeded to go backwards. I don’t know why but I couldn’t make my legs go. Gaps opened I normally would have easily closed, and as euros went blazing past me I briefly thought about the South African WC when I was in other shoes. So after a few wasted minutes standing in the woods waiting for the mob to snake its way through the single track I came through the start banner in 43rd place (I was sure I would see 60 something before seeing the results). Shit… I was supposed to be 40 places ahead of where I was.
So I set out on the task of moving up, which initially didn’t happen, because again those legs just wouldn’t turn over. I spent that first lap contemplating what I though would be an impending implosion and temper tantrum at the finish line. But I didn’t have a whole lot of time to think about that when my upper body started to cramp. It was completely exhausted. I had to sit up, stop pedaling, and pull my hands off the bars. It was bizzare. I think I was so stressed about being so far back that I had just given my handlebars a 15 min death grip without noticing it. God I was pissed about how my race was playing out!
Durnig this time I had to stop my brain and start relaxing. I told myself it was ok, just time to stop messing around and start bike racing. I knew who was in that front group… it was a bunch of those Germans, Swiss and Rabobank guys I had just spent the past two weeks beating. Time to nut up. So I guess that’s what I did.
By lap two things were spread out enough, and I was in the company of enough slow euros that I could just start doing work. Over the next two laps I moved up 30 guys and then in the last two of five I caught 3 more… and was in sight of the chase group! I don’t even really remember much of it… every time I passed Marc or my parents, they were saying lower numbers. I remember being frustrated, and I remember that I kept telling myself to relax. I stayed focused on my body, making my legs turn over fast, but knowing where my limit was. I had to keep this up to get into that top 10. I kept telling myself that’s where I needed to be in order to salvage this race. I thought about my breathing, and I though about where I put my front tire. That was really about it. On lap one I was the 23rd fastest guy out there… on lap three, I was the fourth fastest U23 on course… on lap four I was the fastest! Simple.
I crossed that finish line with a smile. I know I belong in that top 5… but the work I did during that race was nearly impossible. I still cannot believe I made that happen… 33 of the fastest guys in the world could not hold my wheel when I rode past them. I wonder how many of that top ten could have hung on to my wheel had I been in their presence from the start. I don’t think many of them could have.That may sound arrogant… I don’t know, but I am realizing that I am now in the conversation when people talk about the best in the world. I don’t know what that means really… maybe nothing, I think time will tell. I can’t make it more than it is, that’s too much pressure. I just need to go race my bike, that’s what I’ve always done. Things aren’t different. Whether its for 5th place at a junior 14 and under race or for a podium at a World Cup. I guess the latter is where I belong. So I am gonna go try to race there. Maybe I should put away this bowl of chocolate musli though…