It’s not quite mid-November and yet already I’m starting to feel like it’s been a long, long year of racing. And I’m just past the halfway point of the 2013–2014 cyclocross season.
I started the year on the road, back in March, racing Speed Week (an ad-libbed account of which can be found here) the Killington Stage Race, Philly, Canada’s Tour de Beauce, the Tour of the Catskills, and the Bucks County Classic, all before jumping into the cyclocross season. I get tired simply thinking about it.
So cyclocross season started and I forget about all road racing. Instead, I began counting the days between cyclocross races and the next chance I got to race again. This eagerness usually lasts until … about now.
It gets a pinch harder to get my mind in its proper race state. My body is ready, and I’ve done the training, but the motivation to suffer, to go as deep as I can, is tougher to come by. Imagine having the power to flick a switch that makes you want to ride so hard you make others hurt. Without control of the switch, you think too much about how much you have to hurt yourself to hurt others.
I think Mike Creed summed up that necessary mind-set in one of his podcasts. He called it scrap. When you have it, you can put yourself through anything. It’s a mental toughness you can’t do without at the elite level.
Everyone I race against is good. On any given weekend, they can all go home and easily win or make podium at their local races. Every one of my rivals can pedal hard and drive the bike well. So being fit isn’t enough. You have to be motivated. You have to have scrap.
So far, I just haven’t had the same success as I did last season. I had seven UCI top 10s last year; going into this weekend I had one.
I needed to find my extra gear this weekend, at HPCX in New Jersey. My riding buddy Evan Murphy bet me a beer I couldn’t take the holeshot. I’m pretty sure we were both half-joking about it, but halfway up the starting straight a gap opened in front of me, between Mike Garrigan and Dan Timmerman, and I went for it.
It had been a while since I’d been at the head of affairs in a UCI race—so long, in fact, that the announcer was calling Timmerman’s name instead of mine. (I wrote about this peculiar phenomenon in this column previously.)
Did I mention it felt pretty awesome leading the race?
It did not last long.
I made a few mistakes, and after two laps I was dangling off the lead group. Usually this is when I start to overthink things and go backward. But it didn’t happen. I could push through. I very much wanted that top 10, and I mustered the scrap. I was attacking each of the three climbs and, as the race wore on, I slowly made pass after pass. I was back in the top 10 with three to go and I managed to finish ninth, my best UCI placing of the season.
The point, I guess, is that to be good at bike racing you need to have something more than just the ability to pedal X number of watts. Sure, training helps, but you have to badly want it. Otherwise, you won’t be able to force yourself to fight for every single spot in the race.
Without desire you get complacent. This often manifests itself in little but important ways. You let guys into the small space in front of you, instead of defending your position. You let go of the wheel in front of you a second too soon. At the elite level, that’s sometimes the difference between making the lead group and riding a race you want to forget.
Next weekend I’m taking a break, so feel free to send suggestions for the next column. You can drop a line on my blog. You can also leave a note on the peloton Facebook, Twitter or Google+ Hell, you can even Instagram your suggestions or questions if that’s your thing.
Finally, here’s a grab bag of questions and answers, culled from my blog.
Anonymous asked: What are things you do to keep your bike well maintained?
I recommend a preventative approach to maintenance. Check your shifting and brakes often and adjust if needed. Small adjustments can help extend the life of those systems between complete overhauls and cable/housing replacements. Really, that’s about it. Just stay on top of it, and don’t wait for something to fail.
John Ralston asked: After my third puncture in the past few weeks, I’m looking for a bulletproof clincher tire for my NYC track-bike commuting and was wondering if you had any suggestions.
Anonymous asked: At this point in the season, what kind of intervals/riding should I be doing midweek?
At this point my training is very much contingent on how my racing went the past weekend. My coach and I look at the data and decide what to do based on that. The intervals are the same.
Anonymous asked: Have you hit your head on your car’s bike rack yet?
Like three times.
Anonymous asked: I’m a 33-year-old out-of-shape ex-pro, and I’m about to start picking up a few shifts a week of a messenger work in NYC because I’m starving to death. Any tips for eating on the super-duper cheap during shifts?
Well, you might make more money as a bike messenger. But it’s not an extremely intelligent pursuit. Dollar pizza, Vietnamese sandwiches, and dollar dumplings are your new unhealthy best friends.
Anonymous asked: Do team tactics play a role in cyclocross races at the elite level in America and in Europe?
There are definitely team tactics at the elite level on both continents. (Maybe I can do a column about this.)
Anonymous asked: Do you think in English or in Russian?
Anonymous asked: How do I go about this whole racing thing? I’m out logging miles for fun and stuff, but I am not sure of the best way to go about generally getting better and fitter.
You should just start racing. Racing is the fastest way to get fast.