I got off my bike in the middle of a training ride in early August and I would have done anything to not ride home. That was when I knew for sure my retirement from professional cycling was no longer a ‘what if’ but a ‘now’. I trained as hard as I ever had done before my last race of the season in Vancouver. I knew it would be my last one as a pro. During the last 2 months of the 2017 season I raced twice…
In my last crit, my teammate lapped the field, I did the lead-out, he won. My last road race was in Vancouver. It started downtown and finished in Whistler. An average 2.3% grade for 122km. I was ahead of the curve all day in every move up the road. I couldn’t hang on for the last 30 seconds of the last hill of the day 5km from the finish. My longest standing teammate, Ryan, was there with me all day. It will be the highlight of my career because for the first time since I had that huge crash in 2015 – I not only knew I could win, buy put myself in a place to do it. My version of going down swinging, I guess.
I dedicated my career to a number of things. The first was an acquisition such a high level of fitness that I applied intelligently enough to almost guarantee my teammates the best result they were capable of on any given day. The second was to be a student of the sport. I must point out that the following statement is blasphemously forthcoming, especially for a small fish in the cycling pond, but, I know how to achieve success in all facets of bicycle racing. My belief in that is unwavering. Thirdly, I know myself. I like myself as a person. It took a lot of alone time but I can honestly say there is no other person I’d rather go for a training ride with (my friends will attest to that). Bike rides, however, they’re a different thing entirely and all are welcome. Lastly and likely most importantly to my success in the future, I observed and learned from many, many different people from so many different cultures, countries, and economic backgrounds. That is what I find myself thinking about most frequently. Here are a few of those thoughts.
An interesting fact; do you know the Japanese shower before they bath? Does that seem absurd or is it remarkably logical and we as westerners are backwards?
My point here is that our most deeply held beliefs, that we could defend until we may be blue in the face, could in fact, not be true. Especially if you have never been exposed to a different way of doing things or thinking about things than that to which you have always been exposed.
I have met so many people who would place their lives on the line in the defense of a fact that they believe to be true based on nothing more than the faith they have in the people who told them said fact in the first instance. I’ve found that Introspection and the subsequent analysis of my most deeply held beliefs were, and are, vital in my growth as a human.
I earned a meagre wage as a professional cyclist. That means driving heinous cars that barely work and living in the cheapest accommodation in the best area for riding. That in itself teaches you a lot (other than just being dynamically resourceful). Firstly, so many people from so many walks of life are incredibly generous. I found this out as I have needed so much help over the last 10 years. I have learned that there is a propensity for less financially well-off people to share their time to help you and for more financially well-off people the share their materialistic possessions with you. Those traits are not mutually exclusive in all people and I have friends who are exceptions to that rule but I have always thought that regardless of how much I value my time, I will share it, and regardless of how much I value my possessions, I will share them.
I obsessed about achieving a goal in a very specific part of life, i.e. trying to be a career professional cyclist. During that process I learned that the perceived risk of the task is never as great as you suppose it to be and that the happiness generated from completion of that task isn’t as great as you perceive it to be either. Although, it took me longer to realize the latter.
Another lesson I learned from the experience of having such a narrowed focus for a long time is that it is remarkably important to be a well-rounded, curious person. In the last years I have started University studying Business and Economics, I own a cycling coaching company and I am working diligently on other business ideas. I now play tennis and golf. I go to the gym, speed-skate, and go on walks. I always shunned other activity (physical or mental) as I thought it might detract from the purity of effort needed to accomplish the big original goal of being a successful professional bicycle racer. I was wrong. There is always time to stop and smell the flowers. I am far happier now than a few years ago. I just have to decide what hat to wear at the right time – that only comes with experience, though.
I used my body for a living and neglected my brain. The use of one’s body can be fleeting. Take me as an example in 2015 when I was hit by a car. Up until that point I put too much reliance on the use of my body to give me happiness. If I could not have recovered from my injuries to return to cycling I would have had a tough time adapting to a new life. All sports come easily to me. My idea of happiness was being active for long enough that all of my day was filled with me, in some way, being out of breath doing some kind of sport. That accident taught me that I needed to re-evaluate how cultivated my happiness hence, diving head first into university and business. Diversity is absolutely key to me now.
Full-time bike racers as a whole are an interesting bunch. Few would argue that they have a tendency to be far more liberal beings. I am not talking politics here. I mean liberal in their approach to life and the diversity of their friend groups in general. I believe this to be through a shared experience of how much pain someone can make you feel by trying to make you keep up with them, or, with you trying to outright beat them. That humbles your soul in the first instance and creates a shared experience in the second. In a race, your world is reduced to one single thing; how hard you can pedal. The person you are competing with likely has a different background, political leaning, race, gender, nationality, net worth, and everything else divisive I have forgotten to mention, proving, in the instance of that race - wholly irrelevant.
Following in the same vein, there are so many superficial characteristics presented on the surface of the personality of a human being. Exposure to the person through a shared interest can wipe those superfluous traits away in an instant and you may very well find that underneath everything there is common ground. Or, greater still, friendship. I have learned that difficult relationships with colleagues, friends, or teammates can have their trajectory turned around through shared experiences based around that common interest which is likely to not be the thing that brought you together in the first instance. I just have to be patient enough to find out the common interest and orchestrate an experience that can be shared.
It is also in my experience that really good teammates are a dime-a-dozen. Those really good teammates are still my friends. They will be for the rest of my life. One of my very first teammates stood-up in my wedding. We knew each other since we were young teens – 14, I think. It’s so important not to lose connections with those who want nothing from you other than friendship. So very few people in the world understand you as an individual and crucially, far fewer accept you. I said a few paragraphs ago that I will always share my time. It will be with these people first and foremost.
This is the end of an era for me and I felt it important to share a few of the real lessons I believe bike racing has taught me. But, like the Japanese showering before bathing, don’t believe everything you’re told because the evidence of my experience is likely very different to yours. We’re all very different people after all.
If I had to give a short piece of advice to anyone based on my 10 years as a professional cyclist it would be this…
Stay curious, foster interests in varied aspects of life, love yourself, and whatever you do, pursue a dream. You may very well end up achieving it. Just don’t let it define you and certainly don’t base your future happiness on an achievement you yearn for because when it’s been achieved, life goes on.
I have had an amazing experience over these last 10 years. To any and all that were part of that journey, I thank you from the very bottom of my heart.
Finally, I won the biggest race of them all so far on September 23rd 2017. Here is a photo from that very day…