I’m leaving again. New year, new season. Time to pack my suitcase; I know the process; the routine stays the same.
I’m sent a ticket; I’m sent a plan. I rarely know where I’m going if I were to point it out on a map – I just have to turn up. My bike is ready when I land. New kit; same colours.
I’ve spent most of the winter training alone, my shadow as my only companion on the road, always a half wheel ahead of me. Me against myself, trying to beat the rider I was yesterday.
Hours spent evaporating in my own living room; heart rate through the ceiling; legs burning. The questions of why I do this are not to be asked at times like these. Shut the door. The world is left outside.
Pre-season camps have come and gone. It’s time to pin on a number – it doesn’t count until you’ve got two numbers on your back. Discs, electronic gearshift, aero helmets, it’s the pins that keep it all together. I almost prick my finger to remind myself what’s in store.
I’ve done this race twice before. It doesn’t matter how many times I do the same race, the story after the finish line is always different. The beauty of cycling.
I find comfort in sticking to my routines because everything else is so unpredictable. No one knows what’s going to happen. Everyone is waiting to see who comes out on top, but deep down all we want is to see who cracks first. 200 bike riders line up, only one crosses the line first. The rest go home with shattered dreams of what could have been.
First race of the year.
I look around, compare myself to my rivals. Who looks lean? Who looks fat? The arms are always a giveaway. I’ve followed a plan for months. Stuck to it religiously. Now it’s time to see if it’s worked. I catch my reflection in empty shop windows, pretending I’m looking at something else. But we all do it.
I can feel the insecurity creep up, as I start to dissect my winter. Could I have done better? Have the others trained more?
Why care about the others? They’re not pushing my pedals. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done. But it’s all part of the process. At the end of the day it’s the lungs, legs and heart that decide the outcome.
The race starts and I disappear into the bubble. The outside world doesn’t exist. Cycling is an excuse to disconnect from the real world. Freedom. It’s just a question of getting from A to B first. Simple, but often impossible to achieve.
So why do I do it? Why put myself through so much suffering, year in, year out? Because I’m addicted to the suffering. We all are. It wouldn’t make sense otherwise. It’s got to hurt; that’s the whole point. Those who can’t accept it rarely last very long: they pull out; they quit; they go home.
You don’t have to win for it all to make sense. Cycling is more than that. You have to do the hard miles in order to enjoy the tailwind. It may only last for a minute; it doesn’t matter; eventually it all works out; when your legs feel like a reservoir of power.
In those moments you’ve just got to hang on to the feeling. Because it’s like sand slipping through your fingers: all of a sudden it’s gone again.
Those who think they can cruise through life without a bit of struggle often come to a stand still. That’s the beauty of cycling. We all know what we’ve signed up for. The best stories are often those from the hardest days, the most epic conditions. When it rains it rains on all of us.
If a good season was dependent on how many races I win I’d have eight terrible seasons behind me, but it’s not. It’s about getting the job done and doing it better than the guy next to me. So much so that he wishes he was me.
Chris Juul-Jensen rides in the WorldTour for Mitchelton-Scott