It’s a weird feeling. I’m confused. Yet it’s not confusion of the typical type – the one where you are unable to work out a problem or are taken a bit aback by something. It’s an all-consuming confusion. It’s mental, it’s physical, spiritual. Neither my body nor soul know what is happening or how to interpret what is going on.
I’m sitting in the backyard of my parents’ house in northern Michigan as I type this, bundled up from the brisk wind, but trying to appreciate the little bit of sun that arrives here sparingly. It’s quite a contrast from my typical April locale: the seemingly always beautiful south of France.
I arrived here on a whim a little over a week ago, unsure of France’s trajectory, both in terms of the virus and the nation’s lockdown measures, so I bought a last-minute ticket home. At first I was hell bent on waiting out this period in my usual place of residence, but I eventually came to the realisation that spending an unknown amount of time alone in my apartment, far from my family, unable to see my friends, nor leave my apartment for training rides, could damage even the mentally strongest. While I knew the situation where I was headed may have not been any better, I would at least have the support system of my loved ones to help me through.
My 24-year-old little sister is sitting in the hammock to my right, equally as covered from the frigid temperature as I, wrapped in a down comforter as well as my old embroidered ski team sweatshirt, completing her medical school studies. Neither of us should be here right now. But “should” is a word that seems to have evaporated from our vocabulary.
Nothing is as it “should” be. And many of us are coming to learn that the routines we have created, the normal we live daily, are not necessarily a constant and definitely not a given. That is not an easy adjustment to make. This transition has been tough on me, as it has been on so many others. It’s why I have been meaning to write for so long, yet each time I’ve sat down in front of my computer, I’ve been at a loss for words. The feeling is not one that is easy to transcribe. It hurts. I prefer to write happy, to write positive. Even in the face of adversity – the loss of a team, the struggles in races. That’s my nature. The problem, it seems, is that each word I type gives this struggle life.
At first I wanted to do it for the fans, to let them know that we, as professionals, are going through the same thing they are. We are running the gamut of emotions: we have the ups, the downs, the tough times that they do. Then I wanted to do it for my fellow riders, the few guys who maybe stumble upon my journals or writings, to know that we are all in this together. It’s shitty, it’s hard, but right now, it’s life. C’est la vie, right?
Then I realised, I also needed to do it for myself. Unless I put my thoughts down on paper, they would boil inside of me without an outlet to release.
As I wake up each morning, I roll over in my childhood bed and apprehensively check my iPhone. What bad news awaits? No news is good news. I woke up, my phone charged, maybe a message or two comes in from Europe. My coach Stephen, some meme videos from our team WhatsApp group. I sift through my email. Messages from the CPA, AIGCP, all the other acronyms, all seemingly presenting grim possibilities, speculating what’s to come. No one knows, yet everyone seems to have an opinion.
I move on to Twitter, check in on the world, make sure it’s still turning. Slowly, slightly off its usual axis, but yeah, it seems to be. I open up my meditation app headspace, sit upright in my bed, and do a ten-minute course. With all the thoughts racing through my mind, that bit of solace is mandatory. I get up and brush my teeth, look out the window, and decide whether it’s a day for Zwift or to head outside. These days it’s about fifty-fifty.
I’ve continued to train, and train quite hard, as it’s the only sense of regularity and accomplishment I can be afforded at the moment. Each day I get through seems like an achievement, each block I finish like a huge success. No one knows when we will pin our numbers on again, so rather than aim at some unknown objective long in the future, I treat each day as its own race. It gets me through the day, the week.
Yet even with my coping mechanisms, I still struggle. We weren’t made to deal with this uncertainty. I would have liked to think that as professional cyclists we have been prepared to handle this for a number of reasons.
We are all too familiar with change, our schedules are planned at the beginning of each year but never set in stone, we can be put in or pulled from any race, and often it happens at a moment’s notice.
We are prepared for uncertainty: no matter how hard we train, or how excellent our preparation, it doesn’t necessarily follow with good form or results. They often seem to arrive by chance.
We are hyper-hygienic: all being so lean and fragile and functioning at the limits of human performance, we are deathly afraid of getting ill, walking around with hand sanitiser, shunning the sick around us, and always keeping our space.
We are used to isolation: most of us have locked ourselves down at altitude and done our own self-imposed forms of physical distancing. We have distanced ourselves from family and loved ones, friends, and the general public for weeks at a time.
We are used to being stuck inside: there hasn’t been a single cyclist who hasn’t been forced inside to rest due to injury at some point in his career, broken bones impairing mobility and ability to perform daily tasks.
We are taught to be optimists: if we weren’t our careers would be too stressful and too short. We hope, we believe, we pray for the best.
But no matter how much preparation we may have had, it does not seem to be enough to have prepared us for this. It seems as though my bike is the one thing helping me through. Each pedal stroke I take, each interval I complete, gets me one step closer to the finish line. Whether it’s a minute, an hour, or four, it’s my greatest escape from the reality surrounding it.
I don’t know what the future holds and I don’t know what cycling will look like on the other side of this. But what I do know is that we will make it through. And there will be an ‘other side.’
Larry Warbasse is a professional cyclist for AG2R La Mondiale and 2017 national US road race champion