The Loneliness of the Middle-Ranking Cyclist

The journey is the destination is surely one of the most widely explored clichés in this blog. But that is only because, true enough, it holds for the greater part of my endeavours. There are a few lofty goals looming ahead on the horizon, and I was considering holding this post back until past those milestones, but alas!, getting there is what makes it for a compelling story. So there. After over two months of racing, I can confidently say I never took a season so seriously. A six-pack of good German beer wouldn't usually last for a week in my fridge. Now, as I began drafting this piece, I drank the last survivor from a pack bought somewhere early last month. On the other hand, I now know, almost by heart, every option of alcohol-free beer there is in the local Getränkemarkt. Not that I believe a beer or a glass of wine would spoil the whole preparation, but, befitting the "marginal gains" approach, it seems somehow the right thing - together with slightly less sugar here, a bit more attention to the vitamins and minerals there, besides, of course, every little watt that can be saved in our set-up. But, as usual, I digress.

Some weeks ago, racing in a windy, wet, and hilly race close to Stuttgart, I got dropped after not many kilometres. I spent some time fruitlessly chasing the decimated field, then joined the gruppetto, which didn't seem much interested in working to make the time cut - an abandon ensued. I drove the odd 300km back home in a contemplative mood, wondering, as usual, what made one leave the warmth of a cosy bed so early in a holiday for such a punishing experience. The answer came less than a week later, as I put in a good performance in my first criterium of the season and, surprisingly, took the win by a slim margin over a fairly strong field. Yay! My victory upgraded me to an Elite 'A' license, the highest amateur category, and as such, I am now terminally precluded from starting any race which doesn't have on its starting line a wealth of current, aspiring, or former, professionals. Small fish in the big pond, one more time.

The springtime march continued. In spite of having spent most of the preceding weeks without a time-trial machine, and only having assembled my new Speed Concept a few days before the event, I still managed a fine 6th place in the open Bavarian championships in early May, less than a minute off the mark set by winner Felix Spensberger; teammate Giulio came in 3rd place, missing the top spot for just over 15s - tight indeed. Performances the following weeks were hampered by mechanicals and plain bad luck - I dropped my chain just before the deciding breakaway went in one race, and ripped a derailleur cable in another, being forced to finish using nothing but my 12 gear. Still, the experience with the team was always most enjoyable, and I wrapped the first racing block feeling confident of my form curve trending upwards. Followed by ten days training at altitude (with blood tests afterwards indicating I've hit an all-time hematocrit high), I've entered my taper phase in what I believe is the best condition I've ever attained. While I wouldn't pose a danger to Tony or Fabian were I fortunate enough to face them, the numbers from the last simulated time-trials assure me that, if I don't screw up catastrophically, I could be up for something...

I'll be flying to Brazil for the National Championships tomorrow, excited by the perspective of what lies ahead. But, looking back - all the way to the first training rides in Brazil over the New Year, through the long base kilometres around Lake Starnberg or lonely trainer rides over the winter, the Toscana training camp, the assembling of a new bike, the races, numerous discussions on equipment choices, physiology, aerodynamics and tactics, the week in the mountains, and now the final finishing touches leading up to my trip - I can already be certain that this - the whole process of getting me there - was the most important part of all. Thank you, folks, for the incredible ride!

1 comment:

mcnute said...

It was a pleasure to accompany you alongwards your journey sir wickert.