On becoming a time-trialist

In 2009, I had the first opportunity to take part in the race against the clock for the Bavarian state title, finishing 24th in Herrieden, almost four minutes off the pace. That year, a former pro had joined my club, and even he failed to make it to the top 10. Naturally, back then I thought that making it into the podium was but a distant dream.

Going under 55 minutes for 2010's 40km course in Karbach resulted in only a small improvement, netting me the 20th place - which again highlighted the depth of the field I was facing. In my breakthrough season of 2011 I went to the championships with hopes of finally making into the top 10, but the technical, hilly course around the Ellertshäuser Lake didn't quite suit me - I finished 15th.

I doubled my efforts last year after joining Magnesium Pur: having a couple of previous winners in both the Elite and U23 categories among its ranks, the team was known for its time trialling pedigree. I gained unique insight observing my teammate Giulio as he prepared for his attempt, which would eventually win him the bronze medal, and managed a notable improvement, finishing 6th, less than a minute behind the winning pace. Almost there.

And then, finally: last Sunday, I managed the second-fastest time in the short 19.2km course in Arnstorf. I was the first to finish, and managed to hold the best time until the very last cyclist came through (former teammate and perennial favourite Fritz Meingast, last man to roll down the start ramp, took the honours, flying his Smart suit 38s faster). I found myself maybe even slightly disappointed: I could certainly have done a little better, if only I had scouted the course beforehand, or hadn't buried myself so deeply in the first few minutes of my run. Only later did it really hit me - I had delivered a podium-level performance in what is arguably one of the most competitive states in all of Germany.

(© Matthias Eberl)
It's been a long, long way from ordering my first aero helmet, to putting together a dedicated time-trial bike, over countless interval sessions and training spreadsheets, until reaching the point where I am now. My five-year-younger self would maybe look up in admiration to where I am now; and indeed, there is a certain feeling of fulfilment in having 'made it' here - but at the same time, 'here' is nowhere, for the destination was and continues to be the journey itself. And there are still miles to go before I sleep...

There are far too many people who made this journey a special one. From my family, friends and former teammates in Brazil, to the colleagues in Herpersdorf and now my new-found home at Team Magnesium Pur, and also the many friends I've made among my fellow competitors - a thank-you note would be at least as lengthy as this post. Chances are, if you are reading this, you have a stake in these accomplishments, and I have a debt of gratitude to you. Thank you all for the pleasure of sharing the way along these roads over the past ten years.
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Funny thought: 24, 20, 15, 6, 2. There's only one placing left if this sequence is to continue its diminishing trend... Yyhaaa!

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Minor technicality: As most of you know, I hold a dual citizenship. When I first issued a cycling license, I choose to register it with a Brazilian code, thus making myself eligible to race the Brazilian championships or be picked for the Brazilian national team, but excluding myself from the possibility of representing Germany (or ever being crowned German champion). It turns out such choice also prevents me from ever being declared reigning Bavarian champion: in the past five years, I've been allowed to take part with a special 'guest' status, with my time recorded officially, but an asterisk placed next to my name to indicate my ineligibility:


The Joshua Tree Track #2

Twenty-twelve went by without a retrospective. Maybe an unfair fault, given the treatment dispensed to its predecessors, yet, by the time New Year's eve came, 2012 was far from over. See: normal people finish their Ph.D.s, find a job somewhere, then go apartment hunting. And finally, once that all is out of the way, they find a way to slowly bring back their hobbies into the picture. Normal people can also be so boring. For one, cycling (which, I could argue, is not exactly a hobby, but I digress) was never allowed to fade - if anything, my performances progressed steadily along my graduate studies. Now, my doctorate has been asymptotically approaching its end for quite some time now - in fact, I could argue that the main results were obtained almost two years ago, and only a combination of unfortunate events resulted in them not being submitted for publication before this month. Though, eventually, somewhere in November, enough was finally enough (read: funding ran out), and I set out to write my thesis. But as the old year faded into the new one, the thesis was still far from being ready, and the necessary closure to such an important milestone nowhere to be found. Also, somewhere in the final months of the belated year, Agnes and I decided on settling down in Munich. Again, normal people first find an apartment, only then to quit their current lease. But I laugh at the status quo. I first gave my landlord my three-month's notice, and then took to the task of scouting for a new dwelling. For many a week I drove, or rode the train, from Erlangen to the Bavarian capital, until we were accepted to a nice little place south-west of the inner city. However, with the moving-in date two weeks into the new year, I was again unable to check that accomplishment in the yearly retrospective. No thesis, no apartment: in spite of the New Year's Eve celebrations, 2012 was far from over.

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I just came back from a fortnight in Italy, courtesy of my team's spring training camp. The first ten days were an epitome of a cyclist's lifestyle: hundreds of kilometres across the rolling Tuscan landscape interweaved by kilos of pasta and pizza and cups and cups of cappuccinos and espressos. Ride, eat, sleep, repeat. Training rides in the second week were somewhat hampered by the weather and an inflamed knee - which reminded me, however unpleasantly, just how fragile our bodies can be when performing at their almost absolute limit.

Thanks to the precarious internet connection afforded by our remotely-located house almost ten kilometres away from the nearest sign of civilization, these maladies gave me the first opportunity in years of spending time in almost uttermost isolation, with nothing but a book and a view of the Metallifere cols. Unfortunately, I couldn't find Ulysses - my bedside book of choice for this trip - to be such a worthwhile companion. A 1984 guide to Italian wines was somehow more amusing...

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The day before Christmas' Eve, I drove the third and final instalment of my belongings to a storage unit in Munich. Benjamin and Ana had helped me empty the apartment and load the car (YG have my eternal gratitude!), and I cried my heart out as I waved them goodbye: leaving Erlangen behind signalized the beginning of the end, uncertainties abounded. And yet, somewhere along highway 9, I caught a glimpse of the Alps, illuminated by the late afternoon sun which shone through the broken clouds, and smiled - for in each beginning dwells a special magic...

My first homeless night was spent in a friend's couch (danke, Giulio+Ju!), before picking Agnes up at the airport the next morning, and driving on to Basel, where we were hosted for a few weeks in her parent's guest room until our apartment in Munich was ready for moving in. During our stay in Switzerland, besides working in the final chapters of my thesis, I was able to put down a significant block of training - riding the trainer in the balcony, admiring the view of the Jura as I pounded interval after interval.

Eventually, it was time to drive back and put our names in the mailbox and at the door of our new home. The first few weeks featured many a trip to Ikea, nearby supermarkets and hardware stores. Eventually set-up, we settled on a routine akin to our Swiss stay - training (countless intervals in the trainer for me, runs in the snow and swims in the nearby pool for Agnes), and the the final rush to the line before submitting the theses to our respective advisors. With that now out of the way, we can now focus on preparing slides and reviewing the field thoroughly ahead of the dreaded defence dates. And applying to jobs in earnest.

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Driving back from Tuscany (coincidentally, almost equally cramped, but this time in a teammate's fully loaded SUV), I was somehow reminded of that late December perspective. Different conditions, of course - my thesis is handed in; the apartment is furnished; and the foundations for the upcoming racing season, all but set - but it's again a new beginning: new races; hopefully soon, a new job; and springtime right around the corner. Ready to start?

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I miss the future.