Stage 4 of the Tour of California taught me something important about the difference between the other racers in the pack and me: I have to be absolutely on my A game to be part of the action; they can fake it—find a way to hang in there when they’re feeling bad.
This shouldn’t have been a surprise, because it makes sense. I’m not exactly coming off the couch—I was at a level that let me race domestically in the United States last year and in the Portugese national time trial championships—but I don’t have the continuous years and years of racing in my legs that these guys do. Some of them have a 10-year base to rely on when things get tough. Some of them have more. I’m basically relying on the racing I’ve done this year in Europe, which is enough when I’m physically sharp and mentally focused.
But it’s not enough on days like today. Unlike when I had to abandon the race at the Tour of Romandie, I didn’t run out of power today or completely fall apart. I just didn’t have what I needed to stay in contact with the group when I ran low. I’m lighter than I was last year at this time, and I have much more power, and more miles in my legs and, thanks to the staff and my teammates on Cervelo TestTeam, a level of support I couldn’t even dream of before I joined the squad. But even so, I still don’t have that reserve the other pros can find.
In a way, it’s good that I’m struggling, because now I understand what I need to do to keep the dream alive: Recalibrate my way of thinking, so that I forget about all the gains I’ve made and start over as if I’m at square one. I need to build from where I am now, not from where I was. That means altitude training, probably in Boulder, a harder look at my diet, and more focus on my core. (Now that I’m doing so much racing I can feel the wear and tear on my hips and lower back; sometimes it feels like I’m locked down.)
Someone asked me if I was thinking of quitting, if I’m discouraged, if i ever think of just going home. But this isn’t a time of retreat. It’s more like a rebirth. For the first time since I started this lifestyle, I can see truly clearly where I need to be—and where I am. Quit?
No way, man. That doesn’t make any sense: I just got a re-start.