This week, I’ve been the unwitting student of some humbling lessons in bike racing.
On Friday morning, I woke up inhumanely early to join Parklife CC’s ten-lap training ride in Parramatta Park. Ten laps? I was dropped after one.
On Sunday afternoon, I rode down to Sydney Olympic Park for Lidcombe-Auburn CC’s criterium at the Tennis Centre. That’s a unique circuit that’s only raced once per year. Last year, I came 2nd in C Grade, so I started full of excitement and expectation. As it turned out, I suffered like a dog.
Blown away by ridiculous winds blasting over 45km/h, each lap felt like misery in my legs. It was 50 minutes of yo-yoing at the back of the bunch, sprinting out of every corner just to stay in contact. Meanwhile, two guys just rode off the front, as easily as you like (in my mind at least), never to be seen again. After crawling home in that freezing gale, I arrived home a shivering, exhausted wreck.
I could have come away from this weekend demoralised. Since moving up from C Grade, I haven’t had any notable results this year. I haven’t even stepped on a podium for almost 12 months.
Instead of moping, I’ve tried to look for the positives, and there have been plenty:
- I didn’t crash, which is a pretty big plus considering some of the spills I saw at the Tennis Centre;
- I just about finished with the main group (well, just off the back of it, but pretty close);
- I learnt more about positioning in windy conditions; and
- Weirdly enough, I still had fun. Regardless of performance, riding a bike is enjoyable in and of itself.
Most importantly, I now have a benchmark for where I want to be, fitness-wise.
I looked at those stronger riders swapping turns in Parramatta Park. Some of them are high-performing A-Graders who wouldn’t be out of place at an NRS race. Most of them, however, are ordinary club racers challenging themselves, trying to get fitter, pushing each other to improve their strength and speed, and having fun with their mates.
Rather than being demoralised, getting dropped by those guys shows me the level to which I can aspire. They’ve shown me a standard for performance. Right now, I’m well below that standard, and I’ve been dealt a harsh reality check. But just like a Chumbawamba song or a motivational cat poster, my best response is to get back up, launch into training, and strive to get closer to that level.
Cycling is not all about competition and going fast, but for me, it’s a big part of the enjoyment factor: pushing myself to see how much faster I can go; challenging my mind and body to the limits of what I can achieve. Sure, I might never reach the same level as those other guys – but I’m motivated to give it my best efforts.
So, my next step is to set a goal: I’ll be targeting the National Capital Tour in October. That’s another event in which I was completely outclassed last year, and sure, the same thing might happen to me again. But with a goal in mind, a standard set for me, and the motivation to improve, all I have to do now is get on my bike and ride.