The World Championships, in summary, was an epic fail, however, if I already knew this before, 2014 only reiterated my understanding that in my failures, I tend to learn most.
So, in an attempt to wrap up the season that was, I give to you the biggest things that I learned in 2014:
I was a different person here:
Than I was here:
Concussions change you. Am I a different person now, than I was before that crash? Probably. It took six weeks for me to feel “normal” after that sucker, and it was probably one of the reasons why I took a hiatus from blogging for several months.
2- 5Hour Energy saved my ass
I would never have guessed it while quickly passing over it, as my eyes moved from some trashy magazine cover to a gas station attendant. However a team sponsored by the regular fixture at truck stop check-outs, with the help of Bruno Langlois, saved my ass. My mid-season transfer to this team was a big relief and created some momentum that would carry me through the rest of the season.
Tour of Qinghai Lake may be the craziest thing I ever do in this world. Through riding this race I may have knocked 5-10 years off my life, and found a greater disrespect for the human condition, but this race was something that I needed to do. Rural China is beautiful and metropolitan china blew my mind. However, until its races no longer hand out prize money in crisp clean $100 bills on the final day of competition, it is going to take a lot of money to get me back to this dystopia.
Yes my lungs were ravaged and I contracted some type of bacterial infection there, but what pissed me off most about Qinghai Lake, was the fact that team Astana made almost $100,000 in prize money when that money was not fairly earned.
Ilya Davidenko, a 22 year old Kazakahstan version of Ivan Drago came to Qinghai Lake, riding for the Astana Continental team, and made the rest of the field his bitch. This kid won the yellow jersey, placed 2nd in the green jersey classification, was the best young rider, dropped the majority of climbers on climbs, and won a field sprint. There were other questionable riders at this race, but Davidenko took the level of questionability to entirely new level. Sure enough, a few weeks ago he tested positive. However, unlike most UCI races that do not release prize money until 6 weeks after doping controls have been cleared, Qinghai Lake, like most Chinese races that I know of, simply handed out cash like it was a drug deal. At the end of the 13th stage, managers from the team would walk into a room, where a box of cash totalling $500,000 sat, and were simply given what they won. Although this practice should be awesome, as riders are often desperate to get cash asap, it also opens the door for assholes like Davidenko to come in, clean house, and get away without any repercussion. Davidenko and Astana literally stole close to $100,000 from the rest of the field, and there is no way we are going to get that money back; bull-shit.
There was a point at Vuelta Mexico where I sat in a hotel lobby, waiting for our translator to find a doctor, when I thought, for the first time in my life, that I might die.
Vuelta Mexico was a disaster. Aside from the blatant disregard for our own safety through the use of malfunctioning tubes, tires and rim strips, our team ran out of water on the 2nd stage of this six stage race. I rode the final 60km of stage 2, through high altitude dessert, without water. I have never been more thirsty in my life, than when I finished this stage. Even as I crossed the line yelling “where the fuck is water! Get me fucking water!” I could feel a fever coming on. I would start the next day, but the damage of riding without water for the final hour-and-a-half of stage 2 messed me up. So when my derailleur snapped off into my rear wheel on the first climb (my 7th mechanical in 3 stages), despite my team’s attempt at finding a working bike for me to stay in the race, I knew I was done with Vuelta Mexico. I had never ridden in a broom wagon before in my cycling career, but this race, made the broom wagon seem like a welcome retreat.
Sadly, I entered the broom wagon, having ridden yet again, for a long period of time, in the Mexican desert without water (my team had not thought to wait for me, after I got a neutral bike). As I sat on the bus, for what would be a 4 hour transfer to the race finish, I sat alone, watching a giant, half-full, jug of water slosh around with the momentum of the bus. We had been told not to drink opened bottles of water; to only drink water that we had opened ourselves, but after 2 hours of feeling more parched than Lindsay Lohan at an AA meeting (ZING!), and watching this glorious jug of water audibly slosh around, I said “Fuck it!” and I drank almost all of the giant jug in several chugs. It was a wonderful moment of satisfaction. That quenching of thirst was sensational, but 24 hours later, I would find myself praying that I had never let my lips touch the rim of that jug.
On Day 4 of Vuelta Mexico, prior to the start of the stage, I felt my stomach drop. This wasn’t the standard sensation of my colon saying “it is time to poop.” No, whatever had entered my colon felt more like the battering ram from the Lord of The Rings
Basically, my butthole felt like Minas Tirith mid orc invasion. So, I sprinted to the closest place that looked like it had a toilet; a coffee shop. Seeing a sign near the entrance way that said toilet for patrons only, as sweat poured down my face, I threw pesos at the barristta blurting out “Americano!” and then b-lined it to the toilet.
I was close. So close. I made it into the stall, locked the door, pulled my pants down, but as I began to squat, something from Mordor breached “the gate,” and it didn’t come out quietly.
Sure some of it made it into the porcelain bowl beneath me, but I am going to say about 90% of it found its way onto everything but that target zone you are taught to hit when you are somewhere between the age of 1.5-3 years old. It was awful, and the smell that accompanied it, was just as bad.
After sitting and moaning for a few minutes, I realized that by this point other riders and staff were beginning to line up outside the mixed sex bathroom. That is when the overwhelming realization that I had just literally crapped all over this stall, hit me. Now, for a mess that is on scale with an industrial waste accident, a roll of toilet paper, I have come to learn, just does not cut it.
I did my best to clean this thing up, but as the audible tension from the developing line grew outside the door, and the smell of whatever had just come out of me became too much, I decided, at some point I would have to exit this bathroom. I tried not to make eye contact with those lined up outside, but as I sprinted out of the cafe, completely ignoring the Americano cooling on the bar, I saw Mike Creed the director sportif for team Smartstop entering the stall I had just demolished.
Mike Creed did not pick me to ride for Smartstop, a team that I wanted to ride for in 2014. Obviously Smartstop had an incredible season, so clearly their decision not to take me was the right one, but, I am confident that had he selected me for his team, that brief moment of horror that he must have experienced upon entering said bathroom stall, could have been avoided; Mike Creed, you brought that on yourself.
5 – Bike racing is like learning to surf
Ninety percent of biking is working your ass off only to get smashed, flipped around, disoriented, and embarrassed. This season I trained my ass off, and for all the work I put in, there were more moments where I got screwed over and beaten up than I care to count. I mean there was even a point in this season, where at 27 years of age, I lay alone, in an ambulance, crying, and thinking “what the fuck am I doing with my life.” But for all the shit–both figurative and literal (see point 4)–that I went through, there were these brilliant moments, like in surfing, where I caught a break, and realized this is why I am doing this.
Throughout the season, my coach Paulo, and I, targeted the Mt. Megantic stage of Tour de Beauce. With a steep mountain-top finish, it was the only race on the calendar that we were certain I had a chance at winning. When a friend would offer me a beer, or I would go to the grocery store and see a bag of flagrantly over-the-top flavoured chips, I would just say to myself “Megantic,” and I would abstain.
So, when I found myself 30km into this stage, standing on the side of the road, with my team car, driving past, and my crank detached from my bike, I thought “why did I even bother.” As the final cars in the caravan splashed past me on that cold and rainy day, I began to feel sorry for myself. I started to tell myself that this would be my last season in this sport. I was tired of working for what seemed to be nothing, and was done, but, suddenly, a mechanic from SRAM neutral service skidded to a stop behind me, jumped out, and asked me what size frame I rode. I thought I was done this race, but he didn’t. I couldn’t believe his optimism, I thought it was ridiculous. I thought there was no way I was getting back into this race, yet this random dude, seemed like it was a certainty, and it was contagious. As he swapped pedals and adjusted the saddle height, I started to think, fuck it,this thing ain’t over.
I had good legs that day, and despite almost getting dropped on the first climb because I had never used SRAM shifters before, and did not know how to get out of the big ring, I knew, if I made it to the climb, at the front, I would do well. I did.
I went up Megantic faster than anybody else in the race, and finished 2nd on the stage (second to Tom Skujins, the lone survivor from the breakaway). When I crossed the line, my Italian DS, Maurizio, while yelling “Bene Mike.. Bravo Mike!” grabbed me, and pushed me on my bike, into a cabin to warm-up and get changed.
The cabin was secluded from the rest of the race, and as I sat in this cozy wood built shelter on top of this lonely mountain, it dawned on me, that despite all of the obstacles that had been thrown at me, it may not have been a win, but I fucking did something. After a moment, of sitting there, looking blankly at the wood floor at my feet, I just yelled.
It may have been one of the most cathartic yells I have had in my life. All of the stress of not getting results, crashing, and being screwed over, seemed to come out of me in that yell. It was crazy, it was awesome, and because of this moment, I am now willing to go through more crashes, wet lonely rides, and general shit, in order to replicate it.
Up next: 2015 Optum