While growing up in Toronto, I would bundle up in the warmest winter cycling clothing I could find in my closet and venture out into the snow and ice on my bike. Despite the thermal clothing my extremities would become icy cold as the blowing brisk wind slowly froze my skin. Despite the weather, I was completely focused on racing, riding, and winning even though the first races were still months away. I would pedal out a steady rhythm in the falling snow as plumes of powder sprayed from wheels, imagining I was on the cobbles in France.
Fifteen years later, I tap out the same rhythm through the winter, alone or with friends, as we prepare for the coming season. However, I no longer slip and slide through the deep snow, but pedal up the foothills of the Pyrenees under the warm Catalan sun. To pursue my career I moved from North America to Girona, Spain as the weather was better, the roads quieter and the countryside ideal for cycling.
At the end of the season in late October, I hang my bike up in the garage and try not to think about it. The two to three weeks it hangs motionless is the longest stretch it will be still during the year. Only when I feel the desire to ride again will I unhook it and climb on. Within a few weeks of being off the bike, I am eager to ride again, with friends or with my wife. We will socialize and simply enjoy being outdoors.
Fit and lean my body changes as soon as I stop riding, start eating more and change my focus. The transition is quick. Finding fine fitness seems to take months of hard work while it is lost in just a few shorts weeks. With nearly three months between races, I have time to rebuild so with patience I work prudently and persistently.
Despite being out of shape when I get back on my bike I feel rested. My mindset has changed. At the end of the long nine-month season, my body and mind are worn from racing, traveling and training. In the final month of the racing season, I begin to seek, and even need, balance – moments with my family and friends doing everything I don’t have time to do during the busy racing season.
This off-season I have been writing a new book, which will be published in the spring. The book is to convey what a cyclist’s life is truly like beyond the colors of the peloton and glitter of the podium through photos, taken by Camille McMillan, and my words.
Since the first Team Sky meeting in Manchester in late November, my training has become pointed. The coach has sent me a workout schedule, my race goals have been established and I set off each morning with clear objectives. I still derive enjoyment from each session on the bike but elements of work slowly creep into each ride as the season approaches.
Climbing back on the bike again to rebuild my race fitness I feel sluggish. My pedal stroke has lost its potency, my cadence lags and my agility feels diminished. With eagerness I work to rediscover the sensations of fitness left behind at the end of the racing season. Out on the road, I breathe deeply over the climbs and push against the wind to progress. With each effort and each day of training I feel a little smoother. The wear from the training leaves me with an emotional high at the end of the day – one which I have missed during my time off, and one that I discovered decades ago as a child in Toronto.
Through November and December the workload slowly increased and will now intensify as we reach our first training camp in January where we will log many miles rides together in tight groups. On top of the structured framework the coaches will provide for the daily workouts, we’ll sprint each other for town signs and race each other for hilltops for fun. It is on these rides where the team will bond and where we’ll learn more about each other than in a hotel room or during any team building exercise.
Our bodies are evolving into those of elite athletes again. Our minds become solely focused on the goal: The races ahead.