Recently, Team Sky asked the riders to design T-Shirts. It was a fun project, which my family helped me out with– my wife, Dede, came up with some ideas while our boys coloured in the sketches. In the end, we settled on the design below that is being sold here. Antidote, who designed our team Sky clothing, refined the images. Behind the image of the peloton reflected in the sunglasses there is a brief story that sparked the idea:
When I was a young boy, my parents returned home from my third grade parent/teacher interviews and told me what they had learned. The teacher’s comments were positive, she was content with my participation and my work. But, as they wrapped up the meeting she said, “At times Michael’s mind is off in the distance, in another land. It is as if I can see bicycle wheels spinning in his eyes”. This wasn’t surprise to my parents or the teacher. With a cycling cap in my backpack, bike brand stickers on my textbooks and photos of Fignon, Merckx and Mottet taped to my binders, I spent hours daydreaming of riding and racing. The T-shirt was designed to reflect the passion of the spectator and the dreams of cyclists.
While racing the Tour of Switzerland with the team, I put together this playlist for us to listen to on the bus before and after the stages: Rainy Day Sunshine-Suisse2012
Harry Zernike, a photographer who publishes 9W Magazine was in Girona a few weeks ago. Here is a beautiful gallery of photos he posted on his site that capture life in the Catalan town and countryside: http://9wmag.com/2012/05/27/girona/
And, a link to another Spotify Playlist I put together for the Tour of Luxembourg: Luxe
A good friend sent this to me some time ago. A lovely couple paragraphs by Roald Dahl.
“It was my first term and I was walking home alone across the village green after school when suddenly one of the senior twelve-year-old boys came riding full speed down the road on his bicycle about twenty yards away from me. The road was on a hill and the boy was going down the slope, and as he flashed by he started backpedalling very quickly so that the free-wheeling mechanism of his bike made a loud whirring sound. At the same time, he took his hands off the handlebars and folded them casually across his chest. I stopped dead and stared after him. How wonderful he was! How swift and brave and graceful in his long trousers with bicycle-clips around them and his scarlet school cap at a jaunty angle on his head! One day, I told myself, one glorious day I will have a bike like that and I will wear long trousers with bicycle-clips and my school cap will sit jaunty on my head and I will go whizzing down the hill pedaling backwards with no hands on the handlebars!
“I promise you that if somebody had caught me by the shoulder at that moment and said to me, ‘What is you greatest wish in life, little boy? What is your absolute ambition? To be a doctor? A fine musician? A painter? A writer? Or the Lord Chancellor?’ I would have answered without hesitation that my only ambition, my hope, my longing was to have a bike like that and to go whizzing down the hill with no hands on the handlebars. It would be fabulous. It made me tremble just to think about it.”
-Roald Dahl, Boy.
In the hospital bed, I tried to recount the crash. Images ran like a film through my head but then suddenly cut as if moments key to putting the sequence together had been edited out. I replayed it countless times, unable to recreate the lost moment. Frustrated, I reached for some more stale cake, trying to satiate my sadness with gluttony. As I devoured the pile of cakes and croissants then slugged down water to wash it all down, my mind shifted away from the challenge. The pain throughout my body faded with the sugar and medicine. Crumbs tumbled to the floor landing on the pile of torn, salt crusted, blood stained races clothes. At the top of the dirty pile were crumpled race numbers. I had been wearing number 13.
Superstition creeps into every athlete’s mind as we try to control millions of variables, pressures and fears. Some turn their worries in prayer while others wear lucky bits of clothing, chain a crucifix to their necks, tattoo a saying on their arm, or perform odd rituals. Few riders speak of their superstitions. But in the hotel room, in the bus, on the start line and in the peloton they are ever present. We all try to trick our minds into believing we are not ultimately responsible for our destinies.
Perhaps I could have shifted fate had I only pinned on my unlucky number 13 upside down like so many other riders often do. Considering that, I began recounting everything I had done prior to the start. I had been determined not to believe in chance, that my destiny could not be moved by a number but by my actions. But lying in bed broken and burned, without answers or reason as to why, I suggested to myself, that perhaps I was foolish not to believe in luck.
As a boy, I had a lucky pair of florescent yellow Assos race socks. Their powers related to the fact that I had won a few races while wearing them. The lucky socks soon wore out, were replaced with new ones and I continued to win. I no longer believed in lucky socks, or charms. I was in control.
Then when I was 14 and at a criterium in downtown Toronto, I heard a few pros chatting about their superstitions on the start line while standing behind the barriers. A florescent clad Suburu-Montgomery rider on a pristine Merlin, said he had gone out for a spin around the block the night before at 11:00 p.m. because the mechanic had put a fresh roll of handlebar tape on his bike. To him, new tape was bad luck so he had to break it in with a ride before the race. An hour into the race, he was off the front, winning prime after prime then nearly snatching the victory from the sprinters. My faith in luck returned.
In 1996, a few months before the Olympic Games in Atlanta, a good friend gave me a four leaf clover that I carefully sealed in a tiny Ziploc bag. Then a young underdog few expected to make the team, I kept the clover in my race bag, determined it would help me get selected. With consistent performances I was on the team. And then in the Olympic Road Race, I rode beyond expectations. A year later, the clover had degraded, losing leaf after leaf until I was left with a stem and a tiny bag of dark green dust. Despite the degradation of my lucky charm, my life continued to progress. It wasn’t the clover but my determination and faith that made the difference.
Over the years, I’ve developed superstitions and with time, experience or maturity, my charms or beliefs changed. Crashes happened with or without lucky socks and I won even when I pinned on my numbers the night before a race. Good things happened, bad things happened. But, even with a lifetime of racing experience I still try to control what I can’t comprehend or fear with the irrational.
In hospital, I continued to question why I had crashed. Of the 128 riders in the race, why was I behind the guy who lost control of his bike? On the way to the start in the team car that morning, the directeur sportif and the team coach had chatted about injuries in races, medical support, and evacuation. Cyclists rarely talk about the crashing and when they do they’ll look for some wood to touch, in the hopes that it will erase their fears. In the car, we spoke frankly and I didn’t touch any wood. A fateful error? Perhaps, the words that were spoken had subconsciously affected the outcome of my race.
As the risks increase, we look for more guidance and control. Without clairvoyance and under ever-present pressure to perform, we grasp at luck to control our futures.
But, as Pierre Trudeau, the long time Canadian Prime Minister said, “Luck—that’s when preparation and opportunity meet.” Whether we place false hope in an old piece of clothing or a rock to deceive ourselves in an attempt to comfort our swirling minds, through each of our actions we are truly in control of our destiny.
Here is a playlist I put together recently and posted on Spotify: Arrows. The photos below were taken while training in Girona over the last few weeks. I’ve completely recovered from the injuries I sustained in the Tour of Qatar and am now working to get back into shape. It feels great to be back on the bike, pushing over the climbs and sprinting for town signs. Recently, the intensity in my training has increased–I’m now doing a lot of motor-pacing, threshold efforts in the hills and short intense efforts to simulate racing. I’ll return to racing at the Tour of Norway in mid-May and will then ride the Tour of Luxembourg and Tour de Suisse. My race schedule for the second half of the season has yet to be determined.
Many people have emailed me asking for music suggestions or the titles to the tracks I’ve used in the youtube videos. My team-mates and I will be posting playlists on Spotify. Here is the first: Shiftin’. I’ll update frequently and try to keep the tunes different and diverse. You can also follow Team Sky here: Team Sky–April Classics
Below is an excerpt of a story I wrote that appeared in issue 29 of Rouleur Magazine.
Road grit dug into my sweat-soaked face as my cheek pressed against the baking tarmac. Pinned like a wrestler to the canvas, I couldn’t get up. My legs kicked and my arms twisted in a fight for freedom. Turning my head, I could see the weight above. I don’t recall the screams and yells but the photographers’ images captured my fear. Like a claustrophobic trapped in a dark closet, the sight of the motorcycle wheel on my chest, crushing my ribs created panic. Everything sped back up. I was racing to get the motorcycle off of my chest. I had to cross the finish line. The damage to my body was secondary.
The heat of the motorcycle, the hot tarmac and the baking sun fueled an inferno around me. My shredded and burned skin was still too raw to hurt. The driver inched the motorcycle off of my torso, while the cameraman on the back balanced the video camera on his shoulder. I now realized I had been under its wheel as they skidded to a stop.
The road etched a smooth black line in the arid Spanish countryside. Beside the road, beige dirt and gravel slopes led to hundreds of kilometers of olive groves. There were no spectators at the roadside to help us up, hear our cries or stand with mouths open as they gawked at our wounds.
Before the crash, the peloton had become a long thin line on the sinuous, undulating roads under the pressure of the fierce tempo set by the leading team. On a short climb the peloton pooled and riders at the back of the bunch yelled ‘mercy’ to the leaders. Our directeur sportif, Johan Bruyneel, encouraged us to “hang on” and “move to the front.” Even from behind the peloton in the team car, he could sympathize with our effort. The subtle intonations in his voice that crackled over the radio expressed either sympathetic encouragement or a command.