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The person behind the tinted glasses and helmet

I’m going to be around the blog a bit this year, I have written one blog already taking you through a day on our training camp. If you’re a Voxwomen follower I’m also sure you have listened to their latest podcast I was lucky enough to feature on. But before I delve into the thick of the racing season myself, I thought it would be fitting to introduce myself a bit better from my side. 

I’ve come to realise as a cyclist it’s easy to hide behind the tinted glasses on the race start lines. It’s easy to become this inhuman figure that just goes out and performs on a day to day basis. But the reality is that this is not who we are. Every rider on that start line is human, every rider has their own story as to how they got to the start line, how they feel and what they want. 

But even I feel it in the people I admire, or the people I simply follow on Instagram, that in actual fact, the more real someone becomes the more relatable they are. 

I am sure I am not the only one who finds some slight satisfaction in seeing the big stars occasionally… well, fail. Tadej Pogacar also has bad days, Mathew Van der Pol also gets dropped and the Anna van der Breggen I know is a genuine, joking person. This reassures us that they, these winners, are like any normal human. 

So I thought I’d tell you a few odd (yet normal) things about me, little things I enjoy and who I am behind those rose tinted Roka glasses. I hope you can find something here that you might find the slightest bit relatable. So that when you read my upcoming Voxwomen blogs this year, you can picture me as a normal human being, a compatriot, rather than any plain monotonous athlete. 

First things first, cycling stems to so much more than my job. I simply enjoy the bike. Don’t get me wrong, there are days when training feels hard, I am unmotivated and frankly some of these days I will sit back, let myself relax a bit more. But for the most part I love what I do. 

Why do I love it ? Selfishly I will say it’s ’me’ time. It’s a time when I can escape into my own thoughts. If you know me, you know I am a fairly closed book. Riding time is my time to run through these thoughts I have piled away. Clear my head. 

Understand though, that I do not ride all day everyday with only my own thoughts to entertain me. Perhaps some athletes can do this, but I’m not one of those. Often I will ride with others or if not, I am partial to some handy entertainment through my flimsy (cabled) apple earphones throughout my rides – while being road safety conscious of course.

I particularly like to listen to podcasts. This is another mentionable trait about me; I like to be up to date always and I am as much a fan of this sport as I am an athlete in it. In my Spotify you will find a number of cycling related, sport related and even general daily news related podcasts qued. I most like to listen to interviews with other riders, get to know the peloton around me. I also enjoy hearing the various takes on certain races that seep into the news. Perhaps one day I may consider a career in cycling journalism. It’s something I’m clearly passionate about and I can admit that I am a good observer (while not much of a talker). 

Another note about my love for bike riding is route making. Strava is probably my most used application. I have come to find that the routes page won’t even load on my app anymore as I have amassed well over 1000 saved routes over the years. I love to explore, and I have grown to cherish scouring Strava maps for new, less ridden roads to ride wherever I go. The unknown excites me.

I have recently got a new gravel bike, an S-Works Crux model, and this has opened up a whole new realm of riding for me. Girona is home to an endless back yard of gravel roads and trails, perfect for a wandering mind like mine. Follow me on Strava if you have an inkling this is anything like you. But if you choose to follow one of my gravel routes, take it with a pinch of salt , because it’s not uncommon that I’ll find myself on a single trail, or walking my bike rather than riding it. But that’s the fun of it. 

Speaking of bikes, I am an equipment freak. I’m sure my bug for this sport definitely stemmed from purely just a passion for the ‘bling’ bike stuff and fancy lycra I saw my dad parade around in as a kid. I just liked the thought of bikes to start with. I obsess myself with the knicks knacks, the tech and ‘what looks cool’. It also means I am very protective of my bikes and I like to be self-sufficient in looking after them. This does mean a lot of self taught mechanics tutorials on my kitchen floor (GCN videos are often quite handy here) and a good relationship with my team mechanic, whom I think understands my tendency to tinker. But I quite enjoy the process, bikes can seem so complicated on the surface, but pulling them apart and putting things back together, it somehow simplifies it all. I like that.

Something that I think puts all us athletes alike is nervousness. I am no exception to this and I don’t believe this is something that will ever go away, I am sure I will feel it still in the very last race days of my career. The unpleasantly continuous turning of the stomach in the lead up to races. I can spend mornings force feeding myself breakfast, because no food feels appealing with the ‘impending doom’ of what’s to come. In these moments, I wouldn’t be lying if I said I hate what I do for that reason only. But that’s part of the sport, the rest of what this sport has to give completely makes up for that. 

To throw another mental curveball in here; I get homesick. It’s simply part of this profession that we are always on the go, from race to race. Additionally, for the riders from further afield our real ‘home’ can be a world away (Kiwis, Aussies and the like). As for myself, I feel quite settled in Girona now, I would confidently call it my ‘home away from home’, my brother also lives nearby and I am quite content. That’s not to say there aren’t moments when I long for my family or, most of all, my dog. I also, on occasion, wish I could just walk out of the house and hear the familiar comforting kiwi accent, and not scramble to what I know of Catalan or Spanish in order to buy my groceries. 

I’m realising it’s healthy to feel this longing. For me it’s simply just about accepting it’s there, while reminding myself that what I have here in Spain is so cool. I would only miss it if I was back in NZ. Family is always only a call away for me and, believe me, I make the most of that !

Here’s something I am sure you can all relate to; I’m a procrastinator. I partake in some online University study part time, realistically my workload is minimal compared to a full time degree. Yet I still find myself lagging behind, or cramming my lab report the day before it’s due. This also applies to everyday things too, like cleaning my apartment. Don’t worry, I do get it done eventually ! But probably after procrastinating it for a good amount of time anyway. 

Aside from those points I enjoy day to day things, reading books, watching (lots) of Netflix, and spending too much time on my phone. Things I am sure you too find quite familiar. I hope that gives you a little insight into the person I am, aside from the attacking rider on the TV screen. I’m sure that over the next few blogs you will come to know me better. But please bear with me on the fact that I am not a robot. I will have bad days and I will have more good days.

I’ll leave it at this for now, see you next time. 

Niamh

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