The new season is well underway. I only have two races under my belt so far, but most riders have seen many more race days than that. I’ve been in shorts and jersey for the last few rides here in Girona as the sun is coming out and the days are getting longer. Slowly but surely, it seems like winter is just about behind us.
Winter offers a sort of hibernation period for road cyclists, away from the buzz of social media and race goings. The training part persists however, heads down with work to do. As it’s such a stark difference to seeing us cyclists on the start line every weekend, I’ll reflect a little in this blog on what my winter looked like. Despite what you may think, winter often entails more unease than you’d expect, both physically and mentally.
Let’s start at the end of last season. The World Championships set quite the finale to my year as I stepped away with some coveted rainbow bands. Although, I will admit it was a controversial race situation (U23s being in the same race as elites), I must say a world title is not to be overlooked. I felt immensely proud when I stood on the top step, bearing rainbows to my chest as our Kiwi national anthem played. The rush of support from my compatriots, my friends, and my family as I put NZ in the history books of women’s road cycling reminded me what it meant. I quickly grew content, that although I did not cross the line first that day, I achieved something pretty cool. That deserves celebration and certainly, it was a fitting way to finish my time as an under 23.
I am also pleased of how I handled this moment in time. The last few years I have struggled to find that point of when it’s time to stop, take a break and reflect on achievements. A major factor in my decision to end my season post worlds, was made by the fact that Australia’s is so close to home. It made far more sense to continue the short trip to NZ rather than travel back across the world again. Part of me itched to go back to Europe and complete the last few races with my team, especially as the back end of my season hadn’t gone so well (I had a mid-season broken collarbone). I am learning that it indeed takes some courage to accept what you have achieved and be content with that without wanting more. So, with that I took 2022 for the books, all the highs, all the lows and ended my season in Wollongong.
From there I took a holiday! I won’t bore you too much with that but I can assure you no bike was involved. Just a little reset.
I eased back into the rhythm of bike riding in a more ‘off-road’ fashion. I pretty much prefer this way when I am back home in New Zealand. The road choice is sparse and local drivers are far less friendly than what you’ll find in Europe. Plus, there is something about NZ; even when venturing into city surrounding landscape it feels like you are gone, away from all urban influence, true escape.
Mountain biking where I am from can be tough going. Being more downhill/endurance orientated, the tracks are technical, flowing, jumpy and caress the steep hillside. To enjoy the thrill of the down, you must endure steep climbs up. At that time of year, I am unfit and riding on the road just feels so slow. MTB gives an excuse to ride slow; crawl up a climbing track only to stop, have a break at the top and enjoy the views, before heading downhill. I noticed day by day the climbing tracks became easier and when I started getting competitive with myself, I knew I was ready to get back on the road.
As Team SD Worx, we have several camps throughout winter. Most years they follow a common structure: November/December camps are less training orientated and more focussed on team bonding, media, and equipment. Then come January and February our camps entail hard and structured training for important preseason preparation.
This previous winter Team SD Worx kicked off their preseason camps campaign, with something more relaxed but challenging all in the same. I left NZ in late November to travel to San Francisco where I met the team at the Specialized headquarters. We spent the next week exploring the Californian coast on gravel bikes, testing each other’s resilience as we slept in tents and disconnected from the world to instead chat around a campfire. This week wasn’t about training but what we took out of it was far more valuable than what fitness could give us. We left America as a unit, as a team. Something that has proved invaluable to us this season already.
The next camp in Spain came in quick succession so along with my teammates, I headed back to Europe. I’m never super enthusiastic about the first real ‘training’ camp in Spain. Part of me is excited by it as it marks a proximity to the season to come. But the reality is that this camp is less filled with riding and resting, but more entails endless photos, media and organisation for the year ahead. I’m sure many pro cyclists will give you the same dull enthusiasm for these type of camps, but they are a necessity for most professional teams.
Come the New Year, it all feels real. There’s a voice in the back of my head telling me the season is coming. I ponder doubts if I’ve done enough work so far. I hear often my teammates talk about December being ‘relaxed’ and in January, that’s when the commitment starts properly. With so much ambition for the season, motivation is heightened, training in the cold feels easy. Fitness creeps back in and riding begins to feel ever so butter smooth again. Yet as I am very much learning still, this period is a balancing act more than anything. It’s easy to fear doing too little, but do too much and quickly get sick or injured.
That’s just how it went, as come my first (planned) race this season – UAE tour – I adopted an injury just days before. It’s the first time I’ve experienced this sort of thing, pain that I just could not control nor understand what exactly caused it. It often frustrates me that athletes seem to make out they are these amazingly resilient beings with social media tending to only show the good side (I am also guilty). However, in being honest with you here, I did not deal with this so well at all. I was frustrated and grumpy. I punished myself through pain, and inevitably I probably pushed back into things too quickly. Next, I got sick, then just fatigued, and sick again. My immune system was telling me slow down, while my mind and motivation was begging me to go. Of course, I still had good days, but just a few too many bad days. Consequently, I have just not had the legs to perform so well in my first few races. Sometimes that’s how it goes!
I continually get told “the season is long”. The phrase frustrates me a little, because somehow, I can’t let myself accept that. I’m a competitive athlete and every part of me just wants to race, to win. I understand it will take some level headedness to trust I will find my good legs, in my own time. Writing here about my winter, reminds me of the work I have done so far, so the good days can’t be far away. It’s all part of the game.
I’ll update you later 🙂