At first you try to avoid it. The circumstances are just right: 15 degrees, dry roads and surroundings in blossom. All those hours in the basement will now prove themselves worth it. Time to go outdoors.
Spring group rides are the social opposite to the solitude in the pain cave. Testosterone hibernating for months is unleashed on the road. The competitive element mixed with pride and large egos is a tough balance. I am no different, though it’s hard to admit it. Half wheeling your training partner to see when the signs of weakness kick in is a sport in itself.
After a long Swedish winter’s love-hate relationship with the turbo trainer, Spring has arrived. Three months to my Cent Cols Challenge in the mighty Pyrenees. Reality kicks in. It is easy to get carried away though. I sign up for too many things, make too many plans. And then reality: I’m a veteran; I need my sleep; I have a job; a family. There are only 24 hours in a day.
Despite having done a CCC before, I lose track. I bonk, I train too hard, ride when I should rest or the other way around. My coach shakes his head as I ignore his advice and stick to my own stubbornness and ideas about training – and pay the price with dead legs and exhaustion.
Balancing your own aspirations with reality is a constant challenge in itself and when are you ever good enough? For me this is both the most beautiful and terrible thing about cycling. I have been there before: Turn 13 on Alpe d’Huez, with blurry sight and thinking it would be good idea to focus on holding a straight line to the next turn and then close my eyes. It was a bad idea. Lying flat, next to of pair of spectators in sun chairs, unable to move, suffering from dehydration and exhaustion – and then after a bit of water being able to get back on my feet, starting to walk with the bike and eventually getting back on it and crossing the finish line. We have all been there. The ups and downs.
I challenged myself to put in 10,000km from January to September this year. I am on track, but there is some way to go. I invent new techniques for finding alternative roads and places to ride. The ‘turn left/turn right’ principle can take you to interesting places you haven’t seen before. Set targets to complete 100, 150, 200 or 250km in one stretch. Or test your bonk-limit to see how far you can ride on a single bidon with only water.
To some, all this might sound weird, but I do all of it to find new ways of keeping it interesting. When you do a ten-day event with ten hours of daily riding and serious climbing you realise that your mental game can be as important as the pedalling.
With the RCC Øresund (Denmark/Sweden) a new territory and with strong, like-minded riding partners there are new opportunities to keep both the motivation and legs spinning. Retrospectively I think about why I did not start doing this a long time ago. A 30-kilometre stretch of gravel in a Swedish forest can be immensely rewarding. In the past we would ride the same training routes week after week, all year round. I’m starting to get into the social side of things too, although training alone is still my preferred way.
I’m thinking already about what’ll happen after the CCC in late September. Last time I had quite a steep descent that I learned a lot from. This time, I’m challenging myself to keep up a steady climb with the support and inclusion of those in the know.