2009 will be remembered as one giant roller coaster ride and a whole series of rebounds. Some incredible high points and some really devastating lows. I've had some really tough luck, crashes, a lot of illness and most recently – some really bad news from the UCI Track Commission who are threatening to destroy endurance track cycling. Here's the story.
I won the Pursuit World Championships on the track in March and set a couple of American records in the Kilo event and the Pursuit. I won some races in Europe as an Under-23, and claimed my season goal, the Under-23 Paris-Roubaix. But as I'm finding out, all that goes up, must come down. The early season racing had taken its toll; I had already broken two helmets in two painful crashes, gotten sick with severe colds several times, and raced more race days than the last three years combined. All of that, in the span of only five months.
When I returned to Boulder in the end of June just before my 19th birthday, I was coming off a peak, and heading into a couple weeks of rest. Timing your fitness is a very important part of cycling, but also incredibly difficult. So naturally, coming back from Europe on peak fitness, I didn't want to – I couldn't bear to - let go of it. Many cyclists will tell you, that this is not a situation you want to get yourself in, because that fitness, while it may stay for a couple more weeks – can't last and soon, very soon – it will betray you by leaving you.
Picture this: home from Europe, with no races for a couple weeks, and a scheduled rest period with time on my hands. So what did I do? I tried to do everything at once. I spent time with my Boulder High School friends who were home from college. I tried to keep training and hold my fitness. And I didn't get the sleep that is so valuable to my health. Feeling invincible, I basically ran myself into the ground. As I write this to you, two and a half months later, I am finally peaking out of this hole that I dug for myself. Classic.
So where have I been? In July, a couple days after coming back from Europe, and trying to balance all my social and training needs, I inevitably got sick. Another virus that I couldn't quite shake and once again, I was on and off the couch for a few weeks, while trying to train a bit for the Cascade Classic in Utah. In Cascade I made it through 3 days before I had the worst crash of my career. It happened so quickly and so violently, that I thankfully can't remember any of it.
One severe concussion and several bits of road rash – and a night in the hospital - later I was back home. Still - with a stuffy nose from the virus, I was required to stay off the bike for two weeks in order to make sure I didn't hit my head again. Two weeks passed pretty quickly and I was back at it. I was still hoping to do the Tour de l'Avenir with the National Team and the U-23 Worlds time trial, especially after a sit-down in Colorado Springs with USA Cycling director Jim Miller and National Coach Noel DeJonckeere. I was excited at the possibility of representing the US of A at Worlds and needed a goal.
But I was still plagued by a stuffy nose. Something wasn't quite right, but I thought time would pass and I had to feel better, right? I started to train again, doing long rides on the dirt roads in the mountains above Boulder and packed in a couple of 18-20 hour weeks – something I hadn't done much of since Michael Barry left town. Exploring those roads and trails is part of what makes riding so fun around Boulder. I felt strong, and I had lost more than ten pounds since I got sick in early July. But, yet again, my body just wasn't ready. I raced a small race in Boulder called the Koppenburg Classic. While I felt good and managed a solid position, the next days I felt my immune system crumble. Again, I got sick, and it was worse than the last couple of times. My World Championship dreams were shot, but hey, by then I was pretty much used to it.
It was really time – or way past time? - to do something about this. My parents, coaches and team manager all agreed. Health first. All racing plans were put on hold and we searched out some help from doctors we knew to find out what was going on in my system. Chiropractors thought my sickness was due to stiffness in my neck from the crash I had in July at Cascade. My acupuncturist thought I had a severe virus. One Chiropractor thought I had a parasite. It wasn't until an Ear Nose and Throat doc in Boulder stuck a camera on a flexible wire (yeah, fun!) up my nose and down my throat, that we found out what the deal was. The adenoid was swollen so large it was like a plug at the top of the nose. The little snake-like camera probe could barely get around it. It was a snotty mess, a trap for virus & bacteria. A CT scan and MRI revealed more.
When the going gets tough, my parents like to rely on Max Testa. He was my dad's team doc back in the 7-Eleven day and he works now for BMC. So in a flash, I was on I-80 and on the road to Utah to see Max. Through his current Team BMC hook-ups, we managed to get in with Dr. Scott Major (another BMC doc who happens to be an ear nose and throat specialist or ENT in Ogden) . Dr. Major was willing to see me right after he finished his BMC duties at Tour of Missouri. He's a cyclist himself and likes working with cyclists, this was a big plus for me.
Finally emerging from that deep whole in the middle of September, I drove back from Utah minus that golf-ball size adenoid -- with a very sore throat and a lot of ibuprofen in my system. I achieved my goals in '09 early but I also lost weeks, if not months to illness and injury. It is time for me to recover and look forward - not back. I still had one more goal and that was to go to Track Nationals. I knew I would not be on form, but I wanted to be there to contest. Trek-Livestrong won the Team Pursuit, I won the Pursuit and the Points Race.
But all of that happened under the new cloud looming over my future. Out of the blue – like a bolt of lightening - came the news that the UCI track commission voted to eliminate the Olympic endurance track events, including the Madison, the Points race and the Pursuit. Their reasoning is gender equity (all but the Madison feature women's events) and marketing (ie, make it sexier). What? They've effectively made track cycling a sprinter's domain and excluded the great road riders – like Mark Cavendish – from performing on the Olympic Oval.
The pursuit is the purist of the pure in terms of time trials in cycling. No gears to change, no brakes to hit, just you and the lap counter. The new crop of upcoming riders includes guys who have all ridden fast enough to have medaled in Beijing. I was looking forward and I had made a road map to get me to London 2012. I had sponsors, USA Cycling and my team boss Lance Armstrong backing me in my mission. And now - what? The track was a stepping stone for me to the road – but I was enjoying the purity and the simplicity and it gave me opportunities very early in my pro career.
I'm hoping for divine intervention to keep my event in the Games and to honour those who have gone before me. Wiggins, Boardman, Hegg. I wanted to be added to that list. The International Olympic Committee will convene in December to decide the fate of endurance track cycling. I hope the fates are on the side of purity over show and power over beauty. But if not, I'll refocus and rebound. If nothing else, I've learned a lot about rebounds this year.