What is the secret?
How does one get fast - really fast - at riding a bike? Seriously, ask anyone who bike races and you will get the same answer: BIKE RACING IS UNFORGIVING!
Yes, it is true. Whoever came up with the idea to train your body to the brink of exhaustion and then go ride circles in a snow-covered cow field when it is 15 degrees and raining was a little demented. Throw in massive amounts of beer, cigar smoke, and the Flemish-cult-mentality-spectators and you have plain and simple insanity.
My pilgrimmage to the Euro 'Cross Camp has not exactly gone to plan. The airlines have still not found my bikes and bags, and I missed almost a week of training, but the biggest blow was watching the first World Cup from the sidelines. I have been very fortunate to have bikes loaned to me thanks to Jonathan Page, who allowed me to get back to what I came here to do.
I did a local race on Christmas day and finished 15th. This local "B" race drew almost 40 juniors. I almost rode into the top 10 before locking up my front wheel on a decent and crashing as a result. I felt better in the race than I had expected and enjoyed the course, although certain sections resembled an ice skating rink.
Something I have learned since my last Euro trip with the mountain bike team is that being a bike racer is frustrating, requires patience, and will on occasion have you think the world is about to come to a grinding halt.
Does anyone other than me wonder how many times a day Jonathan Page thinks about the three seconds that separated him from the gold medal at the world championships in 2007? How do you find three seconds when you are already that fast?
What is it exactly that makes these Euros so fast? What is their secret? How does one become great at a sport that can be cruel and unusual?
The reason I race my bicycle and will continue to race my bicycle does not have to do with some elaborate plan to become world famous. I don't race my bike because it is a fad (and no, I don't own a fixed gear). I certainly don't race my bike because I want to be filthy rich. I don't race my bike because it starts conversation with girls. I don't race my bike because looking like a T-Rex with a farmer's tan is stylish.
The reason I race my bike is much simpler than any of those reasons. I race my bike because it is what brings me to the basics. It's a process of slowly making one's self stronger everyday and is satisfying and real, but nothing more. It's the singular focus of riding a bike fast, commonly described as tunnel vision, the zone, etc.
The reason we are spending our Christmas break in Belgium is to "re-learn" how to race our bikes. No, it is not very glamorous to race cyclo-cross in a country where it is practically religion, but I've found that we learn more in the races we lose than the races we win.
What I've learned here is the reality is that the "secret" is - that there are no secrets. You just have to go harder than you can possibly imagine and not make a SINGLE mistake!
P.S. - I want to thank everyone who is responsible for me being here: family, friends, sponsors and competitors.