Tom Zirbel: The Games We Play

Mind games in the Tour of California

As cyclists, we often get asked what we think about while racing. I usually tell people that there is a lot to think about during the race and you need to keep your head in the game. But that’s not entirely true. There is always going to be down time in any long road race, and it’s entertaining for me to track my thoughts along the way. For instance yesterday while I was struggling on the climbs, I had myself convinced that the mechanics had put an 11-23 cassette on my bike rather than an 11-25. This occupied a good 30 minutes or so throughout the stage. I was actually pissed at them for not consulting me about this decision, and I thought about how much easier life would be with a 25 tooth cog for those climbs. Of course a while after I finished up, I took a look at my wheel and there was indeed an 11-25 cassette on. I confessed the story to the mechanics and they had a good laugh about it. Gringo stupido!

Today, I played the ‘Let’s See How Much I Can Eat During One Stage’ game. After yesterday’s FAIL, I needed redemption no matter how hard the stage ended up being. Well, it was another very hard stage but there were more opportunities to eat and drink so I took advantage. I think I was in the neighborhood of 2000-2300 Cal by the end of the stage. Not bad, eh? I feel like I conquered that game today.

Another game I played for about 45 minutes today was to be Gustav Larssen’s shadow. Gustav was the silver medalist in the World Champs TT in 2009 when I finished 4th and he was my pick to win tomorrow’s Solvang TT. So, I had fun just following him around in the bunch to check out his positioning and how he rides, and it was just a bonus that he’s a big guy like me so is a pretty good wheel to follow. Well, I tired of that game eventually and it was a good thing that I did because later in the stage, Gustav was caught up in a crash that ended his race. That was a big bummer because I was looking forward to gauging my fitness against his time. I’m not sure the extent of his injuries but I hope he heals quickly!

We all have our ways of getting through or coping with the long stages like these. Some people are Chatty Pattys but I’ve never been one for chit chat on the bike. Not sure why, I guess I’d rather just be in my own thoughts. But today was definitely a tough stage for me mentally. I’m not used to this level of racing and it’s been a shock to my system. There were times today when I wondered why I came back to this sport, it is so hard and dangerous and unforgiving and for what reward?

But then just moments later we started a descent and I was near the end of this long serpentine line of racers donning all different colorful kits with a beautiful rolling countryside backdrop. It was actually incredibly stunning, I was in awe of the sight for a few seconds (while making sure to negotiate the curves). It was straight out of a Graham Watson photo collection, and it made me smile because it helped me remember that I love this sport and I’m thankful that I have an opportunity to be a part of it. I guess I can suck it up during the rough times because the great times are usually just around the corner.


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