When I was starting out in the cycling world, learning everything through the Zappi’s cycling club in Oxford, there was a vague connection to the proper racing world but most of what I heard would sound rather mysterious and complex. When I asked someone about living out in Europe racing as an under 23 rider trying to become professional there was always a mix of stories flying around. Some stories were of great success leading to recognition and long careers, but the majority were about people not quite being there physically or cracking mentally, and this turned out to often be in part due to the difficulty of moving out to Belgium or France or wherever. The people that make it to a position to get interviewed are the ones that succeed with making life work out here for them, so as far as I know, starting a life up out here is a bit of an untold story… Until now!
I am now in my second year as an under 23 rider with Leopard Pro Cycling and I am living out here in Germany, just over the border from Luxembourg. The manager of the team found a great place for me with one rider and next-door to another and the physio, so I am nicely settled and loving life, especially with the bigger races coming in my direction and the good legs turning up at the right time… But it is really interesting looking back at the experiences I have had so far and comparing to others I have spoken to.
The story that is now told, which is much more visible with everyone’s much larger social media presence, is one of a very glamorous lifestyle full of cafés, fancy kit, sponsorships and coffee, and all of this in the sun and high temperatures. Although this is a part of the life, it is not exactly true… Unless I have been misled..
It is the first time moving away from home for everyone, and always straight into an unusual environment. This is often seen as the first serious move towards professional cycling and so the assumption is that success and happiness comes immediately, so the pressure is there to show this, but there is no denying that it is hard. All of a sudden it can very easily seem that your training or racing is all that matters in the day, along with eating and sleeping to prepare for the next day.. So it is very easy to be sucked into this completely, and so your mental state depends on how this goes. The good times are very good, you can feel like a celebrity in your own bubble, but the harder times, when the results or performances aren’t going your way, can feel even tougher to get through. It is all one big, spiralling, complicated mental-battle.
I’ve been asked what the day-to-day life is like in this lifestyle and thinking about this answer is a strange one! The time disappears with certain small jobs.. Of course training takes up a lot of the day. It’s important to have a routine with it so I normally leave at 10:30 so I have time to eat, digest and plan in the morning. Then shopping, cooking, eating, and stretching take up a lot of the day once I have returned from the ride. When you’re not in a rush to do these things, they can spread over the day, but I feel guilty if I’m not using the day for something else on top of this. I sometimes make the trip to a café with one of the riders or the physio, who live with or next to me. I have also completed a TEFL course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), along with other online courses that interest me, as it doesn’t require too much effort and puts no stress on me as there are no time restrictions. In my opinion, it’s really important to keep the mind active with things other than analysing every ride’s data or watching up the entirety of Netflix (which I also find time for, of course). But yes, it’s a pretty focussed lifestyle, I see that…
What are the hardest things about life out here? I’ve spoken to a few of my fellow cyclists about this one and, apologies for the vague answer, the answer is probably having to sort things out yourself. Managers and other team staff do all they can but there always seems to be a list of things to do when you’re back from training and only thinking of falling asleep on the sofa for the afternoon (although there is always time for that too). Keeping on top of things mentally is another big one. There isn’t always someone there to sit with and watch some crap on tv to relax… The required focus on diet, lifestyle and training can sometimes seem relentless. Finally, my favourite response to the question is from my good friend and old teammate Pat Christopher, who’s now living and racing in Belgium. He is correct in pointing out the struggle to control yourself when you are at the supermarket and there isn’t someone looking over your shoulder when you’re walking past the sweets aisles…
Do you have any questions about how it all work for me with training or racing? Go to the “contact me” page and ask away!
Photos by: unknown and Lizzie Haumesser