Ever since I started riding I've been trying to work out how I can go faster. Can I train harder? Eat better? Change equipment? Sleep more? About a year ago I worked out that I was looking at the problem the wrong way.
To say that riding fast is the key to cycling is like saying that yoga is the key to a long and fulfilling life. It might be part of it, but focusing entirely on it is not going to
make you much fun to sit next to at dinner parties give you the outcome you want or make your life better. At the end of the day, we ride bikes because we enjoy it - or once did, or think we should. Sometimes it's easy to forget that amongst all the power meters and carbon fibre and early morning sessions.
This year I've tried something different with my racing. Instead of worrying about the details, I've been channelling the van der Ploegs.
Many of you will know the van der Ploeg family personally. It's hard to be involved in cycling in Australia and not see, hear, or be passed by a van der Ploeg at some stage in a race. The family hails from Mt Beauty in Victoria and 4 of the 5 boys have represented Australia in either mountain biking, cross-country skiing, or both. The entire family exudes a joie de vivre that I believe Chanel is trying to bottle and sell as an exclusive 'No.6' fragrance. It's hard to have a conversation with a van der Ploeg and not feel better about the world afterwards.
I've seen a lot of Paul and Neil this year at races and these guys crack me up. What I love about them is that they epitomise the pure joy of riding bikes. They are immensely talented and don't take themselves too seriously. Most of all, they remind me of how much better racing is when you just enjoy the ride. To give you a glimpse of life inside the mind of a van der Ploeg, this just popped into my Facebook feed:
So, back to racing. Last week I raced the Santos North West Tour in NSW, which was the most recent national road series tour. It was a 4-day, 5-stage tour starting in Narrabri and passing through Coonabarabram and Gunnadah before finishing in Tamworth. I went as a team of one. I was lucky to be adopted by the Suzuki Cycling Team and treated as one of their own, which was lovely. Amongst other things, it was a rare treat to be able to do the washing and not confuse my knicks with anyone else's.
The first couple of stages I didn't have much fun. I found the racing stressful and insular without teammates. Then I ran into Jenny van der Ploeg after the crit and she was telling me how Neil's team (Search2Retain) had just finished racing Tour of Toowoomba and had to raise funds, get a support crew and convince riders to stay on to race the Santos North West Tour the following week. They did it, because they love racing and they wanted to ride. It made me realise that I could do worse than to channel some of that positivity. I mightn't be able to change the race, but I could change how I felt about it.
The next few stages were a lot better. I worried less about the racing and spent more time enjoying it. I lost the NRS leader's jersey, but made some new friends in the Suzuki crew and had a great time. I think channelling the van der Ploegs worked.
When I think back to my fondest cycling moments, they aren't race results or self-transcending interval sessions or PBs. They are the road trips with my mates to races in the middle of nowhere; the jokes shared around a table in Smiths Gully with a bunch of middle-aged professionals* as the rain pours down outside; the post-race debriefs with the Platypus of Truth. It's these shared experiences that make me remember what a great community the cycling scene is.
Next week we are racing the next NRS tour in Canberra. I'll have McConville and Jallen back, and Supercoach and Moody are looking after us. And - very exciting - Kendelle is coming up too as she gets a step closer to kicking her glandular fever. I can't wait.
PS - thanks to JXP Photography for the race image above.
*Just for you, Mick