Rally Cycling Team member and Topical Edge athlete Jesse Anthony gives us a glimpse into his reality as a professional athlete enduring the off-season months. In his journal, Jesse shares the pros and cons of having free time, and less than peak fitness. Within the next couple of weeks Jesse will begin his 2018 racing season at the Dubai Tour, then on to the Tour of Oman.
I’m writing this at the end of the time of year when I have the most “normal” kind of life. Technically, I’m still in the off season, but there’s a grey area where I’m training, but not traveling or racing. It still feels like I’m working, as I started training after a three-week break from riding.
My experience taking time off, which is definitely necessary, has always been an interesting time to go through. After we finish the normal racing season I spend a few weeks participating in events that I choose to participate in. Some are races, some are fondos, but there’s something different about lining up for an event fully on my own motivation. It brings me back to the days when I was on a club team growing up, and I wanted to race bikes just to do it. I wanted to test myself, I wanted to prove myself, I just wanted to race!
I still want to race, and I still want to test and prove myself, but my performance now affects my teammates, not just myself. This provides a that I thrive off of. I no longer have lofty goals of achieving personal greatness as an athlete. I couldn’t race without a team, and by that, I mean I would not be motivated to race for solely for myself at this point in my career. Of course, I care about how I perform, but I care more about how the team performs and what influence I have in that.
Anyway, so after 3 weeks of doing whatever I want to do (other than ride a bicycle) I mount the old steed (at this point, a bike I’ve had for 10 months seems “old”) and I begin a new season of professional cycling. This first ride is typically 1-2 hours at a snail’s pace, and the initial sensation is that there’s no way this could be my bicycle, and even if it was, I feel as if I’ve never even ridden a bicycle before. The saddle feels 2 inches too high and 2 inches too low at the same time. My handlebars at 6 inches too far away for me to reach and the round cranks somehow extend and retract at random intervals to make it feel like I’m pedaling in pentagons.
Still, the first hill I hit, 7 minutes out my door (it takes 5 minutes to get there every other ride of the year) seems to also imply that I should go see my doctor to make sure that my muscles are still attached to my limbs. It’s terrifying. I worry that this is the year my body gives out and I won’t be able to finish a cat 5 crit on the lead lap. After a week, the sensations start to turn around; I suddenly feel good and ride for three and a half hours. It’s exhilarating, I can’t believe I was worried a week ago, I’m fine. The next day, I’m exhausted. I must have mono again, there’s no way a medium length endurance ride could kick my ass so bad.
And that’s how it goes. The excitement of a new season motivates me, and the roller coaster of emotions and sensations is invigorating; at this point, it’s become fun to experience the different emotions and coolly weather the storms. As the weeks go by, the training load increases, the sensations become more normal and training is just going to work. I take time to make sure that it’s the most fun work can possibly be. I ride my mountain bike a lot, always with friends. I even rarely ride the road bike alone and go out of my way to be able to ride with friends. I very much enjoy sharing the bicycle experience with other people, and it’s so much more fun to work in a social environment.
Since my training isn’t too specific yet, I can sacrifice a little quality of work here and there; I have to in order to get the most out of where the bike has brought me in life. I live in a beautiful, quiet town in Southern California. The weather is really nice year-round, and I have a community of friends that I wouldn't trade for anything. I’m only at this point in life, experiencing these things and spending time with these friends because of the bicycle. That alone is motivation to put the work in, to keep the dream alive and continue investing in my future. I never thought this is what life would be like when I first started hammering as a 12-year-old kid, and even at 32, I want to see what will happen in the future if I continue hammering as hard as I can.
December comes and I’m 4 weeks into training. I’m picking up momentum, my weight is coming down, and I’m tired, a lot. It’s a good tired. It’s an accomplished, purposeful tired, but it’s hard to keep up with the peripheral activities that I participated in back in early November. Still, the routine has set in and my friends are used to me being around. They call me and invite me to hang out. This is something I sacrifice most of the year. Of course, I’m traveling a lot, but even when I’m home, people forget to call me because for the last 2 months I’ve turned down every invitation with a text from some different state or foreign country. It’s nice to feel like I fit in, I’m thought of, and I could actually “have a life” if I wanted to.
Pretty soon, after a few solid training rides, I’m feeling stronger and I have to turn around at the top of climbs to ride back down and regroup with my friends. I pull all the way home into the headwind as the whittled group sits behind me. I have a feeling I’m going to be doing this quite a bit this year with one of my teammates in a leader’s jersey or taking a favored sprinter to the finish. I’m (fortunate, blessed, honored) to be on the roster of an incredibly powerful team.
There are so many capable riders on the squad that I will have a lot of work to do and I can’t wait. Being a part of that has me so stoked. I have worked for years on honing my skills as a capable team player. All I want to do is set up my teammates perfectly to win. There are a couple of races that I’d like to take a stab at, but my own opportunities are more of a challenge and less of desire for me.
This phase of the season is a peculiar one. It’s easy to get used to, especially as I get older, but it’s temporary, and the racing season is fast approaching. I’m enjoying the time at home, cooking in my own kitchen, sleeping in my own bed, hanging out with my friends, but slowly creeping up is the hunger to line up at a bike race and hit out for glory. I’ve done hundreds of bike races in my life, but I’ve never done the one I’m about to do. I’m excited to get the band back together and build that bond that will unite us through the ups and downs of the racing season. Happy 2018!
Photos by Wil Matthews