We met a year ago, when I first started penning this column while riding the trainer in my parents’ garage in Virginia. Now it’s a year later and here I am in California with a vastly different life, typing this column while riding a trainer in a garage. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
But that is the story of life, of yours and mine, of everybody we know, cyclist and otherwise, pro or not. Seasons come and go, we make gains and face losses, teams fold and start, riders retire while others launch careers. You’re a different person than you were at the beginning of 2017; maybe now you’re faster and a cat 2 racer, or maybe your bike has fur from all the dust gathered on it. But you’re still reading Peloton, which tells me your heart still lies in cycling (or your day job is boring). This is what I love about this sport we’ve chosen: no matter how much life shifts, we can always throw a leg over, clip in, and set off for a ride. The bike is always there.
This year was the best and hardest of my life. My winter training was rock solid and I was as lean and strong as I’ve ever been, which felt awesome and lovingly rewarded every eating disorder-fueled, obsessive compulsive exercising-driven moment I’ve ever had. It felt like I was on top of the world physically, but also emotionally gutted after a crushing breakup at the start of the winter. Was it enough to be super thin and fast? Was it everything I’d hoped it would be? No. Cake and genuine happiness are better.
But I started the season with a bang and wore my first yellow jersey ever at the Chico Stage Race. Even when I lost the jersey by a matter of seconds in the final crit, I still had that moment to savor. Everything was finally coming together.
Then I got sick, the kind of chest infection that has you coughing up blobs that deserve their own area codes. Then my heart arrhythmia started acting up and I needed an electrophysiogram and catheter ablation surgery to fix the problem. I raced the Joe Martin Stage Race less than a week after doctors were digging around my heart with wires while I lay awake, naked, taped to a metal table. The race went surprisingly well all things considered; my heart didn’t explode. Instead, I gave it away by falling crazy in love with somebody wonderful. Life takes from us, but at the same time it gives.
I recovered from the surgery and had a great time gasping for oxygen in the high-altitude hills of Tour of the Gila, only to head home and to the ER with a crippling urinary tract infection. It took a month to kick that sucker, a month of ridiculously strong antibiotics, a month that got me right up to the point where I threw myself off the bike backwards during stage two of the Tour of California and earned a concussion, some road rash, and my first collarbone repair surgery.
That meant I was back home grinding out miles indoors on a CycleOps until I regained use of my right arm (and brain; concussions are no joke and we really do need to respect them more). Just under four weeks later I was not entirely ready to line up at the Armed Services Cycling Classic but the news of this pregnancy forced my hand: come back and race that weekend, or risk having to wait a year to pin on another number. And so I raced and it was amazing and worth every moment and then that was it.
Since that day, I’ve struggled with balancing the desire to stay fit and connected to cycling with the challenges of growing a person. I’ve wanted to throw the bike into traffic more than a hundred times in the past few months. My power has dropped, my weight has ballooned, my endurance has shriveled to a tiny raisin of what it once had been. I had a bleed at 12 weeks along that kept me off the bike for a month, and then a few weeks after returning to riding I crashed and broke my good arm. Now I ride indoors six days a week and keep my sights on one thing: I love this sport and know that sticking with it now will pay off when I can rejoin my first group ride next year.
Managing the team was a nonstop challenge this year as well. I was preoccupied with my own life and troubles over the winter and wasn’t as present a leader as I should have been when the 2017 team was launched. Then I was focused on my own training and racing and didn’t pay enough attention to the job of managing a team. My business partner carried more than his share of the load to make up the delta but it hurt us all – issues in the team that should have been squared away quickly were allowed to linger because one person can only do so much (to Jono: thank you for trying to do both our jobs). I saw this and knew I was coming up short, but it was easier to be selfish and focused on my own challenges. It was hard to give a shit about riders racing a thousand miles away when I was stuck on a trainer with my collarbone screwed into place feeling bitter that I wasn’t there with them. The problem is that the team was equally my baby and responsibility and checking out was a luxury I shouldn’t have had.
By the time I was ready to pull my weight again, the season was mostly over and my business partner was exhausted. The team we’d worked so hard to build didn’t look anything like either of us had hoped and the riders weren’t the overjoyed, motivated family we’d put together the previous season. I could point fingers or cite outside issues as a cause, but I knew that I’d fallen short as a leader and not done everything I could to make Hagens Berman | Supermint a success. That it was as good as it was is a testament to the hard work of Jono, AJ, and our resilient riders: thank you.
Come July, I had two choices: walk away and let the team fold, or dig in a hundred times harder and put in the overdue effort to realize the dreams for this organization that Jono and I had originally. Do you let two years of your life’s work end on a sour note or do you commit to even more time and work? What if this is the biggest, most interesting thing I ever do – could I live with calling it a loss? I chose to keep going, learn from my failures, work harder, and do whatever it took to keep one more women’s pro team in the peloton. It was my turn to put in the work and carry the load.
Nobody told me how heavy it would be. I’m great at managing work but less so with people; I’m impatient, blunt, and reactionary. It’s tough to manage passionate athletes. It’s tough to make everybody happy – sponsors, staff, riders – with a tight budget and a fixed schedule. Every day is a learning curve and sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever figure out how to do this well. But then a rider or kind stranger from the internet sends me a message to say that what I’m doing is awesome and they’re grateful, and for a minute it feels like maybe I can actually pull this off. I have to: I made promises to a lot of people to help them pursue their dreams. My 10 riders, 5 staff, and dozen plus sponsors love this sport enough to pour themselves into it every day and I owe it to them to do the same.
So a year later, pregnant and newly married with a few more concussions and only about 80% usage of my arms, I’m still riding the trainer and plowing forward with an absurd love for this crazy, exhausting, grueling, unforgiving, beautiful sport. I’ve fallen on my face a few times, let people down, made mistakes that hurt myself and my team, and faced challenges that made me truly consider quitting. Sometimes it would be so nice to just go to brunch on a Sunday morning and not give a thought to bikes.
I’m sure you’ve faced similar obstacles – it’s hard to keep kitting up with life, work, family, injury, and demotivation trying to pull you away from the bike. But my point from the beginning of this column was to show you that even professional cyclists struggle with the same crap. Behind the glamorous team buses and start line crowds and champagne-drenched podiums are just people doing their jobs, working their asses off to overcome challenges that aren’t sexy or elite or unique. It’s tired legs and broken bones and financial struggles and disappointing days and highs bookended by the lowest lows. We all cry onto our stems and we all get saddle sores, from the winner of the Tour de France to the guy with the helmet mirror lining up for his first cat 5 crit.
So let’s just agree to keep riding, no matter what comes in 2018. I’ve never finished a ride and not been at least a little glad I went. Even if the ride was awful and I got five flats and was nearly hit by a car and bonked and had crap legs. It’s always better to keep pedaling.