Twelve months ago I was at my European base in Nice, France packing my bags for a dream come true: my first Tour de France. All of my adult life had prepared me for this moment and this childhood dream of mine was actually about to be fulfilled. I was more fit, lean and mentally prepared than I had ever been in my professional career. Having raced three other grand tours, I knew what was coming, though nothing had ever excited or motivated me as much as the thought of racing in the Tour de France.
“Will you race the Tour this year?”
A year later, I find myself about as far from the Tour as a professional cyclist can be. I am at my home in rural Vermont recovering from a hard crash and heavy concussion I sustained back in mid-March. At the time, I knew my crash was serious, but never did I think it would take so long to recover and that the lingering symptoms and visual/balance side effects would sideline me for my target of the year: the 2019 Tour.
Laying in the Italian hospital bed overnight for observation following my crash, I never imagined that I wouldn’t be at the Tour de France this year. I viewed this as just a small bump in the road with still plenty of time to get myself ready to race in July. Throughout my recovery, lots of friends, fans, and colleagues extended a supporting hand and sent me well wishes to return to racing, especially for the Tour. The recovery has been difficult, but one of the hardest aspects of this recovery has been replying to the question I want to — but cannot —confidently answer with pride: “Will you race the Tour this year?”
“The only thing I do have — and
also cannot alter in my favor — is time.”
It wasn’t as if there was an epiphany-type moment in my recovery when I knew I wouldn’t be at the Tour de France this year. It was an hourglass of sand slowly falling as I watched my chances of returning to the Tour slip away. And the reality is, I am still watching the sand disappear as my recovery continues.
There is no blood test or scan that could have offered me the confidence to ride in the Tour this year. I don’t have a cast or illness for people to see and thus connect the dots to justify why I am not there. The only thing I do have — and also cannot alter in my favor — is time. Time for healing and self-care, for patience and meditation, both on and off the bike, and the resurgence to regain the ability to train and race at a level that is so familiar to me.
I find myself in a familiar position now that takes me back to my childhood; an American, watching the Tour as a fan, following the stories, the hype, and the drama. It is a position that is familiar, and also different this year, having ridden the Tour last year. It is familiar in that I will still be using the daily coverage to get motivated to go out and ride following the conclusion of each stage. It is different in the sense that I now know the feeling of being there, what it takes to work for a place in the peloton in the Tour, and how it is symbolic of my own resilience on top of my own body’s (and especially my mind’s) fragility.
This Years Tour…
The racing will be exciting this year, as it always is. The first few days in Belgium are bound to be filled with those notorious big crashes, when the tension is so high in the peloton and when every rider still knows there is a chance at glory. It’s that chance that keeps all great athletes going. I know the feelings and inner drive that it takes to get to the Tour and I have so much respect for all the athletes who will participate this year. Whether it’s their first or fifteenth Tour there is nothing else like it — the energy, pressure and sheer magnitude of the event is unmatched in the world of cycling. From afar, I’ll enjoy watching and cheering my colleagues on as they make the 21-day trek across France.
In the world of endurance sports, we’re all on the search for that sweet spot where fitness, form, and confidence intersect to produce a result. Seldom do all three align, but when they do, that’s the pinnacle of the sport and what keeps us all hungry for more. What I am most looking forward to this July is following those stories of triumph, defeat, and watching my peers fight every day for that sweet spot.
I am excited to watch the Tour with a perspective I did not have before riding the Tour in 2018. Removed from the thick of it, detached from the fixation on jerseys and sprints, from the multitude of “micro-races” within the peloton, I will be eagerly watching as a one-time insider who is now making the most of being “outside” this year.
Ian will be writing Inside the Tour from the Outside throughout this year’s race. Expect to see new content each rest day and a recap the day following the final stage in Paris. Ian will be shedding light on the race with the race, his own perspective of the effort it takes to race the Tour and will share some of his stories from the road both past and present.
Join us and Ian for the Peacham Fall Fondo. Held in the historic town of Peacham, Vermont, and home to Ian and his wife Gretchen the route displays some of the most picturesque landscape in the northeast. Registration is filling up quickly so make your plans today.