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MILAN (VN) — Cycling’s class of 1990 promises to lead the way in 2015 and beyond based on its progress and results so far. Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) dominates the headlines after his recent world championship win, but many other 24-year-olds are at his side.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) won the green jersey at the Tour de France. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) took the Giro d’Italia overall victory, and Fabio Aru (Astana) won stages in the Giro and the Vuelta a España. Along with Kwiatkowski, they sit at the top of the list of talented millennials in the peloton.
Sagan and Kwiatkowski have a history that goes back to their days as juniors. Slovakia’s Sagan won one Nations’ Cup and Poland’s Kwiatkowski two in 2008. Sagan raced junior world mountain bike championships in Val di Sole, Italy that year, and won a rainbow jersey. Later that year, they both were unsuccessful in the junior world road race championships in Cape Town, South Africa, but Kwiatkowski turned it to win the junior world time trial. He finished eight seconds ahead of Taylor Phinney, also born in 1990.
Sagan then joined Liquigas/Cannondale and immediately tasted success. Kwiatkowski matured slower and this year, he finally out-performed his longtime rival. Both, however, have shown that they will dominate the classics to come. Sagan is favored on the cobbles against Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), while Kwiatkowski will aim for the Ardennes Classics against Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge).
In grand tours, Colombian Quintana sent a warning message to his older rivals at last year’s Tour de France. He placed second to Chris Froome (Sky), 29, and beat 31-year-old Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo). In the wake of his 2014 Giro victory, the 126-pound climber is targeting the Tour de France next season.
Italian Aru may be a step behind, but he promises just as much. He placed third to Quintana at the Giro and won the stage to Montecampione. At the Vuelta, he won two mountain stages, one in front of Froome and one over Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). Astana now wants Aru to lead its Giro team to victory in 2015.
The grand tours will include other cyclists from 1990. France’s Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) showed their capabilities with a third and sixth place overall, respectively, at the Tour.
Esteban Chaves (Orica), another Colombian, finished third in the recent Tour of Beijing and won stages in the Tour de Suisse and the Amgen Tour of California this season. Orica said in a statement last week that Chavez exceeded expectations in the first week of the 2014 Vuelta, “showing plenty of promise for the future.”
When the roads are not so steep, Australian Michael Matthews (Orica) and Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) will be fighting for victories. Matthews won one stage and held the pink jersey for six days in the Giro d’Italia. Bouhanni sprinted to three stage wins in the same race.
Phinney, Rohan Dennis (BMC), and Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano) — all born in 1990 — are showing promise in time trials. Racing in the Netherlands’ orange colors, Dumoulin placed third behind greats Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) at the worlds in Ponferrada, Spain. Australian Dennis was fifth.
Phinney, who missed half of 2014 recovering from a broken left leg suffered at the U.S. nationals in May, wants to return to win time trials and battle in the classics with Sagan. He told VeloNews, “If I can come back and do Paris-Roubaix, that would be the best thing, but the Tour is a massive goal for me, especially with the short, punchy prologue.”
- I saw this in the Belleville New-Democrat yesterday.
McKendree University, Lebanon, Illinois, is seeking a highly motivated individual to serve as a part-time head coach for the cycling program. The McKendree University cycling program will begin competing in 2015-16. The new cycling coach will have the opportunity to build the program from the ground up.
The successful candidate will be responsible for the coaching, organization and administration of the program from the ground up; including but not limited to practice and competition preparation; attending all practices and scheduled competitions; practice and competition analysis; purchase and maintenance of equipment; recruiting student athletes to participate in the new program, managing the operational budget; the development of the in-season schedule and out-of-season practices and workout arrangements, and maintaining compliance with all guidelines and regulations. Travel required. CPR, AED, and First Aid certification required upon hire.
Interviews will begin immediately and will continue until position is filled. Interested persons should send a letter of application referencing job CYCL98 and resume to Shirley Baugh, Director of Human Resources at email@example.com. EEO/ADA.
- Again, we would like to thank Ken and the folks at Granada Cyclery for sponsoring the Womens, Juniors and Kids Races at this years UFD East Series! These are extremely important classes and glad the great folks at Granada continue to help us drive awareness and growth in these classes.
They again have offered up $1400+ in gift certificates that can be redeemed by visiting the Store in St. Peters and ask for Ken. Here is the address : 4798 N Service Rd, St Peters, MO 63376 | (636) 936-2453
Here this years winners of said Gift Certificates:
Womens: Cat 1
Laura Scherff ($125)
Maria Esswein ($50)
Mary Piper ($25)
Womens: Cat 2
Betheany Himmel ($125)
Samantha Welter ($50)
Stephanie McCreary ($25)
Womens: Cat 3
Marcy Morris ($125)
Julie Carr ($50)
Tiffiney Smith ($25)
Christian Kirkov ($125)
JD Peiffer ($50)
Peter Botts ($25)
Madeline Nichols ($125)
Raven Gudermuth ($50)
Regina Gudermuth ($25)
Regina Gudermuth ($125)
Amber Vehige ($50)
Hugh Greensteist ($10)
Preston Kaylor ($10)
Sam Munns ($10)
Ethan Timm ($10)
Ethan Snider ($10)
Daniel Hasler ($10)
Drew Nichols ($125)
Karter Yount ($50)
Amelia Messersmith ($25)
You will notice that we had a 6 way tie for 3rd place in the Kids (10-14) class. Ken was gracious enough to offer a $10 to all 6 of these kids.
Again, all of us here at UFD THANK Granada Cyclery for their continued support of these great classes. Please stop by their store or their website to show them how much we appreciate this support!
World Cup Valkenburg — Nikki Harris
British rider Nikki Harris awaited the start in Valkenburg. Harris was among the main protagonists of the 2014 season, but the rise of Harris’ former Telenet-Fidea teammate Sophie de Boer, and the arrival of de Boer’s new Kalas-NNOF teammate, Elle Anderson, has tightened the competition at the top of the women’s field and Harris has not matched the start she had in 2013. Harris would finish sixth in Valkenburg. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
World Cup Valkenburg — Pavla Havlikova
The early race in Valkenburg belonged to Czech Pavla Havlikova, who stormed up the starting climb and onto the course. But on the relentless climbs and descents of the Cauberg, carefully measuring out one’s efforts is imperative, and Havlikova appeared to pay a price for her holeshot. She faded from the front of the race as other riders settled into their rhythms. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
World Cup Valkenburg — Sanne Cant
Pavla Havlikova ceded the lead to Sanne Cant, who herself could hold first place for only moments. The Belgian champion managed to remain in the hunt for the podium before a dropped chain in the final lap allowed Sophie de Boer to go clear for third place. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
World Cup Valkenburg — Sophie de Boer
Dutchwoman Sophie de Boer, third on Sunday, appears to be on the best form of her life at the moment. “The start of the season is beyond my expectations, to be honest,” said de Boer after the race. “But I did nothing special [compared to] other years. I think the big difference is that I’m now a 100 percent full-time cyclist. I just finished my studies and I think that I have a lot more rest, and I think that is the difference for me. I just hope I can prolong this good shape.” Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
World Cup Valkenburg — Ellen Van Loy
Belgian Ellen Van Loy has picked up right where she left off last season. The 34-year-old has been knocking at the door of the podium for nearly a year, and with a fourth place finish, she narrowly missed it in Valkenburg. Still, her finish was two better than her best in the 2013-14 World Cup. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
World Cup Valkenburg — Elle Anderson
“It was a really, really awesome course. It just reminds me why I’m here in Europe this year is to race the most challenging courses out there, and this one was so hard,” said American Elle Anderson, who raced to fifth place on Sunday. "Every second you had to think about the obstacle coming next, but I just had a lot of fun. It’s really different, it’s a whole different story than the racing in the U.S. It’s so demanding, and I just had a great time.” Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
World Cup Valkenburg — Harris and Wyman
With world champion Marianne Vos opting for a break after a difficult road season, American Katie Compton was the overwhelming favorite in Valkenburg. But Compton ran into trouble early in the race when a fall broke her rear derailleur and sent her running for the pits. The race, instead, belong to the Brits, Helen Wyman and Nikki Harris — at least until Compton reconnected with them a few laps later. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
World Cup Valkenburg - Katie Compton
Katie Compton’s early fall left her stranded deep in the field, but the American methodically worked her way back into the race. “Once I kind of settled in I just tried to ride as hard as I could,” she said. “I knew this course wears on some people and I knew I’ve got a good finish, so I was just patient and tried to time trial it. This course is so hard that if you go too deep at times, you just can’t recover.” Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
World Cup Valkenburg — Arley Kemmerer
American Arley Kemmerer was 11th on Sunday, battling the entire day for the final few spots in the top 10. “It’s just relentless, and it was harder this year than the year before because we had to run two more times,” she said. “It was so scraped off and just gunked up your shoes, so it was hard to clip in. So that was tough and the flyover was tough too. All the uphills we had a headwind today, which didn’t happen last year, so it was just a very relentless course.” Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
World Cup Valkenburg — Compton Wins
Katie Compton got a warm welcome to the packed finish line, taking the win and the first steps toward a defense of her two straight World Cup titles. “The World Cup is always a goal,” she told VeloNews after the race. “I want to have a better world championships, but I’ve been doing better with my allergies. So hopefully it will be fine. It’s a long season and I don’t want to do too much, too soon.” Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
World Cup Valkenburg — Lars Van der Haar
Dutch champion Lars van der Haar wasted no time in the men’s race, shooting to the front and setting the pace nearly from wire to wire. “I’ve raced here now four times and I’ve won four times. That’s pretty good,” he said on Sunday. “I came for the podium, I really came for the podium. I tried to get the pressure off a little bit, but after the first lap I felt I could win and then I went full for the win.” Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
World Cup Valkenburg — Jonathan Page
Barely 10 meters off the start line, disaster struck for Jonathan Page. The American tangled with another rider, tearing the rear derailleur from his bike and forcing him to run for the pit. Though the pits were only a short distance from the start, the accident left him more than a minute down on the rest of the field. Page continued, closing the gap and making up ground, but finished a disappointing 41st. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
World Cup Valkenburg — Corne Van Kessel
“Before the race I expected top 10, and all the race I did between six and eight, and in the last lap the group in front of me didn’t ride any more,” said Corne Van Kessel, who finished third, one of a host of young Dutch riders to challenge Belgian hegemony this season. “I could close the gap to place two, I think. It was amazing. Tom Meeusen gave a sign to me that when I close the gap I have to go directly, and I tried and only Kevin [Pauwels] passed me the last half lap or something.” Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
World Cup Valkenburg — Thijs Van Amerongen
Thijs van Amerongen led Sven Nys on the run-up near the middle of the race. The undulating course on the Cauberg — famous also as the final climb in recent editions of the Amstel Gold Race — featured numerous runs and dismounts and constant changes in terrain and pitch. Though Sunday was bright and warm, much of the track was heavily shaded and remained slick. The constant variation took a toll on riders who failed to maintain focus for the whole race. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
World Cup Valkenburg — Jeremy Powers
American national champion Jeremy Powers posted an excellent ninth-place finish after battling for a spot in the top 10 for most of the day. “Generally, I’m happy with how it went because top 10 is what my goal was and I achieved that,” he said. “It’s a great stone from here to step through. It’s a good place to start from the beginning of the season with what I’m shooting for.” Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
World Cup Valkenburg — Meeusen and Pauwels
Belgian Tom Meeusen was in the hunt for the podium along with Kevin Pauwels all day, and a spot in the top three looked like it was his to lose until — indeed — he lost it. Meeusen overcooked a corner in the closing moments of the final lap and tapped the barriers. It cost barely a second, but it was enough to put the podium out of reach. He would settle for fifth. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
World Cup Valkenburg — Walsleben Supporters
Though European cyclocross fandom has traditionally belonged to adult men, increasingly it has become a family activity, especially on days as beautiful as Sunday was in the Netherlands. German champion Philipp Walsleben got some support from a father and child as he raced for a spot in the top 10. Walsleben eventually finished seventh. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
World Cup Valkenburg — Sven Nys
It was a day to forget for Belgian Champion Sven Nys, who abandoned the race after plummeting from racing for a spot in the top five to barely inside the top 20 with two laps to go. Nys, who skipped a race Thursday due to illness, has also struggled in hot races in recent years. He told Belgian broadcaster Sporza it was simply a bad day, unfortunately one that coincided with the debut of the 2014 World Cup. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
World Cup Valkenburg — The Race for Second Place
With Lars van der Haar long gone, the real race was for second place. For much of the day, the race for the podium was between Belgians Kevin Pauwels, Tom Meeusen, and Klaas Vantornout. But of the trio only Pauwels, in second, would manage a spot in the top three. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
World Cup Valkenburg — Powers and Proctor
Jeremy Powers took a deep breath after racing to a top 10 on the Cauberg alongside U.S. national team coach Geoff Proctor. “I was really proud this weekend to see Jeremy approach the weekend with confidence and fortitude,” said Proctor, who, as founder of the EuroCrossCamp, has mentored Powers for more than a decade. “We were sharing a smile as we reminisced about his first trip to EuroCrossCamp with me 11 ’cross seasons ago. To see a rider with his talent stick to a vision — his vision, my vision, a shared vision — that to me is development. I look forward to working with him this season as he goes for the highest level.” Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
World Cup Valkenburg — Oma Fientje
A fixture in the front row at the podium ceremony on days when Kevin Pauwels lands in the top three is the Belgian rider’s grandmother — Oma, in Flemish — Fientje. At 81 she still is Pauwel’s strongest supporter, clapping, waving, singing, and leading Pauwels’ legion of family and supporters in “Kevin Pauwels” cheers. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
- Yesterday, the World Cup at Valkenburg had plenty of drama, with Katie Compton pulling off a last lap comeback in the Women’s Elite Race over ... The post Valkenburg in Pictures – Full Results: Men, Women, U23 and Juniors appeared first on Cyclocross Magazine - Cyclocross News, Races,...
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Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) is chilling out by now. With the last races of the year in the history books, the 2014 racing season is in the rearview mirror.
By any measure, the 2014 campaign was a great year for the American. He opened the season by finishing second to Chris Froome (Sky) at the Tour of Oman. But that was followed up by a setback at Paris-Nice, when he abandoned ill. Just as quickly, he rebounded at the Volta a Catalunya to win a horrible stage in the Pyrenees for what would be his first UCI WorldTour-level professional victory. After skipping a defense at the Amgen Tour of California, van Garderen’s high hopes for the Tour de Romandie faded when he hit a tree branch and was forced to abandon. That up-and-down turn of fortune set the tone for the remainder of the year.
At the Tour de France, it was one step back, but two steps forward. He matched a career-best fifth but called the race his “best ever” Tour, simply because nothing came easy. After defending at the USA Pro Challenge, he helped power BMC to the world pro team time trial title in September. That was enough highs and lows for anyone.
For van Garderen, going into late October, it’s time to recover, relax, and reflect, and to plan for the coming season. The 2014 season was a building block, a stepping-stone, and a transition to where he’s going and where he wants to be. VeloNews sat down with van Garderen to look back at a season full of highs and lows.
VeloNews: Looking back at 2014, what do you take away? You won some big races, but you also had some challenges; how do you view the season?
Tejay van Garderen: I would rank this as my best season ever. There were some hiccups early in the season, with my sickness at Paris-Nice, and my crash at Romandie, which led into a bad Dauphiné. There were also a lot of positives from the season. I got my first WorldTour win at Catalunya. I was able to defend at USA Pro [Challenge in Colorado]. The Tour de France was up and down, but in the end, I was very happy with that. I was second to Froome at Oman, so yeah, I am very satisfied.
VN: Last year, you won for the first time as a pro, and this year, a first in Europe. What does that mean to change the podiums into wins?
TVG: It would be even nicer to convert some of that success I’ve had in the States over here in Europe, but in all honesty, the races over here are a lot harder. I think the team is doing a really good job. I just have to keep following the natural progression. So hopefully next year I can get a few more wins. It’s never easy to win, and it’s especially hard at the WorldTour level.
VN: What was your highlight?
TVG: When I won at the first summit finish at Volta a Catalunya. That was on a day that was just atrocious; rain, snow, 20 kilometers of climbing, it was a legit climb. It wasn’t a win from a breakaway. I beat Quintana, Froome, Contador. I think a lot of guys saw me as a good climber who can ride tempo, but to win like that, that was important. OK, it wasn’t the Tour de France, and maybe everyone wasn’t on their best form, but to win like that, on a real summit finale, that was a big confidence boost, to show that I could climb like that against those guys.
VN: Riders such as Vincenzo Nibali, Alberto Contador, and Chris Froome are at the top of the sport. Do you consider yourself at their level?
TVG: I’ve got a ways to go before I can really compare myself to those guys. I think I am close, nipping at the heels. If I was to really be honest, I’ve got a little more developing to do. I can see areas where I can improve, and I am willing to do the work.
VN: Such as?
TVG: My explosiveness. And other sorts of fitness work off the bike. It’s one thing to bust out sit-ups for 15 minutes, but I need to look at other ways to strengthen where I need to strengthen. Position on the bike. Diet. Things like that.
VN: How big are the differences at the top of the sport?
TVG: We are looking at fractions of a percent. If you’re not doing that, you’re 3-4 percent behind, and that’s where I feel like I am behind those guys.
VN: Looking back at the Tour as your first as a team captain, where do you rank it personally?
TVG: That was my best Tour this year, easily. You have a lot “what ifs.” I got sick, I crashed a few times, I bonked that one day, and that really cost me a lot of time. There are “what ifs” on the other side, with Contador and Froome crashing out, that opened up some doors for me. At one point, I thought I was going to get on the podium, but that didn’t happen. It looked like a possibility. I just take it for what it is. I try to learn from the mistakes and move on, and focus on next year, and keep chipping away. One day I do believe I will be on the podium in the Tour.
VN: You were on antibiotics at one point, when did you become sick?
TVG: After that day to Belles Filles, I got sick the day after that. The whole peloton was just getting wrecked. That day started sunny, and then it was a freezing day in the rain. It was up and down, and there was never a chance to go back for a jacket, and we were just in shorts and jerseys. Everyone just came down with something after that. That will knock your immune system.
VN: You also had a few crashes. How much did those set you back?
TVG: They were not serious in terms of injuries, but crashing takes it out of you. When you’re missing that skin, it makes it hard to sleep. You roll over, and you hit the wound, and it wakes you up. On stage 7, that cost me one minute, that also was a setback.
VN: What lessons do you take out of the Tour?
TVG: It just showed me that you have to keep on fighting. I had all these things happen to me, and I still had my best Tour ever. It would have been easy to give up, and to say, “OK, I crashed, I got sick, I lost time, let’s try again next year.” You keep moving forward, and keep thinking about being in the moment, you can come to Paris, and still be happy.
VN: It’s a cliché to say “one day at a time,” but at the Tour, is that true?
TVG: That’s all you can do. You can never turn the page before you get there. You have no idea what’s going to happen, you have no idea what the other teams are going to do. You just got to take it day by day.
VN: You were looking good for a possible podium, but then you bonked in the Pyrénées. What happened?
TVG: It was a bonk. I can pinpoint a few things that were off; I didn’t eat enough on the rest day, I didn’t eat enough during the stage. I just had no appetite. Then I got on that climb, and thought, “I’m in trouble.” I know that feeling. You’re seeing stars a little bit. I just bonked. By then it’s too late. If you wait to eat until you bonk, it’s game over.
VN: And then Movistar attacked; you knew they were going for you?
TVG: It was the worst possible combination. Their plan was obvious; they wanted to get rid of me because I was a time trialer and I was the biggest threat to [Alejandro] Valverde. Movistar attacked me, and they did that plan on my worst day. There are no sour grapes — that’s racing, but that was a tough day.
VN: You seemed to bounce back pretty fast, and were back on the attack; did you still hope to move up?
TVG: Even after that bonk, I was still holding out hope for the podium. I looked back at the results from 2012, and I put three minutes into [Thibaut] Pinot, on a similar course and distance. Obviously, he’s worked a lot, but I was still thinking: “if Pinot had a bad day and I had a great day, Valverde is fading” — all these things were going through my mind. At the end of the day, I was happy to move up just one place, by the skin of my teeth. I was still amped up, nothing is impossible, we’re still going for it.
VN: It was your first year as a captain without Cadel Evans; how was that experience?
TVG: It was a good experience. The team did an awesome job. It wasn’t to say that everyone was just around me. The guys were free to jump into the breakaways. We had a plan for the GC, but we also wanted to win a stage. We came close. The team rode the most aggressive I’ve ever seen them, and we rode really smart.
VN: Are you already thinking about your schedule for 2015?
TGV: I want to wait until to see the routes. I am sure it will follow a similar format; Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico, depending which has a better course for me. Then back to Catalunya. Cali is a question mark, obviously the Tour will be the pinnacle of the season, and that will be the main focus.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the October 2014 issue of Velo magazine.
Talent is a gift, a lovely box with a pretty ribbon. Expectation is a leaden cloak upon thin shoulders.
There is a pressure to perform in sport, just as there is in life, but it’s magnified in such a complex arena like cycling. Small mistakes are extrapolated into patterns of failure, a tome of publicly perceived underachievement.
Just ask Tejay van Garderen — the next great thing for now, and maybe the next great underperformer thereafter.
“It happens really fast. You go from a young rider to an underachiever — so fast. A few years ago, 2010, my neo-pro year. I was third at the [Critérium du] Dauphiné. Everyone was like, ‘Oh!’ All praise,” van Garderen said early in the 2014 season. “I was still young. And, then, all of a sudden, after a couple years of getting what I thought were really good results, it was like it just shifted into being, ‘Well, when’s he actually going to do something meaningful?’”
“Meaningful” is in the eye of the beholder. Van Garderen, 25, finished fifth in the 2012 Tour de France en route to claiming the white jersey, so it was clear early on that he was no slouch. Such a result would seem enough to keep the wolves at bay, though he said on countless occasions leading to the 2014 Tour that he was out to prove that performance wasn’t a “fluke.”
In 2013, he lost nearly four minutes on his GC rivals in stage 8 of the Tour, the first day in the Pyrenees. Upon the bell-curve of expectation, where results and age drive pressure upward, he is still climbing. Until he reaches the top, he will be the subject of speculation: Can he ever live up to potential set by others?
In 2014, he finished fifth again, a confirmation of his 2012 result, taking an eraser to the tepid 2013 campaign. In his first Tour as an outright leader, he battled hard and stayed afloat.
“I’m absolutely happy with it. I’m thrilled with it,” he said. “The result is secondary to the journey we took on this Tour, because of all the adversity we faced with the four crashes — I did two rounds of antibiotics with the crashes — I had a bonk, and even back to [the Tour du] Romandie when I had a fractured hip. We were just facing an uphill headwind the entire time. But the team never lost faith. … We fought every day. And that’s a damn good result, I think.”
The public and press, though, are always antsy.
“Sometimes I think the public maybe gets a little impatient. They think, ‘Okay, we know you’re good. But it’s time.’ You’ve got to just kind of ignore it a little bit — you know, let things happen on your time rather than theirs,” he said.
Van Garderen is far from alone, and in a way he’s fortunate there are expectations upon him at all. Still, it’s easy to let the burden to perform become personal.
“It’s hard not to,” van Garderen said. “But at the same time, if you spend too much energy on it … I’m the one out there doing it. And I can only do my best.”
So, what does it all do to an athlete, a young athlete, in particular, to be digested by the hype-machine, toasted, torn down? Stress, is the simple answer.
“Stress is physical and mental,” said Kristin Keim, a clinical psychologist with a focus on health psychology, neuropsychology, and clinical sport psychology. Keim also runs a performance consulting business. “Athletes are already putting themselves in a lot of physical [stress], because you’re basically going out there, you’re ripping your body apart. I mean, that’s what athletes do. So you’re under a high demand of cortisol from the physical component. On top of being an athlete and racing, it is mentally stressful. I don’t care who you are — you race a bike, you’re stressed out.”
Is the pressure to win for an athlete the same as, say, the pressure to hold down a job, or feed a family, for an average person? It may start that way, but physical activity can bend the arc of stress in different ways.
Across the board, the reaction to stress starts the same. After perceiving a stressor, the hypothalamus sends a chemical message to the pituitary gland, and then another message is sent via the blood to the adrenal glands, which produce stress hormones. Those glands, atop the kidneys, secrete cortisol, which then binds to receptors and jolts the body into action to handle the stressor.
Cortisol is a reliable biomarker of stress, generally speaking. For example, higher cortisol levels are an indicator of lower socio-economic status, according to studies. But not all of this reaction is detrimental to one’s physical capabilities, as stress is something the body needs to respond, according to Keim.
In endurance athletes, cortisol levels are higher than in most other athletes, Keim said, as spikes in the hormone are released during prolonged exercise. Bike racers, then, are an inherently vulnerable niche of a larger population that puts an emphasis on progression and achievement.
“I would have fourth-graders stressed out about SATs, and where they’re going to college. So, obviously, in our society, kids today have an enormous amount of pressure that I didn’t have when I was growing up,” Keim said of her psychology work. In cyclists, and in those from ages 19 to 23 in particular, she notes an overload. “The stress that I see is not only the expectation of their performance. The stress on the bike is the last thing. It’s trying to go to school, or figuring out, ‘Do I need to go to school?’” she said.
Metabolic and hormonal changes influence stressors broadly, and performance, or lack thereof, can have a cyclical effect on mental states and, in turn, performance.
According to clinical studies, underperforming will cause an athlete to increase his or her training, and overtraining can then lead to a depressive-like state. In a medical paper entitled “Trainability of Young Athletes and Overtraining,” published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, authors Nuno Matos and Richard J. Winsley write that “the frustration due to the lack of performance typically drives the athlete to further increase the amount of training that he/she is doing, which just exacerbates the situation by increasing physical and emotional fatigue, with a consequent worsening in performance.”
That sequence of events can result in changes in mood, sleep disruption, and losses in hunger and weight. That, the paper noted, can ultimately lead to depression.
“Overtraining and clinical major depression share many similarities; therefore, overtraining should be studied by acknowledging this perspective,” the authors wrote.
That sentiment is crystalized in Keim’s clinical experience, notably with developing riders.
“Often that is the time where people get this mentality that more is better. And they still have the idea they’re invincible, because they’re teenagers, so they push the limit,” she said.
And young or older, riders are prone to falling down a rabbit hole of doubt, specifically in the case of injuries.
“One injury, an injury that may only be minor, can turn to just a dark place easily. Because you’re overseas, you’re away from your family, you’re away from your friends,” Keim said. “It makes me feel kind of claustrophobic just saying that. Again, we see from the outside, or the normal person sees, ‘Oh, it’s a dream job, you’re racing the Tour de France.’ They’re miserable half the time!”
Media hype and exposure contribute to the cycle. Consider the case of Taylor Phinney. The BMC Racing rider has been on the cover of Velo magazine four times — the same number of professional road wins to his credit. Phinney knows that with such coverage come expectations.
“I’m lucky to have the head that I have. Because, for sure, every year there’s sort of added pressure. And people from the outside, they want things from you now. They don’t want to go through the process of personal growth in sport, because when you get a lot of attention you then have a lot of expectations,” Phinney said. “Every athlete’s canned answer is that the pressure that that athlete feels is only from himself and not from anybody else. But, for sure, there’s outside pressure. And, I’ve always — one of the best things I’ve always done — is compared my career trajectory in this sport to some other guys who I look up to the most, who I’m currently racing with.”
For Phinney, those are riders like Fabian Cancellara, Tony Martin, and Tom Boonen — icons now, certainly, though it wasn’t always the case.
“When they were my age, they were in a similar position. Maybe Tom was the guy with the most attention. But Cancellara, Tony Martin, they were just kind of scratching at the surface,” Phinney said.
This confluence of ability, promise, and results is a precarious merger. And there are outliers that complicate the calculation of age and expectation. Like Peter Sagan.
“Keeping all that in mind is made even more difficult by a guy like Peter Sagan who shows up at my age or even two, three years ago, and just starts rocking the peloton from a super young age,” Phinney said. “And then people from the outside are like, ‘Wait, Taylor’s that age, and why isn’t he doing that?’ For sure, in my mind, I’ve thought that as well, because we raced together as juniors.”
Sagan, though, has his own battles to fight. Those green jerseys come with an interest rate. He won the points competition again, easily, in 2014, but he didn’t win a stage in spite of finishing in the top five on seven occasions in the first seven stages. Even with such success, the Cannondale star — headed to Tinkoff-Saxo next season — was none too pleased with the negative racing against him, and the media’s constant needling.
“Why do you always ask the same questions?” Sagan snapped at one TV journalist after a stage in the Tour’s second week. “You need to do your homework.”
One day in Oman early this season, a cluster of recorders picked up the words the 24-year-old was saying, but they couldn’t see his face, or see his shoulders shrugging. This was a different Sagan than the playful one the sport was used to seeing and hearing.
A longing press and public often misunderstand him, his boyishness lost in translation, from his native Slovakian to an English that comes out broadside before it hits recorders. It’s hard to tell, in written words, if he’s in good spirits or not. Most of the time, he grins when answering questions.
But on this day, he came across subdued. He batted away questions about his looming, inevitable excellence in one-day races.
“I am still young, 24 years. I don’t have anything to lose. I said this three years ago,” Sagan said. “When I’m just riding the bike and thinking about my life or something, it’s easy. But outside, it’s a little bit … I don’t know. Too many people they stop me, they just want to speak about the classics, about the race, ‘How [do] you feel?’ and I don’t like it. The bike and cycling is one thing that I do, and in my life there are other things, no?”
No, and yes. The hype beast will bite. It’s up to the riders who win to keep winning, and those who’ve yet to win to keep striving. That pretty package of talent, once opened, can feel very heavy.
Look no further than the youthful Sagan. Asked point blank if this was all still fun, he just shrugged.
“Yeah,” he said. “But [to have] fun I must win something.”
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