What a year. For the 2017 season I completed more than 900 hours of training and racing, and my body really feels it. But despite the physical tiredness, I have an incredible feeling of accomplishment after a year that has exceeded all expectations.
So what was the season tally? A total of 14 race and stage wins and 23 podiums in Belgium and internationally, including overall victories in the Giro Sardinia and Viking Tour of Norway, 2nd at the Tour of Cyprus and 3rd at the Tour of Good Hope, South Africa where I also took the King of the Mountains jersey. I had three race wins in Flanders, and several podiums at races in the Ardennes. In addition to the podiums, I had around a dozen top ten finishes including 4th in the Tour of Brussels. Two of my wins were from solo breakaways, while the rest came in sprint finishes.
Stage 1 – Tour of Norway – 1st Place
One of my biggest goals for the year had been the 155km UCI World Masters Championships in Albi, France. But the 27th of August was just not my day. Despite being positioned at the front of the race right from the start, I was caught up in a crash at around the 45-kilometer mark. From being positioned with the front twenty guys, I suddenly found myself at the back of more than 270 riders and expended a lot of energy to get back into contention.
Despite making it 100kms into the race with just the best 30 or so riders still in the front group, the earlier efforts saw me starting to cramp. Not just little cramps, but the kind of agonising cramps that bring you to a complete standstill. I stopped by the side of the road, stretched and then got back on my bike and hobbled home in 32nd position, about five minutes down on the overall winners.
It’s funny, but I really did not feel disappointment after the World Championships. I had so many condolence calls and messages from family and friends, many of them expressing their sympathy for my misfortune. But my perspective was completely positive – despite the bad luck in Albi, I was still very proud to be the best placed Australian rider.
Doing well in France would have been icing on the cake to my 2017 season, but even without the icing I still had an amazing cake! So my family, my coach Allan Davis and I still celebrated. Just getting to the World Championships was a victory in itself, and the very fact that I had worked so hard to make it had been the reason for all of my other triumphs throughout the year. As my ten-year-old son Charlie said after the finish, “You still did good Pappa. You can’t win all the time.”
With Ries, Hannah and Charlie after finish, World Championships Albi France
At the end of September I travelled to Varese in northern Italy for my final races of the season. I competed in a 22km Individual Time Trial (ITT) and the 135km “Tre Valli Varesine” road race, both qualification events for the 2018 World Championships.
I did the fastest ITT of my life, finishing 9th overall and just seconds behind some of the best Time Trial specialists in Europe, including former German, Italian and Ukrainian national champions. My top ten result automatically qualified me for the ITT at next year’s Worlds.
The road race was almost a repeat of Albi, but this time I crashed on a steep and slippery descent about half way into the race. I smashed myself up a bit, but got back on my bike and battled on to the finish with a chase group. I knew that I was way down on the leaders, but decided to contest the sprint against the ten or so guys with whom I came to the line. I knew that only the top 25% of finishers would qualify to race the 2018 World Championships, but I had only a rough idea of how many riders were in front of me.
I was first across the line from that small group, and in doing so ended 54th out of a total of 216 finishers – so I was the very last guy to qualify! Despite the cracked frame, torn clothing and gravel rash, I had another reason to be happy.
So I am tired. But it is a really good kind of tired. Because it is not tiredness brought about by work stress or anxiety or lack of sleep. It is a tiredness that comes from pushing your body to the limit, by physically doing the work that has to be done to reach your full potential as an athlete. The tiredness that I feel reminds me that I have achieved things this year that I never imagined I could accomplish. So I welcome the tiredness – I embrace it.