It's just gone six in the morning and I'm at the airport heading back home to Spain after my final race of the year. Yesterday was the Paris-Tour World Cup. My final UCI race for the 2003 season. It was also my final race with Team CSC. I will not be continuing with the team next year and instead, have signed a contract with the mighty green French team, Credit Agricole. For good or bad, I don't know. In the end, I wasn't presented with a whole lot of options and when I weighed things up, this seemed like the most smart option to take. I feel a bit apprehensive about the whole move because it's never easy changing teams, having to settle in and finding your place in the team. But at the same time, the management of the team have been really awesome about getting me settled straight into things and so far they've been super organised so that's gotta be good. More than anything, I feel a huge sense of relief. It's been a rough time for Carole and I over this silly season of contract signing and we're just glad the madness is finally over.
Anyway, the race...I had a terrible night last night. I always thought that after a big race like a World Cup, my body would shut down I'd be able to sleep well. For some reason it's the opposite. I always find it really difficult to sleep. What made it worse was that I was in a shite airport hotel room. I was rooming with Lars Michaelson who was sleeping like a trooper. I didn't want to disturb him so I just lay there quietly, watching the minutes tick by on the t.v clock display. Hence, the reason why I'm at the airport 2hrs 30min before my flight. I think this would have to be a bit of a record for me....usually I'm just making my flights in the nick of time....unless of course Carole has anything to do with it! Ideally, I would've liked to have written this last night. I had so many thoughts bouncing off the side of my head about the race yesterday and my future with Credit Agricole but tapping away on the computer at 2am in the morning didn't seem overly considerate to Lars.
I approached yesterday's race with an intense focus. I did well in it last year and knew that I had the form to do even better this time round. I felt that it was my chance to take my career to the next level if I could win or get on the podium. I was feeling super strong and knew from Franco-Belge and my training during the week, that I was flying. I just had to do things right. It's good to win regularly during the year and have consistent results, accumulating a good amount of points throughout the year, but I've learnt recently that it's not what gets the good contracts. It's the big victories that bring the good contracts. In a way, I don't really think it matters how much you win throughout the season. Unless you can show yourself in the biggest races, you won't really get taken seriously when it comes to contract time. So for me, I wanted to add to my consistent run of wins and places, with a podium in Paris-Tours; to show that I'm close to, and capable of, winning World Cups. Unfortunately, I didn't pull it off. Sixth was a good effort but it won't really help me to take it up another notch.
I've been thinking about the final 2km a lot and I'm not sure where I went wrong or if I could've done better. I know that I let myself get boxed in and ended up with very little room to move when I needed to. For sure I had the speed and strength to make the podium but just not the right moves, in the final few hundred metres, at the right time. Some of it was out of my control - I had no support in the final which made holding position super hard - but a certain percentage of it was my responsibility I've been as fast as, and often even faster than the fastest guys in the world, over the last month but today I didn't give myself a chance to truly go head to head with them. In retrospect, I should've been more aggressive and thrown a few more elbows. I think that this is what's really eating at me at the moment. Time will pass and I'll get over my disappointment but I won't entirely forget it. I'll try and use it to learn from. It's my best World Cup result and I'm one step closer to making a Classic's podium. This knowledge is great for my confidence and I just have to keeping on pushing for the big one.
As for my future with my new team...I don't really know what to tell you as I don't know what to think myself. I'm not sure what my place will be. They already have a couple of sprinters and I'll be the third. I'll have to show myself early in the season to earn my place in the team. It's a French team so they'll ride the Tour. Hopefully there'll be a chance for me to make the Tour team...Although judging on my past experiences with trying to get to the Tour, I'm not holding my breath. My biggest hurdle with fitting into the team will be the language barrier. I have to learn French. After living in Spain for almost 5 years, I've realised that I just don't have the 'learn-a-language-easy gene'. I enjoy learning Spanish and I get by ok but to be honest, my Spanish isn't too flash and it's a struggle for me. So having to learn French will no doubt throw a bloody big spanner into my linguistic works that'll make things tough, but in saying this, the skill will be one that I'll take from this team and have for the rest of my life. In that sense, the change will be worth it.
I had a shite time getting a contract. When you've had a successful season like I've had and the team you are riding for doesn't want to re-sign you, there is normally a reason for that. People start to question the integrity and morals of the rider. They think he must be a difficult character and ask, 'Why else does his team not want to re-sign him after he's been so successful?'. I think that a lot of prospective teams thought this. Maybe it's true. Maybe I am a dickhead although I don't like to think so! (For the record Julz, I don't like to think I'm married to a dickhead either! - Carole) I don't really know why CSC didn't want me to keep me. Maybe it came down to the team's current financial situation or my inability to convince Bjarne I was worthy of re-signing. Whatever the case, they never told me and in fact, I was told on many occasions that they wanted to keep me - even though they'd signed 17 riders before finally talking to me. I certainly feel quite disrepected by it all. I always thought it would be a token of respect and loyalty to first take care of those who have done a good service for the team. I did my best for the team the whole year and although there were times when I wasn't good, I always gave 110%. Besides, you can't be good the whole year. The interesting thing was that over the few days when I did try and negotiate with the team, the rough spring I had seemed to be the only thing they've noted from my season. I guess that this highlights one of those harsh realities of pro-cycling. It's more a business than a sport and no matter how passionate you feel about it or how true you stay to it, at the end of the day, for those who fund it, it's just business. Essentially, this was something that helped me to make my decision. In the end, when it came down to talking money, CSC weren't serious about wanting to re-sign me. Although I would have liked to stay with CSC, out of principle I decided not to stay with a team who thinks I'm only worth half of what other teams are willing to pay.
After all is said and done, I'm grateful for the opportunity of riding with CSC for 2 years and I leave a better rider than when I arrived to the team. I had a great time on CSC and met a lot of great blokes who I know I'll be friends with for life. I'll miss hanging out with them. They made some of my tough times, laughable.
Now, it's onwards and hopefully upwards. We have to sort things out here in Spain and make my plans for the coming season. Then, once the finer details are figured out, we'll be heading back to NZ where the first thing on my to-do list is the Tour of Southland. A trip back to my humble beginnings. Should be good. I'm looking forward to it although after 3 wks off the bike, I won't have high hopes of anything great on my behalf....except, of course, a bloody good time...
Thanks to you all for following my road down the 2003 season. Your support is mint and it means a lot to Carole and I.
My new website is not far off from making an appearance....I'll let you know when it's happening....