Pull, and pull, and pull, and pull

Tour de Korea 2014, stage 6, and we’re trying to defend our 2nd place on General Classification (GC) with a mountain-top finish looming at the end of a 177km stage. A big breakaway of non-threatening riders was let go early on in the stage and together with the leading GC team, OCBC Singapore Cycling Team sent our Korean sprinter and myself (Ji Wen) to do the legwork at the front of the peloton. The stage was raced in typical Euro fashion, which is to say, let the break go then control the pace before ramping it up near the end to bring them back. This one wouldn’t be quite so simple.

For any of you who have taken pulls on the front of a group, you’ll understand how tiring it is. Now throw in 6 previous days of racing and fighting to hold position, and it very quickly becomes a different beast. With 4 riders sharing duties on the front for almost the whole stage we seemed to be doing well to hold the gap steady. It starts raining.

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The timing board suddenly shows us we are way further behind than we were just a few mins ago. It’s not possible that the breakaway would gain minutes on us at this paceĀ and in such a short distance. We figured that the time gaps must have been given inaccurately this whole time… Thanks… Doing some quick math we had JUST enough distance left to be able to catch the breakaway before the finish, but it meant we had to go as hard as we possibly could from now on. To add to this challenge, our Korean sprinter had crashed the day before and soon ran out of legs to contribute to the chase. We were down to 3. My Spanish counterparts at the head of the race have much less of an aversion to hills than me and so every time the road headed skyward for anything more than a kilometer, I would get spat off the front hanging onto the rear of the peloton by the thinnest of threads. Ordinarily I wouldn’t be in this position, but the fatigue of pulling the whole day was taking its toll. I didn’t fancy riding the rest of the stage alone and last, and plus I desperately wanted to see my teammate retain his GC position.

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Over the top of yet another hill and I grab some bottles from the car before immediately making my way to the front again. The peloton is all strung out because of the intensity and it takes me a good few KM to get back to the front. Hand off the bottles to my teammates, who are surprised I’m back at all, and get straight back to work. By this point, the searing in my legs and torture in my lungs is so normal it becomes part of the background feeling and I’ve stopped focusing on it. I have one objective and that is to close down the gap to the breakaway, as much as possible, before the final climb.

The cycle repeats, hang on uphill, recover ground on the downhills and pull on the flats. The GC leader raced for a long time with a World-Tour team and he was nice enough to come up to me and say I was a strong rider. Whether it was to encourage me to pull longer and harder or a genuine compliment, I appreciated it. We finally hit the bottom of the final climb and the attacks start. I shoot straight out the back, spent.

Another dropped rider gets a puncture and his team car has gone ahead. Been there before, and while i commiserated with his unlucky situation I just wanted to get to the finish, have a nice warm shower, some hot food and collapse into a lump of flesh on the bed. Good luck to him riding uphill on the flat. Soon after I see a familiar jersey. Finally i’m riding uphill as fast as a Spaniard! Too tired to say a word we just plug away meter by meter, waiting for the agony to end. We never caught the breakaway but we closed it down enough to hold onto our GC position. Job
done. Another mountain top finish to look forward to the next day!

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(Photos from Tour de Korea Facebook)

Mental strength: The willingness to suffer

Shut up legs!

So you’ve got the highest VO2max values in the world …

Your LT values are through the roof …

You’ve got the latest, super – light, fastest looking bike around …

You’re decked out in top – notch gear … from your helmet to your shoes …

You show up at the start line and a wave of whispers go through the rest of the peloton.

BUT. If you ain’t willing to suffer, there’s no way you’re gonna win this race.

One of the beauties of cycling is suffering. That’s right, S-U-F-F-E-R-I-N-G. And if you don’t have a hard man mentality or a mind willing to suffer, you’re not going to succeed in this sport, win a race, or let alone hang on to your local group ride.

You often hear quotes turned cliches like “mind over matter” … “it’s not about the bike” … and cliches being cliches, you often start to doubt them or filter them off in your mind thinking that it’s just a whole lot of nonsense and “macho-ism”.

But think about it, it ain’t nonsense. Just ask any serious elite cyclist or professional, and they’ll all tell you the same thing, that if you aren’t willing to suffer on your bike and sacrifice a bit of comfort and trade it for the hardship cycling has to offer, you aren’t gonna improve.

Personally, I’ve had many days where I’d to psych myself up and drag myself to get onto the bike, especially in bad weather or from the lack of sleep. I’ve done intervals and pushed myself to the limit that I’m left gasping for air and trying to recover from the pain felt in the legs for minutes before I can start moving again. I’ve seen fellow teammates and cyclists push themselves till they fall onto the ground as soon as they cross the finish line. Most recently, I’ve attacked, cramped up straightaway, and just kept going despite still cramping and broke – away.

We all need to be able to say “SHUT UP LEGS!” and force our body to obey the mind if we truly want to improve, or win. It’s not easy, but it can be done.

Suffering is the essence of cycling, and pretty much for most things in life. If you learn how to suffer in cycling, you learn how to grit your teeth, put in the work required, and suffer in life. Vice versa.

P.S: For an introduction to the world of pain, do check out these videos at www.thesufferfest.com and if you still do not feel like you’ve suffered enough, let them know! They’ll make sure you get your money’s worth!