It seems like a lifetime ago I last checked in from the other side of the ‘bubble’.
The recent news of Levi [Leipheimer] and his subsequent departure from OMQS was (I suppose rather naïvely of me) a huge shock. I suppose I never really thought too much about this stuff as I’m so convinced it’s not going on anymore. I’m still undecided on whether I agree with Lefevre’s or Vaughters’ stance. In one way, I guess it will be almost impossible to weed out and establish the cheats unless there is some type of amnesty. On the other hand, is it fair that they cheat for so long, and to such a degree, and just cop a six-month holiday in the winter?
That’s the first and only mention of doping you’ll find in this blog. You know why? Because it’s not an issue any more. It’s in the past and what was done was done. That’s how it was then and this is how it is now. That’s how I see it. We need to stop talking about it and give our generation the credit we deserve. Why should we pay when the others are sat drinking their expensive wine in their million dollar homes? Forget them, it didn’t happen. Lance who?
Right. Let’s return to clean cycling.
A piece of unsurprising news came with Cav’s eventual signing. I think it’s the best thing he could have done, although I think he made the decision one year too late. It’s perfectly suited to him. OMQS doesn’t have a top sprinter, nor a top GC rider, so I guess the troops will be all at his disposal. He’s also back together with the old HTC brigade,; those guys got the best out of him before and I’m confident they will again.
Once again, I’m sorry for being so slack in staying in touch. I guess I haven’t had much positive news to spread. Last time I wrote, I was excited to race, and en route to the US for “America’s toughest race” and “America’s biggest race”! I should have known better. I had briefly brushed up on the race routes and, yeah, I guessed it would be a pretty tough block of racing but surely there would be some controlled days: a sprint stage and maybe one or two chances for a breakaway? How naïve I was.
Utah turned out to be nothing short of a disaster. A fantastic place, and a fantastic place to RIDE a bike, but to RACE a bike?? Certainly not. Not for me anyway. The climbs where long and steep, the air was thin, and the temperature was crazy. The first stage started full gas. I was immediately in the ‘red’ but managed to suffer through and do what I could for Levi going into the final climb. Next up was a TTT. We were only at the start with six riders, so it was always going to be tough against the rest. We started well, going good, then the team car comes along side. Brian Holm is hanging out of the window just smiling and shaking his head. Three kilometres in and we were down to four riders (we had to finish with five). It was a total disaster and I think we finished last.
Stage Two. “Cover the breaks in the first 10km before the climb, Matt,” said Brian. I did just that, managed to get in the break after about 7kms. Then suddenly the peloton came past full gas as we turned onto that first climb. We were at over 3000m already, my Garmin was reading 42 degrees and the road just went up, up, up. I can honestly say that was the worst I have ever felt on a bike. I was riding about 15kph, 250w and I just couldn’t go any faster. That was me done. The peloton rode away into the distance and my race was over. I learned the hard way that at altitude when you go into the red it’s hard to come back!
So after a couple of weeks training I was at last adjusting to the altitude and had adapted to the slow motion style of cycling. Colorado [USA Pro Cycling Challenge] was looming, and the profiles looked just as scary as Utah, but I was told it wasn’t as severe: just long climbs, not so steep. 25kms uphill to 3800m, and, oh, just to make it a little more exciting, we were riding on gravel. Awesome. I hated it. I was struggling like never before. My knee injury was starting to come back and before I knew it I was in excruciating pain and barely able to turn the pedals. I wanted to stop and go home, jack it in. It was too hard and I was in too much pain. Levi insisted that I soldier through – he needed me. He wanted to win. So I took a concoction of pain killers, anti inflammatory, wrapped myself in tape and tried to block out the pain. Somehow, I managed to get through it; I didn’t want to let Levi down. I was pretty proud and happy to survive, even though I was more than an hour behind the rest. It didn’t work out for Levi: he didn’t have it on the last TT.
After this, my season was pretty much finished. My knee needed operating on and I could only mange to string together two to three days of cycling without the pain returning. I did a couple of one-day races in Belgium but soon enough, I knew enough was enough. I had to rest and get the thing fixed. It was a pretty disappointing end to a pretty disappointing season. It was just one of those years that never fell into place. I had really wanted to make a step up from last year. I trained hard and prepared well for my season goals and each time something cropped up and got in the way: injury, sickness or not being selected. It wasn’t my best season.
In the meantime, this has given me even more motivation to come back strong and put myself back on the map, riding to my full potential. I had my knee op to remove a Plica [tissue in the knee] three weeks ago now. The op went well and my rehabilitation is well under way. After a few weeks of the old ‘RICE’ procedure [Rest, Ice, Compression, and Rehabilitation] I’m now back into the swing of being an athlete. Redcord in the morning, a bit of cycling in the day and weight training in the evening doesn’t leave time for much else. This time of the year is probably one of my favourite times. It’s one of the only chances I get to just ‘ride my bike’: no training, no numbers; just peddling and enjoying cycling. That’s what it’s all about!