Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Silver Lining

Optimism is a difficult notion to convoke in the midst of adversity, and even more difficult to maintain, when there is little more than a glimmer of light trickling through the faraway exit of the dark, dreary tunnel that is your world. Time is just as capable of harm as it is healing, when days turn to weeks, and all you can do is sit, wait, and watch your progress dwindle away with the minutes. And for six weeks, that is what I did.

After investing as much time, work and money as I had into my US campaign, it would be the epitome of understatements to say that coming home to a back injury was frustrating, particularly when every attempted treatment seemed to be in vain.

But every cloud has it’s silver lining, and I found mine in the opportunity to review the aspects of my usually frenetic life which had - until then - been overlooked. Seemingly small adjustments began to compound and show progress, and what I lost in six weeks of dormancy, I compensated for with constructive fine tuning of everything else – controlling the controllable, and letting the rest take care of itself.

The interruption also brought about an re-evaluation of my short term focus, as kicking off my training a mere three weeks prior to the Oceania Championships was not sufficient preparation to have my legs in the condition I’d anticipated they would be, when I began what was meant to be my Oceania build up in the states. There is a fine line between optimism and naivety, and I am not one to cross it.

Consequently, the individual pursuit was kicked off the stage and the spotlight shifted to the points and scratch – races which are much more relenting in the case of form deficiency. Fortunately, I had an abundance of base fitness to fall back on, and therefore it didn’t take too long to get back into the routine of pedal turning.

Alas, no amount of base alone is sufficient for the high-intensity, erratic affair that is track cycling – laying the foundations is constructive and crucial, but in no way complete. As a result, I was more than a little underdone heading into the championships. Nonetheless, I took my place on the railing, free from expectations but with my usual incentive, and delivered a decent performance in both races.

It was then a matter of bundling up my bikes in their boxes and skipping across to my favourite side of the ditch. It is with no exaggeration that I say I had been looking forward to the Bundaberg International Cycling Spectacular with great eagerness ever since stepping foot on the plane home from last year’s event. Bundy, in all its unassuming glory, remains my most beloved wee corner of this world. The countryside is beautifully tranquil, the town bustling with matchlessly welcoming locals, infectious smiles and outstanding cafes (Mannas takes the cake with their incredible salmon eggs benedict), and the coastline, with it’s stunning, golden beaches, offers a sunlit paradise only ten minutes away.

My Bundy parents were kind enough to hand me the keys to their lovely home, where I spent the first four days alone (though with the company of my cherished dingoes) , exploring the barren, but enchantingly calm landscapes of rural Bundaberg by bike each morning, and soaking up the sunshine in my own secluded haven all afternoon. Bliss.

The house was soon filled with the addition of three fellow kiwis and our short-term parents’ return from their own little escape in Hawaii, as well as the occasional visit of our gorgeous wee adopted sisters, Olivia and Charlotte. The following week was one of the best I have ever had, surrounded by some of my favourite people, in a beautiful town, and with copious amounts of laughter. Thank you to my besties, Michael and Rac, for making the week unforgettable.

After a test run of the 400m asphalt velodrome at the Wednesday night racing, and a very entertaining Sponsor’s Evening the following night, we were good and ready to set the track alight for the International Cycling Spectacular. Entry numbers had soared by nearly fifty percent from the previous year, and comprised a notable international contingent, including NZ, Germany, Switzerland and Scotland, as well as some of the top young riders from all around Australia. Needless to say, we put on a top notch display for the Bundy locals.

I was very thankful to have my closest friend and dependable team mate, Racquel Sheath (hereby known, for reasons unclear, as the ginger ninja) racing at my side in the Elite Women’s events, and we showed our class with three victories and a number of top three placings, despite being heavily outnumbered. We made a brilliant team with my aggression and lead-outs (and just plain old getting in everyone else’s way) and Racquel’s dominating sprint finishes and elbow-scrapping skills. The Beds’R’Us boys also put on an impressive show, particularly with their valiant ride in the Madison.


I cannot say a big enough Thank You to the Bundaberg Cycling Club, and all of the munificent sponsors of the event, for another incredible experience in my much-loved home away from home. An especially big thank you to Melinda and Darren, Bill and Trish, Peter and Judy, and the town jokers, Sheldo and Juzza, for their matchless benevolence, hospitality and friendship. I miss you all very much already; promise to be back soon.


So where to now?
Next up is the formidable Tour de Vineyards (31st December – 4th January) - a five day tour featuring the daunting Takaka climb of sixteen uncomfortable kilometres, followed by my first attempt at the Elite Road National Championships (11th January) in Christchurch. These two races are somewhat atypical objectives for me, so I’m not sure what to expect. Apart from a great deal of suffering.

Ciao for now,
Cassie


                                                                                            




Saturday, 20 July 2013

Ups and Downs

I could lie and say that - very much like my dining experiences here in the land of supersized portions - my plate has been piled a foot high with all sorts of American adventures, and has left little room for my otherwise frequent blog updates. But the simple truth is, I have been slack.

In fact, I have been left with a lot more time to play with than I would have liked, due to a few unexpected, and unwelcome, hurdles along my way. Only two weeks after arriving here, and on my nineteenth birthday of all days, I proved the common theory of 'they come in threes' to be incorrect, by way of snapping my chain mid sprint and consequently hurtling head first through the air and into a grass ditch. Number Four. 

I walked away mostly unscathed, but another hard hit to the head after two recent concussions meant a week of no pedaling (over $600 USD in medical bills to my insurance provider to receive this prognosis)- and with my seemingly exponential rate of fitness deterioration, I was beginning to feel like for every two steps I took forward, something would throw me three back. Alas, I did the only thing that one can do in that situation but sulk over their misfortune, and shifted my focus to the next achievable goal.

Four weeks in, I found myself moving back into Kutztown University - a result of what would require a long, complicated and dispensable explanation - but the long and short of it is that I am more than content with my new home and fill-in-family - fellow kiwi Patrick Jones, and two rascals from across the ditch, Luke Ockerby and Michael Astell. 

Since then I have done a fair bit of racing, both on the track in Trexlertown, and on the road with the Chesco Grand Prix Racing Series. I struck another run of misfortune during the criterium series, crashing twice in one race, but thankfully came away with little injury to show for it, and threw myself into a long, hard block of training the following week (from which I could swear I am still recovering). 

I still have my head down, ass up, searching through my legs for some decent race form, but I can still feel a little improvement from one week to the next, and at the moment - with my sights set on the 2014 Oceania Championships in November - that is enough for me. 

Bike riding aside... I have been having an awesome time here in the States, with road trips to New York, Dorney and Hershey theme parks, and plans to head off to Niagara Falls tomorrow. Even things as ordinary as post-race trips to the Diner, restaurants with free fry refills, and exploring Walmart, all conduce to the inimitable American experience.

Even so, I would be lying if I said I wasn't feeling the effects of that dreaded homesickness. Less than one month to go before I step foot on New Zealand soil once again, and head straight to the fish and chip shop. But until then, I will be out there making the most of these never-ending, cornfield-lined roads under the forty degree Pennsylvanian sun. 

Cassie

Friday, 7 June 2013

Living the American Dream


I like to live by the philosophy that things will always fall into place. Whether this is a genuine belief, or simply my way of justifying my organisation deficiency, I am unsure. Whatever the case, my first few days in Kutztown, USA have reinforced it.

We arrived in our new hometown after a somewhat flurried few days of travel; it's never easy when you have your weight in luggage to drag along with you wherever you go. This included an overnight stay in Sydney, where, thanks to uninformative Wotif listings, we ended up in a shoebox room with a shower in the cupboard, at a hotel sandwiched between MacDonalds and KFC. Just as well, though, as we were four minutes late for the 9.30am hotel breakfast cut off, and had to weigh up between an empty stomach or a McCafe toasted sandwich to fill the gap. Upon later reflection, the former would have been more satisfying. Alysha and I followed this with what was intended to be a morning walk around the block. But after three left turns, we somehow ended up walking in the opposite direction to our motel, and found ourselves in the Sydney Ghetto.

Real Estate Advertisement in Sydney. Seems legit.
A three hour stop-over in Dallas sounded sufficient - even mundane - before taking into account the two hours it would take to creep our way through the customs line, let alone rechecking our exorbitance of luggage, catching a train to the domestic terminal, and tracking down our gate. As it so happened (and we should have guessed based on prior experience with US airlines) our flight was delayed, and we were left twiddling our thumbs for an hour or two. But nuisances aside, we got here.

As you would imagine, in our jet-lagged, weary state, we were more than ready to collapse into bed and sleep our exhaustion away. So it was hardly satisfying to open the door of our new home for the next ten weeks and be met by vinyl mattresses with no bedding or pillows.

Me sleeping. (reconstructed footage)
The following day was pretty crazy, but long story short we ended up moving out of the University and into an apartment on the main street, primarily because of it's affordability, but also because it feels much more homely than the Uni hostel, which resembled more of a hospital ward that a place to live. When you are spending ten weeks in one place, feeling at home is vital in keeping the morale at a healthy level. We are now settled in and beginning our new lives as Pennsylvanians. Having already spent three weeks here last Summer has made it much easier to adapt, along with the incredible hospitality that the locals offer. It seems every citizen of Kutztown is not only willing, but visibly eager, to lend a hand where they can. It is one side of the US that I was oblivious to last year, being part of an organised team, and one that has certainly warmed me to the town and it's people.

Our first night of racing was cancelled due to rain - it has barely stopped since we arrived, which has not made recurrent bicycle trips to the supermarket all that pleasant - but Alysha and I are eager to hit the track once again and give it a bit of dig.

I have recently been given the honour of partnering up with Steve Brandon, Barbara and Dev Barron of the upcoming Wanganui Pita Pit, as a sponsored rider and employee. I am regretful that I will not be home for the opening of my favourite food store, but I know I have plenty of pitas to come home to once I have finished my job over here. I am so appreciative of the support I am receiving from them, and cannot think of a better store to be backed by.


Because I need both of my arms and legs, I have decided not to fall victim to the notorious roaming charges, and therefore do not have my phone working over here, but feel free to hit me up on Facebook or Viber.

With some luck I will wake up to a sky full of sunshine, as opposed to pouring rain and Alysha's 'WAKE UP, I'M HUNGRY' and get a good day of riding into my legs.

There will be plenty of updates to come.

Cassie



Sunday, 5 May 2013

24

Twenty hours spent doing one thing, irrespective of how enjoyable it would usually be, will in most cases become somewhat tedious toward the end. Even twenty hours of sunbathing on the coast of Tahiti would have a certain degree of monotony once the halfway mark was reached. So when I suggested twenty hours of solid bike riding as a fundraising idea for our U.S. campaign, I struggle to understand why we were so enthusiastic about it.

We had no doubt that it would prove to be a challenge, but we more than underestimated what it would take to spend such a duration turning the pedals around and around, stopping only to refill our pockets with bananas and muesli bars, bathroom stops (though we did not always have the luxury of a bathroom), and at traffic lights.

So at 7pm on Friday night, Maddi and I set off to begin our first of many hours to come, with a naive eagerness that would not last us more than one quarter of the way. Riding throughout the night had its ups and downs. The advantages being that it gives the illusion of riding at least 5km/h faster than you truly are (fuels the morale), the wind was low, and traffic was scarce. Though beginning so late in the night meant that we had already been awake for 10 or so hours and felt the fatigue set in much earlier than we'd anticipated.

Most of the first ten hours is hazy to me now, either because I was so exhausted that I wasn't taking in much of what was happening, or the fact that we were unable to see much more than the fifty metres of road ahead of us, so there truly was nothing but tar, stones and the occasional pothole to wake us from our pedaling coma, that was significant enough to remember. I tend to lean more towards the latter.

At exactly ten hours, Maddi - having regained an ounce of sanity - decided to pull the pin. I didn't argue. She was not in a good way (if you head out Sumner, you will see a small crater in the road where she went BANG).


But I was not particularly enthralled at the idea of riding the remaining half alone, with nothing but my own thoughts for company. Nevertheless, I had a quick change of kit, restocked the pockets and headed back out onto the Christchurch roads.

I have developed a theory that lactic acid is very much like cement, and my legs are the cement mixers. As long as they keep turning around, it just swishes about and doesn't bother me too much. But the second they stop, it sets, and the next thing I know I'm trying to push the pedals around with two lumps of solid concrete where my legs used to be. So even stopping for five minutes at the halfway mark left me feeling very heavy.

The following few hours seemed to fall away pretty fast, but the second the wind picked up my spirit plummeted, along with my average speed, and I had my suspicions that my Garmin was taking two seconds to record every one that I rode. Thankfully I had someone join me at this stage, and refuel my motivation by way of a 'harden-the-f#@k-up-you-weak-b@%#' speech. So thank you to James McCoy for that. (And the shot of whiskey).

At fifteen hours I was alone once again, but the messages of support were flooding in. I was humbled by the amount of support I received, and I found so much more drive seeing how many people had belief in me.

Sixteen hours in, with a major deficiency in caffeine, and when my morale was already dragging along the road behind me, I more or less fell asleep while riding down a quiet street and smashed into the back of a car. (haha). I lay there for half a minute and just sighed at my situation, before pulling myself up of the road, bending my hood back into place, and carrying on my not-so-merry way.

It would have been easy to have raised the white flag at that stage. But the thought never crossed my mind once. I have always been one to work hard for what I want, and will do whatever it takes to meet the expectations I set for myself. I somehow shut out the pain and exhaustion and just focused on where I was riding to next, breaking it up into small pieces so as not to overwhelm myself.

I had two others, Soph and Kate, join me for a while to break the boredom, and soon enough, I had hit the 18 hour mark. It was at this stage that, for reasons I still do not comprehend, I offered to stretch it out to a full twenty hour hours for an extra two hundred dollars. I felt a peculiar mixture of satisfaction and sickening regret when I was taken up on my offer. The two hour countdown became six, and if I hadn't have been in enough pain as I already was, I would have slapped myself in the face.

video

My final four hours were spent alone, in the dark, with a bag of natural confectionery company party mix. The no-doz had well and truly worn off, and apart from a short nap before we left, I hadn't slept for around 35 hours, yet I felt wide awake, and had enough in the legs to climb Mt Pleasant (and faster than I ever have before, might I add.) Apart from the muscles above my knees, I felt almost fresh, which I'm assuming was some sort of shock my body had gone into, because the second I got home I could barely walk.

video

video

From the beginning til the end of the ride was nearly twenty six hours, and exactly twenty four of those were spent pedaling just under six hundred kilometres. Bed had never been so comfortable. Even if it is a swab on the floor under a desk.

I'd like to say a huge Thank You to all of you who have supported me, whether it be financially or with messages of encouragement throughout my ride. It has been appreciated so much. If anyone else would like to support me with my U.S season, you can do so by hitting this link.

I am holding up much better than I had anticipated, considering what I have put my body though. But I still have severe windburn on my lips, some nasty chafing and no feeling in my little finger and four of my toes. I'm hoping they come back to me sometime soon. Next up is Round Three of the Benchmark Series, and after fiifty-two hours of riding in nine days, I know one of two things is going to happen to me in that race.

A special thank you to Hamish Ferguson, who followed Maddi and I throughout the night with a car-full of food. Also to Fig, Jordan, Michael, Tessa, Alysha, Racquel, my Bundaberg family, Andrew from The Hub, Lauren and Chad (for the phone calls haha), Cazza and Maddi for letting me live with them for the past month or so, and also to my incredible family who have always been, and always will be, my biggest supporters and motivation.


Peace out,
Cassie

PS. I'm contemplating another one back home in the Wang.

Friday, 12 April 2013

They Come In Threes


It was with an unsettling familiarity that I was thrown to the road in a brutal stack up after only seven kilometres of the Te Awamutu Tour on Saturday morning, and as I lay there with shredded hands and loose shards of stone embedded in the side of my head, I was hardly surprised at this continuation of misfortune. It was defeating at first, having to pull myself off the road to see the battered condition of my body, a broken bike and even more fluro paint scraped from the ends of my prized Sidi Wires.

But in my adrenaline-fuelled state, I figured my best option was to grab the nearest operational bike, regardless of size, and get back out on the battlefield. The trouble with adrenaline, though, is that it wears off after a while. So I found myself halfway around the course with severe pain everywhere but my legs, an interesting change but no less uncomfortable than the usual lactic saturation. So despite my best efforts, I was unable to finish the stage (and consequently, the tour). 

After some sweet talking with Hitler the head commisaire, I was allowed to race the Time Trial the following day. I wasn't expecting a startling result given the fact that my body resembled that of a bear-maul victim, but after a nutritious breakfast of weet-bix and paracetamol, I sucked it up and threw out the best performance that I could - fourth place - before heading home with a lot less skin than I began with, and a bitter disappointment at yet another less-than-successful campaign. 

I had less than a week in Wanganui before I had to pack up my things (which involved very little seeing as I hadn't yet unpacked from my last escapade) and head across the Cook Straight for a big weekend of racing and a training camp in Blenheim with the Altherm crew (And Alysha). During that week, I visited two primary schools as a Role Model speaker for the Duffy Books for Schools program; a program which I support whole-heartedly and was hugely excited to be a part of. I spoke to over a hundred children about the importance of education and perseverance - two things which I hold in very high regard - and the attitude and values that I have held in order to get me to where I am. It was a humbling experience to be placed in a position of influence and inspiration to so many young lives, and to present them with stacks of books to take home - to see their genuine excitement as they carried them in their little arms, glowing smiles on their faces - I felt inspired myself. 

I left home on a high note, motivated to continue the journey which has allowed me to uplift others, and eager to see my team mates once again. We were fortunate enough to be adopted by a lovely (and very amusing) couple during our stay in Blenheim, so an enormous thank you to Ken and Kaye (and Bruce the Moose) for their generous - and entertaining - hospitality. 

First up on the race menu was the Grape Ride - a 100km race through scenic Marlborough - and due to the women's field being swamped by the first bunch of the individual race, and consequently stringing us out to the point where we were lucky to even see where our competition was, let alone contest them in a bunch sprint down a narrow, twisting vineyard driveway. As a result, what should have been a fair bunch kick became a 'who could squeeze themselves further up the bunch' competition, which - with my post-crash over-cautiousness - meant I was out of contention. 

The following day was the first Benchmark race for our Altherm Team, and went pretty swell up until the five kilometre climb affectiontely known as Spooner's Hill. I surprised myself, however, and managed to reach the top within a manageable distance of the bunch, so that I could chase my way back on afterward. With a team mate (Jaime) up the road, we felt pretty content with the situation and just kept things rolling in the bunch. However my legs were not content at all, and so when I punctured at the bottom of yet another climb at around the 60km mark... let's just say there have been worse times to blow a tire - and I crawled my way back to the finish at my own pace. 

So although the weekend wasn't brilliant results-wise, I was pleased with the work that I put in, and after the three days of training in Blenheim, I am starting to feel a bit of form coming together. 

I am now back in the Garden City, living with my wonderful part-time family of Maddi, Cazza and Murray the dog. Next up is the Club Road Cycling Championships, where I will be competing in the individual time trial to see where I stack up against the elite women. With my fair share of misfortune over and done with, hopefully things will begin to take a turn for the better. 



Cassie


PS. Yesterday was the Three Year Anniversary of the day that a very special young man was tragically taken from us. On the 11th of April, 2011, I was racing the fourth and final stage of the CRI Rotorua Tour, and punctured for the first time ever during a race. The following year, I was again competing at the CRI tour and again punctured in the final stage. This year, on Sunday afternoon - the exact time that Stage four of the CRI Tour was underway, I punctured in the Benchmark race. Just Brad Martin's cheeky way of letting me know he's still watching. 

We all miss you Brad. <3




Monday, 11 March 2013

Hello, I'm Crashy Cameron

We all know confidence is a must. And some would say there is no such thing as too much. But after six years of track racing in Invercargill, and not a single crash, I'm quite certain my confidence to ability ratio had become a little disproportionate. I was under the deluded impression that I could squeeze myself through any gap I wanted to and somehow - through a mixture of good balance and dumb luck - stick it. So when I went barreling between two bikes with little or no more than twenty centimetres separating them, it never occurred to me that I would finish up head-butting the ground and grinding half the skin off my hand in the process.

So my Elite Omnium Championships came to a very abrupt, and very painful, end, through no fault but my own. Lesson learned; I am not invincible.
It was a disappointing conclusion to my track season, but it's just part of the agreement we make when we jump on our bikes and race around slippery wood at forty degree angles. Shit happens.

I decided to make a detour on my way home from Invercargill and spend a week in Christchurch, for no reason other than to spend quality time with some of the people there and ride some different roads. A big Thank You to my main girl Maddi Campbell, Mumma Cazza and Murray the dog, for looking after me and playing Annabel Langbein in the kitchen each night. And also to Jason Crashy Christie for making the week even better. Injury and a general absence of road fitness meant that I participated in the Tour of Canterbury only as a spectator/tyre pumper/terrible mechanic, which was, in some ways, a nice change to sit back and experience the sport from an outside perspective. And with the weather that Christchurch presented on Day Two, no one heard me complaining from the backseat of the car.

So where to next? 
A full winter in New Zealand is far from appealing after the past two years' escapes to the North, so plans to chase the sun again this coming season are starting to come together... Now it's just a matter of bulking up the bank account so I don't end up stranded somewhere on the other side of the world, living in a house made of lycra and bike boxes. Until then, I will be racing the Benchmark series for Altherm, which should fill the otherwise vast and barren winter with some decent racing to preoccupy myself.

Ciao for now,
Cassie

 PS. Forget getting lean - recent studies have shown that the secret to climbing is carrot cake and deep fried Mars Bars. Ay Jason


Monday, 11 February 2013

Halfway There

After competing at eight track championships in Invercargill over the past six years, it has become almost a tradition in my life to pack up and head South for the summer. So it was with great familiarity and self-assurance this year that I boarded the plane for the land of alveolar trills and cheese rolls. But this time, it was to try my luck outside the mild confines of the Junior ranks.

My preparation for Nationals this year was far from perfect. By the time I had finished building my diesel engine by way of road tours and training, I was left with a tightfisted two weeks to blow the cobwebs out of my track legs. Needless to say, I was a bit short on zing. As a result, I was thrown well outside of my comfort zone in the very explosive Individual Pursuit, and fell victim to a somewhat premature lactic attack. But even so, I pulled off a twenty-three second PB (my only ever attempt at the 3000m was on a concrete track in what seemed like a clockwise hurricane, but I will claim it nonetheless), with a commendable time of 3.46, placing me eighth.

I raced the 500m TT that evening, and thought this summed it up pretty well.


My lack of punch also meant I had to hit the points and scratch races from a different angle; one I'm not particularly used to. Or fond of. But the only way I saw myself getting across the line first was by getting across the line alone. So twice I found myself dangling half a lap ahead of the field in an attempt to pick up some points, albeit the hard way. I may not have put on a medal winning show, but I think I deserve some sort of record for the hardest fifth place anyone has ridden for.

The scratch race, as one would have guessed, came down to the usual bunch kick. However, this kick came somewhere around six laps out from the finish, most of which I spent jammed on the inside waiting for anything close to a gap to open up. But nothing did, so coming out of the last corner I decided to go through a gap that didn't exist, ping ponged between the two back discs I had wedged my way into, and rolled across for third.


I know, and this photo reinforces, that I was lucky to take the bronze with such a close finish. But I was still disappointed that I hadn't barged my way into a better position earlier. I had a surprising amount of kick left in me that went to waste, but that's all part of scratch racing. They are anything but predictable.


I finished the championships off with a bronze in the Team Pursuit, with Gemma Dudley and Maxyna Cottam - the first WCNI team we've ever had.

Next up is the Omnium Nationals, in Invercargill once again, in a few weeks time. Hopefully, with a bit more pep in my pins, I'll be more of a force to be reckoned with. There is work to do yet, though - and a few obnoxious northerlies yet to be sworn at.


Cassie

Monday, 21 January 2013

Momentum

I've been asked a lot lately of my opinion on the recent doping revelations. I suppose it is assumed that, being a cyclist, I would have one. But each time, I've found myself a little dumbfounded, and short on any real answer, simply because I've never thought deeply enough about it. I guess it was my limited exposure with doping itself; I have so far managed to avert every opportunity for the discomfiting drug testing procedure, and the cleanliness of the sport today has meant I have never encountered this dark, awry alleyway within the world of cycling, which so many have found themselves slithering through, masked and invisible, yet so plainly seen in the sporting limelight. It is easy to label them liars and cheaters, and cast them away into the ever-growing assemblage of 'winners-that-never-were', to blame them for the downfall of the honesty and simplicity that had made cycling such a beautiful sport. In fact, it is difficult to see it any other way. But one word stood out to me in Lance's confession, a word which prompted me to consider it in another way.

Momentum.

Those of you who are athletes will understand the way that sport can alter you. We weren't born with competitiveness. We weren't born with passion or desire. We weren't born with that compulsive need for control. Those things grow within us over time. And depending on how we are raised - what we see, hear and do throughout our early years - some things will grow more than others. I jumped on a track bike when I was thirteen years old. Up until then, I'd only ridden a bike two or three times before in my life, so the novelty factor kept me going. And for a year or so, I rode purely for the enjoyment it brought me. I raced every weekend and often finished so long after everyone else that the finish line had been rolled up by the time I got there, or Mum would come and find me in the car, to make sure I hadn't crashed, and I'd be soldiering my way along as hard as I could. Because once I crossed that line, it didn't matter where I had come, as long as I had given it my all.

It didn't matter to me that I was riding a twenty kilogram steel bike back then, because my aim wasn't to win. But over time, I got better and I won a race or two. And that's when the seed was planted and my desire began to grow. Five years later, and that desire is strong enough to propel me through hours and hours of grueling preparation for the race that I want to win. Because that is now my aim. The sport has altered me.

I believe this is what Lance meant by 'momentum'. The changes that this sport has brought about in me have been so gradual that, until I stopped and considered it deeply, I had never noticed them developing. I never acknowledged my thriving need for success. It simply became the way that I am. And, because of it, I do things now that I would never have done as a thirteen year old having a blast out on the road. I prepare myself to win in every way that I can. I visualise it. I assure myself that I am capable. I do what I need to in order to win.

But with my desire comes morality. I can distinguish right from wrong. I carry the honesty and decency with which my character was molded as a child. I want to win because I want to prove to myself what I am capable of. And I will work for it truthfully.

I can only assume that as one's career progresses, so too does their momentum. As they edge their way closer to that ultimate goal, and the magnitude of their success, their ambitions and publicity augments, it is easier to become caught up in that momentum, and the measures they will consider taking in order to bring their dreams to fruition will become increasingly extreme. Those seeds of desire planted so long ago in their minds flourish in the abundance of triumph and fame. And some begin to overgrow. Some lose control, and allow this need for victory to fill their minds to the point where there is little room for anything else. And there is little room for morality.

Lance did not believe that he was in the wrong. He didn't believe that he was cheating. Because he saw the drug-infested peloton as an even playing-field. Doping was just a part of the job, no different from putting 'air in our tires, or water in our bottles'. At that time, it was impossible to win any other way. The sport as a whole was losing it's morality, because the momentum of the cycling culture was inciting new measures without limitation. One thing led to the next, and no questions were asked. The wrongs and rights were tossed aside and the only thing that mattered was who would ride into Paris wearing yellow.

In no way am I suggesting that the actions of Lance and his fellow doping convicts are excusable. They are far from it. I am merely stepping back and trying to understand the cause of such a pandemic. I refuse to believe that so many athletes could toss aside the integrity and virtues that the human race are built upon without a common determinant. In my opinion, that determinant was momentum.

The greatest anguish is that which is felt by those who held onto their morality throughout all of this. So many were robbed of the success they deserved by deceitful humans with twice the red blood cells. It is tragic, to say the least, that these athletes will never feel the triumph of the podium's top step. But the pride of having held strong to their virtues when it was so easy to succumb to deception, is worth infinitely more than a gold medal achieved through falsity. They will never have to look into the eyes of those who believed in their success, and tell them that it was all a lie. They can look back on their careers and feel gratification, rather than guilt and disgrace. They can know within themselves that they were champions of more than just a bike race - they were champions of righteousness.


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Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Takaka: Take Two

I had come to the conclusion, after last year's atrocious second stage of the Tour de Vineyards, that my twenty minute lag up Takaka hill was purely a result of what is referred to as 'the bonk', i.e. the failure to refuel your tank, resulting in the eventual combustion of every stockpile of energy that your body had stashed aside, so that your ability to turn the pedals over can feed only from whatever remains of your mental strength (usually in short supply at this stage), and whatever small insects you manage to inhale along the way. Suffice to say, the pedals do not turn around very fast.

So this time, I thought I'd take last year's lesson on board and pack my pockets with enough Enervit gel to fill a small lake. The lesson I have learnt this year is that no amount of Enervit will turn me into a 45kg hill climber.

So again, I met my end with the sixteen kilometer ascent, and after climbing a very tall ladder in the prologue, found myself sliding down an even longer snake to the 'clap clap, you're trying' end of the General Classification.

If my long term aim was to conquer the Alpe D'Huez in record time, then this would have been much more of a blow to my confidence. Thankfully, my goal is in fact pursuiting, so in my mind, my second place in the 4.5km prologue of the tour more than made up for my pitiful hill climbing display. After all, for me, the Tour de Vineyards is no more than a brutal training camp.

Next on the agenda for me is the Denton Track Carnival in Christchurch over the 4th and 5th. Then back home for a few days before I head to the scorching Hawkes Bay for another grueling road tour.

I'd like to say an ENORMOUS thank you to the lovely Kirk family for adopting me over the past week. Racing is made a lot easier when you know you have a home-away-from-home to come back to.


Happy New Year all,

Cassie