Well, 2020 is gone and 2021 is underway. A slow start, as expected, COVID-19 is still controlling everything. The idea of going out and being surrounded by other people feels so alien now, as though it was something that never really happened. And COVID-19 just keeps rolling on. New variants and slow vaccination (in the Netherlands, at least), mean that it still feels like the world is stuck. Worse than that, people are dying. So why in hell’s name am I thinking about something as unimportant as my cycling targets for the year?
The (Half) Targets
First things first, what are the targets? Well, pretty easy to decide those. Just take those from 2020 and move them to 2021. Easy enough. So the targets will be the Amstel Gold Race and Col du Tourmalet, both postponed from 2020. Simple.
Well, not so simple of course.
The Amstel Gold Race is scheduled for April. But is that realistic? A mass start event so quickly after the current lockdown in the Netherlands is lifted? I don’t think that will happen. And, even if it does, am I comfortable with it? When was the last time I was in a huge crowd of people?
Col du Tourmalet, I think, has a better better chance. Not certain, of course, but better. It is targeted for July and is not a mass event. The concern is more getting there with the bike. The travel industry has been hit hard and there is, of course, a strong chance that the pandemic itself will still be in the world. Hopefully reduced at least but we will have to see.
Effectively this year has two half targets. In fact, I will only say one half target as I am pretty sure the Amstel Gold Race is not something to count on. Still good to be ready in case it do happen.
So back to the question. It is all pretty unimportant. Why bother?
The MS Factor
The last year has perhaps made my mind up. Not the impact of COVID, although that does act as a reminder that life should not be taken for granted. I generally don’t take it for granted, though. MS decided that a few years ago. And my MS has progressed. That is quite scary. It also concentrates the mind. Even though the shadow of COVID-19 is still making itself felt, it will eventually lessen. MS, in the absence of any cure at the current time, won’t. So I will still set myself the targets and get ready for them. That means staying as fit and active as possible, And that can only be positive.
Of course, there is impact from MS. I know that I am not as strong on the bike as a year ago, perhaps . My rides have become more cautious, slightly slower. Still a good pace, but very careful, especially when going through a town.
It is not all negative, though. The purchase of an indoor trainer at the start of lockdown, luckily before they sold out everywhere, has had additional benefits. On a practical note I can train no matter what the weather and actually do some climbing. Perhaps more importantly, it has strengthened my right side. It will never be perfect but I just feel it has helped..
Add to this a general slowing down and increase in rest stops and cycling remains a sport that is keeping me moving, staying in condition. There is just no need to be the fastest anymore. I do like to push my personal limits, though. So I need the targets. And I need the preparation. Even if circumstances mean they may not happen.
The Coming Months
So it’s time to get ready, start a training programme. Begin with a slow start with half an eye on April and the planned Amstel Gold Race but more on July and Col du Tourmalet. Mountains, for me, are still the ultimate personal challenge. I will allow myself to feel pride as I list the names of the climbs I have made on the bike. Gavia, Stelvio, Mendel Pass…….
Especially that last one. The first of these personal challenges and the first of the big climbs. That first time of going through the emotional rollercoaster. From looking up and realising that there were still 1,600 metres to go to getting a third off the way and thinking ‘is this possible?’ to getting near the summit and thinking ‘nearly there!’ but then realising it is still far away.
Then the summit itself. Looking down and seeing the world spread beneath you and seeing just how far you have come and how far you have climbed.
I want that feeling again.
As I keep saying, though, it may not happen. Not this year. Of course that will be a little sad but it’s not the end of the world. Actually, the very act of preparation is a victory. It helps me to keep MS a little at bay and in perspective. Actually, it may help repair the damage that MS causes my brain, according to recent studies. I have to adopt in the light of new issues of course but it is still a real source of joy to keep moving. And it helps.
At the end of it all, there will be a mountain. Eventually.. Hopefully this year. I can wait but will my body let me? Part of the reasons for the challenges is keeping my body in good shape. And, perhaps, my mind.
For me, that’s reason enough for the challenges. Eventually, they will happen. But the benefits of the training are here for me now. That’s reason enough.
Update on Amstel Gold Race. The Tour Version has not been cancelled yet but concerns about the spread of COVID-19 had led to the proposal that the professional race be held on a closed circuit of 18 kilometres. There has been no formal word about the amateur event but it is difficult to see it going ahead in the light of these concerns.