This was how most of the Sunbelt Rentals p/b Craft Ginger Ale team felt at the first team race at Tour of the Southern Highlands (TOSH) in Woodstock, Georgia. This is a junior selection race - so definitely not the best one to have a "bad day", to say the least. With a great day, you can be selected for the National team. The National team is designed to be a collection of the best junior racers in the USA and represents the country in Europe later in the year. So yes, this race was important since it opens doors for young racers and gives them a chance to don the red, white, and blue kit.
A stage race has multiple parts or stages, like the Tour de France, where the lowest total time wins and there are chances for time bonuses based on sprint and KOM points in the stages, just like the Tour. The first stage at TOSH is the Individual Time Trial (ITT), the second stage is the Criterium, third is the circuit race, and fourth is the 75-mile hilly Road Race. The Road Race is really the main selection race since it has big climbs, long distance, and time lost can be counted in minutes, when compared to seconds lost or gained in the ITT or Criterium. During every stage, we discovered how good the other national talent is and discovered it was just really hard to race at this level. Soon, into the stages, we learned more about each other, ourselves, and the competitors. This was a great learning experience, but at one point, we did have to lower our own expectations and just resign ourselves to finish - which by itself was a very big goal given how many kids were dropping out.
The craziest of the days was the final day - the road race, stage four. The race started at 8:15 AM and with a thirty-minute drive, we were up at 6:00 AM - we need to check the bike, eat, stay warm, get dressed, do I have all my gear, and then sign in. Oh, and yes it was very cold and I mean like -5C degrees! We arrived at the start, warmed up as best we could given the ice on the windows, and then worked our way to the start line; hopeful for a better result. The race started; we were hopeful. As the group began to hit the first climbs on the day it immediately got very hard - and I was wondering how or if I was going to finish the race - especially this being the 1st of four long laps. Teammate David had a problem I would later find out that he had his chain drop, equipment failure… oh, cycling can be tough. The climbing continues, I must go on... for myself for the team. In the end I did finish. I met my revised goal. I didn't win but only 1 of 120 did.
So, yes the weekend results were not as we hoped… but what I learned recently is that you most take the good with the bad. You must use your failures as inspiration to do so much better in the future. It makes you want to do better even more than before, it puts fuel in the fire. The bad is what makes the good times seem so great and fun. It gives us something to compare it to. So you must look at the bad as just part of the process in life, cycling, or whatever you do. This is so very much a big part of cycling, the sport brings let downs, these let downs are what we must fight through. If we can make it through the bad parts of the sport, we know we truly like it for what it is. We don’t just like it because we are good at it. You must think to yourself, am I doing something just because I am good at it or do I truly love it. And how can I help my teammates and myself achieve?
You must also be on top of your self mentally. You must have your head in the game and focus. You can’t worry too much about the other people you race, but you need to respect their capabilities and adjust. You need to race-your-race as if you don”t know the other people at all, dig deep and pedal harder. And you must race to win!
I have learned a lot from this trip and while I didn’t get the results I had wanted, I did get something just as useful. I got the experience and that was priceless; I learned so many new things about my team, the sport, and most importantly myself. I learned what I need to do to better myself on and off the bike. I also got to know my new teammates better and what it takes to be part of a team. For now, back to family, training, and school - the three things that matter the most to me as I prepare for the next race.
Written by Ethan Lee - a junior on the Sunbelt Rentals p/b Craft Ginger Ale team