Off Season

November 27, 2022
Reading time: 5m

Everyone loves the off season. After a long year of racing, training, travelling and living a controlled lifestyle, it is the period that athletes can take a step back from elite sport and live a ‘normal life’.

It is a mythical time in the sporting world. At first it is spoken about in whispers, there is nothing worse than getting too excited about off-season too early. The closer you get, the more the momentum builds and those whispered conversations turn more vocal. Whether that be holiday or party plans, just like kids coming up to the summer break, athletes quickly become itchy for the holiday period.

For me, off-season is about getting out of the cycling world, and living in Girona that is often easier said than done. My whole life revolves around the bike, whether that be training, writing or my social group. Pretty much every hour that I’m awake has some sort of bicycle involved. For that exact reason, I try to get out of the bubble and hang out with people who know nothing at all to do with the sport. It’s a breath of fresh air to not even have the capability to talk about racing.

One of the perks of being a cyclist is that I get to travel so much, but the downside is that we don’t actually get to appreciate the places we travel to. We’ll land at the airport, get picked up by the team, go straight to the race hotel, race and then go back to the airport. Yes, we get to race right across Europe in all sorts of cool places, but I can count on one hand how often we have actually been able to experience a city while there on a race.

My last two off seasons have been affected by COVID, so this year I went all in with the travel. I spent plenty of time in Barcelona, a mere hour train ride away from my home in Girona. On top of that, I visited Lisbon, Dublin, Toulouse and London.

I travelled to visit old friends, travelled to tick things off my bucket list and travelled simply for the sake of travelling. The world of elite sport can become all encompassing at times, stepping out of that world and living like a normal 21-year-old, living like a student for a while has been fun. I stayed in my first ever hostel on my trip to Lisbon, a party hostel at that and met all different people from all over the world. It turns out that telling someone that you’re a professional cyclist is quite the conversation starter.  It’s these little trips that I never get the opportunity to take the other 11-months of the year. While we have rest periods and gaps between competition, the focus is on recovery rather than exploration.

The most asked question I get is whether I have to behave in the off season. Now, I’m not exactly sure what ‘behaving’ means, but I can take a guess that people are referencing training and dieting. Every athlete has a differing perspective. I know some people that hardly take any time away from the bike at all, and love to ride throughout their time away from structured training. I know others who go hiking, swimming, running or avoiding exercise all together.

Everyone has their own reasons for or against what they do in their time off. Ultimately, that’s the beauty, we all have different needs and wants. I’ve done a little bit of hiking and an awful lot of walking over the past few weeks. While that hasn’t stopped my cycling fitness levels dropping like a fly, it does mean that I’ve kept up a degree of activeness.

So small
Photo by Aaron Burden / Unsplash

I took just shy of four weeks completely off the bike, my longest off-season to date. I may slightly regret taking such a long off-season, but I’m confident that I’ll be able to knuckle down and get back on track pretty quickly. There wasn’t really any thought process behind taking four weeks off the bike, it’s just what seemed right.

You know you’ve done off-season right when you’re craving to get back exercising and eating salad again. I had that realisation in Toulouse when visiting a friend of mine. The first night we went out partying and while we had the intention of going out the second night in a row like I have done most weekends this past month, we just had a quiet dinner and came back to watch a film. The next day I was back in Girona with a grocery basket full of fresh fruit and veg, and had pumped up my tyres to go for a little ride.

I’m writing this article on a plane back to the UK where I’ll be starting my first couple of weeks of training. I’ve had a good off season, almost too good, but it’s time to go back to work. It’s kind of ironic that I’m flying back to England to start my winter training, especially considering the forecast for the next few weeks is sideways rain, but there is good reasoning behind it.

I need to press the reset button, and there is no better place to do that than my family home in Grimsby. Living in Girona is great but you can always nip out for a coffee, beer or dinner with friends as everything is just a few minutes walk away. By going home, I’m effectively able to isolate myself from all the social distractions and get back into the groove of being an athlete which means that when I'm back in Girona I’ll have my training head on rather than my off-season head.

It’s not all fun and games in the off season. It is the time of year that also doubles up with one of the more stressful periods in the pro cycling world: contract time. The end of the season means contracts are up for renewal and transfers are happening. In an ideal world, you have that all tied up before the final race of the year, but in many cases that doesn’t happen.

Cycling is a competitive and complicated world to be a part of. The racing side of the industry is completely led by sponsors, which means that unless you’re one of the best riders in the world, job insecurity is a guarantee. Teams lose sponsorship, gain sponsorship or merge with others all the time. It can be hard to know whether you’re coming or going!

My current team, Hagens Berman Axeon, is specifically a development team for riders in the under-23 age category. As I’m moving out of that age category next year, I’ve got to find a new team. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was disappointed to be leaving. I’ve really enjoyed my past two years on the tea, and it’s an opportunity I’ll always be thankful for.

Finishing off this article, I’m back home and have completed my first few training rides. The off-season hangover is real. The first week back training after time off is one of the hardest weeks of the year as a pro-cyclist. You feel as if you’re on a stranger's bike, and your kit is tighter than you remember. Everything hurts. Power numbers you could do for multiple minutes are now only attainable for a few seconds.

I’ve always loved training, so while I’m now the least fit I have been for over a year, the journey to get back to my best is what I love most about the sport. There are going to be plenty of hard miles coming up, but that’s what cycling’s all about!

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