Now's the time to refocus, settle down and get back into the swing of pre-season training. No confirmation as yet on teams, but it appears I'll be stepping back to the regional team level, racing the Premier Calendar and Elite Circuit Series events as and when I can. This will depend on access and affordability, as race entries are far from cheap and if I want to get that contract I need to demonstrate I am competitive in as many different types of races as possible, as consistently as possible.
I have also applied for Dave Rayner funding for the summer of 2017, but being first year out of U-23 I am not entirely confident I'll be granted it.
All this leaves me at an unprecedented situation that I've battled to dissect and analyse. I knew my season wasn't stellar but I won an Elite race with a few pros and performed strongly in the first few races of the season, before fatigue and stress from constant commuting and work got to me.
The middle part of the season was spent adjusting to fatigue and dropping the riding and racing for a few months to help cope, physically, but more than anything, mentally also.
The last third of the season I picked my training up again, focusing on quality, rather than quantity, of training. This led to a few DNFs in the Prems before the Nationals, but form started coming back on the Nationals weekend. In this race I spent a lot of time in the cars, not through lack of fitness but because I was constantly ferrying gels and water bottles to teammates as it was a pretty hot day. Towards the end of the race I attacked the bunch and stayed away, in no mans land, to the outskirts of Stockton, where I was reeled back in and a few miles later the bunch was pulled out of the race as the time gap to the leaders was too great to allow us onto the finishing circuit.
After this, I had a few decent finishes in town centre races but the one race I truly started to feel like myself again, Stafford Kermesse, I crashed out on a gravelly corner that hadn't been swept. I tried to get back into the race but fell pretty hard, so had to pull out.
The latter months of the season were dominated by timetrialling, with myself consistently knocking big chunks of time out of my PBs as I improved my position and fitness.
So a season of ups, down, and another lift upwards towards the end. Whilst I had failures I believe it was still fairly evident I was still a strong rider who had an unlucky half-season through fatigue and depression.
However, one has to constantly look forward and not dwell on past failures. Im motivated and looking forward to the start of next season. As a first year senior rider, Im starting to get to the 'desperate' end of the motivation spectrum and I think I have to set a deadline for myself, either next year or the year after, to get a pro contract with an income or stop flogging a dead horse and hang up my racing wheels.
It feels shit when I see riders much younger than myself getting on bigger teams as I ask myself 'what am I doing wrong?'. Having started cycling in my mid-teens, from a working-class and non-athletic family, I didn't exactly have many advantages on my fellow competitors. I didn't let that put me off though and I picked the brains of the local elites, read the training articles and did the hours on the bike. I tried not to dwell on that most savage of words 'genetics', as it feels too much of an unfair advantage to have if you are gifted with them and are described as 'talented'. However, as I train and race and see myself getting overtaken, genetic advantage becomes something that lingers on the mind more and more, and especially in the last few weeks.
So, to summarise; as I've looked for team, analysed my season and observed riders overtake me, I've gone through a maelstrom of emotions. Most people I talk to are supportive and still appear to have faith in my potential, but I worry and have periods of self-doubt. I'm restless for the new season and want to perform better than before, getting a string of top 10's in National A races and hopefully winning a race or two in Belgium, before capping next season off with a pro contract. Only time will tell, and I have to accept whatever hand I am dealt.
Thanks of reading. Polish.