As I’m traveling in Kyrgyzstan waiting for the Silk road mountain race to start, I thought I’d take the time to gather a few thoughts and shed some light on what I’ve been going through these last few days. I don’t know if there will be anything to take away from it, but it might be interesting for a few of my readers.
I used to be extremely nervous before races. To the point that I literally couldn’t sleep the night before a grand depart. Needless to say it’s far from the ideal way to get ready for an event that involves very little sleep. But now, as I’m getting closer and closer to the start of SRMR, I can’t help but noticing I don’t really feel nervous. There’s no trace of any forms of anxiety. Even before flying to Kyrgyzstan, in the few days I spent getting ready, I was feeling at peace.
I’ve been doing this for a long time now. And I’ve been doing it a lot. Of course I don’t want to fail, but I don’t fear failure as much as I used to. I know the drill. I’ve finished all but one of my races. I know what can go wrong. It’s things that are out of my control. Mechanicals, crazy weather, illness, accident. When they happen, you’re rarely to blame. The risk of not finishing is always here, but I feel you can reduce it with a little bit of experience.
Mechanicals? I am my own mechanic. I do everything by myself. So I know it’s done right and if there’s a problem that is fixable, I should have the knowledge and the skills to fix it. But more importantly, I ride conservatively. I feel a lot of mechanicals can be avoided just by not doing crazy stuff. I also rarely start a race with a build I haven’t ridden before. If I messed up somewhere when building the bike, I’ll notice it after a day or two of riding.
Crazy weather? It stopped me once. I learned my lesson and I come prepared for the worst conditions. I still take risks, but these are calculated.
Illness? I’ve traveled all over the world, eating all sorts of food and drinking more than my share of shady water. I’m not saying I can survive any meal, but it takes a lot to really upset my stomach. In ten years, only twice have I found myself spending the night vomiting instead of sleeping. And the next day, I was still able to ride, albeit not as far or fast.
Accidents? I ride cautiously and the only times I got hurt to the point that I couldn’t keep going, cars were involved.
So generally, I’m not too worried about not finishing. I know it’s a possibility but I don’t really see it happening. I know, if make my due diligence and prepare them seriously, I have what it takes to finish the most brutal races.
I also feel I don’t have anything to prove anymore. I’ve shown times and times again that I can perform. If, for whatever reason, I’m unable to showcase my skills, it won’t take away everything I’ve accomplished. I’ll still have my wins and my podium finishes. I have come to terms with the fact that you can’t win them all. And if one race goes down the drain, well that sucks but there will be other races to bounce back.
Maybe there’s also the fact that I sustained a serious injury that could have very well ended my racing career. So it’s a bit like anything that comes afterwards is just bonus. I might feel differently in a year or two, but just being able to stay close to the best riders in the sport and contend for a spot on the podium, feels like a tremendous achievement. I spent so many nights lying in my bed wondering if I had spoiled it all with that stupid accident. I’m so happy I didn’t.
So yeah, I’m not really nervous before a race anymore. There’s still a few moments here and there where I feel uneasy, but they never last. When the eve of the race comes, I go to bed knowing there’s a very good chance I’ll finish. I know I’ll do my best to. If I don’t win, it’s not the end of the world. It’s still going to be an absolutely amazing experience that will make me grow both as an athlete and a man. And as it happens, people will not like me less if come second or third. It took me a while to understand that, but I finally did.
As I travel here, in this stunningly beautiful country, memories from the last time I was there resurface. It was 2017, I had started my journey in Paris and was making my way to the shore of the South China sea. As happy as I am to be here today, I can’t help but to reminisce the joy of this adventure with nostalgia. It is one thing to explore a country and go from a highlight to another while immersing into its culture ; and it is another to ride across it as fast as possible to reach a destination thousand of kilometers away.
I take most people would rather spend time in a place, get to know it and leave only when they’re sure they’ve seen all that needs to be seen. And I get that. Really, I do. But there’s something so exciting in seeing the landscape change every few days, crossing borders, noticing the differences between two cultures. As much as I’m enjoying a country, I’m always in a hurry to see what the next one looks like. In a matter of days you can go from a flat desert to lush green mountains. The way people speak and dress changes. The food, the currency, the architecture. You think of where you were two weeks ago, how different it was. And all this changes, they’re due to your legs and your legs only! No matter how magnificent a place is, you’re never sad to leave. Because the unknown lies ahead and your greatest desire is to see it. I miss this.
But I also realize, 4 years ago, when I crossed the Kyrgyz/Kazakh border, I had no idea how stunning Kyrgyzstan was. I had missed most of it. Sure I had climbed a few high passes and seen Issykkul. But as much as I had enjoyed my time there, the clear highlight of my trip was Tajikistan. Now after riding the Tash Rabat to Song Kul stretch, I know the beauty of Kyrgyzstan can rival that of Tajikistan and its famed Pamir highway. I’m really glad I came back here to explore more.
I also noticed something as I was making my way to Naryn on a road I had ridden in the opposite direction in 2017. I was struck by the beauty of the landscape which I had no memory of. I tried to remember what I felt that day and it seems this stage was just business as usual. The routine of riding in a nice scenery. I had grown accustomed to seeing gorgeous mountains everyday and it appears it had very little effect on me. I had come to a point where only the most amazing views could make an impression on me.
Whereas now, having been transported from Paris in a matter of hours, I see everything with fresh eyes. I can let the beauty sink in. I’m ten thousand kilometers away from home, everything looks unbelievable and I love it.
The race hasn’t even started yet and I already feel like I’ve won. Just being here is a win. I can’t imagine making it to the finish and being disappointed. Sure the ranking matters. But the adventure matters more. I know it’s gonna be amazing, win or lose. I’ve only seen a small part of it and I’m already in love with this place.