Submitted by Robert Ralph

Robert Ralph offers his perspective of life on the road while racing in Quebec. Please note that the distance between Piccoli's feet reveals that he is used to watching a slightly wider screen tv. Strangely though, every time Piccoli pushed on his "air remote", Ralph's hand responded. There is no "remote" in "team".

As the racing season in Quebec draws to a close, there is a different attitude within the Senior 1-2 peloton. Everyone is ready for a break from the psychological, physical, and emotional stress of constant competition, but our focus lingers with the hope for a strong performance in the concluding race of the season: the Provincial Championships. I too am tired yet hanging on, but last weekend I learnt an important thing: in the final weeks of the season, always listen to the reigning champ.

In the second half of this season I had the opportunity to train a bit with William Goodfellow, the current Provincial Road Race Champion of Québec. A week before the champs we headed to the GP St. Basile, a local race in a small town near Québec City. If you’ve never raced it, the course is a standard flat race with the only notable feature being a 1km section of dirt road each lap. The day before the race, a few of us were out for an easy spin when Goodfellow became serious, and gave me his inside track on St. Basile: “Every time I go there, it makes me so depressed. I get so discouraged sitting in the hotel and I want to quit racing. It’s like… why am I here?” The Gatorade I was sipping on sprayed everywhere–nervous laughter. I would be heading to a $48 motel room in the heart of St. Basile that afternoon, so I prayed he was exaggerating.

He wasn’t.

Rolling through the rundown residential area of St. Basile, my teammate James Piccoli and I were so closely focused on not missing each turn on our Google Maps directions that we didn’t notice the sun setting. We arrived in darkness at a building with a lot of boarded up doors and peeling paint – our hotel. We laughed checking in to our closet-sized room; the same nervous laugh that cost me a sip of sports drink less than 12 hours earlier. It didn’t take us much time to settle in.

The view from the front door. Piccoli made himself blurry to create more space for our junk. There is so much glamour in the life of a bike racer that there is barely room for bed bugs.

The next morning we noticed that there was nowhere in town to get breakfast, so we feasted on oatmeal-flavoured Cliff Bars.

How can we race without our secret weapon?!! Ahhhhh!

The gas station with an instant coffee machine was caffeine-addict James’ savior. As we made our way to the race, we saw St. Basile bathed in morning light. The two striking things marking the town were an enormous cement factory, and the fact that it was absolutely covered with dead white flies. We didn’t notice any flying around, but thousands dusted the ground. We couldn’t help but think “why are we here?”

A cold, wet, delayed start left us with frozen shivering legs through our spandex. Only a few riders in each category dragged themselves from their cities to the middle of nowhere to get soaked and dirty in the rain and mud. I got dropped about halfway through the race. Chasing in vain back to the peloton along a wet gravel section of road, I couldn’t help but wonder “why am I here?” An hour and a half later, James capped off the day with his best result of the season; a top-10 in the pouring rain. He looked up at me on his way back to where I was watching, covered in dirt and soaked to the skin. He tried to smile about his finish, but eyes asked me “why am I here?”

James Piccoli, jacked on thick gas station brew, attacks the peloton on the way to a top-ten finish. ©2011 Antoine Bécotte

I helped push him back to the car to get changed.

A seasoned provincial champ offers a lot of valuable experience to me in my first few years of bike racing… However, sometimes the only way to gain experience is by doing things yourself. A depressing town, discouraging weather, and dirty racing… Ironically I did learn why I was in St. Basile this weekend. I am motivated by James’ success, and I’m motivated to learn more about what type of skills I need to take my racing to the next level. I’m also motivated by the good music we listened to in the car on the way home from the race, and I’m motivated by all the other experience I’ve gained this season as I look back on it. In fact I look forward to the Grand Finale of the Championship race next weekend. My goal this season was to learn as much as I could, and to let nothing get in the way of my improvement. I am learning to become a bike racer, and that is why I’m here.

About Scott Toguri McFarlane

Scott Toguri McFarlane is a former Elite racer, and the founder of Toguri Training Services. For more than a decade, his approach to training has helped aspiring professional racers, provincial team members, and recreational cyclists of all ages and ability achieve their goals, including gold medals at National and Provincial Championships.

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