Don’t Speed

30May11

Yesterday, after a hard week of training, I raced my first Dutch Crit. Firstly it has been so nice to race with a group of guys the genuinely love to race and ride bikes. We are starting to race well as a team and understand where our strengths and weakness are as individuals and as a team.

I ended up 8th after missing the break (again!).

Tomorrow the team and I are racing Gullegem. There is going to be a lot of starters on the line. I am taking a punt at over 250. Among those will be Phillipe Gilbert, Tom Boonen and there are rumors that Thor Hushovd will be there. I am betting they are all quivering at the thought of racing Nick Mitchel… Maybe not.

2009 Gullegem. Silence Lotto bus in the background

Gullegem Pre Race from Nico from Nick Mitchell on Vimeo.

If you aren’t a massive fan of cycling you might not understand this next paragraph but to finish off:

A guy called Alberto won a race in Italy yesterday. I am not going to comment on him or the fact that he is still racing. Instead I will talk about driving a car on a road. If the speed limit is 60km/hr and you are going 61km/hr you are speeding and you should be fined. The authorities don’t care if your speedo is faulty and was reading 59km/hr. They don’t care if you thought you could go 80km/hr and therefore you thought you were well under the limit. The rule is that you can go 60km/hr and no faster. The only thing I have to add on this is that as an athlete, for the greater good of competitive sport, you are responsible for what is in your system. It doesn’t matter how it gets there.


I found cycling very late in life. I didn’t start watching The Tour until I was 17. Since then I have fallen in love with the sport. Very early on I started to fall for the monuments and the country that encapsulated cycling. It’s heartland. Belgium and in particular Flanders.

The weather, the races and the riders in this region inspired and spoke to me.

In 2008 I got my first real taste of Belgium and it only deepened my passion for the sport and the country. The Flemish have cycling beating through their veins.

Cartoon of the 2009 Cinelli team on a bar window

In 2009 I was able to race some of the semi classics. In particular Dwars door Vlaanderen and Brabanste Pijl (one of my best races ever in the service of the late VDB). These races are raced and won by riders that have cobble stones for hearts and are only happy when riding in the gutter while ice cold rain stings your eyes and skin.

A country and a season where 8 degrees and rain is “Belgium Sunshine” and the mud (a mixture of dirt, diesel and cow s@!t from the surrounding fields) that’s sprayed into your face and mouth is “Belgium Toothpaste.”

The toothpaste gets on you even if it's dry

Over the past week I race five kermesses in Belgium. For those that don’t know a kermesse is a multiple lap event with lap or ronde between 3 and 20km in length. Typically the laps are 10km long (enough time to drink a beer). Professional Kermesse are between 160 and 190km in length.

All the races were very different and all were very Belgian. All had over 200 starters.

  • Houthalen – Helchteren. Lot’s of left and right and up and down.
  • Verrebroek – Beveren. Straight, big roads hit by cross winds. 50km covered in the first hour. Multiple groups strewn across the course with 10min.

echelons form in a spring race

  • Puivelde. Pancake flat with lots of small badly surfaced roads. Lot’s of left and rights. It’s not often every time you look down at your computer the average has gone up. Finished with over 44km/hr average and a max of 62km/hr.

Puivelde. Moving up.

  • Heist op den Berg. Big roads, cobble stone section and cobbled descent, narrow climb and a power descent. Max speed 69km/hr and an average of 45km/hr.

Video thanks to Pavel and him ignoring the UCI. Note that a lot of the video was taken during the neutral section. Also take a look at the road furniture.

The bunch hits the climb in Heist Pijl

The first two races were my welcome home party. Suffering and humbling. I knew where I was. From there it got better. I have started to participate in the races as I start to relax and use my elbows as well as my legs. I am making friends with my 11-tooth cog and my legs and back are getting stronger. The grimace is set.

I am determined, passionate and motivated.

Cycling Edge

Fetha


Over the past week I was welcomed back to Belgium in the only way that Belgium could. Fast and hard Kermesse racing. Tomorrow sees the trend continue with The Heist op den Berg Pro Kermesse.

2008 Heist Pijl. On the climb

Heist op den Berg is 10km from my old home in Belgium so it is a home race of sorts for me. I know the roads and the course well. The race is run over 11 laps of 15km. The toughest section is the small climb at the start of every lap. There is a 2km drag up to the climb, which, is only 200m long and isn’t that steep. Once at the top there are 600m of cobbles and a few tight turns. Half of the cobbles are downhill before turning onto a nice big road where the descent continues.

Heist op den Berg Kermesse from Nick Mitchell on Vimeo.

The video above is from two years ago when I watched from the sidelines thanks to a small issue with my leg.

This doesn’t sound too hard. However, the accumulation of each obstacle creates a very tough part of the course. If the climb puts some lactic in the legs then the cobbles will add to it and stir it up nicely. By the time you come off the cobbles the bunch will be single file and because it’s a descent the front riders will be doing 60km/hr making everyone behind them chase that little bit harder to get back on the wheel. This means that the 100th rider is going 65km/hr and the 200th is doing close to 70km/hr.

Lesson number one of racing in Belgium: Ride at the front. Easier said than done. However, if you want to contest the finish of Heist Pijl (The Heist Arrow) you need to be in the front of any splits.

Bike washed. Now it's time for a massage

I am looking forward to tomorrow. Seeing old friends and having fun in a really nice race.


Measure Twice

10May11

De Ronde van Overijssel put me back in my place in a big way. My legs are good at the moment but RvO was a lesson in riding in the front. A mix of bike handling, confidence, courage and leg strength are all required to stay at the front in a race like RvO. To ride at the back in a race like RvO is a good way to get an early shower.

Good luck seeing something like this in Australia. A trailer full of Derny bikes for the track.

Everyone wanted to be at the front. The first riders were at the start line 20mins before the scheduled time and the last riders were there 10mins before the start. Punctuality isn’t most cyclists’ strong point so you know that there are a lot of nerves when riders start turning up early.

Solomon and Estifanos have a nap on the way to the race

The neutral was a fight that escalated when the flag dropped. I was trying hard to move to the front and stay there. I wasn’t having much luck. A good break went off the front and I was cursing not being nearer to the front. 500m up the road there was a crash that blocked the road. 35 riders were now up the road. I was in the first chase group and was feeling good. However, after 100km of chasing 35secs behind the leaders my legs decided to quit. They only downed tools for a minute but that was long enough to put me out the back.

Check out the mix of nationalities.

After taking some short cuts to the finish line and having a shower I decided to measure my position. My saddle was 1cm too high. This probably didn’t cause my lack of legs but it does explain my sore back and bad saddle sores. Two lessons learnt. Measure twice and fight for the front. I am now back to my normal position and feeling a lot better on the bike. I am looking forward to testing it in the heat of battle this weekend.

In other news there is a race going on in Italy at the moment Stage 2 saw some controversy from the sprint finish. Here is a great article on the rule of sprinting that is worth a read.

Leffe Bruin and Stage 2 of the Giro. (Sunday afternoon)

Whilst on the theme of the Giro and Lessons learnt.

Always let those that you love know that you do and make the most of every day.


My thoughts and prayers go out to Wouter Weylandt’s family and friends.

He was one of my favourite riders to watch. I had a lot or respect for him as a rider and aspired to be the professional he was.

Accidents like this should never happen. Crashes are part of cycling but death should never be an outcome that is associated with a crash.

Part of me still hopes that what has been reported is wrong.


Today will be spent preparing for tomorrow’s Ronde van Overijssel. Cleaning my bike, shaving legs, stretching, packing my race bag and watching a movie. De Ronde van Overijssel has a lot of left and rights and a few short climbs through the Dutch countryside. There isn’t meant to be much wind. However, there doesn’t need to be much.

For anyone interested check out how many corners there are via the Technical Guide.

Last night I participated in a race at the local track (on road bikes) to get some speed in the legs before I have to sprint out of corner after corner tomorrow. I ended up having a good race. My legs felt better with every passing lap. I ended up winning a two up sprint after we had lapped the field. For my effort a lovely bunch of flowers.

Flowers for 1st

Three years ago, like a true pro, I sold my first euro victory speech. Although no one would consider my win a big win it is none the less a win and therefore I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart Will Randles, Jared Otto, Nick Edwards, David Fraumano and Drew Coughlan. With out their support and advice I would have never achieved this win. Thank you guys.

In all seriousness the money they paid for the speech enabled me to get overseas for the first time in 2008. Without that I wouldn’t be here today.


Sunday saw me take part in my first race in Europe. Hoboken is a typical Belgium race that starts and finishes in Hoboken just outside of Antwerp. Lot’s of left and rights, bad roads, some cobble stones and enough wind to spice things up.

Mechanics prep the Cervelo R5's for the race

Luckily the sun was shinning so despite some wind the race was going to be reasonably safe. I have raced Hoboken twice before with two crashes and one DNF to my name so staying rubber side down was the first goal. Goal achieved. I got through the race in the bunch without touching the deck. The race also allowed me to get used to racing against 200 guys at 50km/hr. Moving through the pack and fighting for position at the front of the bunch are skills that needed the cobwebs blown out of.

2nd from left. Behind the motor bike during the neutral section

All in all I was really happy with my first race of the season.

Now lets take a big leap back.

At the end of January 2010 I had just finished a horrible campaign at The National Championships. I hadn’t trained well in the lead up and ended up being dropped badly in the road race. I was in an emotional hole. A number of other personal and relationship issues raised their heads, which made me dig deeper into my hole.

I ended up seeking help. I went to Dr Syd Johnstone a Clinical Physiologist. He diagnosed and then helped me recover from depression. My spiral into the dark world of depression started in 2004 and continued to spiral until 2010.

An apt sign on the last climb of The 2011 3Peaks.

In 2004 I was still rowing and studying full time at university. I was burning the candle at both ends and expecting to achieve huge targets for myself. Not only were my goals hard to achieve but as soon as one was achieved I would already begin to focus on the next step or goal. Not once did I take a step back and take pride in what I had achieved.

My mindset was that no result was good enough. I could always do better, go higher, go faster.

As my spiral begun I began to lose track of who I was. I started to present an image of who I wanted people to think I was. This drained even more energy from an already depleted mind. The depression fed on itself. I began to do things that a normal and rational person wouldn’t do. The guilt of these actions fed back into the depression.

I reached a point where I could no longer ride my bike or see people. I had no energy. I could pick myself up and like a torch with low battery I could shine bright for a short amount of time but it was never sustainable.

"The Fog" of depression

Dr Johnstone thought me that I needed to treat my mind like I treat my body. I rest my legs after a hard training session so I should rest my mind after a big mental load.

I began to treat my depression like I would any other injury. I rested and allowed the damaged area to recover. I looked inside and worked out who I actually was and made sure that the real Nick and the projected Nick were the same. I began to look at my life with respect to a finite amount of load that can be placed on me and I allowed myself to be proud of what I have done in my life.

It was a fight just to get out on the bike in 08 and 09

Racing a bike in Europe had been a dream for so many years and 2010 was the first time that I recognised my achievement of that goal.

I was happy once again. Something I hadn’t properly known since 2003. I started to think clearly and I was able to achieve tasks that I had put off for months and months. I enjoyed riding the bike again and allowed myself to draw satisfaction from being free.

Albert Park GP in  2010. One of my first races back

I could have never achieved this without the huge support of my family, Rog, Drew, Youngy and my two Sarah’s. The support of Ridley Bikes and Cycling Edge, although they never new what was going on, was tremendous and gave me the tools to ride out of my hole.

Youngy

Crap pic but this is my Fetha top cap it says "allez jongen" (Go Boy) and "Geen Spanning" (No stress) in dutch

Nationals 2011. No result but the eyes are on the prize. Leaner and with more perspective

A little over a year on I am back in Europe a completely different person. Mentally I have never been better. I am excited and so happy to be where I am. I still don’t think I am rid of depression and I continue to manage and check in with on myself. I am completely different as a person and as a racer.

Links:

Follow on Twitter

Fetha

Cycling Edge

Black Dog

Soloman does The Happy Dance because this blog is done

Untitled from Nick Mitchell on Vimeo.