The last serious bike race I rode was the 2014 Commonwealth Games. It’s a bit of a surprise to realise that that’s three years ago now — it feels much longer. I’ve also gone through a certain disappointment when it became clear that cycle sport was able to manage just fine without me.
I think I’d more or less assumed that as soon as I stopped it would grind to a halt.
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Three years on, something else occurred to me. One of the staple features of magazines such as this one is an article that is usually printed under a headline saying along the lines of, “All the way from couch potato to international rider in just three seasons!”
I don’t think anyone has ever run a piece on the return journey. So I hereby present what I’ve learned.
The biggest bit of bad news is that training works. I’d assumed that my former ability to ride at over 400 watts for an hour was down to my intrinsic wonderfulness.
Oh, for sure, I trained, but it was really only out of superstition. I didn’t think it made any actual difference — how, after all, could someone as humble as I improve upon what nature had already made perfect?
When I retired I even exaggerated the amount of proper training I was still doing, because I didn’t want people to feel bad when it turned out that I was still better than them.
This problem has, I have to tell you, not really turned out to be a big one. I’ve been able to use a power meter to accurately track my deterioration. There has been a perverse sort of pleasure in it.
My legs have shrunk. They used to be magnificent — vast of girth, bronzed, chiselled. A stranger at a party once asked if she could stroke my calves. They now look like something a kebab-shop worker would try to shave the last few scraps of meat off before throwing it to a dog.
I’m grateful that at least my legs haven’t got shorter — and I was worried enough to check.
Another problem: bike companies have stopped giving me free stuff. I suppose I always knew that the freebies were only because I might use them to win something.
But let me tell you it’s a chastening experience to no longer be able to walk into a bike shop and point at things, saying, “One of those, but in red, and two of those but with some half-decent wheels on ’em, and drop it all round on Thursday,” all without your credit card ever seeing the light of day. I am sure I can depend on your sympathy in this.
I’ve lost weight — about 2kg, which I didn’t expect at all.
This was quite cheering till I realised it was probably just the egg-sized saddle sore I’d had since 2004 healing.
I’ve been amazed how much extra time there is in a day when I don’t have to spend three or four hours riding a bike and then two hours sleeping it off. But I’ve done nothing useful with it.
As a self-employed freelance, it turns out that I only work when I’m in a panic about how little time I’ve got left before bed, and that adrenaline shot only kicks in at 8pm each evening, whether I’ve been riding a bike or not.
Overall, though, getting unfit has been a piece of cake. I’d go so far as to suggest that anyone could start from where I was and get down to the level I’m at now just as effortlessly as I have.
I wouldn’t actually rule out taking up bike racing again at some point in the future. But even if I do, it’s a comfort to know that if that happens it’s very, very easy to quit.