In most Olympic sports, the season ends after the world championships. In cycling, however, there’s still more to fight for long after the rainbow bands have been awarded.
Rally UHC Cycling is nearing the end of “Europe Five”, their fifth European racing campaign of the 2019 season. With nine one-day races spread across France, Belgium, and Germany over a four-week period, it is arguably the most challenging season finale in program history.
Fatigue, illness, and crashes are unavoidable in professional cycling but their effects are amplified when you consider the extreme travel requirements of a North American-based team and the logistical nightmare of replacing sick and injured riders on the fly in a foreign country.
So why does the team put itself through such rigors so late in the year?
“The reason we’re racing this late into the season is that our athletes need more experience in Europe if they want to succeed in the future,” said performance director Jonas Carney. “There’s no substitute for European racing and the physiological benefit you get from repeatedly pushing your physical limits is only attainable by extending the season.”
Heading into Sunday’s season finale at Paris-Tours, Carney is acutely aware of the challenges the team has faced but knows they are making an investment that will pay dividends in the future.
“The biggest challenge is always motivation at the end of the season,” said Carney. “The guys started racing at the end of January, and many of them are physically and mentally tired. Cycling really pushes their limits, but when they return home, they’ll be stronger.”
A balancing act
American Ty Magner has taken every start on this rollercoaster trip. In Belgium, he finished 24th at La DH Famenne Ardenne Classic, a race that saw over 100 riders fail to cross the finish line. Four days later at Paris-Bourges, he found himself in the same boat.
“I was feeling great until I caught this annoying sickness that’s been going through the guys,” said Magner. “I’m on the mend, so hopefully I’ll be 100 percent for Paris-Tours.”
With the entire “Europe Five” roster signed with the team for the 2020 season, it takes a special drive to push through the pain.
“As a whole, team morale is high,” said Magner. “As long as you keep the majority happy and healthy, you’ll keep everyone wanting to get back out there. No doubt, being away during this time of year will itch at you if you let it but we’re doing our best to make the most of it.”
The difficult choice
Not all riders are able to bounce back. Sometimes the only solution is to rest. Emerson Oronte, who was originally scheduled to race with Magner and Co. at La DH Famenne Ardenne Classic, flew home early.
“Overtrained is one way to put it but I think a more appropriate term would be “under recovering”,” said Oronte. “After Utah, I was still carrying a lot of fatigue but instead of listening to my body, I pushed through my workouts and convinced myself I’d come around.”
Following difficult races at Grand Prix de Wallonie and Isbergues – Pas de Calais, it became clear that Oronte’s off-season would need to start early.
“By the time we realized I was digging a hole it was too late,” said Oronte. “Balancing life, training, and motivation with this schedule is something I’m constantly trying to do. It’s a learning process for sure but also a necessary part of what we do.”
If Brandon McNulty’s overall victory at this year’s Giro di Sicilia is any indication of the previous year’s European schedule paying off, keep an eye on the riders in orange in 2020 because more success is bound to follow.
Adam de Vos