Blessed are the happy go-lucky boys and girls
by Tom Southam | 27/10/09

The sun rose in the UK, at about the same time it had snuck around the corner and disappeared on Australia and simultaneously on my racing season. I’m looking at an unprecedented four whole weeks off the bike this year. The longest I have managed before this was a brief and mostly symbolic three weeks in 2002. It takes serious commitment to go training everyday when you are a pro bike rider, it takes a lot more not to ride your bike at all when you are a pro bike rider.

You know the scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, when the knights charge the two guards on the door of the castle, they seem to be making no progress in getting closer then all of a sudden they arrive right on top of the guards. Well that is how seasons seem to end for me. They are there in the distance cantering toward you at apace, but always at the same time so far off, they are not worth keeping your eye on.

Then all of a sudden it’s all over. It normally hits me in a hotel room, in the afternoon after the last race I do. It comes with a feeling of utter insecurity and loss. The season you see, somehow cradles you, there is always another race to focus on, to work toward. There is always a reason why you have to be somewhere, be going somewhere. All your purpose is suddenly stripped away, no one will pander to your needs or tell you where to be or when your suitcases need to be outside the room.

As soon though, as this feeling of emptiness arrives, it subsides and gives way to a feeling of utter freedom. I can only compare the first few days of the off season with the first few weeks post G.C.S.E’s, you sit about in the evening thinking, ‘man I really need to get that homework/study done, oh no, wait hang on I have none TO DO’. Free at last.

So what a man to do? What a man to do. Well I am posed with this question year in and year out and all I ever really know is what I don’t want to do. Pack a suitcase and go and stay in a hotel. All the parts that you have to add in to do a holiday I have been doing all year anyway. Just for a change it is nice not to look deep into a suitcase to decide what to wear (easy actually; black, black or black – thanks chaps). I’m not making out that I am an exhausted rock star, returning with a pocket full of room keys and a crumpled mind, more I would say, weary travelling salesman. Far too many Travelodge’s for the year to have been in any way a rock an roll.

Normally then my time off charges by in no time, by the time I have got comfortable with being off the bike I have to get back on it again, as a much slower, weaker and colder version of the self I knew in October. This year though I have kept my eye on it creeping up, and as mentioned I have a longer break than usual. Four whole weeks, a majority of my jobs and relationships are shorter than that (three weeks normally suffices: a week of interest, a week of ennui, a week of looking for a way out). So I decided to make the four weeks really last by enjoying in intense detail all the little things, while simultaneously remembering that I don’t have to actually do anything. Nothing, zip, nil, nada, zilch.

So I walk to the coffee shop in the morning after getting up at about half past nine, a time when I am normally pulling legwarmers out of drawers. I pitch up and greet with amusement and enthusiasm those mates of mine who are still training, (or trying to as they are instead sat at the coffee shop). I buy huge plates of hot fat salty dead things for breakfast and relish in it.

I always want to get fat in the Elvis style, but crack as soon as I put a kilo or two on. Way back when it was good to be fat, it meant you had wealth. Not only did you have enough money to not starve to death; you had such an abundance you could put weight on. These days’ things are all about face and people instead pay a fortune to try and get to a healthy body weight. There is definitely something wrong with a society where people below the poverty line are fat.

My appetite plummets by the time the off season is a couple of days old. I get sick of eating during the season, which is odd because I do love food. I suppose that’s my problem with authority coming through on some minor level. The authority in this case being my actual physical self. ‘What are you rebelling against?’, ‘well, what have you got’. Indeed.

Then I tend to sit around drinking coffees in a guilt free bubble until it’s time to wander, potter, cruise and or meander about the place. Time is on my side, and I love it. No heart rates, thresholds, overshoes, or start sheets, no doing washing of cycling kit every day, no programme, and no diet.

No, it’s all cruise control, might go to a book store, buy some more Vonnegut, (which I have been consuming with glee of late). Might text everyone I know and try to steal them away from their work places for a three Martini lunch. Might try on some shoes (something I never normally have time for in the racing season – I just buy the 45’s). Might do just about anything, but its normally just nothing more than feeding myself, consuming and being consumed. But that really doesn’t matter. A healthy body is as Asics would have you believe, a healthy mind.

As I write I am only twenty four hours away from ticking off the first long and delicious week of the off season. My cycling shoes haven’t yet made it out of my kit bag, wheels are yet to have a bike plonked on-top of them, my helmet is still buckled to my backpack and I haven’t even thought about wearing anything remotely as tight as a pair of Skins.

I have achieved precisely nothing apart from reducing my fitness index by about 50%. Week two of the off season may hold a few unavoidable achievements, there is a barbeque (what else do they do in Australia), a house warming, some horse races to shame my Quaker forefathers at and a Thai wedding to attend. I think it’s all pretty normal stuff; I just derive so much pleasure from it because it is all compressed into a timeless, stateless, weightless few weeks.

The really good news about this is, I know full well this would be as dull as unseasoned potato soup if I did these kinds of things all year round. I mean it’s not like I drink beer in the afternoon all year round.