All images: ©Harolin Ortiz
It's that time of year again. Riders are coming together with their teams for early 2017 training camps. These are the people you will spend many nights on the road with during the coming year. It’s interesting to meet for the first time the people whose job at times will be to sacrifice themselves and protect you while racing.
As a result, teams are climbing mountain peaks together, hiking long trails, sailing or even just spending a relaxing holiday together to better know each other and bond as a team.
At Team Novo Nordisk, we had a slightly different approach. We spent the last week in the Dominican Republic building three homes for families living in poverty. Not only did it give us a chance to become closer as a team, but it allowed us find purpose and give back to society in a very real way.
At various times over the last few years, I have questioned the significance of my career choice. Before becoming a professional cyclist, I was a school teacher. While at that job, it was easy to see how I was contributing to the greater good and contributing to society. However, as a professional bike rider, I sometimes question my purpose and how I give back.
Cycling is very much driven by your own personal results. After a few disappointing performances, it is easy to doubt yourself and your self-worth. I have seen many cyclists fall out of love with cycling as a result of this. I have even seen some cyclists quit riding to seek out more purpose in life.
Last week in the Dominican Republic, we worked with Hope Sports and Homes4Hope to provide shelter for three families in a community that is in desperate need. It was a chance for us to give back and see that there are other ways we can live a more purposeful existence.
On a personal level, the experience gave us the chance to reflect on the lives that we live. As professional cyclists, we spend the year travelling around the world staying in hotels and racing expensive bikes. We complain about things like not getting the best equipment, not having the milk we prefer at breakfast or missing your favourite flavoured bar during a race. Meanwhile, the communities in the Dominican Republic are going without the most basic of needs.
They are living in homes made of scrap metal, the kids are walking the dirt streets without shoes, and they struggle each day to find enough food. It's an eye-opening and confronting experience that really puts things into perspective.
We have all seen pictures and videos on the internet, but nothing can prepare you for the shock of seeing it up close. Personally, I think each and every rider on my team has a new appreciation for what we have and the opportunities we are given.
When you see kids happily playing with nothing but an empty cardboard box, I can't help but feel guilty when my biggest problem is deciding what colour iPhone to buy. My problems are insignificant in the bigger picture, and it took an experience like this to give me a wake-up call.
As well as the opportunity to provide homes for three families, this experience will hopefully help us to grow as individuals and have a stronger bond as a team. It's something that I think everyone needs to experience in their lives. I believe it will make me and anyone else who goes through this a better human being.
Chris Williams rides for Team Novo Nordisk - the world's first all-diabetes professional cycling team