Last week, for the first time in my life, I found myself stood looking into a full-length mirror. I was wearing nothing but my pants and I stood staring at myself for a good few minutes. I looked at my legs first and thought too myself 'too skinny', then I moved up to my arms and body which, there was no doubt in my mind, were 'too fat' and my overall appearance . . . well I could sum up in 4 words: 'not a road cyclist'.
This recent act of vanity was a turning point for me, not just because I have never actually taken a good look at myself in a full-length mirror, but because it's the end result of a riding change that I have been going through for the last couple of years.
Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall . . .
My roots in cycling are firmly in downhill mountain biking. My dad was a downhill racer when I was growing up so the TV was constantly showing downhill races on Eurosport or mountain bike movies on VHS. I would have to climb over his friends' bikes when I got home from school since they were almost always lining the hall way of the house and there would constantly be someone's crank, shock or fork on the coffee table. I've no idea how it happened, but for some reason I started riding mountain bikes too!
My involvement in mountain bikes progressed from a hobby to a passion and by 16 I was riding in professional events across the U.K. My chosen disciplines were slopestyle and freeriding. I would spend my days jumping, dropping, flipping and spinning off or over anything I could find, the bigger and gnarlier the better. In these days there was no looking in the mirror, I was too busy pushing my riding to the next level.
I continued the mountain bike dream into my late 20s but then something broke, and it wasn't another bone. I burned out. It had been a long time coming - after all I had lived and breathed for mountain bikes ever since I was big enough to jump on one. I needed a change.
After some long discussions with my dad we came to the conclusion I needed a road bike. My addiction to riding had never left me, I just needed to change the bike that I pedalled. My dad had moved to 'the dark side' a few years previously and quickly got me up to speed with a few (in fact a lot) of magazines and some races on trusty Eurosport.
It quickly became apparent that road cycling isn't just a skill sport, it's a fitness sport, and a brutal one at that. Previously I had never done any fitness training, it was all skill. To be honest I hadn't given my body condition a second thought. As long as I was breathing and moving I could ride. Now I found myself looking at roadies' physiques as they rode past, worrying about my food intake and saying 'look at those legs!' at least twice with every magazine I read or race I watched.
You see, in the sport of road cycling the body and bike is split 50/50: the way you look has a direct link with how you ride. In my days of slopestyle and freeride MTB my riding was judged purely on what I did with my bike, not how fit I was and this has been the hardest hurdle for me to overcome when it comes to road riding. I'm simply not used to the fitness side of things. With my MotoX baggies being replaced by skin-tight Lycra, I also quite literally have nowhere to hide!
So this is what led me to the mirror. For the first time in my life the pressures of looking good had got to me, vanity insanity had finally got to me.
But then I had an epiphany. Although I might not look like Froome or Sagan I do have a working body and bike, and how do you get the chiselled body of a riding god? You ride!!!
So that's my plan, I'll ride and ride and ride, and if I end up up looking like a road cycling machine then it will merely be a by-product of doing what I love. And if I don't, well, it won't matter - because I'm never looking in that mirror again!!!!
Conquista issue 14 - available now