As promised I am going to write down a few of my thoughts about what my Year in the Canadian National Champions Jersey was like. I am sure many of you might find these thoughts trite or cliche but I will just try to be honest, because that is all I can really offer.
I guess I should start by laying out what I had for expectations. Athletes in this sport dream of what wearing the jersey for a year will be like. Personally I was first and foremost proud. I was ready to represent my home and not just my team in every race I entered. I think that is what is at the root of every athlete who’s career is inspired by the Olympics. However in cycling, if you earn it, you are afforded that honor every day.
I would be misleading you if I said I didn’t have some great selfish expectations for what having the jersey would mean. I have been in cycling for a long time. I have had some great results all the way up to world championships and never had that one that really pushed me over the edge in terms of major financial gain. I never felt like I was considered a legitimate bike rider, never had a result that elicited the sort of reaction from they cycling community I thought you get as a real professional in the sport. My expectation was that this jersey would change all that. It would give me something tacit I could hold up and say “look, I know what I am doing and I deserve to be recognized, and compensated for that accordingly”. It would prevent the nah sayers from raising an argument against that position and I would at least finally have the upper hand in things like contract negotiations. I would see more respect in the peloton and although it may not mean I have the ability to win more it would mean I have the ability to at least be in the game more. When other riders respect your talents it means they are at least willing to work with you to try and beat others even if in the end that will turn on you.
This was not the reality I enjoyed. The crash of the rider market and the flood of pro tour riders into the Colosseum of fall contracts meant my jersey turned into little more then the extra bag of peanuts on the plane. They are nice to have but no one picks an airline because of them. My personal internal feelings didn’t change to much either. In fact, at first I felt almost unworthy of the weight of it. The first time I put it on I was almost embarrassed like I didn’t deserve the recognition at every race.
I didn’t reap huge financial rewards. I had to take some time to feel comfortable in my new roll as representative of a nation full time. I did find a great richness in my time with the coveted jersey though. Having it may have saved my career. It may have been a life preserver in the stormy sea of the 2013 contract season and likely lead to my at least finding a home. That home, Smart Stop, seemed like a small shack with modest beginnings when I first arrived, but it has proven to be a band of brothers. One capable of great things. Having the jersey I think helped me gain their trust and rightfully or wrongfully helped give me a role on the team that I may not have had without it. Because of that I feel so much more invested in every success of this new team and in a way its almost like the jersey did its job of reforming my career. It may not have been in the way I expected but I think it has been in a way that has brought more value to my career. Being in a formative position in a growing program is so much more rewarding than just being a cog in a bigger machine for a year. The jersey helped give me that opportunity.
This uniform has given me some fantastic moments though. Riding the GP Montreal in the breakaway all day will go down as one of the highlights of my career. I doubt I will ever again ride a world tour level race and have every person on the course cheering my name every lap. People I didn’t know, all supporting me just because I was “their guy”.
In the end I was sad to see the jersey go. In a way you do get addicted to it. You go from being reminded you are a little special every time you pull it on to being back to “normal” in a way. But there is no doubt it went to the right person. I am looking forward to being one of the boys again, even though I felt like I always was. I am glad I had the opportunity. It did change my career. I hope it has made me more humble, more appreciative of the fans and support we have in this sport. It has given me a different perspective and reaffirmed my belief that nothing in sport ever abruptly changes for anyone. It is all slow shift as a result of hard work and personal ambition. Not because of the colour of the cloth on your back. It will be a fine memento of my time in the sport. I hope it is not the last time I wear it though.