Writing this report is surreal. I still don’t really believe everything that has happened and everything I have been able to enjoy and take part in over the past 8-9 months. To say this sport has changed my life is an understatement. To think that only a few years ago, I was an unhappy heating contractor removing oil tanks with my dad and brother to help save a dying family business, lugging oil tanks and cast iron boilers up and down basement stairs by day and then trying to sneak in 60 to 90 minutes of riding at night… I never once dreamed of being a professional rider.
I had been told right away that it was too late for me, and as mountain biker starting at 26 years of age, I was never going to “make it”. I thought I was an average athlete with a bad back. I really just enjoyed trying to go faster and how amazing a hard training ride made me feel afterwards. The bad back went away when I stopped lifting tanks. The truth is, I was never trying to “make it” as a pro, I was trying to “make it” through life. Riding was an outlet, a mini vacation after a crappy day covered in soot and heating oil. Getting out on the bike made everything worthwhile. I always felt like I earned a little “me time” after a hard day’s work. Even though I don’t slug tanks anymore and I now coach cycling for a living, I still feel the need to get in a hard day’s work to earn my ride. It was bike therapy then, and it’s still bike therapy for me now.
The surreal part is that what started as a nice little break in the day has now turned into competing on the world stage. The men’s endurance program sent a pursuit squad to the Commonwealth Games and that meant I got to compete at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in Glasgow in the team pursuit, the individual pursuit, and I also got to take the start in the road race.
This meant lining up with some of Canada’s best riders and some of my cycling heroes. I’m not afraid to say it, some of the riders Canada sent to the Games are people I have admired and looked up to for years. Just because I can go fast for 4 minutes meant I was rooming with a 2-time Olympian and then eating dinner with the who’s who of Canadian cycling. Full-time pros, National Champions on the road and MTB, and a fella who just flew in after finishing the TdF. It was beyond cool, and I had many pinch-me moments as we rode together, watched other events together and then hung out in the Athlete’s Village all dressed up in our team Canada gear.
The team pursuit was our first event and something I was extremely excited for. After a horrible national TT and road race trying to compete while sick, I was finally enjoying the form I busted my ass for in early part of the season. The early season camps and then racing in Europe for the first time had me in the best form of my life. Add in a solid pre-camp in the Netherlands, and it was pretty much confirmed I was healthy and ready for the Games.
I wasn’t nervous at all. In fact I was quite confident that everyone was going very well and we had all come together very nicely in practice; it was a good feeling. The night before the race I slept like a baby and on race day I felt prepared and ready to go. The crowd was alive and the atmosphere in the velodrome was everything I had hoped for. I really do love race day, the bigger the race the better. They called us up to the track and we walked up to our bikes. I enjoyed every step up the track. I looked around and tried to really capture the moment.
Things slowed down, I clipped in and enjoyed the countdown. I took a deep breath thinking I was right where I wanted to be. Beep Beep Beep beep beeeeeeeep! We ripped off the line and right away I was a bit squirrely with the bike. Thought to myself “never did that before”. We got lined up and we were right on pace. Remi [Pelletier-Roy] did exactly what was needed and nothing more. Zach [Bell] pulled through and like the veteran he is kept things smooth and steady and as he went up track I pulled right through underneath him. Everything was going to plan. I came to my exchange and violently went up track trying to get up and down as fast as possible. Aidan [Caves] took the lead and as I went up the track I clipped my right pedal on the boards.
My rear wheel jumped a bit, but nothing more. I had never done that before, and to tell you the truth, didn’t even know it was possible. I had the split second thought of “WTF was that?” I came down from the banking a bit startled and a little too hot. That meant I had a run on the group and was right into Zach’s back wheel. I leaned in for a split second as the bike went on an angle to the left. It was very close to being a disaster. I slowed and he continued on as I went into the infield and then abruptly right back up track in the corner. I saved things and didn’t crash but couldn’t get back on the train.
The team was now down a rider and had to continue on for 3km with only three guys. I don’t really know how to describe the feeling as they rode away. This awful mix of disappointment, anger and sadness came over me as I rolled around waiting for it to be safe to slow and leave the track. This isn’t how it was supposed to happen. Even when I know stuff like this happens and I know it is going to happen to everyone now and again, all I could think was why me? And why now? I took a minute to myself to hide my face and clear my tear ducts. (I’m even emotional writing this now) I then went over to the pen to watch the last few laps.
Everyone said all the right things when I came off the track, but I was really upset and couldn’t even respond without getting emotional. I tried my best to keep my emotions under control and looked up on to the track. It was then I realized the boys were out there doing something special. The three of them continued turning themselves inside out on to get the fourth best time and earn another ride in the bronze medal final.
The feeling of relief was overwhelming. I couldn’t believe it. Their ride was amazing. We were going to get another shot at this. I was going to get a chance to make it up to them. I thanked all three of them for that chance. If going through something like that wasn’t an incredible learning experience, I don’t know what is. I hopefully checked that box, because I never want to go through something like that again.
The bronze medal final had us going up against the New Zealand team. This team is one of the world’s best pursuit squads and only just missed out on the gold medal round. These guys have power and experience. We had something to prove but they also had something to prove. We knew there was a chance they were going to come out hot and try to catch us, but we stuck to our schedule and did what got us here in the first place. In practice we have pulled off some very fast times, so there was an outside chance we might hold them off. It really depended how serious they were taking things and if they were racing for a time or racing to catch us as fast as possible.
We started off right on pace and I made the first exchange without an error. All four of us did what we knew we could do and rolled right on schedule and had a very solid first 2km. Then I heard the gun go off. It was the signal to tell us the race was over. We had been overtaken and the Kiwi’s were right beside us about to pass. I was told not to look at them and I didn’t. I was so focused on what we were doing I didn’t realized how quickly they had started and their entire strategy was to end it as soon as possible. They blitzed the first 2km and we rolled off the track only getting to complete half the distance having to settle for fourth.
The following day was the individual pursuit and I was pumped to see what I could do in competition. It was very rewarding to see how all this hard work has paid off getting a personal best time of 4:33 and one of the fastest times in Canadian history.
Getting to compete at these Games was great all around, for our team and the entire program. It really gave us an idea of where we are and where we can go. I don’t think anyone of us went home thinking we didn’t get better from this experience. Lining up against the world’s best was very inspiring and made me want more. Even though I’m constantly reminded of my age, I’m motivated more than ever to see if this really is my calling. I have never been this good at anything and it makes me happy to continue to see so much progress. Even though I know it can’t go on forever, I do hope it never ends.
This opportunity to be MTE program pioneer and help get things off the ground as we move into our new facility in Milton is dream come true. Thanks for giving me a chance. Thanks to everyone who has helped get me here. None of this happens alone and I owe it to all of you to give it everything I possibly can before I go back to just being the local fast guy again, then we can all sit back and enjoy this track program as it starts pumping out the future of our sport.