Respecting routine reaps rewards

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Stuart O'Grady, centre, says GreenEDGE is crucial for Australian cycling. (AAP Image/Benjamin Macmahon)

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Daily life is a cycle of repetition – groundhog day after repetitious groundhog day leaves most lamenting the dreaded rat race.

We dream of being a professional athlete. Flying high around the world living fancy free, our lives filled with a heavy sporting focus and just the right amount of recreational endeavour to keep us going.

Above all, we yearn for a break in the monotony.

Funnily enough though, one secret to sporting success is dreary, dead boring, routine. A simple function of going through the motions, day in and day out.

Ask most cyclists what a tour without coffee is like and they probably say they don’t know, because such a thing does not exist. If it did, they’ve already repressed it.

Maintaining one’s routine at a cycling tour is crucial to success. Many wonder why superstar teams come from Europe across to Asia and don’t really live up to their promise – it’s even hard for any AFL team travelling to Perth. It’s all same, same.

From a mental side, from a physiological side, our routine is what makes us great. Jetlag, different beds, different sights, different sounds. They all help in throwing out the delicate daily balance that all athletes strive to achieve.

Once on tour all of the teams generally stay in the same one or two hotels provided by the race organiser. The challenge then is for teams to make themselves at home as best they can.

For all cyclists, our food, our fuel, is priority number one.

If you are racing the Tour of East Java your meals rock up lukewarm in polystyrene containers on the back of a rickety old ute.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my obscure cuisine – give me the chance and you’ll find me fist deep in a pile of bugs wrapped with the intestinal lining of a fermenting water buffalo.

There is a difference, however, between holiday eating and race day eating. And regardless of what tickles your taste buds, diesel fumes are not very amicable to even the most adventurous palate.

On the other hand, if you are racing the Tour de France then your team most likely has their own chef and everyone is well catered for. Vegan, gluten free, lactose free, high carb, high protein, paleo. Whatever. You name it. They’ll do it.

If, however, you fall in the middle ground, you generally turn up at the breakfast and dinner buffets at various hotels and hope for the best.

This is where routine for many cyclists get hit out of the park.

If you are on tour generally you wake between 6am and 8am and head downstairs to scope out the breakfast scene.

Western riders tend to stick to toast, cereal, eggs and pastries. Asian riders tend to go for noodles, soups, or rice. Riders such as myself, with eyes bigger than their stomachs, tend to go for everything, and often live to regret it.

But the mainstay for the morning routine for many riders is their caffeine hit.

If you’ve ever seen the look in a cyclist’s eyes when he sees that the coffee pot at breakfast is empty, with no refill looking likely, it’s possible you’ve seen betrayal and despair in their most prominent forms.

For those who got their morning fix, it’s the management of the ensuing bowel motions that takes highest priority.

As athletes, we like to think everything is within our control. When it comes to timing the emptying of waste products on the morning of a race, however, we are merely victims of whatever cruel god is up there.

Sometimes it hits straight after breakfast. Easy. Pack your bag, do your business, then jump on the bus or ride to the stage start. Done.

Sometimes it hits when you get to the stage start. That’s OK, when going to a public place – maybe a stadium, a town square or a park – Surely there will be public amenities.

Herein lies the problem. Coming from Australia we tend to assume that whenever we need to release some thunder from down under, the necessary facilities will just appear.

But that’s just not so.

If, like me, you’ve ever pulled a half squat in the middle of a paddock in the searing Thai heat, you’ll know that when nature calls you can’t just put it on hold. You’ll be glad you got those anti-malarial tablets because those mosquitos sure are interested in last night’s tom yum.

You’ll also be similarly glad in the knowledge that upon completion the sacrificing of your favourite cycling cap was necessary. No matter how badly your scalp got sunburnt.

So back track to the race start, and a lot of the time there will actually be bathrooms present. But two golden assumptions will help you every time.

Firstly, it will be a squatter. Don’t wear bike shoes. It’s pretty obvious, but the combination of fancy cleats, no toilet seats and just the right amount of spray on the slippery surface will leave you up the proverbial creek.

Secondly, there will be no toilet paper. So bring your own. Otherwise, like me, you’ll be forced to sacrifice either you dignity or your clothing.

Pre-race bathroom breaks also provide a great contrast in cultures. In Australia you better do your pre-race urination within the confines of an actual bathroom, otherwise you risk a fine. Fair enough. Local councils do not want to put on races if they have two hundred riders scattered about the town watering all the lemon trees.

Conversely, in China the police come running and screaming whilst brandishing batons and blowing whistles. But it’s not you who is in trouble. Oh no, it’s the curious kids and inquiring locals who cop the force of a verbal beating.

That’s right, it’s the people upon whose house is located on the alleyway you decided to relieve yourself in that get the talking too.

“Leave that rider alone! Get out of here! Can’t you see he is busy?”

You feel kind of special. But it is a bit wrong.

And thus the morning routine draws to a close. Relieved, ready and raring to race, the riders roar off as the flag drops and another stage is underway.

The moral of the story is don’t underestimate how the most subtle changes in routine can throw out even the most prepared professional.

We all say we want wake up to a new sunrise, a different view and unknown destination.

But when there’s a race on? Give us a boring breakfast, an average coffee, and let us go through our groundhog day again.

Sometimes being boring can help bring out the best.

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