After a year where several riders have called it a day, julian dean ponders the Task of retirement for a pro-cyclist.
Let’s talk about retirement; the hanging up of the proverbial ‘boots’, or maybe the ‘bike’ as is the case for pro-cyclists when their time has come. It’s needless to say that after doing something that has brought you fame and fortune after years of blood, sweat and tears it will never be an easy task to leave.
Perhaps it’s the case in all sports but maybe even more so with cycling; a grueling endurance sport that requires not just total commitment from the athlete but sacrifices from many of those surrounding the athlete, like coaches, management, and family.
If you can for a moment, put yourself in the pro-cyclist’s shoes. They live every hour of their life influenced by a singular powerful driving force. To be good on the bike. Nothing else matters. It is a one-dimensional existence.
Now let’s imagine that after 20 years this existence is no longer sustainable for whatever reason … age, injury or lack of contract. That is a big enough change in itself but for some athletes, they have to step down off a well-paid, well-recognised pedestal to become irrelevant very quickly within his or her beloved sport. The contrast is stark and the pathway to reinvent oneself seems chokingly daunting.
Of course this sentiment is repeated among pro-athletes in all professional sports. Pro-cyclists are not the only ones subjected to the internal battles faced whilst fumbling through their retirement. Hence the reason why NBA all time leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar described his transition out of his sport as more difficult to reconcile than being diagnosed with a form of blood cancer in 2008. It was natural to seek treatment, and there was structure and a goal in that.
In recent years Australian cycling has seen the retirement of possibly the best generation of cyclists Australian professional cycling has had. While all of the guys in the past 20 years are accomplished in their own right, none have had the reach that Cadel has had. He has been the man who has brought cycling and consequently the Tour de France to regular Australians. So it is no surprise that his looming retirement is going to be celebrated by many from all facets of life.
I think that all the riders from the past 20 years must be proud of the legacy they have left behind in cycling. The likes of O’Grady, McEwan, Cook, Cadel and others of that era, are leaving cycling in a very good place.
A mere 15 years ago there were more fingers on one hand than there were Australian bike riders consistently in races such as the Tour de France. It was commonplace to be at a World Tour level race with no more than five native English speakers and often no Australasians. When we did come to a race, particularly the Giro d’Italia with its old school slow starts and there was a group of us to share a joke; there was never a greater pleasure than sitting down the back of the peloton exchanging stories on the idiosyncrasies of our weird and wonderful European team and teammates.
Now we routinely expect to see Australians feature in the top ten places of the world’s greatest races.
Retirement is never easy however, and any athlete would be lying if they said that at no point did they struggle through it. The lesson that we can learn from Abdul-Jabbar however, is that it’s important to find a way to move on. It’s not that this will replace what you loved, lived and breathed for so many years but it will ease the profound depth of lament. Since his retirement, the 7′ 2″ Abdul-Jabber has taken to writing books and now has seven to his name.
So we wish Cadel all the best for his impending journey through his retirement and thank him and his generation of guys for the legacy and the pathway they have created for the future talent of Australasian cycling.