Leah Thorvilson greets the crowds with her CANYON//SRAM Racing teammates at the 127 km Omloop van het Hageland on February 26th 2017, starting and finishing in Tielt Winge, Belgium. (Photo by Sean Robinson/Velofocus)

7 things I have learned about professional cycling

And just like that, 2018 is over. Many teams are having their first training camps for the 2019 season, and soon the 3rd Zwift Academy winner will be named as the newest addition to Canyon Sram Racing’s roster.

It’s crazy to think that just two years ago, that was me. Now as I am closing out my pro “career” (can you call it that, when it’s been so short??), here are the top 7 things I have learned about professional cycling….not necessarily in order, and 7 instead of 10 because I am just coming off a training camp and my brain can’t process 3 more things I’ve learned for the sake of hitting a round number.
7. Always double check your race day bag. 
I’ve showed up for races missing everything from enough layers to my cycling shoes. Yes, my shoes…. that one ended in borrowing some shoes 1.5 sizes too small from a junior girls’ team 5 minutes before the race, and changing out pedals. Funny now, then…not so much.
6. Have a race day routine. 
Race days are nerve racking. I’m pretty sure that is true whether you are a Cat 4 racer trying your damn hardest to be a pro, or a former world champion who has been racing since she was 6. I don’t actually think it would even be ideal to have NO pre-race jitters, but having a routine to go through can help keep things manageable.
The first time I ever signed on for a race with Canyon SRAM, very underdressed because I didn’t bring enough layers at the 127 km Omloop van het Hageland on February 26th 2017, starting and finishing in Tielt Winge, Belgium. (Photo by Sean Robinson/Velofocus)
5. Your team is your family, get used to it. 
Your teammates and staff are people you are going to spend a lot of time with, in close quarters, under a lot of stress. They will be the ones you celebrate with when things go great, and the ones you sometimes cry or sit in super awkward silence with when things go badly. You may end up the best of friends with every single person, but the more you can get to know one another both on and off the bike, the better I think it is for understanding each other and working together as a team.
4. Say YES to Girona. 
Okay that specific statement is biased, but for many pro cyclists, part of the “pro-life” is uprooting from home and moving abroad (if you are from the US) or seasonally uprooting to be in a location with a climate that allows for optimized training. I remember initially when I was asked “would you be interested in living in Girona for a season?” my first reaction was “no”. This was a sight unseen response triggered by the fact that it was a big change (even if only temporary) to what was known and comfortable for me. Taking big chances aren’t always easy, but if you don’t try you will never know, and you just might fall in love with the new place.
3. Confidence is king. 
Cycling is tough. On top of being fit, you have to be smart, and on top of being smart, you have to believe in yourself. There is no room for self-doubt. Period. Confidence is not to be confused with cockiness or holier than thou attitudes. I am purely speaking about the ability to understand the game, and show up ready to play.
The last time I ever took the stage with the team, when we received the team competition award for stage 1 of Tour Feminine L’Ardeche last September.
2. European cycling culture is on another level. 
Where I live in the US, i’ve witnessed a state championship race where categories were combined and still there were less than 10 women. In Belgium you might find 100 women lining up for a kermesse on a Wednesday night. There are 10 times the participants, and the roads are 50% smaller. You can work out the figures on how much more challenging it is to navigate, not to mention most of these ladies grew up on a bike….so the skills are also on another level.
…and the number one thing I have learned, which is the only one I WILL put in particular order right up at the top, is that there is NO substitute for time in the peloton when it comes to learning. All the power in the world, all the drills, all the group rides, weekend crits, visualization practices…. these are all good things, but there is simply no way to prepare yourself for being good in a professional peloton other than to BE IN IT. As I look back at the experiences I have had and all I have learned, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. People have asked if I wish I had started earlier, and that is hard….because I think if I HAD started sooner, I wouldn’t have ended up in the Zwift Academy, and honestly probably wouldn’t have ever ended up having a shot as a pro. I got something that I worked very hard for, but in comparison to all the talented women out there grappling for a spot, just praying for a chance…I probably didn’t deserve it. I wouldn’t change a thing, but I DO wish I had had more time. I wish I had more chances to continue to learn, to ride beside my teammates during races and have them holler at me about what to do. They often apologized later for being bossy, but the bossy moments were the best I ever had. Finding the confidence, however fleeting, to be up there with them, close enough to be hollered at, was pure gold.
Leah!


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