Willie's words of wisdom
Every WorldTour rider had a first year at the top level of professional cycling. For Team KATUSHA ALPECIN’s Willie Smit, that year was last year. It’s expected that not much will be easy in the freshman year, but perhaps if lessons are well-heeded, year two can bring the desired results.
It was a big learning curve obviously. I had no idea what to expect. Cycling is a real big business environment so you have to learn a number of small things, like being on time, always writing your training reports and uploading your training data. I feel like I’m that type of organized person in races, but I’ve had to learn to do this in training times, too, and that has been something to get used to.
Organization and discipline are key elements in the daily life of a pro cyclist, and Smit has had to face some demons in this area, namely hitting and maintaining his ideal racing weight.
I was training much harder. I had to learn that after a big training block and a few big races, you are completely broken, but you don’t get to go and satisfy your hunger. In your mind you think you can just eat what you want because you just trained so much but it is all about the discipline at that point. I also had to get my weight down, and it’s not like that is extremely difficult, but you are hungry most of the time. I find myself going to sleep earlier than normal for myself just so I won’t get cravings, before the Cookie Monster comes!
Willie and his team coaches are still figuring out what races suit him the best, although in his mind he feels the medium mountain days in stage races are probably best for him. In his first year with the team he was often called up to a race if someone else couldn’t make it so he could continue to gain more experience at the highest level.
It was a wake-up call in the sense that the sprint stages are kind of easy, but the mountain stages are hard right from the start, and the classic races are really dangerous. I’ve been doing all them as the team tries to figure out exactly what kind of racer I am. The team helps me out a lot with this. So much of it is about gaining experience and using opportunities while you’re on form to try for results. You certainly aren’t going to get any results when you aren’t on form. I was going well last year before I broke my collarbone, so I hope to see some decent results in 2019 and perhaps be able to do a grand tour.
Balancing a rewarding homelife is a goal for Willie too, and one he often finds challenging.
There is, of course, much less time with my wife. You come home tired, but you still owe them emotional energy because they have been home without you. I need to split myself in two. I’d say truthfully it’s been more tough mentally than physically. When I see that some of my teammates actually have children, I just have to tip my hat to them and wonder how they have time for that?! Cycling has to be most important as it’s what keeps things going, pays the bills, keeps the food on the table. You also learn that it’s a very selfish sport. You learn to wake up and make sure all of your own stuff is ready and make the plan for your day based 100% on what you need, not necessarily what any one else might want. It’s very strange.
How about some honest-to-goodness advice for a new WorldTour rider?
I think the more disciplined you learn to be, the better off things will be for you. Don’t spend hours and hours on social media or on your computer – instead, go to sleep. Live a minimalistic life. It will make cycling and life more enjoyable. Try to be like a monk. Maybe learn to relax and let your body relax; read a book. I’m not there yet, but I try to do that.
For more from Willie, we recommend checking out his YouTube channel... Full of tips, tricks and behind the scenes Pro cycling action!