the off-season report: volume 1
Hello, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Joe Laverick, a 20-year-old, English, kinda-pro1 cyclist, racing for Hagens Berman Axeon and living in Girona. I also dabble with a touch of freelance writing to help pay the bills, hence why I’m here.
As I write this, it’s 18:57 and I’m in the back of a taxi on Barcelona ring road. The destination is Girona, my adopted mainland European home since the start of this year. I was supposed to start, and finish this piece on the plane, but I opened my book at the start of the flight and didn’t put it down until we landed. Best laid plans and all that.
I often get asked why I chose Girona. I knew I wanted to be based in mainland Europe, and Girona can seem like the basic thing to do as a pro-cyclist, but there is reasoning. If you look across Europe, a majority of the pro-cyclists live in Monaco, Andorra, Nice or Girona. This is discounting Belgium and France, as most of those guys stay at home.
Monaco was scratched from the list for the obvious reason, I’m not a millionaire. But why not Nice? Nice would have made sense, I spent all of last year riding for a French team so I’ve got a good grasp of the language. The weather is good all-year round and there is an airport close by. Plus, I once stated on a family holiday that I’d move to the South of France, and this was before I was into cycling at all.
I have a couple of problems with Nice. Firstly, it’s an expensive place to live, the rent is high, and you need a car to get around which is another added expense. Secondly, there isn’t as close of a community, this can mean it’s harder to find a flat-mate or have connections off the bike. I would love to try Nice as it’s an amazing place, but it’s not the right time in my career just yet.
Girona was always the obvious option. Rent is cheap - you can find a good two-bedroom flat in the centre of town for around €1,000 per/month + bills - so if you find a housemate, it’s reasonable. In addition to this, everything is walkable so you don’t need a car. There are countless grocery stores within a ten minute walk. There are world-class physios, mechanics and bike fitters within a five minute walk of my front door. Back in the UK, I’d have to drive a couple of hours to get similar services.
The main thing that drew me to Girona however, was the community. There are a lot of athletes in this small town, and sometimes it can be a little overwhelming, but equally it’s nice to be around like-minded people. I love being surrounded by so many nationalities too, a group of us went out for dinner the other day, and there were four continents represented. It’s hard to put your finger on what exactly, but being together in a foreign country causes friendships to form quicker.
Also, where else can you live in a beautiful old-town dating back to the 12th century, be riding on quiet country roads within 10-minutes, by the coast within half-an-hour and on the ski-slopes within a 2.5hr drive? Then we have countless incredible cafes and restaurants within a 5-minute walk and we’re less than a 40-minute train ride from Barcelona. That’s why Girona is cool.
Andorra is incredible too. I spent three-weeks there over summer on a solo training camp, and it’s a great place. The scenery is beautiful, the roads are tough yet rewarding, it’s at altitude and it has the obvious tax benefits. Being in the mountains, everything seems to be more relaxed, time slows down. I can see myself moving to Andorra in the future, it’s got this lovely feeling about it. The main thing stopping me at the minute is the cost. To become an Andorran resident as a Sportsperson requires a big financial commitment, my bank account doesn’t stretch that far unfortunately!
Anyway, I digress, heading back to Girona means it’s time to get back to work. It’s that time of the year where I’m slightly heavier, not as fit, and a bit lazier than I normally am. Equally, it’s the time of year where that trio is exactly what I want. When that trio is in town, it either means something has gone drastically wrong in my race season, or that I’ve had a good off-season. Fortunately, it’s the latter. My off-season has been great and it served a reminder of how strange a life that I, and many other elite athletes, lead.
We all live double lives, whether we realise it or not. For most people my age, it is the family and university/college double life. You don’t want your parents finding out about everything that happens at uni, do you?
For me, it’s a bit different. Day to day life is relatively simple: I wake up, I eat breakfast and I ride my bike. Once every couple of weeks, I’ll get on a plane, pin a number on and ride my bike hard – this phenomenon is more commonly known as a bike race. In my head this is normal, but off-season reminded me that living in Spain and riding my bike for a living is far from that. It is only when I step out of the cycling bubble and spend time in the real world that I realise just how strange it is.
I did my damnedest to embrace the student lifestyle in my off-season. I headed up to Glasgow, Scotland to catch up with some friends who I met last year when I was living and racing in France. Both nights we were out until the early hours of the morning, both nights my liver went into full panic mode, and both nights were thoroughly enjoyable.
I was living life as a normal 20-year-old. We had lazy, late mornings, headed to watch a football match in the afternoon and were drinking beer along the way. The evening would turn into the night, the night would turn into the morning, get a bit blurrier, and off we stumbled to bed. I was just another one of the thousand students that lived there.
I was sitting at a cafe yesterday with a fellow cyclist, yet someone who isn’t a pro or in the pro-cycling world. We were talking about off-season, university et al. He asked me a simple question: “Do you feel like you’ve missed out at all, not going to university?”.
It was just a harmless question that popped up, but it got me thinking. If you’re wondering, the answer is yes. I do feel like I’ve missed out on a part of the growing up phase which most other people my age go through. It’s the things you don’t think about: house parties, nights out or holidays away with your mates. During my off-season, we spent a fair few nights out clubbing, and it was great. It’s something I’ve never really had the chance to do, so when I can metaphorically let my hair down for a couple of weeks in October, I do.
I live in this little pro-cycling bubble. When you’re in the bubble, missing out on all of this stuff is completely normal, as we all sang from a similar hymn sheet to get where we are. It is only when you step out of the bubble and into the real world that you realise that it’s not normal.
To me, normal is heading to university as soon as you’ve finished school. You get the freedom of living away, but you’re still in the protective bubble of the education system. You get to grow up around people of a similar age and do stupid-fun stuff without the pressure of being a fully fledged adult. You have ultimate freedom to do whatever you want. As long as you get to your lectures, you’re free.
It isn’t normal to move to a foreign country a month after your 19th birthday, to pursue a career in professional sport. It forces you to grow up faster, to move into the adult world at an earlier age.
While I do feel like I missed out on the normal parts of the late teenage years, I also wouldn’t change it for the world. I am extremely privileged to do what I do. I’m only 20, and I’ve lived in two foreign countries, had the opportunity to learn another language and I get to travel across Europe doing what I love: riding my bike in beautiful places.
It can be hard, and you can never fully switch off from it, but it’s also the best job in the world. Coming back to Girona has reminded me of this. It was an awful lot of fun doing my ‘Tour de Off-Season’, visiting old-friends at their universities and enjoying everything that comes with that, but it’s not my life.
My life is riding my bike, and I’ve re-entered that life. I’m not as fit as I am in the season, but there’s something special about riding around the Catalonian mountains on a chilly Autumn day, knowing that you’re on the long twisty road back to race fitness.
There are a few things that I wanted to include in this article which I’m going to save for later. The fact that I, a 20-year-old Brit, live in Spain and my closest friends are Aussies and Americans. How 2022 is a make-it or break-it year for me as a final year U23 rider. Or, how cycling as a sport is an intertwined, complicated mess.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you next month.
I say kinda-pro because the jury is out as to whether a Continental cyclist is truly a professional. While our teams are professional, and we regularly race the ProConti and WorldTour boys, just a brief look at the UCI guidelines shows that Conti teams don’t really have as much legislation to them as their superiors. If I’m at a family gathering, I say I’m a pro-cyclist because it’s easier. In cycling circles, it’s a bit more complicated as I feel that you have to earn that ‘’Pro’’ badge.