When I think about the last week two images really stand out in my mind.
1. Pascal Ackerman taking his first ever stage at the Giro, feeling utter joy, grinning from ear to ear.
2. Marcel Kittel announcing he had left Katusha Alpecin before his contract was up so he could search for joy.
They’re both German, they’re both sprinters, they’re both very talented but that’s where the similarly ends. They’re at the opposite ends of the emotional scale.
There’s only six years between them but that’s a lifetime in professional sport and somehow there seems to be a chasm between how they feel about cycling.
Pascal is experiencing grand tour wins for the first time and looking forward to all those that will undoubtedly come in his future.
Marcel has a wealth of grand tour wins behind him and isn’t sure whether he’ll have another one in his future.
Despite the difference between them I somehow feel happy for both of them. Both seem to be exactly where they need to be.
My initial reaction for Marcel was one of real sadness. I felt like it must be the worst thing in the world to walk way from something you’ve worked so hard for all your life. And it seemed such a loss to not have him on our screens competing anymore.
But after thinking it over for a week I now find myself feeling happy for him. I won’t ever know how he truly feels deep down but his words suggest he’s found some sort of peace with his decision.
Being an elite athlete is one of the most pressurised jobs in the world. It’s an incredibly strange bubble to exist in and what we often ignore is how hard it must be. Taking the decision to step out of that must come with great heartache but also with great relief.
Whatever he feels, the decision was an incredibly brave one. Having the ability and self awareness to identify when we need to stop and walk away is sometimes just as difficult as identifying when we need to push on and persevere. The fact that Marcel has done this with everyone watching and ready to judge is even more impressive.
That’s why sport is so fantastic. There’s something to learn from both the triumphs and the tragedies.
Learning how to take control of your life and its direction can often be tough and there’s inspiration to be drawn from both seeing someone winning, and someone supposedly losing.
Sometimes we have great times and sometimes we have bad times. There will be firsts and there will be lasts. Sometimes we will know exactly where we are going, and sometimes we will have no idea. That’s just life, we have to welcome it all.
As Marcel says about the biggest challenge of his career so far;
I’m accepting it.