Image credits: Bingoal WB
2024 will mark my first year as a professional renner with Bingoal WB – a Walloon team that is a staple of the Belgian professional scene. Bingoal WB has been sourcing and developing talent for fourteen years. I’m grateful to begin my professional career with a team as cemented in Belgian culture as Bingoal find themselves.
Already, I’ve had the chance to race hard in some incredible places with both their Continental and Professional teams. The senses in these races capture the environment around me, endlessly. That’s what I love about racing. I find there is almost a serenity as the perception of time slows when the brain is working at such speeds to make decisions on the fly. Resulting in the mind capturing a large amount of data from each race and thus a story is produced from each course.
We all enjoy a good tale; I would find myself striking through irrelevant information as I construct the narrative on the return flight home so that the exciting parts come to the surface. Occasionally, the memories are too special and remain just for me. At other times they make for top group ride conversations.
If you’ve been following me for some years – since I began writing in 2019 with the support of Pedal Potential – you’ll know that I enjoy recounting the crucial lessons that I have learned on my journey through sport, and importantly how I can implement them under high duress scenarios. Two skills that I am continuing to develop as the months and years pass.
My Neo-Pro Diaries will aim to summarise the key lessons from each month of the term, helping me look back and learn about the successes and mistakes I made with each opportunity so that I can move forward. The hope is that we will learn together, providing insight into some of the new features that have and will undoubtedly continue to spring up in the world of Professional Cycling
First up. “It’s my job.” Something I can say as of January 1st. I have the privilege of calling my passion my profession. I am doing the sport I love for a living. It is a bit surreal for those words to fall from my lips as I haven’t, as yet, had a job of any sort. For as long as I can remember I’ve been imagining myself earning money for doing the thing I am most passionate about. That thing has ebbed and flowed as grew out of a variety of different sports, like Gymnastics, Swimming and Rugby. The dream has been to make a career in the world of sport, it didn’t matter to me which sport that turned out to be. For the last eight years though, I’ve been invested, and loving every minute of riding on two wheels in some awesome places.
During those eight years, I’ve been travelling nearly every weekend – via the Eurotunnel – to Belgium and other parts of Europe to race, and give myself the best chance of transforming the vision that I, and my parents God bless them, believed in. Crossing the double frontier of the Eurotunnel, a common question I was regularly asked: “What’s the purpose of your visit?” The response was shallow and vague. “I’m racing in Belgium; it’s my hobby.” It doesn’t hold quite the same weight as “I’m travelling for work.” It is surreal to comprehend those words falling from my lips as I haven’t, as yet, had a job of any sort.
Add to the fact that I had become numb to the question and hadn’t given it much thought as the years progressed, though during Covid it remained a stressor in my life, as I thought “would they let me pass?” I suppose that is why it took me aback when I was asked for the first time as a professional rider. A spark lit in my brain, with my first response to the border force being: “For the first time in eight years, I can say to you that I’m travelling for work.” Boy, that felt good. It had weight, I could say it with purpose. It initiated a chain reaction as my skin lit up with goosebumps.
The image that I had created of the day when I could say I am doing my passion as my job fell short of the feelings that I experienced. I continually notice that, when I utter this phrase, there is a weight lifted from my shoulders. There is an appreciation that I am at liberty. All the investment I, and my parents (Mum with her knowledge in biomechanics, and Dad in tech and driving for miles on end), have put in has been worth it, and will continue to be worth it as the lessons from the last 22 years frequently present themselves. To my Mum (a massage therapist) not holding back when sharing my accolades with her incredibly supportive clients. To my teachers who listened to my stories and encouraged me every Monday as I returned from my weekend’s endeavours. That feeling that I’ve proven myself right – or any doubters wrong (depending on your perspective) – is relieving.
Another overriding realisation that I have when I imagine myself over the next chapters in the months that follow is that all the lessons I’ve learned in the world of cycling are beginning to converge and establish as habits that don’t require half as much energy as they once did. That investment is paying dividends as the lessons that have been converted into habits, allow for new vacancies that will enable me to learn all the new things that spring up from being in the world of professional cycling. For example, I must learn how to seamlessly incorporate ADAMs (the drugs-testing whereabouts system) seamlessly into my life, and the lives of my immediate support system. I must also educate myself about the intricacies of the financial situation that accompanies employment – something I wish was included into the national curriculum.
I’m beyond excited – I’m ready – for the opportunities and new experiences that this year's racing will bring to my life. I’m prepared for what will be laid down on the obstacle course of life. Raring to go, like it’s the shuttle runs we were set on Sunday Rugby training. A test of the mind and body, a confrontation against competitors, and a memory – a series of stories – that unite friends and colleagues who share in the journey. I hope you will join me in the coming months as I tackle the life of a professional sportsman. If you want extra insight beyond these journal entries, please subscribe to the He Who Learns Newsletter over on my Substack. Or indeed via my social channels: @thomportsmouth (Twitter, Instagram) or LinkedIn.