Letters from Abroad – Valentin Scherz

Photo by Anthony Skorochod, Cyclingcaptured.com

For the past two seasons, Valentin Scherz, a 20-year-old elite cyclocross racer from Switzerland, has come to the US to compete in races as part of the Philadelphia Cyclocross School program. This season he was captain of their 2010 Cyfac-Champion Systems p/b Revolution Wheelworks Team.  In 2010, Scherz successfully defended his Mid Atlantic Cyclocross Series titles (Elite & U23), while also competing in other events including Cross Vegas, Gloucester, Providence, and a few rounds of the USGP, winning five races and standing on the elite podium 11 times.

Scherz has since returned to Switzerland and is now competing in World Cup and other major European events as preparation for the World Championships, where he hopes to improve upon his 23rd-place from last year.  Valentin’s graciously agreed to check-in with us periodically throughout the rest of the season, sharing his experiences and insights with us all from the perspective of someone who has competed at the top level both domestically and abroad.  Here are his first first and second installments.

Life affects the ride sometimes…

I previously wrote about my back issues and their resolution. To sum it up, I returned to Europe on November 22nd, raced the World Cup in Koksijde on the 27th, and skipped the race the following weekend when the back problems began.

Now, in addition to my back problems and the difficulty readapting to my Swiss-life, my girlfriend decided to break up with me.  It was really sudden; I was completely in love, and really confident about our future, so I was absolutely not expecting something like that to happen.  We were together for five years; she was a major part of my life and of my routine.  But things had changed for her, she needed changes, and it was her choice.  Honestly, I wasn’t too ready to accept it, but I had to…

In times like these, you want to be a pro; you don’t want to admit that it affects you, but it does. You want to be a machine, to unplug your mind, at least in order to train!  But training time is lonely, and you can’t avoid thinking about such things, which can make you sad.  For a cyclist, as with any other job, your private life influences your professional life.  I wasn’t able to put it aside, so the only way forward was to find a way to heal this too.  Unfortunately in this domain there is no panacea; you need to take the time, and to do what you like to do, in order to get back on track as soon as possible.  I spent one week being sort of like a zombie, the week before the Grand Prix Wetzikon (Switzerland) on December 12th.

I went there very motivated; I was really happy to be back on stage, and I wanted to do my best.  Even with the poor training over the last few weeks, I was ready.  In the race, I had a really good start, and was in 6th place until two laps to go.  Then I had an asthma attack and “lost my legs”, so I fell back to finish 12th.  Despite the end result, deep down I was satisfied that with such little training, I “stayed in there” for 50 minutes—the same duration as the U23 World Cup I was entering the following weekend in Kalmthout.

At Kalmthout, once again I was confident, back on the rails, and ready to go.  The course was really hard and very technical on the ice and snow.  I was called-up 2nd—good enough to be with the best riders from the beginning of the race.  I had a good start, quickly getting in to the pedals.

Then, I don’t really remember what happened—and part of what I do know was told to me by my good friend and Swiss teammate Arnaud Grand (who started behind me).  In an unfair move (recall that I previously wrote about the hyper-aggressiveness of riders here in Europe), an Italian rider body checked me.  I lost control, and hit some other riders.  I remember that I closed my eyes while sliding on the ground in the middle of the peloton during the sprint following the start.  I remember the salty taste of the snow getting in my mouth.  (When you crash, you frequently close your eyes and wait.)  When I opened my eyes (I don’t think I lost consciousness), I thought I was dead.  But no, I had crashed through the metal barricade on the right side of the road (even though I was on the left when I began to lose control).  Some spectators were standing around me and there was someone trying to untangle my bike.  I took quite a long time to stand up.  My shoulder, arm, and hip were in great pain.  A guy was putting my bike aside when I grabbed it, and decided that after 8 hours of driving to get to the race, I had to continue, at least for training.

Photo by Lydia VandeMeersche

I thought I would fall victim of the 20% time cut applied in World Cup races, but I actually managed to pass some riders.  I passed some US riders, some Danes, a Japanese rider, and two of my Swiss teammates, moving back up to 41st-place by the end of the race.  One thing was certain: I was fast and fit, and could have managed a good result.  Even with the crash, I was feeling good.

After the finish, someone told me I was bleeding and I felt a strange warm sensation on my arm and hip. I asked a friend to hold my helmet, gloves and clothes, while I looked myself over.  I discovered that my skinsuit was full of holes, and that I had lost a lot of skin.  My arm looked bad; I needed some immediate attention.

I went to the medical center.  My exam revealed that I had a large deep wound on my arm, a wide deep wound on my hip, a small one on my shoulder, and two tiny ones on my knee.  The race doctor stitched up my elbow; not my first stitches in life, but still painful.  I am grateful that he was able to do it on-site, immediately following the race.

So, unfortunately I have written about another difficult week.  The goal was to heal and not to train. After my back issue and my personal drama, I was injured again. Argh!

About Whit

My experiences might easily fit many cycling fans' definitions of “living the dream.” Since getting hooked on the sport watching Lance Armstrong win the 1993 U.S. Pro Championship, I've raced as an amateur on Belgian cobbles, traveled Europe to help build a European pro team, and piloted that team from Malaysia to Mont Ventoux. As a former assistant director sportif with Mercury-Viatel, I've also seen the less dreamy side of the sport – the side rife with broken contracts, infighting, and positive dope tests. These days, I live with my lovely wife in Pennsylvania and share my experiences and views on the sport at Bicycling Magazine, the Embrocation Cycling Journal, and at my own site, Pavé.
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