Originally posted here:
Since the 1950s, psychologists have studied Erik Erikson’s theory of human development, which breaks down the human lifespan into 8 key stages. Each stage is based around a central crisis which must be overcome to move onto the next.
In 2001 Dr. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett’s book Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood suggested the addition of a 9th stage to Erikson’s model, between stages 5 and 6, which he called Emerging Adulthood. This extra stage, encountered at the age of 18 to 25, is a period of identity exploration after adolescence but before adulthood.
For most of the 20th century young people would enter the world of work after finishing school. Arnett’s 9th stage accommodates for the more recent phenomenon, in Western society at least, of college or university. Some of the key ideas surrounding Emerging Adulthood are identity exploration, risk taking and awaiting opportunities to move into adulthood. These are themes easily applied to a university student or more contemporary still, a gap year explorer.
I spent my Emerging Adulthood racing bikes in Spain. My adventure started with what I had justified as a gap year project. I had spent my sixth form years struggling to keep up with both training and school work. So when the opportunity came to become a full-time cyclist and join up with Assesores de Navarra for the Junior Tour of Pamplona in July 2015, I was all in. I thought nothing of missing my school prom nor did I fret over A-level results day. This was it, I was in Spain on a mission to be a pro cyclist.
My brief time as a junior in Spain was a dream. I found some great form at a time in the season where others were beginning to burn out and managed several podiums in August and September. I then spent the winter in The Land That Wifi forgot before the real racing started in 2016 for Caja Rural.
I’ve written before about my first experience of the amateur scene in Spain. I began as a naive foregin rider unable to communicate, turning up at the training camp with 400 bananas. As have I talked in more recent journal posts about my role as road captain in the last two seasons with Eiser Hirumet, where I’d take the team talks and explain races to the younger riders. This transition is thanks largely to learning Spanish.
Living in Spain year-round meant I needed Spanish everyday. At the shops, at the bank, at the doctors, it was sink or swim. A big challenge at first, but before long, I found myself even thinking in Spanish. At Caja Rural I was an easy target for other riders to criticise in the team post-race chat. They’d accuse me of not working for the team or missing the breakaway. As I learned the language I was gradually able to defend myself and put my point across. By the time I reached Eiser Hirumet in 2018 the team coach would ask me to feedback on the team’s performance before I’d translate the debrief to the other English riders.
My transition of identity within the structure of a team fits Dr. Arnett’s Emerging Adulthood life stage. Between the ages of 18-25 young adults begin to take on more responsibility. Where my peers in the UK may have been advancing in their university courses and looking ahead at careers, I had overcome the language barrier which had seen me grow into a leader.
Another feature to Emerging Adulthood is risk-taking. For me, and the rest of the Spanish U23/Elite peloton, this often comes in the form of descending. With Caja I learned the importance of positioning before descents, taking calculated risks to get ahead of inevitable splits in the bunch. No longer being restricted to junior gears means that, in the amateur categories, races can split just as much going downhill as on the climb beforehand. My first taste of this was in the early season Essor Basque series in France. I lost contact with the front group when I relaxed as we went over the top of a climb. I thought I’d survived important selection. As I took a drink from my bottle, riders ahead of me were out of the saddle using their momentum to wind a 53/11 gear up to speed. We hit over 100kph on that descent, I can remember my teeth hurting from the freezing wind. I just wasn’t confident enough going into corners at such a pace nor was I ready for the exaggerated effect of crosswinds at such speeds. My day ended with an early DNF. Lesson learned.
The risk-taking side of Emerging Adulthood is often associated with university students experimenting with drugs. Unfortunately, this is sometimes the case with young adults in cycling too. In 2017 with Escribano I was having my most successful year of racing. At the Vuelta Tenerife I helped my teammate win the overall classification. He was someone who I had also raced with at Caja Rural. His Dad had given me countless lifts when moving between team camps and he had even recommended Escribano signed me. He was someone I considered a friend. I remember waiting with him in doping control after the last stage, he struggled to produce a urine sample but I just put that down to dehydration. A few months later I read that he had tested positive. Although it still isn’t public what my teammate had tested positive for, he is serving a ban. As far as I’ve heard, he doesn’t deny wrongdoing. This was an eye-opener for me.
Another feature of the Emerging Adulthood discussion, contributed by scholar James Côté, suggests that the period is determined by young adults awaiting opportunities that will take them into later life. Côté is sceptical that Emerging Adulthood is a physiological stage at all, rather just a point in one’s life determined by society. Generally a degree is needed for most long term careers even if what is studied has little to do with the eventual job. This sees people almost delayed by their studies. As such, Côté argues that society confines them to the Emerging Adulthood phase.
Societal or psychological, awaiting opportunity is certainly a position most 18-25 year olds find themselves in at some point. Likewise, waiting to be noticed by a big team or national selection is a part of any young cyclist’s story. For me, this was something I considered most at the end of the 2017 season, when I moved to Eiser Hirumet in search of greater freedom in races. I felt I had served my cyclist’s apprenticeship working for others in my first two U23 seasons and I knew I needed to get results for myself in order to progress in the sport.
My two years with Eiser Hirumet were derailed by a breathing issue in 2018 and a bad case of the shingles virus this summer. I joined Eiser looking to convert my top 10s with Escribano into top 5s and my top 5s into podiums. At the end of two seasons my best result was 12th.
Despite the level I was racing at, I was at my happiest with Eiser. Living in Durango I had found a community and team that valued me and I’ve made friends for life. I spent last winter working as an English teacher at a local school, something I’m sure Dr. Arnett would argue is key step in my Emerging Adulthood.
Some 150 races and over 90,000km later my time in Spain came to an end at an U23 race in Gernika at the end of August. I had decided midway through this season that it would be my last. As well as the fact that no longer being an U23 next season would have restricted my calendar, I felt my time as a full-time athlete had come to an end. I had begun really struggling with downtime between races, I knew I needed to take on other things to avoid boredom but having to rest or travel restricted my options.
In the days before a race I couldn’t go out at night with friends or do anything that involved much walking, nor did I have the energy to study. The boredom of downtime is something all athletes have to tackle. There is only so much Netflix and YouTube one can watch. I used to manage it by studying my next race or writing a blog post but this season I found it harder. By June this year I was sure I needed a change.
One thing that brightened up a tough summer for me was seeing a VC Londres clubmate of mine, Tom Gloag, guest in Spain for the junior team I raced for in 2015, who are now known as Fundacion Lintxu. Tom is a rider I’ve seen grow up at the Herne Hill Velodrome. There are 4 years between us so my time as an U23 and his as a junior overlapped just enough for us to train in the same group on the VCL club ride once or twice. Tom has managed several wins in Spain this summer, which will mean he’ll be able to choose a top U23 team for next season.
Tom’s results this year follow Santiago Cadavid’s great season for Fundacion Lintxu in 2018, Santi also came from VCL and is now racing full time in Spain as an U23. I am proud to have created this link between VCL and Lintxu which hopefully will continue to allow more riders to experience racing in Spain.
Now back in London, over halfway through my Emerging Adulthood, I am beginning to plan the next phase of my life. I didn’t achieve my goal of becoming a professional cyclist but I have no regrets about trying.
I’d like to thank the Dave Rayner Fund who make it possible for me and countless others to ride in Europe.