On Wednesday, Jan. 25 Mark McConnell joined Team Canada for the world championships at their training base in Tielt-Winge, Belgium. McConnell arrived with a pack on his back on his bike after pedaling 50-km from Mechelen where he’s been based for most of his 2016-17 European campaign. When it wraps up on Sunday in Bieles, Luxembourg, McConnell will have been in Europe for almost two months.

McConnell does things differently than most professional athletes. His online persona of Hot Sauce is as much part of his cycling story as are his performances. With a do-it-yourself marketing and entrepreneurial streak he finds sponsors and sells apparel to his fans at races in North America and Europe.

After a difficult 2015-16 campaign, it is clear that McConnell is coming into his own this year and enjoying himself along the way. Just last weekend at the finale of the World Cup calendar in Hoogerheide, McConnell finished on the winner’s lap for the first time in a World Cup. “It was about time we got that one under the belt,” McConnell said.

McConnell’s stay in Europe this season was in part made possible by his first Belgian sponsor. Peloton de Paris is a bike and coffee shop he first walked into three seasons ago in the city of Mechelen in Flanders. Owners Vincent and Wendy provided logging, mechanical support at races and even lend McConnell their car this season.

McConnell first came to Europe for cyclocross in 2012 with Aaron Schooler. “I got my doors blown off. The culture, food, roads, and crowds are all different. I was star struck racing against some of my idols. It took years for that to change,” McConnell explained.

“I have come into my own this year. I have gone through this process year after year. Now a World Cup feels the same as a race in the States,” he said. In Belgian, McConnell’s Hot Sauce brand has been embraced by Belgians who have a soft spot for his tough DIY style. McConnell even said that he’s heard from fans that he draws cheers from the crowd that can be louder than those the leaders receive.

On the bike, McConnell has also improved from years past. “It’s all process based. You can break it down from planning your morning to the pre-ride and what to eat before going out to race.

“In past years, I had relegated myself to thinking that I would end up in the back anyways. This season on several occasions I found myself in the low 20s on the first lap.”

It was incremental improvements that were a long time coming “It was an ‘ah hah moment’. This is what it feels like to go this fast at this level,” McConnell explained. “Even if it’s just for two or three minutes it’s not a mysterious speed I will never attain. The top guys will continue like that for an hour but I kept getting glimpses of it this year.”

Heading to the world championships, McConnell said he’s adjusted his goals. “In years past I would have outcome goals like finishing on the lead lap or in the top-50. With worlds its a different beat because you have a smaller field than a World Cup. You have a chance to make an impact.

“This year I am really keeping an open mind and committing to my process,” McConnell explained about his prep for Bieles. “I have to allow myself to excel and not let the mental games play as much of a factor. At the end of the day, it’s not me trying to be top Canadian or top-30.”

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Despite those being ambitions of any athlete, McConnell learned his lesson citting his performance at Canadian national during which he lead for 3 laps. “It wasn’t until I thought about winning that I started making mistakes,” McConnell said. He would go on to finish fourth.

“Thinking about outcomes has never done me any favours. It’s important to focus on the moment and be as present as possible. The process is the one thing you can control.”


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