I have two rules for bike racing.
2 Don’t pack.
Both of which I have broken, and each time, a little bit of my soul dies.
I have quit races. Sat on roadsides busted by laps or poor preparation and it is pointless. Watching the clouds and the race zoom by, sitting empty and broken. The glory of a finish is lost in the personal facade that we are better than we actually are. No one is fooled by excuses, but ourselves.
The effort in going to a race is not just a two-hour drive on Saturday morning. It is (or should be) a glance in the calendar weeks before, a chat to team mates a week before, a walk with the kids to earn the brownie points the day before. It is 7 days of adjusting your training to have fresh legs, it is getting the entry in on time, it’s buying the right sprockets and the effort to be there. It is the decision 6 months ago to step up and buy an open racing license. It is the chat in the bar with an old mate who asks what you do? – You reply: ‘I-race-bikes.’ It is you. And to pack a race is pissing in your own chamois.
Quitting a race is not consigned to the less able who get dropped at an embarrassingly early stage. Packing, is being personally beaten. If you have not prepared correctly and get dropped, It is OK. RIDE ON and get thinner, faster you will last an extra few KMs next week. Dropped on the climb? don’t pack out of surprise or humiliation. If like me you pulled on size 5 shorts that morning, gravity was never going to be your friend, but dig in and do your very best. It’s not a good thing to watch the finish of a race with a number pinned on, with grass under your feet, not the flash of tarmac.
The battle, if not with the chequered flag is with yourself or the bloke that beat you last week. Each rider has their own personal achievements. They may not make the results page but it’s why races have 100 riders when only 20 posses the physically ability to win. The 80 aren’t stupid. Nothing earth shattering has happened to 78 if them since they didn’t win last week. Yet, they are back. Proud and ready to do their very best. To get over the climb with the peloton. To make the break, to finish top 20……..to finish. Pride in personal glory. The love of the race. The rush of the bunch. Packing is without honour and the drive home is mournful.
Dispensations are offered to crash victims, unexpected snow, mechanical failure or sickness. Although I have witnessed poo filled chamois and cyclists finishing courses with no saddle/ brakes or gears. (Abraham Olano won the 1995 World Championship on a puncture.) Is it just being weak or mentally tired? We cyclists are not weak.
It is easy to pack when the body and mind are suffering. It is hard to pass your warm car with 4 laps to go in the rain. I have struggled with the pain, got fed up with the kicking, not enjoying the lineouts and quit. Gave up. A short zeal of relief and freedom exists when let go and pull over. The buzz doesn’t last long when you have to face “What happened to you?” in the changing rooms. Mentally, in the time before you packed, through the pain, you prepare 41 excuses for 32 different scenarios. You wet your self-trying to get all of them out at once. The truth is there and it’s crap. You feel crap for quitting. They feel crap for asking. The excuse is crap. Packing is just crap.
Riding on takes guts and we cyclists have guts a plenty. It’s why we don’t ‘play’ soccer or walk behind a ball. We ‘battle’ to see who is the strongest, we fight with every muscle to finish in front of X. We are sporting gladiators. Gladiators do not lay down their sword and admit defeat. It brings a tear to my eye when I see a talented rider who misses the break and climbs off the bike, or shouts at less able riders to ride, like it was their fault. Stop being a yap and dig in. Gladiators.
The very worst, the war crime of the racing world is – the pretend mechanical. This is hell itself. You are not only lying to yourself but your god and ancestors. All looking down at the self-deflating tyre of shame. Fall on your own sword.
So if you sign on, sign up for what ever is ahead and finish. No excuses. No one believes the cat ran out story. ‘The saddle slipped’ fairytale is a load of donkey farts polluting the air. ‘The marshal sent me the wrong way- it was lap 5, come on! You are only kidding yourself. Don’t blame shit. Stand up, come out and shout
“I was riding like a large bag of dead rabbits today!”
Stand tall regardless of your height or weight and finish. 10 seconds back or 20 minutes. You walked into the battle of your own free will, don’t run off crying. Gladiators. When you are asked ‘how did you do?” you can reply “a finish, did my best -Happy enough’’.
We are Spartacus.