All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure. Mark Twain was not a cyclist. But he was correct when he spoke these words. It is ignorance or in fact it’s emptiness that allows room for confidence to grow. Don’t over think it, just get on with it. An attribute that allows us to achieve many things. Unfortunately, it is an attribute I do not possess in the amounts that are critical for success on the bike. But this Wednesday night was a turning point. Through a good night on the bike and a poignant observation, the baby rhino finally took a charge in the right direction.
Wednesday Night Crits at the Pelladrome consist of 3 practice races around a 8 tenths of a mile oval in a local industrial park. The first race is a beginner category 5 short race. The second is a combo cat 4/5 where racers depart and then the faster cat 1/2/3 depart after spotting us a half lap then catch us and absorb us into the peloton. This is usually where the pace lifts and I drop off. Then a final race where everyone races together. Every 5th lap 4 top riders sprint for points. Usually something is awarded to top point getters. Last week it was a 200 dollar pair of sunglasses but usually it is beer or brownies or some other nice little token of appreciation. Both of which I probably enjoy more than the sunglasses but would not make me look nearly as good. These are practice races so even if you drop you can get back on and keep racing- that’s why these are great training nights.
Here is what the races feel like if you like Go Pro race clips. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUFeD3Ov-T8
I raced all 3 races. The first race featured the smallest group I had raced with. There were only 6 of us and I dropped off soon after going for a sprint prime. Which I did not win. Not the best confidence builder when racing with only 6 racers. Not only was I discouraged, I was disinterested. I dropped off the back and slowly gave up. Partly because I was annoyed but partly because my legs did not feel it. Ever since my spine surgery it seems to take me at least 20-30 minutes before my legs seem to respond to my efforts. I had not gotten there yet and it felt like I had cinder blocks strapped to my legs. I finished the race a half lap behind then lined up for the next start. At the drop I failed to clip in. By the time I got clipped in the group was riding away.
It was demoralizing to say the least. I do not like to make excuses but when I stop my muscles and nerves tend to spasm, uncontrollably. That and lack of sensitivity in my legs and feet makes it hard to feel the pedals and harder to finesse my way into locking in. It’s just part of the deal.
I came to ride, so onward. I decided to push the first lap as I chased, I felt better but as the second group came me by I rolled into the parking lot and thought I was done. This is where it happens. This is where you can consciously decide that it is time to cash it in. But that plants the seed of doubt. I rolled back out. After all, this is a training night. I started to spin faster, then smaller cogs, the legs felt lighter. All of a sudden the blood was moving and something started flowing. As I spun up the group rolled past. Now it was the full group, and it was moving! I grabbed a wheel and held. First lap, then 5 then 10, then to the finish. What happened during the race was irrelevant. I held to the end. It was the boost I needed. Next the final race went off, I clipped in, and did the next twenty till the end. I did not win but managed to hang within the group. Each lap was a builder for me.
It felt good. I felt good trying to hold the rubber band at turn one, I had power accelerating and at times believed I was stronger than I was. I felt assertive bridging the gap once the quicker group accelerated, I stayed relaxed when surrounded by 40 other riders riding inches away from me at 30 mph. And I felt confidence growing as I was leaning into the first corner knowing that the bike was going to hold like it was on rails and all I needed to do was push it out of each turn and bridge that gap. I even considered trying to jump on the last lap but decided tonight was a confidence builder not and ignorance tester. I rolled in safely and it felt good.
I got off the bike after 40 miles of racing. I struggled. The muscles twitched and misfired. As I staggered and regained feeling in my legs I began to pack up. One of the guys was there and we spoke. It is interesting how backhanded comments can actually inspire. As we spoke. he saw me trying to regain some composure and noted he was surprised I was able to hold on the whole race. And although I cannot remember his exact words he asked me my weight. 190? I said “on a good day, 200 lbs is where I presently stand”. Weight this year has been an issue, but that’s fodder for another blog post. “You move really good for a guy your size” he stated. Then added, “you definitely do not have the typical cyclist physique, but somehow you can really move out there”.
Over 20 years ago I would sometimes ride with guys that raced for a club called the Flying Rhinos. It was a name and image that stuck with me since then. The graphic of the fat, bike pedaling rhino cemented that irony in my mind. That contradiction that rhino could actually fly on a bike. They are not the most intelligent of creatures. but I know they can move. And once that bulk begins to charge it can be quite a force.
My confidence on the bike is growing. Mission for this season is to prove that rhinos do indeed fly.