Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A steady Diet: Then and Now

Racing, travel, training, racing, travel, training and occasional and much-needed down time in between. I tend the garden with Charmaine, we go on dates, have fun, we're a pretty annoyingly happy couple, and I like to think I'm a pretty damn involved and on-top-of-things dad, too. But these days, what I am is a bike racer.

This past weekend was the Balloon Festival Classic close to home in Cambridge, NY on Saturday, and a local crit on the (in)famous Bethel course on Sunday. Full race reports are up on the Spooky / NCC / Kenda team site.

My net takeaway for the weekend was positive: a little bit of prize money pocketed, some quality team bonding achieved, and a couple of more solid results added to bolster my recent confidence boost. I've also had some quality time to reflect on what it is that I get out of being so committed to cycling these days.

I have worked really hard at riding bikes this year, and it feels good to get something of a payoff in terms of results after the last couple of years, which have felt pretty lean at times. It's such a small thing, and I'm sure the really talented guys take it for granted, but for me, to have finally put in enough time that I can show up at local races and not struggle, not worry about getting dropped, and actually start thinking about how to win the bike race, well, it's gratifying to say the least.

This sport is so hard, and so many people quit. It isn't the physical difficulty that kills people, though in objective terms I think we work harder than most other professional, or elite amateur athletes--MMA fighters being a possible exception--but it's the physical difficulty with no guarantee of immediate reward. In the end, no matter how fit you are you still have to respect the sport, you still have to drive your bike and make good decisions, and you're still subject to that mysterious collective will of the peloton, which is a completely unique aspect of bicycle racing shared by no other sport. The drive, the inertia of the aggregate ambition of every racer in the pack manifested in unstoppable forward motion. A bike race lives and breathes, and to win one you have to wrestle yourself free from its grasp, and this grasp is not subject to the control of any other individual racing. It's an is.

That's the alligator I'm wrestling with these days, trying to win a big one. But I feel more evenly matched than I used to, feels like a smaller 'gator.

So I scored 6th at Balloon Fest, soloing in from a group of 3 thanks to some stellar teamwork from my teammate, Matt Purdy. We had Mainer in the break, I soloed half a lap trying to get across, didn't make it, and was joined by Purdy and Ron Larose of CCNS. Hijinx ensued, we raced bikes, etc. We put over 2 minutes into what was left of the field, (led home by Al, also solo) and there was a time when that alone would have felt like a victory. These days, though, I want more.

I got a dose of perspective on Sunday, though. When I arrived at Bethel for the 3rd annual Connecticut Coast Criterium, I immediately ran into Dan Greenfield at registration. Dan is racing a bit again this year, and has been coming along, fitness wise. He's been rocking the Spooky kit with us when he can, and he even bought a bike from Mickey, because why shouldn't one of the stronger guys New England ever produced race one of the better bikes New England ever produced? I got 3rd in the race after taking a risky inside line and winding up boxed in. I got out too late, and got beat. But that isn't the story.

When I started racing bikes in 2005, Dan was The Man. He won Bear Mountain, was 2nd at Palmer, 3rd at Jiminy and seemed to be top 5 in every pro 1/2 race in New England that year. He turned pro the next season and after a pretty solid year with Targetraining, he found himself totally burned out and overtrained, so he bailed and started a PhD in economics at Northeastern. He can still pedal wicked haahd.

I used to stick around after my cat 5 and, later, cat 4 races that season to watch the finish of the pro 1/2 race sometimes, and those guys--my teammates now, Al, Mukunda, Dan--on Louis Garneau, or CCB or Fiordifrutta, or the regional pro's like McCormack, they were untouchable to me. I came to cycling late, came to sports late, for that matter, at 26 after a lifetime of cigarette smoking and worse, 70 lbs overweight. That all ended in July 2004 when I bought my first road bike and the rest is, well, the rest, and here I am. But back then, still sporting a head full of Jesus hair, and half expecting to wake up in the morning with all that hard-lost weight back on due to some unfortunate, magical fluke; back then the local elite guys I saw every weekend were effing rockstars. I just couldn't imagine being that good no matter what I did, or for how long, or how many intervals, it just couldn't happen. But something was there, some little drive, some spark, some blast of energy that wouldn't go away, so I stuck with it. And now I quibble about missing the breakaway.

So getting a leadout from a guy like Dan, on his way back up, racing for the love of it, for the rush, the sensory overload of flying along at 35 mph, buried in the peloton, colors and sounds unified, just loving life, that's a reality check I need.

I love this sport.



  1. Can the fans get a picture of you 70 lbs overweight?

  2. Maaaaaaaybe :-) I'm short on digitized evidence, but think BIG.