In mid-September, I raced the Boston Mayor’s Cup. It’s just taken me this long to write it down. It capped off my brief yet lackluster cycling season that had been plagued with illness, muscle issues and the inability to convert all the training hours to anything resembling fitness.
I was dumbfounded and ready to accept that the years had finally caught up with me. By the middle of August, I was ready to hang up wheels for the season. Instead, I stumbled into ATA cycle, looking for some seat post shims for my Look, and ended up with an appointment for their fit lab. I’d been struggling with my position on the bike all season long. I had bought new cycling shoes in the spring — I had outgrown my previous pair by a size from all the running — and couldn’t get them to fit right until I got custom footbeds. Even after that, I still didn’t seem right on the bike. So I was receptive to a professional fit.
The process at ATA blew my mind. Video cameras, tracking dots, bipedal power readouts — a far cry from tape measure and composition notebook Richard Sachs had used 25 years earlier to fit me on my first “pro” bike. I picked my bike up the next day, just in time for the Tuesday Night World Championships.
The difference was dramatic. Night and day. All of a sudden I could pedal through the efforts. Sustain my high-end. Recover, where just the week before I would have blown. I had gone out of bounds with my fit, I’m embarrassed to admit. Not the first time, either. Once outside the limits, the only thing that felt “right” was to go further to the extreme. Fortunately and thankfully, ATA corrected that. The one downside was that it had taken me almost all season to fix it.
Back on a properly fitted bike, I felt like a new rider and I was itching to race again. Just the week before Mayor’s Cup, I raced Portsmouth, finished near the front of the race, and never feared abandoning. That gave me some confidence for Mayor’s Cup.
But Mayor’s Cup was a different game altogether.
It’s always hard to turn down a major race in my own backyard. And this year was Adam Myerson’s last pro race. I’d know Adam since we were teenagers. I knew his backside quite well from all the times he came by me in the sprint. Knew him as a teammate and friend. I had spent my miserable season inspired by his #lastlap, watching him turn in performances that could have made a younger rider’s career. So I wasn’t going to miss the chance to see him race first-hand.
The race went ballistic from the start. I was suffering to hold my position. Burning energy to try to move up before the race started to split apart. No sooner did I get to a good position in the pack then there was a crash just past the first corner. The race was neutralized and I was fighting for position all over again, although grateful for the lap or two of respite from the blistering pace.
By half-way, the race was going full bore. A break had gone clear and the chase was stringing out the peloton. And there I was, at the front of it, while gaps were opening up all around. I had found Adam’s wheel and followed him, just like the old days, through improbable turns, leaned at impossible angles, as riders pinched and squeezed and crossed wheels, and Adam rolled through it all with calm confidence.
In the midst of that hurt tunnel, I recalled following him into the field sprint at the Tour of Somerville many years earlier. We were sneaking up the right side, against the barriers, slipping between riders as they swung their bikes side-to-side, slipping past with a graze of elbows and handlebars, until, finally, I lacked the nerve to risk any more and had to touch the brakes, and let Adam slip away.
And there we were, twenty years hence, wheel to wheel, threading the corners, the blood pounding in my ears above the roar of the crowd, my mouth hanging open, gulping lungfuls of air, at the beautiful, inspired edge of the race. But I had gotten too cocky, gone beyond my limits, too close to the front of the race, too close to the sun. The wheels became harder to hold. I was the one opening the gaps, bike fit no replacement for high-end fitness.
I eased up to catch my breath. Let the long file of riders slide past me, hoping to jump back in, hoping for the pace to slow a bit. But when I backed off, my stomach seized and I started to dry heave. I tried to pedal through it. Tried to throw up. But nothing helped.
I rode another lap alone. Then rode onto the sidewalk and watched Adam sprint to a 16th place. I was hoping for a better finish…for both of us.
But in the end, I was happy to have been there at all.