I won a bike race on Sunday. It wasn’t the biggest race. It didn’t have all the best riders. But Shedd Park Cyclocross was a tough course under challenging conditions. Snow. Mud. Grass. Wet leaves. Dry pine needles. More mud. Steep uphills. Slippery descents. A 150m stretch of ice cold swamp water. Rocks and roots.
It was the sort of day that didn’t appeear to be a good one. My legs felt blocked up during recon and warm-up. My stomach felt full, like I still had to poop. Never felt quite warm enough due to the cold damp air. I had a poor starting position. First row, all the way on the outside, in the deep snow.
I was on-point with the starter’s whistle. I slotted into second position without really even trying. Lucky break. We turned away from the infield and onto the hill and the lead rider slipped out. So I took over. I led up the first hill. And onto the descent. I was going hard but not burrying myself. I was thinking it was a stupid move. But I had clear track ahead of me. I could negotiate the turns and make my own mistakes or perhaps even avoid making them. I was thinking I was just towing everbody around and I would blow up, bobble or crash becasue I was going out too hard.
But I already had a gap and only Keith was hanging with me. He had won Casco Bay a few weeks earlier.
Great, I thought. I’ll tow him around until he drops me.
On the second lap, I cooked the hairpin before the hill, gave up the lead, chased back but left some room. Keith was pushing hard and making mistakes. He nearly crashed on the flat section on top of the hill, taking out a stake in the process. I was glad for the extra space. Didn’t panic. Stayed up. He slid out again on the left-hander onto the side hill, and I re-took the lead.
I was pushing hard. I wasn’t holding back on the technical sections. I had dialed in the perfect tire pressure on the FMB Supermuds. I was slipping and sliding but the deep treads always seemed to grab just enough to keep me up right. Keith was slipping again so I started to drill it.
I sprinted out of every corner. I attacked every uphill. I rested where I could. Two or three seconds, sometimes without pedaling. Gassed. Then go again, and again. My legs weren’t feeling much better than warmup, especially with each sopping wet pass through the water alley, but they were delivering, giving me everything I asked of them for as long as they could. I was struggling on the first, muddy hill, slipping and losing traction, then once back on terra firma, attacking all the way to the turn and plunging back down the hill.
Halfway, I had a small gap. I kept feeling him coming up on me, so I kept hammering.
With 2 laps to go, I had stretched it to 10 seconds. So I kept the pressure on. I was pushing harder on the technical sections, starting to come unstuck. Nearly crashed going by the pit. So I had to back it off a bit. I’d lose much more time crashing than I would lose by backing off.
Going to the final lap, I started to feel like I could win it. I kept pushing the limits, even though I could no longer see Keith behind me.
With half a lap left, I was pretty sure I had it. As long as I didn’t make any serious mistakes.
I had burried myself. But I was inspired.
Five years ago, I had put together the Romeo kit in rememberance of my departed son. I The bike had always been something special. After we had lost Romeo, I dug deep into the years of suffering through bike races to find the strength to continue forward. It gave me confidence through all those days when it felt like it would have been easier to just give up.
To win a race, in this jersey, under these conditions, felt like proper tribute.
It had been almost 13 years since Romeo died. Twenty years since I had last won a bike race. So I got a little emotional in the end. That grief, that loss, it is still there, buried deep inside me. These types of efforts bring it to the surface. Make me miss him all the more but let’s me know he’s not forgotten.
I won a bike race on Sunday. But, for me, it was much more than a race.