Often, bike racing is compared to war. And the similarities are real: In both, bodies become mangled, men and women lose all respect for health and decency, and one’s true character is revealed through the juxtaposition of misery and ecstasy. There is no hiding from yourself at the conclusion of a stage race in a foreign country. Similarly, there is no denying your identity after a tour of duty.
Sadly, the comparison has become cliched. As Orwell would say, it has lost its utility. Yes, we know bike racing is tough. But war, I would think, is far tougher. Between an IED and a pothole, I know of no one who would choose the latter.
Despite this, I could not help but thinking in terms of conflict as I lined up to start the Fat & Skinny Tire Festival Cat 3 RR (FS). When Will and I exchanged hugs and salutations on the start-line, I imagined myself being waved off, departing on some large ship for Europe or the East. I knew I had six laps (what, six months?) ahead of me. Oddly, I really didn’t care to win, but I didn’t really feel like losing. Vietnam War redux, anyone?
In all seriousness, USCF racing teaches the glory of collegiate racing. The rain soaked regionals at Purdue where I crashed and missed the break on alternating days was far more satisfying than my victory at the FS. Why?
Well, it all begins with the drive. Heading to a collegiate race begins with running late, stuffing far too many bodies and bikes into far too few cars; heading off with the music blasting and the camera’s flash firing (unless it’s my camera).
Then there’s the hotel–at which we arrive no earlier than 2 a.m. We sleep two or three to a bed. We have no Maginot Line, we have “protection pillows.” And we wake up at 5 a.m. Sleep—screw that.
As we eat the invariably shitty complimentary breakfast and watch both the rain and mercury fall, we laugh. Loading the cars, we scream and bicker—all in love.
And then the racing. Our D-Graders go first. And we cheer. But this isn’t the tame USCF “Go, Jared, go” cheering. This is Scott dressed in a frumpy one-piece swimsuit, wearing pink tights, jumping up and down, screaming “attack, Redbeard, attack,” thrashing his head and throwing objects into the field—in torrential downpour.
Following the D-Graders and the womens, we race. And As racing is what real racing should be. At it’s best, it’s fast, hard, and safe. There is no BS. Everyone knows each other and the pain flows as freely as the love. Watch Brandt bunny hop a mailbox, listen to the gravel as TK rides on the opposite lane's shoulder, see Spider Monkey attack through the ditch after missing his start... it’s all good.
After the race, some disaster warrants a WallMart run. But we procrastinate: Snack (at Panera), shower (all at once, naturally), eat dinner (at some crappy Italian place) and then head to the Arkansas cancer hub. Invariably, we’ll run into another team playing WallMart bingo. We’ll converse for a bit, buy our supplies and then head home to pow-wow and enjoy a few short hours of sweaty sleep.
When we wake, Saturday repeats itself—except in better dress and with far more insanity. Generally, we break into the Marian Bus (the Death Star), fraternize with the officials (we love you, Andrew) and pester the other riders. It’s all part of the grand plan. (This does not even include—for lack of space and out of deep respect—the drive home or interacting with Sinead.)
So compare this to USCF racing. You wake up—in your own bed. You drive to the race—all solemn and lonely. You cheer on your teammate—and get yelled at for actually showing emotion. The racing is boring—people obey the yellow line. You win (or lose). You drive home—usually richer, but depressed.
Is there any wonder that I’m crying to close the collegiate season?