As in: why am I thinking about this stuff now? Because I started a few different posts back in October and November that I never quite finished or got around to putting up. Most of what is below is OBE, but these half-finished or half-started posts just won’t let me hit delete, so in an effort to “clear the decks” writing-wise, here we go.
Am I a vampire?
All cross racers, heck all bike racers, should read this and probably this too. Then pause for some self-reflection on whether you are helping with race promotion (beyond just showing up) and how. Most lower category racers race on a team, and that team probably puts on a race and they probably volunteer for it. But what about those that are unattached? What about the small elite teams that don’t put on races? What about those single, stand-alone elite racers who seem to think that they help with race promotion by showing up? I think they may qualify as vampires. I understand how hard it is to put on a race, but a smaller elite team could partner with a larger, predominantly non-elite team and help them put on their race. Or elite racers do something like this as another way to give back to the cycling community. (you should not only watch the video, but go here to donate).
On the other end of the spectrum, we have teams like C3. These guys are like Buffy–just getting it done like it’s their destiny to promote the sport. Based upon my count, they were involved with promoting five different races in the Mid-Atlantic region this year: Charm City (2 days), Granogue (2 days), Fair Hill and I’m probably missing some. If you didn’t hug a C3 rider at some point last season, make sure you do at the start of 2011. I’ll note that they make their elite racers volunteer: I saw Arley course marshalling and LVG at registration during Charm City.
I’m not sure I really want to wade into this, but maybe months after the last race and even more months before the next is actually a good time for a rational discussion.
There was some controversy last fall regarding what are acceptable tactics and behavior during a race. I’m not going to make a comment about who is right and who is wrong in that particular case or any other. Because here is no black and white here, no clear cut rules about whether a specific move is dangerous, unsportsmanlike, or just racing smart and hard. It always depends on the context and on the relationship between the racers. (All the more reason to get to know the people you race with week in and week out.) You have to make decisions in the heat of the race when there isn’t a lot of oxygen going to your brain, and sometimes you misjudge your speed or your competitor’s; sometimes they take a line you weren’t expecting and your line doesn’t take you where you thought it would. Given that, I think people need to stop worrying about it and focus on racing their bikes.
Those that get upset about “aggressive racing” should ask themselves if their reaction stems from being angry about being passed, or from the inevitable adrenaline surge that comes from physical contact, or because they were in actual physical danger. I think the vast majority of the time, folks are upset due to reasons one and/or two.
I’ll admit that I often race aggressively—if you’re not taking the right line, or I think I can take the right line from you, I will—but only if I think I can do so without crashing either of us out. This may mean that we’re going to rub shoulders or knees or elbows, but that’s part of racing in my opinion. Have I miscalculated on occasion? Yes, but only on occasion. And in terms of being passed, if I hear you coming up on me and you’re actual competition (see note below), I am going to make it difficult for you to pass by riding the good lines and taking up space. I’m not just going to let you by—it is a competition after all. We both paid to be out there to race each other. (Note By “actual competition”, I’m referring to the 2 to 3 people that finish above and below me, not the top women who might be lapping me or making up for a mechanical or crash—those I let go.)
But I expect the same aggressive racing from my competitors. I got a bike in the face going over the barriers at Nittany to keep me from passing on the inside. My reaction was a begrudging smile. I remember racing with Kim last year at Granogue and she kept cutting me off in the turns to keep me from passing. And it worked, I got so tired from trying to get around her, that she eventually rode away. I wasn’t pissed off at her, instead I congratulated her on racing well and a great finish. And I meant it—I love racing with Kim because she gets it. I know she works as hard as I do out there, so why should she just let me pass?
My feeling is: Get to know your competitors and you’ll be able to leave it on the course.
Some other things you should read
A love letter to the sport
What if we had these hanging from the rails of the saddle? Sprints would never be the same…