no one line

On Losing
January 27, 2009, 3:09 pm
Filed under: road racing, tactics, teamwork

This morning I was thinking about cycling and losing – two ways in which Steve Bauer lost big races. One was the 1984 Olympic Road Race. It came down to a sprint between Bauer and Alexi Grewal. Bauer was the superior sprinter but didn’t jump early enough to drop Grewal, who stayed with Bauer and came around him at the line to become the first American to win an Olympic gold in the road race.

Four years later, at the World Championship road race, Bauer was in the final sprint when Claude Criquielion came around in the tight alley between Bauer and the barriers as Bauer was reaching to his downtube to upshift. Up came Bauer’s elbow, Criquielion swerved into the barriers, and Bauer sat up, letting Maurizio Fondriest take the stripes (and providing fodder for jokes about hockey and the Canadian Bauer). For Bauer, they are two notable ways to lose big races by playing them wrong at the wrong moment.

The flip side of losing is doing it on purpose, for other people. I wrote a piece on Wim Vansevenant, a Silence-Lotto domestique and Lanterne Rouge in the 2008 Tour de France. The notion of working for teammates is a blow at Bikesnob’s take on pass/fail racing: finishing in the pack might not be such a sign of mediocrity if you’re helping somebody out. Here’s a clip from Overcoming – Jens Voigt in a breakaway chooses to pull back to wait for the pack so that he can assist his captain, Ivan Basso.

The many dynamics of “losing” is one of the very appealing things about cycling for me. It’s so different than conventional team sports. A football game isn’t won by the person with the most touchdowns – the whole team gets big rings for winning the big game and their faces all over the newspaper or whatever, but the team element of cycling is more understated – at least, to outsiders. Knowing full well that you can “lose” a race but maybe give a strong leadout to your buddy for the final sprint, or attack a field over and over until it’s your buddy’s break that sticks and you’re completely worn out, barely able to cling to the back of the field… that’s what makes cycling exciting for me.

I’m not sure I’m concluding anything particularly different than my other post on this subject, but that’s okay, it’s a blog and the internet and there’s no shortage of space. It’s the dead of winter and it’s easier to stay inside, daydreaming and writing, than it is to train. But yesterday I went out in search of one of Brooklyn’s steep, sharp hills and attacked it over and over again, ramping up the intensity and making a fifteen mile midday ride feel like a lot more. When I think about the amount of time until racing starts I feel as though there is very little time to get as fast as I want to be. When I think about how much winter there is left, though, it feels interminable.

3 Comments so far
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That was a good hill workout we did. We should find more things like that. I wouldn’t mind a good spot for practicing decents…

Comment by De.Corday

Really enjoyed this. I find the relentless American mania for victory and gold medals a sad kind of mania. The Olympic Creed reads: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” For a slightly different take on the topic, you might enjoy < HREF="" REL="nofollow">this.<>

Comment by Velosopher

Thanks for the Olympic Creed! Very fitting. When I was a college student, dealing with the stresses of figuring out how to live my life so that it doesn’t make a mockery of my values, I fell in with thinking something very similar – perhaps best summed up by an Edward Abbey quote, “All revolutions are successful – revolutions turn slaves into human beings, if only for a second.” The most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, indeed. Thank you!Although I may disagree in the midst of a steep climb.

Comment by No One Line

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