no one line

What Makes Racing Good
March 23, 2010, 3:32 pm
Filed under: road racing

On Saturday, I saw one of the most exciting races I’ve ever seen. Sure, professional races are exciting – with lots of hype and a lot on the line – but I’m talking about amateur races, seeing the drama and fun and pain unfold right in front of my eyes. It was a smalltown training crit, and the last race of the day was the best.

Three powerful racers broke away after a several laps of jockeying; a fourth rider responded to the attack but the first three fell into a smooth rotation and in a few laps opened up some road between them and the fourth racer. Unable to bridge up, the fourth racer continued hammering and opened a big gap on the field, but was exposed and alone with nearly 30 laps remaining.

The lead trio, working smoothly, made huge gains on the field, and after about ten laps, caught them. Rather than sit up, they went to the front of the field and continued hammering. The fourth place rider had thirty to forty seconds on the field, but with the lead trio towing the lapped field around, was in danger of being caught by those behind due to the efforts of those in front.

I watched the exertion in the racer’s eyes, under the unseasonably warm sun. The lap cards slowly ticked down and this stubborn racer continued riding a huge pursuit, staying on the opposite side of the course as the leaders and the field. With three laps to go – as the leaders and the field got within fifteen or twenty seconds of the fourth place rider – the field was instructed to sprint for placings, so the top four could finish unimpeded. The fourth place racer had held off the field; the top three rode the laps until they attacked one another and sprinted for their podium places and, a minute later, the fourth place rider finished, exhausted.

The determination to stay out in no-woman’s-land despite missing the break and then being effectively chased by the break is more than commendable: it’s the sort of painful stubbornness, the grit, that makes bike racing – all bike racing, from the most fearful amateur to the most arrogant pro – exciting.

In my races, I’m not strong enough to go out on my own and flog my legs with my face in the wind – not for too long. I have to play the highwire walk of careful positioning and shelter, the studious chess of bike race tactics. But there’s something elemental about the solo break; there’s a reason why time trials are called “the race of truth” and there’s a reason that there’s something fundamentally beautiful about riding across the finish line with no other riders in sight. In this case, there was something more beautiful and awe-inspiring about a solo fourth place than a podium position from a break, and it’s because of the grit she displayed, sticking to her move for 28 laps under the hot sun, alone, being chased by the people ahead of her.

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