Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Touching the Floor, but making it home

This April was the cruelest month of cycling I've endured. Not because of hard training or heaps of mental abuse, but from hitting the tarmac; touching the floor. I had gone the last two years without a spill, but in the past two and half weeks I found myself on the pavement three times. The last incident was the most ugly. I was leading the pace line on our Wednesday night group ride when a dog dashed straight into my front wheel. No time to touch the brakes or for anyone to call it out, I flew over the bars to be run over by the guy on my wheel. Fortunately the only thing broken was my bike. In fact I've come out of these incidents with lots of scrapes, bruised ribs, and sprained wrists, but nothing worse. I am fortunate that my injuries are fairly minor.

Yesterday I was reminded of how costly one incident on the bike can be. Every cyclist I know is indescribably sad about Wouter Weylandt's death in the Giro. It was one missed pedal stroke that apparently flung him to the ground. A backward glance, the wrong veer at high speed, and he launched out of control. All of us who have pushed the pace know how easy it could be to loose control. Whether we are cascading down a mountain pass, or pounding a sprint elbow to elbow, or merely flowing through blind corners in the bunch, we are racing on the razor edge of control. Only a paper thin barrier keeps us cyclists in this world and from careening into the next one.

Bike racers are all like Icarus, flying high and fast on wings fashioned for us. We want to reach our glory. We need to see the limits we can test. Fortunately few of us push too far. But once in a while, someone does get too close to the edge, and plummets like Icarus. We are blessed that so few fatal accidents occur in bike races. Yet that makes each fatal incident seem more tragic.

I do not race to cheat death. I am not interested in thrill seeking. I train hard, knowing that I do not have pro talent, but hoping to emulate the dedication and dignity the peloton displayed today.
I race to squeeze all the passion, energy, and joy that my tender grip on this life can wring out.
I ride to live as fully as I can.

I will put these thoughts aside so that I may race again, but I will not forget.
Rest in peace Wouter; you race with the angels now.