Why do I do it? Why do hundreds of others do it too? We spend hundreds of hours training, thousands of miles traveling, and thousands of dollars on equipment each year to race bikes. My level of talent is so mediocre & my number of podium results so few that the question may seem very relevant; as if one would be delusional to pursue a sport with such a meager pay back.
This week I read three articles by bike racers about their perspective on their own racing. Two of them by people I know, Justine Lindine & Bill Strickland, one by a guy I can sympathize with. All three were worth reading as reflections on the personal madness that is amateur bike racing. Two also quote Adam Myerson in his interview after Sterling CX this year, "Its just stupid bike racing, but it means everything."
In truth its much easier to be a cyclist than a bike racer. I live in a place where great cycling abounds. I ride every week in the summer with dozens of good cyclists. Most of these cyclists don't race any more, or never did. So they don't train systematically, they don't diet, they don't fixate on their performance limiters, they don't strategize to find their opportunities for victory. They just ride; sometimes easy, sometimes hard, sometimes more miles than I do. And that's great for them, truly, but its not racing.
Racing is different. Racing requires a focus, discipline, perhaps even fixation most cycling does not. Each week and each day of a racers season is shaped by activities that drive toward the next race. Whether it is sleep or nutrition or training or recovery, some part of the day is devoted to preparing to race. The bike racers life becomes a lifestyle with a central goal of peak personal performance. This may be a healthy obsession, but it is still an obsession.
Every year I notice that a few people, who used to race with me, drop out of the sport. They just stop showing up. Perhaps they get injured, perhaps they get frustrated with their results, perhaps life gets in the way of training, perhaps they loose the passion. Yet without racing, there is no reason to pursue the lifestyle, and there in no lessons to be learned about ones own discipline, or toughness, or focus, or strength, or humility, or capacity for improvement. These lessons are the pay off for the sacrifices that a bike racer's lifestyle demands. If I do not race, I will not wring out of myself all that I have within me, physically & emotionally; if only to see exactly what I am at my core.
Bike races are not like life, they are life. Most times a stupid bike race is the most concentrated, distilled, intense part of my life. Bike racing draws from me a passion and discipline that I hope I will infuse into the rest of my life. That is for me its great worth.
"It's just stupid bike racing, but it means everything".
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