I did a long ride by myself today, so I had quite a bit of time to think about various topics.
This is one of the reasons I ride — to process the past, present, future, and life in general. I started thinking about the race finishes that meant the most to me. Were they special because I won? Was it because I left 100% of myself out there and maximized my result, whether I won or not? Was it because the team executed the plan and it worked? Was it because the weather was epic/horrible? Was it because the course was so hard? The answer is yes to all of those. Those were all special races, but the races that really stick out in my mind are the ones where I suffered the most, but didn’t give up.
I’ve heard that if you quit a race one weekend, it’s so much easier to quit the next weekend. I think that’s probably true. That’s why I try to never quit. Obviously, if you’re going to cause damage to your body or you’re in such bad shape that you’re risking a crash, it’s wise to pull the plug. Otherwise, I just don’t see the point in quitting. You paid to race. You traveled to the race. You skipped a day of training to be there. Keep riding, no matter what. If you get dropped, who cares? It happens. It happens less when you’re fit, so don’t just quit. Keep riding to build fitness. Keep riding until you get pulled by the officials (sometimes I go by the official’s table with my head down, as far away from the officials as possible, so I can’t hear or see them trying to get me off the course. Just don’t be jerk and get in the way of the other racers). Do you quit because you’r embarrassed that you got dropped? It’s good to be embarrassed. That feeling will drive you to train harder. Don’t make excuses to yourself. Just ride hard. Had a mechanical? Try and fix it on the fly and keep riding. Turn yourself inside out to get back into the race. Even if you don’t make it back, you’ll be stronger because of the effort.
So what’s my most memorable race? Joe Martin 2010. It was my first big stage race as a Cat 2. The previous year, I finished 3rd in the GC as a Cat 3, mostly thanks to my 4th place finish in the TT. I crashed in the first 5 miles of the road race, but chased back on and took the same time as the rest of the group. In 2010, the memorable year, I finished a very mediocre 47th out of 99 riders; barely in the top 50%. I thought I had good form, but racing with the cat1 and cat2 guys was completely different.
I think it was about 30 miles into the first road race when it happened. My right shifter started acting up. I rode up to my teammate Joey Mesa to let him know I was having issues. I was trying to put it into an easier gear, but the lever felt weird, and shifted into a harder gear. While we were riding (up a climb if I remember right), Joey looked at it, tried to shift, and dropped it into a harder cog. He tried again, with the same result. He tried again, and now I was down into my 11, the hardest gear. I noticed the shift lever looked a little weird, so I pulled on it and the lever/paddle came right off in my hand.
I knew the SRAM had some neutral bikes, so I dropped back to our follow car. I asked for a bike, but they said they were for the p/1 race. I was on my own.
So I had 80 miles left to race, and I’m only able to shift from my 39 to my 53 on the front, but not at all in the rear — well, almost. I could hold onto my handlebars with one left hand and grab my cable with my right hand. If I pulled the cable, I could get it to go into an easier gear, but as soon as I let go it would drop back into the 11. So I had to hold the cable if I wanted to stay in a gear. If I pulled it only slightly harder or slightly easier, it would shift into a gear I didn’t want to be in. Joey pointed out that I could use the barrel adjusters on the frame to put it into a different gear. I think I was able to get it into my 14, so I had the option of a 53/14 or a 39/14.
I think that most riders would have quit, but I wanted to test myself. I wanted to see how far I could go. I didn’t know if I could finish the race, and I didn’t know if I could hang with the pack– but I was going to try my hardest.
If you haven’t ridden the Friday road race course at Joe Martin, it’s pretty hilly. It’s in NW Arkansas. so there is a lot of climbing, including Mt Gaylor — an 8 mile climb. I made it to the base of the climb in the pack. I was already pretty proud of myself for sticking it out. Some other riders had heard me talking to my teammates about it, and I remember feeling like they were kind of cheering me on, wanting to see if I could do it. Plus, it was hard not to notice the guy reaching down and holding onto his shift cable on every climb. I started too far back, but I didn’t want to be in the way. The pace picked up but I was feeling pretty good. I don’t remember who it was, but the guy in front of me started getting dropped. I was running on pure adrenaline at that point. I tried to come around and bridge into the lead group of 25 riders, but I couldn’t quite get there. I was in a second group, I think with Evan Bybee, but we ended up getting caught by the 3rd group.
I remember being disappointed at the top of the climb. I barely missed the winning move, which would have put me in the top 25 gc. I remember getting emotional shortly after that, because I was overcoming such crappy luck and I knew I was going to finish the race. It hurt bad and I was completely turned inside out, but it was a good feeling knowing the odds were stacked against me, and I hadn’t quit 80 miles ago when it would have been so easy to do it.
Still fueled by adrenaline and emotion, I tried to attack out of our group with about 1k to go. There were splits in the field, but no time gaps were given to our group. Bummer. So I was 33rd in the race. At least it was in the top 1/3….better than the TT. SRAM neutral support installed a brand new shifter on my bike so that I could race the next day — pretty awesome service. One more reason I ride SRAM/Quarq/Zipp.
I also remember bring really proud of Brian that day. His day was actually worse than mine. He had some health stuff going on, and got caught out in no-man’s-land. It’s a huge course that is easy to get lost on. He stuck it out and actually put in more miles than anyone else, but finished the race so that he could start the next day.
Anyway, that 33rd place finish means more to me than any other result I have. More than any podium finish. I’ll remember it forever. It would have been so much easier to quit and get in the follow vehicle, go back to the hotel, eat a big meal, and relax.
One more small story to sum things up. This one is about Bob Cummings – and a true example of pushing through. I’ll keep it short, but you should ask him the details sometime. It was at Iris Stagner (Mineral Wells) Stage Race. Bob finished 7th in the TT and 6th in the Crit in the p/1/2 race. He was doing very good in the GC. In the final stage, the road race, his saddle started to come off. He didn’t want to lose it, so he pulled it off and took it back to the follow motorcycle. As he did that, riders attacked and he was stuck chasing, without a saddle. Just a seatpost. Somehow he finished that race, on bumpy roads. with no saddle. He finished 9th in that race, which put him 5th overall GC. He didn’t quit, and that really won my respect. Honestly, that’s probably one reason he’s on our team now (he was on Park Place back then).
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