I give you permission to have fun. Yes, you.
The reason Cross is gaining popularity and Road seems to be slowly dwindling is because everyone is having fun at a cross race. Road races are so damn serious. I know because I take them too seriously too often. Us roadies are timing our nutrition down to the minute before and during a race, wearing RBF. The only time you see us smiling is if we land on the podium. It’s very disciplined. It’s one of the reasons why I love it.
I love the amount of focus, training, and dedication it takes to race on the road. But I also think we can lighten up. As I lined up with the badass women at the Ridge at 38 criterium last Sunday, I joked with the women on either side of me. I had my team cheering for me from the sidelines. I pumped my fist. I smiled and cracked jokes. We need to start having more fun at bike races. Our competition is not an enemy. They’re humans, just like us, who have feelings, who are flawed, who want to do their best.
At the blow of the whistle, already people from the sidelines were yelling tactics at some of the racers. And every time we passed these people, tactics and reminders were shouted to racers: “Remember the plan!” “Stick to the plan!” “Get off the front!” All I could do was laugh because it was distracting and totally unnecessary. It’s an amateur bike race. We’re not pros with walkie talkies in our ear who need to be given a play-by-play in our 45-minute crit race. If they were yelling jokes, then that’d be funny. Like the Velominati advise, Rule #43 – Don’t be a jackass. Jackasses yell tactics and plays from the sidelines. If you’re going to a bike race to support a friend or family member, then do that. Cheer for them. Bring a cowbell.
With three laps to go, there was a prime. Christa had surged off the front to win it. My legs felt good enough and the pack was riding at a pace that I felt confident attacking without anyone following me. I like Christa and wanted to play around with her. I wanted to have fun because I’m not a fan of crits. She looked back and saw me coming. I barreled down the gap between Christa and the peloton, sneaking around the right side of her, and snagging the prime. I smiled at her as I crossed the line. I burned my only matches for a $15 gift card to Wheat Ridge Cyclery.
I hoped she would jump on my wheel and we could ride off together. It didn’t happen. I tried to push up the small hill by myself and get away from the group. My legs weren’t having it. The group caught back up to me. Because everyone is incredibly strong riders, I knew it’d come down to a sprint finish with the whole gaggle of girls. I ducked into the group, hiding from the headwind. I ducked in too far. Cassidy attacked at the perfect time. I was too far back to respond. She got away and fair play to her. It was a great move.
Cassidy won by two seconds. The sprint finish was exactly how I thought it’d go: the whole slew of us pounding away on our pedals to beat the others. I came in 7th by .1 seconds or something. I caught up with Cassidy and we chatted. I congratulated her and told her what a killer move that was. I also joked with her to let me know the next time she’s going to do it, so I’m on her wheel. I saw a few others who I raced against. We laughed, we joked, we treated each other like friends.
It’s always good to remind yourself that you’re no better than anyone else on that course. You’re not entitled to a win because you lined up. I just laugh at the folks who choose to have a stick up their ass before or after a race like these amateur bike races are the be-all, end-all for them. I laugh for two reasons: I know I’ve acted that way before and I’m bound to take a race too seriously again. I also know that something’s going on inside them to behave like that. And for that, I give you permission to have fun.
In a motivational speech to some campers in Meatball, Bill Murray screams, “It just doesn’t matter!” Over and over again, riling everyone up.
That’s the same attitude I’m trying to adopt toward bike racing. I enjoy races that have me biting my stem and scrutinizing my training. I like joking with my team and racers before and after a race. In the end, I’m probably too old to go pro at this point, unless they start offering Masters professional teams. If I can’t go pro, then I at least want to have some damn fun.