Race report; or, isn’t is great when we all help each other out

Last night I rode in the weekly Tuesday night bike race, and once again I finished, which, for me at this point, is all I hope for.

The race felt like it was more about people working together than it was about competition, although competition was there too. This happened in two ways, the first I didn’t find out about until after the race. A group of 9 riders broke away from the pack – which had probably about 45 riders total – fairly early on and stayed ahead for the rest of the race. When a group goes off the front, leaving the main pack behind, riders in the main pack who have team members in the break-away group will try to keep the main pack riding slowly, so the break-away group will stay out front and therefore have a better chance of winning. Since one of my teammates was in the break-away group, other members of my team worked hard to keep everyone in the slower group back. If anyone tried to catch up with the front group, they got in front of that rider and slowed him or her down. They were sacrificing their own chance of winning so that the faster teammate could win. I wasn’t aware of this, partly because I was pretty far in the back and couldn’t see the tactics and partly because I’m working so hard, I don’t pay attention to anyone else.

And this is how cycling is supposed to work. I didn’t realize for a long time what a team sport it is. It’s not at all like running where, as far as I know, everyone is on their own and you just run as fast as you can. Instead, the team is supposed to work together, with the drafting of course, but also by designating one person as the rider everyone else will support, with everyone else sacrificing themselves if necessary.

After the race, some of my teammates were standing around talking, all excited about working together to help someone else out. This is funny, in a very cool kind of way. I mean, each of them was basically saying, “I played a supporting, subordinate role in this race, and I had a great time doing it. Isn’t it fun to make sacrifices for other riders? It’s not really me that matters, after all, it’s the team. Winning isn’t everything.” It’s not often a woman gets to sit around and listen to a group of men talk this way.

And you know what they call the guys who help the top teammate by keeping the main pack in line so the fast guy can get out front and win?

Domestiques.

So my teammates were all excited about being domestiques. Women, if this doesn’t get you up on your bike and out to join your local cycling club, I don’t know what will. This is also the sport where you get to see beautifully-muscled men wearing pink.

The other thing that happened is that one of the two other women riding in this group – neither of whom I’ve actually met – spoke to me a couple times, encouraging me to keep going. One time this happened when we were riding up the short hill on the way to the start/finish line; I was slowing down a bit, and she came alongside me and told me to keep pushing, that the last thing I want to do is fall back on the hill. I’d have a chance to rest at the top. So I pushed on. Later on she pulled up beside me, told me I was doing great, and explained that she’s gotten dropped on hills many times and has learned that you have to push as hard as you possibly can on the uphill and recover later. That’s the only way to keep up. I thanked her, and tried to find her after the race to talk a bit more, but she didn’t stick around.

So we were competing, but the feeling was one of helping each other out. I was pleased at the gender solidarity – that woman rider, whoever she was, was making a point of encouraging me – a beginning, struggling woman rider, perhaps with some potential. And I love the team solidarity as well. I don’t know how often the teams actually work together like they are supposed to – I’m sure it happens much more often in professional cycling than on this amateur level – but it sure sounded great to hear people talking about it later. I can’t assist anyone on my team right now, but they are helping me out a lot, and maybe someday I can return the favor.

For another perspective on the race from the other reader/rider/writer who lives in my house, check this out. Because I know all you bookworms can’t get enough of this racing stuff.

Tomorrow, back to books: an update on my Evelina reading.

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