The expression of anger in western cultures frequently stands frowned upon as its presence often immobilizes and restricts. However, as I discovered on the Richmond International Raceway one Saturday morning - anger in the right degree, under the right circumstances, and along the right avenue also creates the precise courage one needs to move forward.
Until two years ago, my track bike existed as my primary mode of transportation in navigating every edge of NYC. Had Manhattan not been my only home until moving to Richmond, I likely would have never considered the parallels that exist between road racing and guiding a fixed gear bicycle throughout the five boroughs. Perhaps the greatest similarities shared between the two rests in the degree of unpredictability coupled with the relentless need to continue riding in spite of odd happenings. Of course, in crit racing, the occurrence of a crash taking place isn't so much odd as it dreaded - which is exactly what took place about twenty minutes into the race at RIR.
Experiencing a crash in the field, particularly on a track, proves inexpressible. It can happen in an instant or it can also unfold over several tense moments; likewise, it can end in an instant or the end can unravel while you pray several times in hopes that the worst is over. This crash, like many, bore a resemblance to a culmination of all of the above. All I knew was that the rubber side was no longer down. Like any competitor on that day or any day, I'm seething from my fall; I also hate seeing fellow riders go down and get hurt. I frenetically check my bike as the officials yell that I have enough time to jump back in, but my heart sank with the setback. Not knowing how much time remained in the race and with my adrenaline still jolting, I burn through several laps before I force myself to sit back in the field. Despite my frustrations almost getting the best of me in knowing the reality of placing was all but lost, I stubbornly press on and refuse to give up the ghost.
A few laps past my reentry, I reach for my bottle only to discover that it's no longer there - it must have fallen out in the crash. I catch my wife's eye and signal thirst, and we unsuccessfully attempt a water handoff in the next lap. It seems obvious now, but it was unbeknownst to either of us at the time that feeding is not permitted except in designated feeding zones. We were all fortunate for the anti-climactic result and I remain grateful to fellow riders for their support; I especially thank the officials for their understanding and recognition that our error created an opportunity for education.The specified rules aim to ensure safety and fairness for all riders and I always want to honor this. Our collective and sincerest apologies to anyone who was bothered by my mistake - I know better now!
Some time between the failed bottle handoff and the second crash was when I realized that I was...stuck. Somehow, I couldn't shift at all. My bike refused to budge from a 53 x 11 gear so sprinting seemed eliminated from the equation. I wouldn't be able to effectively carry out the very thing I needed to do to hang on in this race. From going down in the first crash to the lost hydration to a ripped skinsuit and injuries to narrowly avoiding the second crash - all of this, and now my bike was broken. I came to ride and I came to race, and now even my instrument in this orchestra was damaged and uncooperative. Each pedal stroke launched me into growing increasingly livid in my determination that I was not going to allow this to be how I remembered this event. The race was coming to an end; the field was surging as everyone battled for positions. That moment propelled me into a flashback of tearing through Manhattan streets on my track bike, where the city too often left me with only a dicey amount of space and time between making it safely through an intersection or winding up dead. I spot what appears to be marginally enough room on the left side of the track as the riders grapple towards the finish. I couldn't drop my speed and I needed the momentum to push that gear so just as I did more times than I can count in NYC, I dig my heels in and take my chances.
FinallyAll cyclists live as artists in some form; our bikes act as our tools while our canvas changes from moment to moment. Every ride holds its own idiosyncrasies and challenges, which is what makes what we do so much darn fun. This race ended with a humbling and unexpected win; other races concluded with a double-digit placing or worst of all, a DNF. A paradox exists in my world that all cyclists know and live: every moment on my bike proves different than the last, yet every minute on my bike prepares me for the next. With that, here's to this moment and here's to all of the next.