Spring. In amateur bike racing-and probably in some other sports that I don't follow-spring is the season of hope. For a few brief weeks, everyone is equal. Everyone wonders if what they've done over the winter is enough....and hopes that it is. Hopes that this is they year that things are different-that this will be the year of the big upgrade or the big win. Finally making that front group. Everybody is looking forward to racing. Everyone's motivation is sky high.
Not me. I've been racing long enough to know that spring is usually a slap in the face. It always seems like everyone is faster than I remembered, and I always feel slower than expected. So.....for me, this is the rough time of the year. This is when my training really gets hard, and I'm usually getting kicked around in the races. So I have a difficult time remembering why I do this in the first place.
Fall is different-that's MY season of hope. After the racing season is over and before real training has started, I always tell myself that THIS NEXT winter is going to be the one where I really make a difference. I'm going to lose weight, go to the gym, do more intervals; etc. Of course, in the fall, everything is theoretical. Spring is real. I usually like to start early and get it over with quickly.
This year I decided to start as early as possible. I drove to St. Louis for their first race of the year-Froze Toes. FT is, unsurprisingly, normally ridiculously cold. And incredibly windy-the course is a skinny rectangle that usually points directly into the wind. The last time I did it, we had a tailwind first, and when we turned into the headwind to come home, all hell broke loose. The group split into ten pieces within five minutes. It was absolutely miserable. I DNF'd.
This year, I've been on the bike more, and the wind was from the opposite direction; we'd start into the headwind. I assumed that the race would play out the same way it had before-that by the end of the end of the headwind section, the decisive selection would be made. So I raced accordingly. I followed almost every jump, and made a few of my own. In other words, I used a lot of energy(can you guess where this is going?) But at the end of the headwind section, no real separation had been made. I started to have that sinking feeling....
You know that feeling in a race, where you're been active at the front with a few other guys, and then you realize that those guys aren't THE guys? That the real heavy hitters have been sitting in, watching the jabs before they start to throw real punches?
That was it. As soon as we hit the crosswind , Steve Tilford attacked for the first time. If you don't know who Tilford is, start reading his blog and thank me later. Anyway, let's just say that my day was basically over. The short crosswind section that I had neglected to even think about was plenty long enough to break the race apart and make me feel not so smart.
So...motivation. As usual, after a race like this, it was lacking. As usual, I wondered if this should be the year that I just ride to ride and quit fooling around with racing. Not getting any younger, after all. That sort of thing. I moped around for a few days after the race, and then a buddy sent me a link to a blog that was written by the guy that started the winning move, and came up just short. He was philosophical: the last line was something like, "I went home, extremely disappointed but one race smarter".
One race smarter. That turned it around for me in an instant. That's what I love about the sport. We all know about the pain-it's been well chronicled. It's always going to hurt. But there's always something to learn. Some little trick, some situation to anticipate or exploit. Some crosswind to be ready for(next time). And that's what keeps me coming back. For at least another year.