I was out riding yesterday with a new bike racer. He has recently caught the bug for the bike and is excited to learn everything he can.
We rode next to each other for a few hours and he told me what his expectations/hopes are for the next few years. He gave off the energy that you can only find in someone who has recently found something they love-I've heard it called "the zeal of the newly converted", but that has a weird sinister cult-y ring to it. Anyway, he is thrilled to start racing and is learning as much as he can.
One thing he said stuck with me after we had gone our separate ways on the road. He had said, that since he was a bigger guy, that he assumed that he "should probably stick to crits". Now, I like crits as much as the next guy. Probably more than the next guy. They're a wonderfully American style of bike racing, and I hope I'll be doing them until I'm 80. But I don't like the idea of someone limiting themselves-especially when they're so new in a sport. Especially since you never know what you're capable of.
It made me think of Evelyn Stevens, and something she said recently. For those who don't know, Evelyn Stevens is one of the best American bike racers around. She came to the sport relatively late in life(she was an investment banker), but she hasn't wasted any time once she started racing-she's an Olympian and has been top five in the World Championships in two different disciplines. Earlier this year she set her sights on one of the most difficult events a cyclist can attempt-the hour record.
The hour, at a glance, is pretty simple. You get a fast bike, go to a velodrome, and see how far you can go in an hour. Of course, as you might expect, there is much more to it than that when you get out to the bleeding edge of top-level human performance. The hour is an excruciatingly calculated event-your effort level is determined by figuring out precisely the power you can produce at lactate threshold. Your position on the bike is agonized over, so as to represent the perfect balance of aerodynamic efficiency and biomechanical strength. No detail is ignored. The hour attempt, in a sense, is one big math problem. Figure out exactly how hard you can push the pedals for one hour. Then make yourself as aerodynamic as possible. Achieve your result.
And the effort is massive. Many of the world's greatest cyclists, Eddy Merckx included, have said that the hour was the most difficult thing that they ever did. To be able to go as hard as you possibly can-all the while staying absolutely focused-for AN HOUR- is the province of a select few.
In February Evelyn Stevens wrote her own name in the history books-she is the current holder of the hour world record. It's a stunning accomplishment. But what I found most interesting and compelling was something that she said after her effort. She said that she had hit her limits for today.
Limits...for today. It's an amazing thing for her to say, if you think about it. After all that science, all that effort, you'd think that she would feel as if she knows exactly where her limits are, period. But she didn't-she simultaneously embraced and rejected the science. She looked at the numbers and said, effectively, "Nah-I know I can do more than that. I know I am more than that".
That's what I love about sport in general, and bike racing in particular-it's a wonderful blend of science and romance. You train with all of the science-you watch your weight, you draw up the training plan based on your lactate threshold, you get as aero as you can...but then there is this moment where you have to just believe. Accept that you've done everything that you can for today, but tomorrow? Tomorrow is a different story. Anything can happen tomorrow.
I suspect that if Evelyn had been on the ride with us yesterday, she'd have scoffed at the idea of my friend putting limitations on what he can do. I think she might have told him to keep working, keep training...and keep his eyes on tomorrow.