Tag: bicycle racing
Our cyclocross season began last weekend with Rochester. A Category 1 race on Saturday and a Category 2 on Sunday. From my non-racer perspective, a C1 race means that the officials are Very Attentive about UCI rules. Must be wearing pit pass. Must have right size tires. Must not feed. The first two rules are yadda-yadda. The last is more of a problem. The “No Feeding” rule states that the racers can carry water with them, but cannot be handed water. However, many ‘cross bikes don’t have water bottle cages on them and skinsuits don’t have pockets. Cyclocross is a cold weather sport (theoretically) and the race lasts an hour, so the whole hydration thing isn’t supposed to be an issue. But it is becoming one, due to climate change.
On Saturday, when the Elite Women raced, the heat index was 97 degrees Fahrenheit. After their hour of racing, the women crossed the line for the final time and fell over. Literally. One racer was taken to the hospital for heat stroke. The race organization, seeing the sprawl of bodies, brought over bottles of water and ice. Now it was the Elite Men’s turn to race (they race after the women) and Rochester, a race organization that Gets Things Done, set up a hose to spray the men as they raced by and had people waiting at the finish line, handing out bottles of cold water to the men as they finished. Great! You say.
Not so great, I say. The race organization should have known that the very high heat combined with no water combined with strenuous activity would lead to problems. Why did they wait to see the triage that was the women’s race before instituting adjustments? Why, in a nutshell, were the women the guinea pigs?
The Rochester race organization is superlative and they put on a great race. They would deny this implication of neglect. And I would believe them. Because this casual judgment that women are less valuable than men is insidious. It is certainly not limited to cyclocross racing.
But you have to start somewhere and call it out when you see it. So let’s start here. Women work just as hard as men during the race. Elite athletes are elite athletes. Enough with the casual neglect that speaks of a blind spot.
Let’s start giving women athletes the same respect, attention, and care that men athletes get.
Alrighty then is the overarching title I’ve given to blog posts wherein I write about what it’s like to run a cyclocross team with my husband, Richard Sachs. Full disclosure. Unlike Richie, (by the way, you can only call him “Richie” if you’ve slept with him. My rule.) I’ve never raced cyclocross. I had a brief, some might say non-existent fling with road racing when I raced, um, I think once or maybe twice, with the Trek women’s team nearly twenty years ago.
At my first race, I lined up with all the other Type A’s and had an inkling of what racing was about when no one wanted to swap recipes or tell anecdotes while we were waiting for the gun. They’re taking this seriously I thought, and I felt at once intimidated and out of place. When lots of people are gathered together, I consider that a social occasion. Not so on the starting line of a race apparently.
And we’re off! Man, they go hard right at the beginning. What about just easing into it? After all, we’ve got a long way to go. Nope, anaerobic oxygen debt right off the bat. As my heart pounded and my muscles burned, I became uncomfortably aware that other people’s bikes were really close to me. Hope they hold their line I thought, but without much confidence. And why didn’t I have confidence that no one would crash me? Because I don’t know these people, and I don’t know if they can handle their bikes. And why don’t I know them? Because no one wanted to chat and share stories with me when we had the chance, lining up. So there I was, gasping in a pack of really mean looking women, who were looking neither to right or left, but straight ahead with a killer set to their faces that showed full readiness to do battle.
I don’t like battles. At least not obvious ones. And now, much to my dismay, I seemed to be in the middle of one. And what were we all risking life and limb and putting up with a great deal of physical suffering to battle for? This question floated into my naturally curious mind as I struggled to hold my place in the peloton.
The answer came as an epiphany. We are doing this so that one of us can cross a line first.
And now, astute reader, you have no doubt figured out my problem. Because a real competitor would call it “winning.” And “winning” puts a whole different spin on the activity, something that “crossing a line first” doesn’t quite do. Winning is about testing oneself overtly against others in a chosen field. It is throwing all the cards out on the table, in broad daylight, to succeed or fail, for all to see. And at that epiphanic moment, I knew I was not a competitor. At least not with other people.
Motivations duly clarified, I dropped to the back of the peloton where I had some breathing room and found a few other like-minded “racers.” We chatted companionably as we rode the “race.” And just for fun sprinted each other up the final hill climb (I “won.”)
So all this is to say that my perspective on cyclocross is not the racer perspective. I am the observer, the strategist, the big-picture person. And that’s what I’ll be writing about in the coming weeks.
Recently, Richie has been posting, on Facebook and his website, pieces of ephemera from his bicycle history with his reflections and backstory. Since his involvement with bicycles, bicycle racing, and frame building dates back to the early 1970’s this project, taken as a whole, has become a testament of sorts to his life—his choices, his experiences, his observations.
Tonight, we go to my parent’s sixtieth wedding anniversary dinner party. To give them something, my four siblings and I have been combing through photographs. There are lots of photos of sailing—comfy coastal sailing and gritty ocean sailing. There is one of my Dad hang gliding, another of my Mom horseback riding in the Grand Canyon (looking none too thrilled), a lovely one of her resting on a Swiss mountaintop à la Sound of Music, and one of them in Russia with a young Russian couple they met when they were stuck there for a bit.
Reading the ephemera and perusing the photographs makes me think, what makes a life? Is it adventure and experiences—new places, travel? Is it people—those you’ve met and interacted with within your passion? Or is it something more fundamental?
The common denominator in Richie’s ephemera and my parents’ travels is connection. Each of them has lived—is living—a life filled with connection. Connections to people, places, adventures, experiences, words, ideas, nature.
So what makes a life?
The courage to connect is what makes a life.
This weekend, the NBX Grand Prix of Cyclocross, is the last cyclocross race of the regular season for Richie and me.
The kids—that’s what I call them (probably not to their joy) have worked hard, achieving proud results. Dan C. got a UCI fifth place and was on the podium numerous times in local races. Dan T. has won himself many second places in hard-fought UCI races. He’s bummed that he hasn’t stood on the top podium this season (yet) but that’s only because he’s a competitor with a capital C. The rest of us are in awe. BrittLee has regularly finished in the top ten of her elite women’s races, often scrambling to best a place or two just before the end.
Richie and I like to put team memories and sponsor loyalty above race results, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want the kids to kick ass. I once read an interview with the founder of Bikram yoga (a controversial person to be sure, but I appreciated this sentiment) and he said that he loves watching the students push themselves beyond what they think they can do, because then he sees it—that moment when they fall in love with themselves.
A person should not try to take away someone’s right to fail, and when its converse, the right to succeed, is initiated, well…you suffer, your body wants to stop, your mind doesn’t let it, and at the end of the race, you have done better than you ever thought possible. How is it that I can be so strong, you ask yourself? How is it that I can suffer so much to achieve my goal? I must be wonderful.
And you are.
This week I am in Boulder, Colorado at the Cyclocross National Championships, which, for those of you unfamiliar with this sport, is sort of like steeplechase on bicycles. A course is laid out with twists and turns and barriers to jump over, stairs to climb up on, steep down hills to freak out on, and the pit. The pit is where the racer can switch to a spare bike or get an emergency repair during the race. I work in the pits. In every race where our team has a racer competing, I hold that racer’s spare bike.
And wait. When the racers come by, I set the bike up, ready to do the switch as quickly as possible if the racer needs it. Reasons for why he or she will switch bikes vary. Sometimes the course is so muddy/snowy that the gears clog up and the bikes have to be cleaned at the bike wash, or maybe something has gone wrong mechanically, in which case the rider will usually try to give a clue before they pedal away on the spare bike. Yesterday, Richie switched bikes and panted out “back is folding” before he left.
Hmmm. Is Richie’s back hurting? Is this a clue to me not to expect much in the way of results from him?
No. In fact, Richie was referring to an earlier conversation he had had with one of our team, discussing tire pressure. He had told Dan he was “afraid the back tire would fold if it didn’t have enough pressure in it.” Mystery solved. We put more air in the back tire and brought the bike to Pit 2 and had it ready for another switch when Richie came around again.
Sometimes the rider will gasp something out that I don’t quite catch. Then, I turn to my fellow pitters for translation help and we usually manage to decipher what is needed. Sometimes we don’t and so I check brakes, gears—the obvious stuff. The last resort is to yell to the rider when they come around again “what’s wrong with it?” But that is unprofessional, so we generally just try to figure something out.
When the course is really sloppy, the riders may switch bikes every half-lap. In addition to riders coming in and out of the pit as fast as possible, the pit crew needs to clean the bikes as fast as possible. The bike wash gets overcrowded, and sometimes we are reduced to just pulling the mud off with our fingers. I was at a race once where we started dumping the bikes into the lake that was next to the course to get them clean—
Oh, I see It is time to get myself up and out and over to the pits. Brittlee is racing in an hour and she might need me.