Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pride


The most predictable emotion a cyclist possesses is one rooted in the rider’s work ethic. Born of respect, both for self and for the dedication that the training requires, it is a full-body yes. At its root are qualities every cyclist wishes to exhibit: bravery and valiance, the desire to turn advantageous every circumstance, to find usefulness in oneself and ultimately, an ingredient we expect to find in all champions—a high self-opinion.

It can lead to mistakes inconsequential as the unprotected front wheel and as colossal as the past-threshold pull at the front. It can also result in silly displays such as the rider who feigns the easy ride on the hill because he’s too hammered to sustain the lead pace. Surely the most forgivable failing of pride is the work ethic that leads to the successful breakaway but not the win. Despite being beaten at the line by the lesser rider, there is victory in showing the peloton that they couldn’t catch the breakaway. So what if you’re beaten by one rider, there was success enough in out-riding the entire peloton. After all, what is the alternative, do less than your best? And should you not ride with all that you have, how can you call yourself a racer? At some level, tactics aside, as a racer you are meant to ride with all that you have. Sure, races are won with smarts as much as brawn, but no amount of tactical savvy can overcome the indictment that comes with knowing you didn’t ride with all your might.

With it comes confidence and with confidence comes drama. The rider who can be intimidated has none, but the rider who has done the training, knows his ability and is ready for the challenge will attack in places both expected and unexpected.

Think of the unlikely moves that have come from riders whose confidence was informed by their fitness and pride. When Sean Kelly attacked descending the Poggio at the 1992 Milan-San Remo to catch Moreno Argentin at the red kite, the move initially seemed as futile as shooting rubber bands at a bear. But he caught Argentin and in the catch you realized he knew something we didn’t. And that’s what racing is all about. That win was a statement to the world that he still had the ability to humble the best.

Races may be won or lost on might, but that isn’t what drives a rider to race. The need to race is born in emotion. It comes from a passion to tell the world of our drive, to prove that we worked without fail, that we trained with the insistence of a forced march, that we learned something of ourselves, something we want the world to know.

Photo courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International

11 comments:

DRU said...

Well said, well said...

Hunter said...

Excellent. I don't think anyone can match your best post for the way that they wrap such an intricate, emotional, and complicated sport into a few paragraphs.

bikesgonewild said...

...while the post is excellent as usual, i can't get over that foto of a young sean kelly...

Richmond Roadie said...

Awesome, thought provoking post. Love the picture of a young, shaggy haired Sean Kelly!

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Brilliant! I was thinking of this column last night when I rode myself into the road to make a mid-race breakaway stick right until the finish at my Tuesday night crit.

Anonymous said...

whomever you are.. man, i love you for your mind. keep up the good work and keep pushing yourself to write down things that were otherwise ineffable if not for being so much a part of this thing we all experience when we give over so much of our lives to the bike. even when we're just local knuckleheads and not icons of the sport.

noel.

Boz said...

Pride may be may worse sin, but it propels me to be a better person. If I drag a few lost souls along on the path to betterment, perhaps all is not lost. Well written!

Anonymous said...

Pride, The Well, speechless. I'm not sure what to say now! Much less put it into any other words greater than that.
May I ask of one more? The cyclist that prefers to wear no lid, just to sum it up.

Thanks

huffyusa said...

Faith

Anonymous said...

Rode as a junior against Mr Kelly once in the UK when he came over with the Irish team, was away in a three man break with him for most of the race, 40 miles in freezing cold sleet and rain, in May! Even then he was taciturn, but so strong, although only 17; I could barely hold his wheel when he was on the front. Suffice to say the other guy and I couldn't match his strength and fortitude as the cold and rain took their toll. We were hauled in by the bunch with a couple of miles to go, but Sean, strong and seemingly impervious to the cold, won the sprint. I remember my hands being so cold I could barely pull the brake levers after the finish and having to be taken back to the changing rooms in the race organiser's car. I sort of knew I had been in the presence, if but briefly, of greatness. Unsurprising that he was so good in Paris-Roubaix, especially when it rained. He nearly joined the elite club that have won all 5 monuments (Merckx, De Vlaeminck and Van Looy), but surprisingly never won the Worlds. In 1989, he rode like a demon to catch the break on the run-in to the finish, but was beaten by Lemond in the sprint in the rain! You would have put your house on him to win, but that’s what makes bike racing great, that day Lemond’s greater will endured.