The race was coming apart at the front. There were about seven or eight of riders there, spread out along the course, going slow and just looking at each other. Each waiting for the other one to take over at the front. I had the sense that something was about to happen. Slate and I had made a tentative plan to see if we could get something to stick. This was our moment.
The attack wasn’t the type you think of when one thinks of attacks. There was no jumping out of the pack, with a grimace on face of the rider, with his bike rocking back and forth. We just went faster while everyone at the front looked at each other. Slate managed to get smaller on his bike and I tried to my best to get small and find the draft on his wheel. With that the two of us, along with three others escaped the apathy of the pack.
The five of us worked well together, with Slate giving directions when we didn’t take our corners just right. There was a suggestion of not fighting for the points, which everyone agreed to. We were disciplined. Everyone took equal pulls, with little discussion. There was the “Nice pull”, or “Good work” just the right amount to encourage the person who’d just carried us through the wind.
Soon we were four, after one of us had decided he’d had enough. I fumbled with a gel, then had to catch back on. Then I dodged a few pulls because I was starting to feel bad. One of us glanced over their shoulder and decided we needed to start taking fifteen second pulls. So we did.
There is a quiet in a breakaway. In the pack there is the shifting of gears and the sound of carbon wheels whooshing the air, the wind itself. There is a constant din of noise. In a break, it is silent. Which is when the thoughts come.
“I can’t keep this up”
“I can keep this up”
“This break is going to stick”
They aren’t questions, or complete sentences, just a brief thought. The “I can’t” gets repeated more often, becoming a mantra no self help guru would approve of.
The thoughts aside, this is my favorite part of racing, it’s the real reason I try to make, or get into breaks. The silence. It’s why I love long solo ride and lung searing intervals. The silence.
The week before I asked a teammate if she was dropped, or if she took herself out of the break. There’s a difference. When you’re dropped its because you tried and couldn’t. When you sit up you’re just acknowledging that you don’t believe in yourself; that you aren’t worth giving yourself the things you need. Which is a reason to believe that you can be something different than you are.
This breakaway, this race, is only temporary joy. After this I’ll ride home and a heavy feeling will begin to set in. The weight increasing with each pedal stroke. The next day I’ll tell the story of this race several times. I will smile and seem happy. But once the story is over and the the listener has gone back to work, I will go back to dealing with the effects of my actions and how they affect those I love. I have to face the reality of my own failings. Which is pale in comparison to the pain of being in the break.
I take a pull. Then another. Then another. I’m feeling weaker. I have a teammate here. If I – If we – can stick this out we’ll have a tactical advantage. I look over my shoulder and see a group bearing down on us. We aren’t going to make it. I am an anchor dragging us down. In my real life and in this break.
So I sit up and wish the others speed and feel a moment of regret.
The night before I looked at the pipes that run through our basement as I hung my washed kit. I could hang myself ran through my head. The thought didn’t raise any feelings in me, no strong reactions to ending my life. No “Yes, do this because it will fix everything. No “That is the worse thing you could do”. The thought resonated in my head for a moment and ended when I put my jersey on a hanger and brought it up from the basement.
Life has been hard lately, or it at least feels that way. And it’s that way because I made it so. It becomes hard to function, let alone racing. Lately I’ve come to feel that all this talk of bike racing being equal to life is bullshit unless I apply the lessons I’m learning while riding to my life off the bike. I finally stepped up and did that, it hasn’t made life any easier, but maybe it means living a life that is worth living.
When the group catches me I discover that it is the faster race. The one that started after us. I had given up for nothing. I wasn’t the anchor dragging the group down. I had invested as much in the success of our small group as any of the other members did. I deserved to be there.
It takes the pack almost a whole lap to catch me. Reinforcing the gravity of my mistake. Slate looks at me as I am absorbed back into the peloton. All I can do is shrug. I drift a bit close to the back before I place myself back into the peloton, kicking myself for having given up.
After a lap I start to move back toward the front of the race. I had taken myself out of the break, but there is more I can do to help my teammate Justin who is still off the front. In the final lap I block a little, then chase down a move in order to neutralize it. Justin was out kicked at the line, but rode beautifully. He believed, which is something I need to start doing.