We have done three races in as many days. Right now we are in the opening minutes of the fourth race in three day, a forty-five minute crit. The Eugene Celebration is the last road race of the season here in Oregon. Earlier in the week I complained about how short the road season is here, in this place where cyclocross is king. Its also a stage race, a race made up of several smaller races. The Pros get a whole week, and in some cases three whole weeks. We lowly Amateurs get three days and four races. For this I am thankful.
My season has been a long one. I started training in December for races in April. I crashed, took time off before upgrading, then more time off before starting real training again. All that before coming off the training rails and rediscovering the joy of riding without a computer and listening to your body instead of a speedometer. It’s been hard, fun and beautiful and right now its the only thing keeping me together.
This is the first time I’ve truly raced as a team. Nate, our team leader, won the prologue, then lost fifty seconds to a lone break in the final miles. At least that’s how I understood it. I had done my job and blown up halfway through lap two of three. He made that time up, then another fifty in race of truth earlier today. A stage he also won. He will win this race as long as he doesn’t crash, and no one from the only other rival team blows this thing apart.
The crit course is short and roughly D shaped with only one true corner. I’m tired and cranky, real life has been bearing down on me all weekend, the racing being the only true moments of relief from that. That relief is lined with the pain and mental anguish of racing. It hurts. But not as much as having to deal with my changing life back in Portland.
Sometime in to the crit, close to the beginning, I’m not sure because the only moment is this present moment, we’ve come around the rounded part of the D and through the second corner. Nate is on the front, where he shouldn’t be, with two members of the rival team who won’t let him pull through. I come past Joemestique, one of my teammates, just as a guy from a friendly team goes off the front. Joe tells me that I need to get Nate off the front. Its time to go back to work.
I don’t answer, at least I don’t think I do, but fuck you comes into my head as I stand up and start sprinting for the front. On the inside of the peloton I’m sheltered from the wind and the speed I’m gaining is enough to get me away from the pack. I don’t really want to catch the guy off the front. He’s friendly, but this is the only way I know how to get Nate off the front. With me off the front Nate has every incentive to slow down and let those who want it more to take over the race.
I know I’m away because its quiet. I’m back in the saddle trying to get as far back on the thing as I can. My hands are in the pocket of bend of my drops. I’m not looking back. It’s not time for that yet, right now my only task is getting away and hopefully bridging up to the guy ahead of me. He’s one of the better time trialist in my category. I can’t TT worth a damn, catching him is a pipe dream.
Still I pedal, this time glancing over my shoulder to check the progress of the peloton. At first I’m impressed with the gap I’ve created. I can see them, strung out in single file line. Looking forward I focus on taking the lower corner of the D smoothly. Cornering is not a strong suit when I’m fresh and it takes all my focus to even attempt it now. I take that corner clean, and start to close down the gap to the guy in front of me. He’s looking back for me.
A bell rings for a beer prime so I push harder into the pedals. I pedal through the next corner and scrape my inside foot on tarmac below. It scares me but I keep pedaling amazed that I didn’t go down. I should be emboldened by this luck, but it dampens my enthusiasm. I’m starting to lose my speed. I don’t catch the guy ahead of me and he picks up a couple of beers. I look back and check the progress of the peloton.
They’re gaining on me. I’ve got one lap left. Two, maybe three if I go really hard. I don’t want to get dropped when the catch happens, so I keep the pace and wait for the catch to happen. When the catch happens another teammate Justin tells me to get back in and recover — maybe, he could have said something else but it doesn’t change the truth of what I heard.
I ride at or near the back of the back for the rest of race, which blurs by. I think about quitting over and over again. The idea becoming more and more appealing with each repeat of the mantra. I keep pedaling, but I’m starting to pick up the details of what’s happening around me. My season is coming to its inevitable end. Soon the sun will start to lose its warmth, my tan will start to fade and I will trade my short sleeve jersey and bare legs for a jacket, arm warmers and leg warmers.
It means that its time to put this medicine down and confront my life.
Joemestique comes along side me as my mantra reaches a crescendo. He tells me there’s five laps left. I can do five more laps.
They go by quickly. The lantern rouge wins the sprint. Nate wins the race.
Helping a teammate win a race was one of my biggest goals for my now finished season. I choke back tears and talk to the guy I chased when I went off the front before rolling up to Nate and congratulate him. He thanks me and I erupt into tears. I’ve spent the last ten months riding, and becoming friends with these guys and now I’m faced with a move to a new town. A move I don’t want to complete.
I’m grieving for the season that has just ended. I’m grieving for the life I’ve build over the last five years. I’m grieving for the important relationships that are ending. I’m grieving because a part of my personality that I’ve used to define myself is dying because I’ve grown past the public aggression I’ve used to express the anger I feel toward myself for constantly giving up on myself.
Further down the road I dismount and drop my bike onto a patch of grass. Then I drop myself into the grass, lay on my back and sob. Loud chest heaving sobs. Tears flow down my cheeks and into the grass. Snot runs out my nose and into my mouth. Someone asks me to if I’m ok. I tell them yes, then tell them to just leave me where I am. I want someone to hold me and tell me that its all going to be alright. No, I just want someone to hold me. But what I need to do is grieve, then stand up on my own and start to trust myself. This season has been one of profound growth, and now profound heart break. Its all part of living and for me, accepting and embracing that is the only way to live a life that’s worth living.