walking around in tap shoes and pyjamas since 2010 - my cycling log (opens in new window)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why I Am Not (Currently) Interested in Road Racing

...which is to say, as a participant. I rather enjoy reading others' blogs about it.

I have a sort of awkward relationship with bicycle racing as a sport. As a die-hard commuter type, I find it amusing that a lot of road-racing guys never even ride in the rain, let alone snow, sleet, and dark of night, unless some sadistic race organizer refuses to call a race during a storm or something like that. It also appears that many teams' kit designers go out of their way to come up with the most outlandish, goofiest-looking outfits they can imagine (thanks, Europe, for your questionable influence on cycling 'fashion').

However, I can't help but admire the grit, dedication, and strategy involved (okay, and the participants' willingness to wear what amount to brightly-colored leotards), and as an excessively-competitive type who enjoys zooming down big hills and subjecting myself to various forms of torture in the name of sport, I also find road racing rather intriguing (besides which, of course, it involves bicycles; a nigh-automatic win in my book). Thus, part of me secretly harbors fantasies of trying my hand at it (that same part of me thinks I would look awesome in brightly-colored lycra if I shed a few more pounds).

When push comes to shove, though, I'm fairly certain that I'm not a great candidate for the sport of road racing. The problem, you see, is that road racing, excepting criteriums, is decidedly a team sport.

I am emphatically not a team player. This doesn't mean I'm a jerk (most of the time), or that I don't like other people (most of the time), or that I won't pull my weight on a team if I somehow wind up on one. I'm just not great with group dynamics.

As a kid, I excelled at individual sports (gymnastics, horsemanship, skiing) and was absolutely horrible at most team sports. The exceptions were volleyball and lacrosse, most likely only because I have exceptional native spatial-relations processing, was apparently born knowing how to cradle a lacrosse ball and plant a volleyball serve in the opposition's dead spot or get myself under a ball they didn't think could be returned, and absolutely lack common sense the instinct that makes most people afraid of falling or being hit with balls, sticks, shins, elbows, roads, trees, and other such implements (I also lack the gene that tells people to stay down when they wipe out spectacularly after hanging up on a stone wall and bouncing off a garbage can, dump themselves on a hard wet corner, or sprain something).

Basically, it's not that I'm particularly recalcitrant, weird, or unwilling to do my part; it's just that my range of focus is intense and narrow, and most team sports require the ability to focus loosely and broadly (I probably would not have excelled at varsity-level lacrosse for the same reason, but I stopped playing before I reached that level due to a change of schools). Thus, piloting a horse around a course of four-foot fences was historically no big deal to me, but grasping that Peter was about to kick the soccer ball to me while also trying to monitor the position of the other twenty-odd people on the field was impossible. Inevitably, I wound up as a goalie when forced to play soccer, and though I wasn't actually all that bad at goal-tending, I hated it, because it meant I didn't get to run around.

I rather suspect that if I tried to get into road racing, the same focus issue would lead me to cause some kind of horrible wreck at some critical point, or some similar disaster.

I am interested in long-distance, non-competitive (ha! cyclists not competing! LOL!) rides — brevets, for example, particularly appeal both to my masochistic side and to my self-reliant side (and especially to the side of me that just wants an excuse to ride my bicycle as far as possible). Likewise, I understand that 'club-level' road races do draw a few teams, but are mostly stocked with individual competitors, so those might be fun.

This doesn't mean I don't want to ride with roadies or whatever. To the contrary, someone interested in effective long-distance riding would do well to train with people who do long-distance races, specifically because they, by definition, must both learn to be as efficient as possible and to increase their speed and endurance — and while speed isn't the point in randonneuring, knowing that you have the ability to ride X distance in Y time or less is mighty handy when you're looking at a brevet that only 'counts' if you make it in under a set number of hours.

If you've trained to be faster than the allotted time requires, you've effectively bought yourself a more relaxing ride than you would otherwise have had.

Also, I just enjoy going fast, and I enjoy beating my fastest times (even if I'm just riding to work — seriously). I believe I mentioned my murderous competitive streak — it's worth pointing out that it is directed largely towards myself. Because of it, I am eternally trying to outdo my own past efforts (and I am extremely hard on myself when I fail).

Had I not been taught good sportsmanship from a very young age, I probably would've been one of those egomaniacal primadonnas who gloat when they win and throw fits when they don't. Thanks to the efforts of my parents and childhood coaches, I am genuinely able to encourage those who finish below me, feel happy for anyone who beats me, and accept defeat gracefully. I reserve my self-flagellation for private moments, and I keep it to myself.

I hesitate to say I will never take up road racing because, quite frankly, whenever I say I will never do something, I find myself either forced into doing it or seeking to do it within the year (case in point: "I will never be one of THOSE PEOPLE who insist on wearing cycling-specific clothes for every ride" very quickly gave way to "Jeez, I really need some cycling shorts" the minute I had to ride 15 miles with my knickers quite literally in a twist).

At the moment, I don't have the time or money for another expensive and time-consuming hobby, and as cycling goes, if you really want to spend a lot of money and time, road-racing is the life for you. If you want to ride what you've got (or at least any old touring-friendly frame you can pick up at the nearest thrift store and retrofit) more or less in the clothes you have, over great distances that make everyone you know think you're insane, randonneuring is the way to go.

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