I’ve been writing about racing bikes for over a decade now, and that means that I’ve written over 150 race reports in order to fulfill the binding contract I’ve made with the voices in my head. The main issue with writing about bike races is that they are both monotonous and momentous at the same time. A million little things happen in every bike race that make every race unique and unlike every other, yet the overall stories of most races are ones we have all heard before, “the break got away early, it was a field sprint, Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to go for a walk in Central Park and the race had to be stopped.” The stories all sound familiar, and it’s all too easy for the laps of the parks and the courses around the area to blend together into a big ball of forgotten efforts and misremembered exertions.
And so we race, around and around in circles until we get too weak or too old to continue and then we finally drop off of life’s pace line, our bikes sold at garage sales and turned into goddam fixed gear conversions. But there are moments in all of these orbits of New York’s parklands that stay with us. Moments spent with friends and teammates that linger in our memories. And because we are lunatic bike racers, we tend to dwell on those moments when we were fast, lucky or strong. Wins, breakaways that lasted to the finish, sprints for the last podium spot, these brief successes stay with us, and we live to retell the tales of our triumphs until our friends cringe at the sound of the all too familiar opening lines of our old accounts.
Three races. I’ve raced for twenty-five years and I’ve won precisely three races. I’ve mentioned this before, but that is an incredibly depressing success rate. It’s almost enough to make someone not race bikes at all. But above all, bike racers are lunatics. We still harbor deep inner hopes that we can somehow pull off a surprise victory even though we are opposed by physical limitations, mathematical odds and all scientific data. Our lunacy allows us to continue.
I’ve tempered my lunacy in the past few years. I know that I am not a threat to racers in higher categories. I need the proper confluence of factors to be competitive. I need a race with: older racers, no chance of a field sprint and (hopefully) an event that knocks everyone else off their bikes. In races that don’t have any of these factors in my favor, I am happy to work for my teammates, as I find it fulfilling and it gives me a reason to wake up at 4:30.
Saturday morning’s points race was one of these teammate opportunities (I abhor points races, as they require sprinting—I sprint like a kitten—but oddly I don’t mind working for others in points races ). My teammate Victor does not have any of the limitations that I possess. He’s fast, durable and can wear scarves as only a Frenchman can. We formulated our team plan in the days before the race (a plan which I won’t share here, because it’s super secret and important, like really, really important—just like your team’s plan is important), and we assembled on Saturday morning ready to race.
The race began and as we went about the process of gathering points, two things became obvious. Weather Channel was working for Mike M (and starting the leadouts really far out, to make the field so tired that Mike could power through the sprints), and Victor was placing in the sprints. We shifted our plan to work to support Victor, and then the laps went by in a flurry of leadouts, sprints and quiet prayers for the sweet release of death.
Another reason I hate points races (besides the fact that they are just sprint after sprint) is because they require math. You need to keep track of who scored points and then also keep track of your opponents points so you know who is a threat and who is leading—all while panting like a prime suspect in the glare of a bare light bulb. Half of the race is spent sprinting and the other half is spent trying to figure out who is in the lead. Victor was placing consistently, so we figured that he was in contention, we were just unclear what exactly he was in contention for.
We finished the race (Victor finished about a quarter mile ahead of me, as I was lagging behind after my brief and mostly un-momentous moment at the front of the race), and that’s when math took over. During the race, there was an ambulance near the finish line on one of the laps of the race, and due to confusion, some riders sprinted and others didn’t (if there was a call for neutralizing the sprint, I didn’t hear it). Victor had sprinted and decided after the race to not count any of the points for that sprint, as not everyone participated in the sprint. So we felt his prospects for winning the race were not great. Due to bladder-based timing, I was at the scoring table as the results were tabulated. I reminded the official that we wouldn’t be counting the points for the fifth sprint, and I waited for the race placings to get added up.
You can imagine my surprise when I found out that Victor actually won the race by one point when all the results were added up. As he was doing cool down laps, Victor wasn’t there to find out about his win and collect his twenty dollars. I volunteered to accept his prize money, and being the tremendously honest and trustworthy teammate that I am, I waited for Victor to finish his lap so I could give him his twenty dollars.
Victor was surprised to hear that he had won (a points race win is always a weird one, as you have to wait for the math to settle), and he later graciously thanked everyone on the team for their efforts. I was glad to be part of the effort (a win for a teammate is always counted as a win for me), and I look forward to hearing the story of Victor’s win in the future, and hopefully it’s repeated enough that it becomes a dusty and familiar old tale.