My phone beeped, a text message.
“You racing on Monday?”
It was Mark.
“Yeah, I’ll be there.”
We talked tactics and strategy for a few minutes.
“My plan is to hammer the dirt road, and try and stay relevant in the tight stuff.”
“You should be a road racer.”
I pondered that assessment for a few minutes, briefly considering throwing my hat in that ring. But then, I remembered two stark realities: I have no peleton skills, and would probably cause massive pile-ups. And perhaps even more devastating—I don’t have a road bike.*
“We should have a big group. 25+ I think.”
“Biggest race of the year.”
I pulled into the parking lot, which was already nearly full, 90 minutes before the gun. I was lucky, I found a spot very near the bathroom. I made a straight-line to it, and waited in a line 5 or 6 people deep. By the time I was done, that line had more than doubled. Later, the races were delayed a few moments while the line at the bathroom thinned out.
*My cross bike serves that purpose admirably.
My fellow White Tags** are a resilient bunch. Fast and tough. They are the Deadliest Catch fishermen of mountain bike racing. But without the smoking and profanity. Well, without the smoking… If my own under-the-breath grumblings are any indication of the larger group vocabulary then perhaps we are all swearing like sailors. And I have to wonder if any television show has ever utilized the censory “beep” more than Deadliest Catch?
Where was I?
Right. The White Tags are hammerheads. Moving up and through the field is no easy task. And thus far, has been a two-year odyssey of near-futility. But once in a while I’ll catch a glimpse of a that far off glory and immortality, if only for a moment. That is, sometimes the stars align, and I’ll find the legs to have a go at the front***.
**The pull tags for the group I race in are white.
Just as I had intended to do, I pounded the dirt road sections of the course. But unlike most of my strategic schematics, this one failed to explode in my face, leaving me dry heaving along side the trail. Instead, and remarkably, the bike jumped underneath me and skittered up the hill.
“This feels weird.” I wondered for another moment or two what was happening. “Is this… fitness?”
“Only one way to find out.”
And so I stood up and mashed the biggest gear I could reasonably turn over. I glanced behind me, only to discover that I had gapped those around me.
I spent the rest of the day pushing the pedals. I waited expectantly for the coming implosion. It never happened. In fact, I felt fantastic throughout the entire race. I held off surges, attacked, gapped and danced in the pedals—such as a man of my stature can dance in the pedals. I rode respectfully, perhaps even quickly, through the tight, twisty corners and singletrack. A product of the repeated practice sessions that led up to the race. I mashed up the final, steep incline and across the finish line, elated, exhausted—and certain that blood was pouring out of my ears.
I started to have delusions about the podium, and where I may have finished.
I made my way to the results board and watched the tags get stapled to it.
I was thrilled. But also frustrated, slightly. What more can I do? Nothing. At least not then. I’d raced my best race of the year. Of the last 3 years. And still… seventh.
“Damn the White Tags!”
But like I said, I was thrilled. And encouraged. Which encouragement of course, is unhealthy for one prone to delusional expectations and prognostications. Already I am projecting and planning and scheming for the next race.
But still. Damn the White Tags.