Tomorrow, when I line up at noon for the ‘cross race in Camarillo, I’ll have my eyes set on seventh place.
Because last week, you know, I got eighth, and the week before, you know, I got ninth. So seventh is doable, within reach. If you figure that David Anderson won’t be there, and F-1 Jim won’t be there, and a couple of others from San Diego won’t be there, and you figure that the usual field of about twenty riders will only be about fifteen, maybe fewer, the math plus my fitness plus my gradually improving results plus the fact that Dandy might slide out in a corner and Randy might show up too drunk on wine to start mean that seventh place is really something I might pull off.
Why not go for the win?
I know what you’re thinking. “Fuck, dude, go for the win! Any wanker can be the sixth loser! Shoot for the moon! Gun for the top step! Nobody remembers second place, and even your wife won’t congratulate you on seventh! Visualize the vee!”
Actually, there are a lot of great reasons why I’m not “going for the win.” First is because winning is not possible, and in principle I refuse to believe in the impossible. So, like, I don’t read horoscopes, or pray to unicorns, or hope that Monsanto is not really trying to poison me to death.
And there you go again, I can hear it already. “Dude! Ya gotta beleeeeve! Winning is an attitude! Refuse to lose! All it takes is all you’ve got! Never let good enough be enough! Winning is a habit! Success is a choice! Reach for the sky or don’t even try! In it to win it!” Etc.
Problem is, this ain’t my first rodeo. Winning may be an attitude, but defeat is a fact. Think about it. When have you actually won? There’s always someone better, and he’s usually in your race. Each time you’ve reached the top step, didn’t you realize that there was another staircase so high above yours that you couldn’t even look up the skirt of the person on the bottom rung?
That’s what I’m talking about. Face reality, even when you’re play-acting bike racer, because reality may be the ugliest drunk gal at the bar, but she’s the only one that’s going home with you.
The problem with winning
I’ve tried explaining this to people who are less experienced than I am, but they rarely get it. Winning bike races is a rare thing, and in order to do it you have to be able to perform under pressure. This takes many forms.
In a road race, it means stabbing yourself in the eyes at the exact point where your internal organs have failed, your legs have swelled up with something called incessant pain, and your genitals feel like they’re being smeared across hot coals with a spatula.
In a crit, it means lunging into spaces at maximum speed while banging bars, balls, and shoulders where the chance of getting through the hole without splatting your spine on the concrete is, over time, zero.
In a time trial, it means pushing yourself to the point of self-inflicted nausea so that the act of spitting up and swallowing your own vomit, repeatedly, is the least horrible of the sensations you will experience during the ride.
In a ‘cross race, it means doing all of the above while jumping over shit, climbing up walls, skidding through dirt and mud, and pounding your joints with the ferocity of a thousand sailors on shore leave.
In each of these disciplines — if foolishness can be called a discipline — it is only after sinking deep into the trough of those “winning moves” that the real pain begins. In other words, winning bike races means burying yourself completely, then boring down to the center of the earth. Or taking a shit-ton of drugs. Or both.
The bigger problem with winning
Once you commit to winning, there is a natural progression. It begins with equipment, then training, then coaching, then nutrition, then drugs. At each stage you have to make a decision, and it’s the same decision. How much of this do I do? And when do I stop?
Committed losers, on the other hand, have no such problems. Aluminum boxed rims are fine. Why? Because I’m gonna lose anyway and I might as well spend the extra money on beer. I don’t have to train so hard this week because I’m gonna lose anyway, and I might as well have the extra energy to, you know, work or hang out with the kids or — with the wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/husband. Coaching? Who the hell needs someone to tell me what to do on my off time? Isn’t that why I have a job? To get told how to do things I’d rather not be doing?
Same for nutrition … whether it’s a cheeseburger or a colander of boiled kale, I’m still gonna lose, so I might as well go for what tastes good. Drugs? Who can afford that since I’m gonna lose anyway? Might as well spend the money on a new wheel set and save my liver.
Trust me on this. Seventh place, if I get it, will be more than good enough. It won’t be winning, or anywhere close to it. It won’t be a “moral victory” or evidence of my toughness and fortitude. It will be a lousy, douchey, sortaran, almost coulda, seventh fucking place.
And I’ll enjoy it every bit as much as if I’d gotten sixth.