by Lee Waldman
The trend these past couple of years in Colorado has been to add more and more categories to our race schedules. Now even the Masters division has sub-categories within the category itself! Instead of 35+ Men, we now have 35+ Cat. 4 races and I’ve even heard of some 45+ Cat. 4 races. It seems that riders new to the sport don’t like getting dropped and then lapped by the more experienced and obviously much faster riders. I guess I really am old and crotchety because I don’t agree with the trend. Hey, if it was up to me we’d go back to ‘A,’ B,’ and ‘C’!
While I applaud those newer riders who are willing to take risks and jump in to their first bike race as a 35 or even 45-year-old, I find myself struggling with the idea that competition should be easy.
I know full well how frustrating it is to be off the back. I spent my first two years as a Cat. 4 racer (and yes, I started as a 30-year-old) who never finished a race. I’d start, get dropped within a lap or two, get lapped, and then get pulled. Depressing, yes, but it fueled my desire to work harder and get better. Eventually, I did. But I guess that approach just doesn’t work in this day and age. I may be a curmudgeon, but I have a problem with the current everybody-is-a winner-no-matter-how-little-they-work attitude towards sports and life in general.
Shouldn’t it be about that feeling of accomplishment the first time we finish a race without getting lapped? Way back in the day of downtube shifters and five-speed freewheels, it was what I worked and sweat for. By the time I actually made it through an entire Cat. 4 race without getting lapped, I finished feeling as if I’d just won the bunch sprint for the victory. The best part was that I owned that sense of accomplishment. It had nothing to do with riding in a diluted category. It was about legs, lungs, and desire. Shouldn’t that be what sports are about? Reaching goals based on hard work, 100% effort, and desire?
We as a culture spend way too much time looking for the easy way to reach goals. Racing a bike shouldn’t be like that! There should be the requisite amount of blood, sweat, and tears involved, and yes, there should be the losing as well. That’s what makes the “winning,” whatever that might look like in your world, that much sweeter.
In the last three years, I’ve left the world of road racing behind, choosing to compete on my mountain bike in the summer and on the ‘cross bike for the rest of the year. I know that there will always be things about racing my mountain bike that will be such a challenge that I’ll have to dismount and walk. My teeth and my bones are more important than my pride. I could complain that the courses are too hard, that they need to be dialed down so that they are within the comfort range of every rider. I don’t. Why? Simple. It’s not about making things easier and more accessible. It’s about providing challenges that people either choose to accept and rise to, or deal with in some other way.
Have I struggled with my limited abilities on the bike? Of course I have! I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t. There are sections of trails that I continually berate myself for not attempting, knowing that I have the skill to ride them. My head gets in the way though, and I chose discretion over valor. Maybe some day I’ll rise to the challenge, maybe I won’t. The choice is mine and I’ll readily accept the emotional consequences. I’ll also continue to attempt to mentally pat myself on the back for the risks that I do take.
As I write this I’m sitting in a condo in Breckenridge, Colorado. In a few minutes I’ll roll out the door to “compete” in a 35 mile mountain bike race. I toyed with the idea of doing 68 but thought better of it. Not because I wouldn’t do well, but because it didn’t sound like fun. What I do know right now, at this very moment, is that I’ll accept whatever the terrain, the race and the other riders present to me. And I’ll be comfortable knowing that I did not/will not look for the easy way out.
Enough! Stop reading! Go ride!