One thing Lee carries while racing - his bike! ? Annette Hayden

Lee Waldman grins and bears it © Annette Hayden

Cyclocross Magazine columnist and Masters racer Lee Waldman comes up with some darned excuses for any potential misfires, but has a smile at the ready to see him through the dark times in races. In case you missed it, go back and check out Lee’s previous column as he uses Bike Racing as a Vehicle for Giving Back.

by Lee Waldman

The moments preceding the start of any bike race – whether cyclocross or another variety – are tense ones. We’ve all developed our own strategies for coping. If you’re in need of ideas for how to alleviate the stress, you might consider reading further.

Having a ready excuse for why you’re not going to ride well is almost a must. It could be that you were up too late last night with a sick kid (this won’t work for the juniors who are reading this). Possibly you ate some bad scallops for dinner (this actually happened to me. I lost 10 pounds in a night). It could have been a killer week at work, your allergies might have kicked in, you trained too hard, you didn’t train hard enough, it’s a rest and recovery week…. The list can go on indefinitely; it’s limited only by your time and imagination

I’m always prepared with my list of excuses; the well-worn phrases that take the pressure off in that 60 minutes or so before we leap off into anaerobic hell. I don’t know what I’d talk about while standing around gauging the competition if I didn’t have my excuses handy. It doesn’t matter how I’m feeling. It could be that I actually woke up feeling like a world-beater, ready to tear the cranks off the bike. It could be that I have that special sensation, like the pros always talk about, that it’s going to be one of those days when I can’t even feel the chain, when I’m nose breathing as I chew up the field and spit it out in little pieces. Yes, even on those days, if you’re like me, you need those excuses to fall back on, just in case.

What is it that makes me feel like I need to do that? What purpose does it fill when I feel I have to explain to anyone around me just why I’m going to suck today? Since I’ve been racing with the same group of men for somewhere between 10 and 25 years, the chances are that they’ve heard all of my excuses, probably multiple times. There’s also better than a 50/50 chance that they’ve used something similar themselves, and that I’ve listened to them with that same sympathetic nod. We all know that we’re completely full of it and that it’s just a tactic. It doesn’t fool anyone and we know it, yet we all do it.

I know these men. I know how strong they are, how talented they are, how capable they are of riding away from me any time that they want to, yet they do the same thing that I do.  They apologize beforehand for how poorly they’re going to perform. And then they beat me like a bad dog!

Over the course of almost 30 years I’ve become very creative in developing reasons why I’ll be off the back. It’s not that I need those reasons, and it’s certainly not that anybody listens to them any more. But it seems that the simple act of pre-apologizing for my riding seems to allow me to ride better! Weird isn’t it? Ironic that explaining a potential bad result somehow allows for a good one.

It’s as if the excuse somehow relaxes me, loosens up my muscles so that they are able to perform. I don’t have to feel the pressure to ride at the front, because I’ve already informed everyone within earshot that it just isn’t happening today. My running dialogue has the secondary benefit of keeping everyone entertained. The problem is that after so many years I’m running out of usable excuses! If you have ideas, please let me know. The other guys I race with will thank you, they’re getting really tired of the old ones.

I have one other strategy to get me through that final few minutes. It also works well for those key moments in every race when we can either give it up and go home or hang in there and suffer a bit more. I call it the “Smiling George” strategy. Some of you might remember the name George Mount. He was a stellar road racer back in the day when I was just starting up. George was one of the early pioneer road cyclists who went to Europe to race when an American in Europe was an anomaly.

The story used to circulate about how George got the nickname “Smiling George.” The way I heard it was that any time a race got tough – those times when you’re going so hard even your teeth hurt – George would plaster a smile on his face and just gut it out. The harder the race, the bigger the grin. I don’t know what the smile did for him or to his competition, but he won a lot of races. So now when I’m lining up for the start or suffering like a dog I think of him and grin. Like I said, I don’t know what it does to the competition, but it keeps me entertained and it helps me tolerate the lactic acid.

This is a hard sport that we’ve chosen to practice. It takes its toll on families, work and bodies. We wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t fun, but sometimes we need that little extra to keep us “entertained.” Excuses work for me. The “Smiling George” strategy works as well. What works for you?

Thanks for reading. Go ride!