The most predictable emotion a cyclist possesses is one rooted in the rider’s work ethic. Born of respect, both for self and for the dedication that the training requires, it is a full-body yes. At its root are qualities every cyclist wishes to exhibit: bravery and valiance, the desire to turn advantageous every circumstance, to find usefulness in oneself and ultimately, an ingredient we expect to find in all champions—a high self-opinion.
It can lead to mistakes inconsequential as the unprotected front wheel and as colossal as the past-threshold pull at the front. It can also result in silly displays such as the rider who feigns the easy ride on the hill because he’s too hammered to sustain the lead pace. Surely the most forgivable failing of pride is the work ethic that leads to the successful breakaway but not the win. Despite being beaten at the line by the lesser rider, there is victory in showing the peloton that they couldn’t catch the breakaway. So what if you’re beaten by one rider, there was success enough in out-riding the entire peloton. After all, what is the alternative, do less than your best? And should you not ride with all that you have, how can you call yourself a racer? At some level, tactics aside, as a racer you are meant to ride with all that you have. Sure, races are won with smarts as much as brawn, but no amount of tactical savvy can overcome the indictment that comes with knowing you didn’t ride with all your might.
With it comes confidence and with confidence comes drama. The rider who can be intimidated has none, but the rider who has done the training, knows his ability and is ready for the challenge will attack in places both expected and unexpected.
Think of the unlikely moves that have come from riders whose confidence was informed by their fitness and pride. When Sean Kelly attacked descending the Poggio at the 1992 Milan-San Remo to catch Moreno Argentin at the red kite, the move initially seemed as futile as shooting rubber bands at a bear. But he caught Argentin and in the catch you realized he knew something we didn’t. And that’s what racing is all about. That win was a statement to the world that he still had the ability to humble the best.
Races may be won or lost on might, but that isn’t what drives a rider to race. The need to race is born in emotion. It comes from a passion to tell the world of our drive, to prove that we worked without fail, that we trained with the insistence of a forced march, that we learned something of ourselves, something we want the world to know.
Photo courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International