With a rise in strong amateur riders, ones that perhaps spend more time chasing Strava segments amongst mates, or completing big challenges, James Raison had a look at what it's like to ride with racing cyclists.
Words - James Raison
These words struck a chord with me as I pondered the disastrous C-Grade cyclocross race I'd ‘contested’. I was immediately swamped off the start-line until I was dead last, spent the race getting muscled out of every corner, and had to stop mid-race to fill my punctured tyre. I was ridiculously fast on the straights thanks to my fitness, but that didn't stop me finishing dead last.
Fast. Can't race. This is the universal truth in all of my racing to date. My Strava KOMs mean nothing. There's something special that racers have that I, and many other cyclists, simply don't.
SKILLS TO PAY THE BILL
There are skills gained in racing that can't be developed anywhere else. I find myself swearing and flapping my arms at crit-racer mates of mine who are either pinned to my wheel or dive-bombing around me on descents. They are totally unfazed by rubbing elbows at 60kph. The only prize at stake is bragging rights, but you'd think there's a cobblestone trophy awaiting them at the bottom. Bastards.
"Hold your line!"
I'm very rarely shouted at, so this one stuck with me. A sharp, tightening-radius corner on a mass-participation ride caught me by surprise. There were so many people around me I lost my point of reference and accidentally pushed a few riders wide. The remonstration was justified. During my apology I determined the others were racers, and therefore used to those situations. I spent my first few years cycling solo. Brain farts like these really show it.
WHY CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS
Even when racing, I’m not aggressive. It’s not a part of my make-up. Racers hace to be aggressive. They squeeze through gaps, barge onto the wheel they want, and hold their nerve on the corners. That stuff just seems uncivilised to me. I don’t even like pushing into elevators.
I raced a couple of seasons Pedal Prix in South Australia. Sure, there's a lot of school-age kids on those races. There's also NRS riders, world speed record holders, and future pros like Steele Von Hoff, and Jack Bobridge dropping wattbombs. The top 10 trikes are astonishingly fast. On paper, I should have been awesome. I was only OK. One of the slower riders on a top-5 team. This style of racing is all about confidence and aggression. Squeezing through closing gaps at 55kph, bombing it into corners on the edge of a massive accident up on two wheels.
I was slower than a lot of guys I should be faster than. Why? I lacked aggression. I still ride bikes like an excited 8-year old.
"One day, I just said 'fuck it!' I don't care if I die on this descent, I'm going as fast as I can."
This particular mate of mine with a track background, and one of the best descenders I've ever seen. He was telling me about his fastest descent down Greenhill Road, a road requiring buckets of bravery. His racing past have shaken a few wires loose. He rides like he's invincible. I don't. I ride like I'm an bag full of irreplaceable squishy things, wearing some tight clothes, and a lightweight foamy thing on my head. I don't want to die. There's too many bikes I don't own yet and coffee doesn't drink itself.
There's something about racing that removes the fear from people. The confidence he gained from racing on the limits of adhesion on the track spill over onto the road. I've never developed that particular skillset, or that attitude.
My limited racing experience has given me a whole new respect for those brave enough to pin on numbers and put their ass on the line. They go to a place where Strava is meaningless, nobody cares about your power data, and your shiny new bike could go home in pieces. There is no 'Gramming' going on inside the bunch. There's just a finish line and a bunch of other people in the way.
Sure, I'm fast up hills. Very fast. Occasionally I'll hear this annoying echo when I'm feeling proud of a Strava time... "just because you're fast doesn't mean you can race."