What does it take to “make it” in cycling? I sure as shit don’t have the secret recipe. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen people be great. It’s just like being great at anything, but bike racing, to be great at the high levels, you’ve got to be something special. Practice doesn’t cut it. Contrary to popular belief, getting by on god given talent doesn’t really work either. To be great requires a talent, a body designed to go fast, but equally it requires a determined and insanely powerful mind. I fall short in both categories. I’m probably a bad reference to be offering testimony on this, but it’s Saturday night, I’m bored and I don’t often write stuff like this unless it’s under 140 characters.
I should still be in Texas. I should be racing the La Primavera Lago Vista road races this weekend, but I flew home on Thursday. My knee started acting up last Sunday at the Pace Bend road race — which was an amazing circuit — and it continued to get worse throughout the week while we were in Austin. Even with easy recovery rides, stretching, icing, and more stretching I woke up Wednesday and it was noticeably worse. I knew that racing wasn’t going to happen, so I hopped a flight home early.
I don’t have the brain to be a great bike racer. Sitting at a host house and watching everyone going out for rides and racing, I can’t do it. Honestly, when it comes to the bike, I’m weak mentally.
My pain tolerance is through the roof. It’s actually scary. I chipped my tibia in a crash two seasons ago at Bike the Bricks, I got up, took a free lap, and won a prime before pulling out because I was getting dizzy from a concussion. Spent that night in the hospital getting pumped with antibiotics. I raced cross nationals in Kansas City a week after jacking up my thumb, an injury that eventually required a pin be inserted into a my thumb. But, a nagging pain in every pedal stroke, it freaks me out. I don’t love my bike enough to give up my life, and sometimes it’s injuries like this that freak me out more than anything.
The guys who are great, they would have waited it out in Austin, taken the start today at Lago Vista, and rolled the dice. I don’t have that kind of focus, to keep myself from getting stir crazy, even depressed, knowing I’m not at 100%. Knowing I’m straight up, inadequate. I don’t have the drive to ride while worrying my knee is going to be jacked up for a long time.
I haven’t been back on a bike at all since Tuesday, and I’m already going crazy. I see my PT twice next week. It’s hard to express pain to people who don’t partake in endurance sports. What we do is hard, no doubt, but there’s worse things. I had someone ask me the other day what the most challenging thing I’ve ever done was. I was embarrassed that my response was about bike races. Yes they were incredibly hard, but compared to real life shit; raising a child, making the decision to put down a dying pet, watching a loved one slip away. Bike racing isn’t shit compared to that, but in the event, during the race, it can be hell. We just can’t see past our physical suffering, our pointless suffering.
So, I started this talking about what it takes to make it. Some people view racing at the Cat. 1/2 levels as making it. It’s good, but we’re not great. Far from it. Some of the guys racing Cat. 1s are great, some of the 2 and 3s will be great, but right now, we’re all mediocre.
The great guys, they’re focused. Joseph Schmalz is a great example. I’ve known Joe for just over five seasons, and the whole time I’ve known Joe he’s been at the doorstep of great. Not because he has the god given talent, but he’s so damn focused. His mind works differently than mine. He’s talented, but he’s earned everything. Worked his ass off for it. Other guys, they’re lucky and have these bodies that were seemingly engineered to process oxygen, and most of the ones I know like this, they don’t have the mind to be a bike racer. They’ll never be great.
Joseph pinning it to tie the lab record at UT.
I’ll never be great. I probably don’t get enough protein. I like beer. I’m mentally weak. I get depressed, distracted, I’m that downer no one wants to be around. Guys who are going to make it racing their bikes, they’re different. I can’t explain it, which is why this is such a blabbering shit storm of words. Zack Allison is the same as Joseph. He works his ass off. Zack probably has less physical talent than me even, but he works hard. Harder than I care to.
This sport isn’t for me, but I fucking love it. I talk about it constantly. I’m writing about it at 12:04 am on a Saturday night. If I didn’t have it, I would go crazy. But when I have it and I can’t do it; my knee hurts, my leg’s busted, my hand’s acting up, I probably go more crazy.