Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Notes From a First Year: A First Time For Everything

Have you ever heard of delusions of grandeur? If you took Psych 101 in college, then you know what I’m talking about. It’s when you believe you’re much more important than you really are. For instance, if your neighbor actually believes he is the President of the United States. In cycling it translates to this: You believe you’re the next Lance Armstrong. You like to think at the beginning of the season of your first year that you are going to come out striking and surprise the whole field and have everyone saying, “WOW! Who on earth is that? That is the best cyclist EVER!” So the thought of something going wrong during a race doesn’t really enter your head until you see it happening to you.

Sunday, July 23rd, 2006. French Broad Cycling Classic, Asheville, NC. A city I love. A city I used to call home. A city with old friends watching. I lined up with the Cat 1,2,3, riders. It was my first weekend racing as a CAT-3 (an honor I had recently acquired thanks to a good showing in the Lenoir race). Halfway through the Criterium I found myself being dropped. Panic set in and an argument starts between my brain, my legs and my heart.

Brain, “Why the hell aren’t you pedaling faster?”
Legs, “Oh, I don’t know, maybe it’s the beer you decided to recover with after yesterday’s race. And you call yourself the smart one!”
Heart, “Please don’t fight! Please don’t fight! I don’t like it when you fight…oh my God you hate each other!”
Brain, “Heart, you’re annoying go away!”
Legs, “hey don’t talk to her that way, this is your fault!”
Heart, “Give me a J…Give me an O…Give me a D…give me a…”
Legs and Brain, “SHUT UP!”

Okay, let’s give it one more try.

I pushed and clawed my way back up to the group with the help of a lot of cheering from fans. I grabbed onto a back wheel just in time for someone up front to attack…alone again. Pulling out of the race was not an option. No way. And so I rode with my heart, even after hearing the announcer say, “This rider is off the back of the group. Number 321, Jodi Winterton.” Thanks, dude. You could have refrained from using my name.

Now, after you’ve been by yourself a while you figure the pack is going to come up on you at some point and so when you go around the corners you take a quick look back…okay nobody there, good for now. But nothing you tell yourself prepares you for the first time you look back and you see the headlight of the motorbike creeping up behind you. You feel it happen – your body just gives in. Like you went from being a juicy ripe grape to a raisin in the matter of a glance. You don’t even try to look at your teammates as they blow by you.

Brain, “Just finish the race. Go straight to the car. Go home. Maybe no one will notice.”
Legs, “I have failed you and I am so sorry.”
Heart, “You will finish your last lap and you will punch the air with your fists as if you won this thing!”

Then a strange thing happened. I started hearing strangers on the sidewalk calling my name as I rode by. People I didn’t know had heard my name announced and were willing me to finish strong. As I was coming up to the line on my last lap, after the sprint finish was decided, I sat up and put my hands in the air and much to my surprise, the spectators responded with thunderous cheers. Heart, “See, I told you so!” It was a silver lining to my otherwise gray and cloudy day.

I still took the advice of my Brain, though. I got out quickly and went home. I beat my head against the wall with absolute disappointment in myself. I questioned ever making the decision to race in the first place. My heart dropped with every thought of my teammates. The next Lance Armstrong, I will not be. I sank low, lower and lowest as the night went on and I went to bed that night with the image of the motorbikes headlight glaring into my eyes.

Oh well, there’s always tomorrow, right?

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