"Are we men or clowns?" Paco the Chihuahuan gave us a reproachful look, the kind gringos deserve when they don't know what they're doing.
"We are not clowns," someone said, ashamedly.
Satisfied, Paco nodded, and ordered a round of Sotol. Sotol, he had explained, is the drink of Chihuahua, made from an agave plant similar to tequila and mezcal, but with a rougher, wilder character. Sotol is still rare in America, since it has a rough, mineral quality which is best dealt with straight, like single malt, rather than in sugary magarita mixes favored by American "clowns," in the words of Francisco. Think of it this way--it's the Svein Tuft of Mexican-made booze
Of course, we could not accept being called clowns. We ordered the Sotol and either shot it or sipped it, with none of our clownish tricks (salt, lime, or hot sauce).
We didn't cheer or whoop like college girls about to strip off our clothes at Senor Frogs. We drank it soberly, academically, like alcoholics doing our duty.
Your spell checker will tell you that "duathlon" is out of bounds--it's not an acceptable word--and so, maybe, will your cycling club. In the code of your average road cyclist, duathletes and multisporters in their sleeveless getups and awful notions of how to ride a bike are somewhere between clowns and suicidal death machines. "Why would you ever break a sweat doing anything off the bike?" is the fairly reasonable question.
There are the occassional multisporters who inspire fear, the pros who show up at stage races with legs wrapped in winter fur coats who proceed to smoke our Cat 4s in the time trials.
Then there are those of us who came to cycling from multisport, emerging from the primordial muck to the light of bike racing. From clowns, we became men.
I discovered something this past weekend at the Cape Henlopen Duathlon: it's sometimes fun being a clown.
Some of it has to do with the spirit of the events. Most multisport competitors are average folks. They don't train more than a couple hours a week. They give you a medal just for completing the race, and there are lots of spectators--usually cheering you and their friends and family members.
Please click on the picture below for a close look at the average multisport participant:
It's easy to forget how cutthroat bike racing is compared to other sports. We are savages, out to gut each other. There's no glory in "trying," in bike racing. You get pulled if you just try. Average folks don't do it to stay healthy. Sometimes folks will intentionally try to maim you in ways that don't heal.
There's even a website devoted to ridiculing those who try to keep going when they're dropped.
I'm not saying it's not funny, but the cruelty behind it defnitely wears on you. Bike racing sometimes goes so far beyond manliness that it becomes clownish. What other word describes our peletons at Hains, our goon rides terrorizing Rock Creek Park, our use of illicit drugs to make us faster? Clowns.
Still, I'm not sure I would've enjoyed doing the Cape Henlopen Duathlon as much had I not come to it from my first season racing against the best of MABRA.
Partly, that's because I was fast on the bike, relative to the participants. Halfway through the bike leg I found myself out front, behind the lead car, and no one within sight. It was incredibly strange to be faster than other people on the bike. Sure, half of them were on hybrids, wearing parachute-like kits and carrying several gallons of gooey red beverages in belts around their waste. But still, I was beating all of them, and that is an unfamiliar feeling to me.
My last time trial I'd been beaten by a guy over 60. I'd been beaten by dozens of folks. It wasn't my best race, but even at my best I'm not a top-20 time trialler. And yet, here I was putting down the best bike time of the day in my running shoes (I'd forgotten my bike shoes).
Thank God for halfhearted training, for poor bike position, for the voluminous jerseys sold by Performance Bike shops, for the notion that we are all on the verge of dying of thirst and glucose deficit the moment we break a sweat. Thank God for jobs and families and work-life-play "balance."
Thank God for multi-sport clowns.
If those people took training half as serious as I take riding a bike, I wouldn't have won my first duathlon and felt, for the first time in a long time, that I'm actually fast.
We are clowns, Paco, but even clowns can come to prefer a taste of Sotol every now and then.