All images by John Clark of Wheelistic Photography.
I was on my back in the grass along a sidewalk within sight of a police car and a Red Lobster. Sixteen girls and women between the ages of 14 and 42 rode past, kicking out a rider every lap like pieces of debris from an asteroid hitting the atmosphere.
I already did one race and was waiting to do another, eating five fig bars, a banana, six macaroons, and downing a can of Coke. This was no time to go paleo. This was race day.
"GO MOMMY!" Two children yelled. She told them something in a loving, heavily burdened, yet patient mommy voice, and I thought, first, she could use a good bike fit, and, second, if she's talking then she really isn't at her limit.
Then I'm thought, "Holy crap, I'm a judgmental bastard!" What is a mother of two doing out here in this terrible office park going around in circles with all these crazy, childless people?" I wondered what drives someone to head to a bike shop, spend a couple grand on a machine (rather than on a vacation to Aruba), train their ass off, identify a race, make the logistic arrangements, then drive there with kids and do it.
Well, this woman did it.
Why do we race bikes? Particularly at a place like this office park in Suitland?
Last year I had this same question. Then I thought I came to some kind of answer: cyclists are a kind of religious cult, I concluded.
This year, nothing came to me. I especially was thinking of Go Mommy. Why, Go Mommy?
Maybe she wanted to be more than a mother, clearly beloved as she was by her screaming-their-heads-off kids. Maybe she found adult conversation and something more interesting than driving kids to soccer practice. Maybe getting dropped and repeatedly lapped in an office park was better than her typical Saturday routine.
The way this race played out--it was Cat 4 women--made the droppage particularly poignant. No one attacked; the peleton was just a rotating mass of agreeable teamwork, with the less fit simply pushed out as they hit their limits. It seemed somehow more shameful to be dropped. You couldn't point to a particular attack. You'd just have to admit you couldn't hang, despite the best efforts of the pack to keep you in the fold. It was you, not them.
But her kids shouted the who time for her. That's a good woman, there, I eventually realized.
Also shouting, a guy who seemed to be warming up in the parking lot. He'd do a little lap at 10 mph, and then swing over as the field came by to bellow something offensive and patronizing. Moving up, covering attacks, now being the time--he'd order doing things like this.
Several more races went off. There were conventionally impressive physiques, like this guy's, that were clearly not yet sculpted into those of the sallow, malnourished, unsexy real cyclist.
I wanted to say something similarly motivating to this guy, carrying a little winter timber about the torso (below).
Keep riding. I can't say you'll be healthier, because let's stop kidding ourselves--bike racing is not in the least healthy--but I can say you'll lose enough weight to fill a ten pound bag with fifty pounds of W/kg, or something like that, mixed metaphory sort of thingy. I can't say cycling is good for your love life, your work life, your mental health, your family life, your testicles, your bench press, your garage space, your bank account, your taint, your chances of skin cancer, your almost everything. But keep doing it!
In any case, blond mom, muscle-Under Armor guy, winter timber guy--you're on the right track toward wrongness.
But eventually, smarmy judgmental time is over, and it's time for me to race again.
The 1/2 race starts and I can't seem to clip in. I ride the first lap with my pedal unclipped. I keep struggling with it. We're at 29mph and 1:12 laps and I'm hanging on the back trying to kick my way into the damned pedal; I think I hear Joe Jefferson say something about out the back like Bran Flakes, and I'm in a terror of fear--will I go down like Go Mommy!?
After a few minutes I realize I'm OK. I sit on the back and can manage. I just can't stand up.
Finally, I decide to take a free lap and see if I can sort it out.
I pull in, stop, have a chance to look down at it. The entire back of the pedal is gone. The official concurs--there's really nothing to be done. My race is done. I can at least get back in the race and see if I can finish it. That's more than I did last year, when a mechanical forced me out just as I was likely to solo lap the field at 33mph.
I get back in and decide to just finish the damned Bunny Hop 1/2. I can't stand up, and just getting back into the peleton is killer, since I have to power my way up to 32mph from a seated position, but I do it, and I ride the rear the entire race.
I'm blown away by the speed of the last few laps when Meidhof attacks and nearly holds it, and by the time DJ hits the final corner on his way to victory, I've sat up and am already thinking of getting home, wondering what I got out of being, for the day, only a piece of debris, flung from a peleton sizzling into the atmosphere of planet Office Park Crit Hell.