By my city boy standards, Gloucester, is a city of 30,000 people but feels more like a small fishing town on the North Shore of Massachusetts and every fall it hosts the New England Cyclocross World Championships. Just in case you’re not from New England (like me), Gloucester is pronounced more like “gloss-ter." Every year when I visit I like to make a quick stop at the Fisherman’s Memorial on South Stacy Boulevard. In it’s 350 year history Gloucester has lost over 10,000 fishermen to the Atlantic Ocean. The inscription on the monument reads “They That Go Down To The Sea In Ships."
It’s easy to get caught up in racing bikes. Especially at a race like the Grand Prix of Gloucester. When you’re there it feels like it is the most important thing in the world. When you race through the dust, the noise of the crowd is so loud it leaves your ears ringing. These moments make it seem like nothing else matters, that nothing can possibly be more important than pushing the bike through that turn just a little bit faster. Perhaps in that split second it’s all actually true. I just know that I need to leave that feeling behind when I cross the line.
My Saturday race was actually going really well. Extremely so. I had a fantastic start and after two laps was sitting pretty in the lead group of seven. Towards the end of lap 3 I decided to get to the front of this race. This move got a lot of cheers and it even felt good for a little bit but ultimately it was me throwing my race away in glorious fashion. I wasn’t trying to win the race with that move, I was just giving my self some face time at the front before fading down the results sheet. The gritty bike racer move in that situation would have been to plant my self like a barnacle at the back of that group and try to hold on. Yup, that’s far less “glorious” but maybe then I would have actually given myself a chance at a result rather than what was essentially a cop out.
Chances like that in a race like Gloucester don’t come up often so I was pretty pissed at myself for throwing it away. Now hold on, before I’m overwhelmed with the collective cries of “at least your went for it” or something along those lines… I knew in my heart of hearts that I wasn’t trying to actually win the race when I went to the front. The move was a manifestation of my anxiety and not of courage.
When I pulled over at the Fishermans Memorial after my race on Saturday, I was reminded to leave those feelings behind. I’m not trying to get super heavy here, but nothing snaps you back to reality like facing a monument dedicated to men who lost their lives making their living.
I woke up early on Sunday nervous but determined. I was nervous because I wanted to put myself in that same position in the race, which was going to be hard, and I was determined not to screw it up this time. Then I looked at my watch and realized it was barely 7am and there was still 9 hours until race time. Fortunately Sam and his girlfriend Sarah were also awake. We made camp coffee in the room and enjoyed it outside overlooking the beach vista that the Vista Motel was known for. Once sufficiently caffeinated we headed down to the beach, not content with simply viewing it from afar.
When I first joined the team six years ago Richie emailed me a copy of the team’s “manifesto” so to speak. The whole thing was more or less summarized in one final sentence: “Let’s represent, let’s make memories, and let’s race.” Out on that beach watching a beautiful day begin we were making some memories. Sometimes I feel sorry for the pro bike racers that live like porcelain mice, afraid they will break if they walk too many steps before the race. In the pursuit of perfection on the bike, so much get’s left out.
I’m going to fast forward through my day now. Past the start of the race even. Allow me to drop you into my life with 2 laps left to go. I’m sitting in 11th and just four seconds up the road is 9th and 10th. No one is behind me. A top ten at Gloucester would mean the world to me and so I chase. Maybe harder then I’ve ever chased. It’s just a suffering contest over a bunch of loose dirt and rocks now. Try not to make a mistake while killing yourself to push the pedals just a little bit harder for two more laps. I didn’t make it. But I don’t think I’ve ever pedaled harder or poured more into an effort that felt so damn satisfying.
Perhaps that feeling is the difference between an honest effort poured into the pedals and one that I knew was, in a way, fake.